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Clare Matthews

Visual Arts, University of Birmingham

Thesis title:

Classical culture and the industrial town

This project analyses the role of classical visual culture in nineteenth-century industrial Britain, focussing on Birmingham. It examines how this town engaged with the iconography and traditions of ancient Greece and Rome through public collecting practices, architecture and artistic production, and situates this within wider contexts of nineteenth-century industrial Britain.

My research asks: How was classical antiquity displayed throughout Birmingham in the nineteenth century? What impact did the visual culture of Greece and Rome have on the formation of civic identity, both in relation to viewing experiences and concerns surrounding the potential edifying role of art and architecture? How far was Birmingham representative of other industrial towns in Britain in its appropriation of antiquity? And to what extent was this appropriation symptomatic of broader uses and interpretations of the ancient world?

My research challenges understandings of classical culture within Victorian Britain, specifically in the West Midlands, firstly in bringing visual culture into focus, and secondly in providing new perspectives through its relationship with the industrial city. In its interdisciplinary approach, my methodology engages with the scholarship of Classical Reception, Victorian Studies, Art History and Museology. Exploring the role of classical culture against a background of immense social and cultural change, I analyse how the ancient was viewed and experienced, and how it was engaged with as public cultural property.

Research Area

  • Visual Arts


  • 'Reproducing Antiquity in Victorian Birmingham and the West Midlands’, paper delivered at the British Association for Victorian Studies Annual Conference, August 2019. 
  • ‘Civic Space in Nineteenth-Century Birmingham’, paper delivered at University of Birmingham’s School of Languages, Cultures, Art History and Music Conference, May 2019.
  • Midlands3Cities interdisciplinary workshop at the British School at Rome on 'Rome: changing physical and ideological landscapes of the eternal city', June-July 2018.
  • ‘A Classical Temple for the Industrial Town’, poster presentation at Midlands3Cities Research Festival, May 2018. 
  • ‘A Classical Temple in the Modern Age: Birmingham’s Town Hall’, paper delivered at Echoes: A Symposium on Classic-Modern Relations, University of Birmingham, April 2018.
  • Birmingham Manufactures and Workforce Workshop, Birmingham Museums Collections Centre, March 2018.

Other Research Interests

  • Relationships between art and industry
  • Histories of collecting
  • Classical art and gender studies
  • Reception of classical antiquity
  • Victorian cultural studies
  • Nineteenth-century British art
  • History of sculpture
  • Exhibitions and museum history
  • Architecture and public spaces
  • Museums and the Heritage Sector
  • University Outreach and Widening Participation


Postgraduate Teaching Assistant for 'Historical Concepts in the History of Art', First Year BA History of Art Module (2018).

Employability/Skills Placement with Birmingham Museums Trust

April – July 2019. Researching, cataloguing and assessing the significance of the Printing and Engraving objects in the collections as part of a broader Birmingham Museums Trust project of studying and documenting their extensive Science & Industry Collections.