Elizabeth Woolley - The Courtauld Institute of Art

Elizabeth Woolley

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Elizabeth Woolley

PhD student

Thesis: Victorian ecclesiastical mural painting in England: revivalist art and revolutionary technology

Supervised by Giovanni Verri

Funded by Arts & Humanities Research Council

The Victorian era represents a watershed in the technology of wall painting. In the nineteenth century, population explosion, urbanisation, and religious changes lead to a church building boom. The Gothic Revival and Oxford Movement, combined with an idealised medievalism—starkly contrasted with contemporary industrial reality— contributed to a revived interest in wall painting to decorate these new churches, and technical experimentation in their execution.

While there is a substantial body of work on the technology of contemporary easel paintings, by contrast nineteenth-century wall paintings are understudied. This is surprising given their prevalence and innovative technologies. Reviving the art after the post-Reformation hiatus required relearning and inventing techniques such as: spirit fresco invented for Northern climes; water-glass, a response to advances in industrial chemistry; and patented development of ready-made oil paints. In addition, the range of pigments available increased exponentially; zinc, cobalt, chrome and cadmium pigments were developed, and ways to synthesise traditional pigments, such as ultramarine and alizarin, were discovered.

Although individual aspects of this technological revolution have been studied, an overarching narrative is lacking. Moreover, the majority of church wall paintings were done by ecclesiastical decorating firms, not fine artists. These firm paintings have attracted very little academic attention, despite being the concrete output of a new commercialised, industrialised art process.

Analysis of selected church case studies, embedded in a broader historical and technological context, is required to better understand these paintings. A technical survey of this national body of art, which reflects the ambitions, preoccupations and confidence of an important period in British history, will aid its understanding, appreciation and preservation.


  • University of Cambridge
    2003-2006: History & Economics MA (Cantab), 2.i
  • The Courtauld Institute of Art
    2007-2010: Wall Painting Conservation MA, Distinction


  • Oct 2013 – ongoing: Occasional lectures given to Courtauld Wall Painting Conservation MA students on: dissertation research and fieldwork sites.
  • Nov 2012: Graphic documentation taught on new MSc in Conservation of Architectural Surfaces at Malta University. Theoretical, manual, electronic aspects covered.

Research interests

  • Wall painting conservation – practice and theory
  • Technology of wall painting


Woolley, E. (2017, forthcoming). ‘The role of The Ecclesiologist journal in the manifestation of nineteenth-century English ecclesiastical wall painting’. Postprints: Interim Meeting of the ICOM-CC Working Group ATSR7: “Expression and Sensibility. Art Technological Sources at the Rise of Modernity”, Nov 2016: ICOM-CC, Stuttgart

Woolley, E. (2017, forthcoming). ‘”Of only modest artistic quality”: reconsidering the significance of firm ecclesiastical wall painting in England, c. 1845-1920’. Preprints: Linking Past and Future: ICOM-CC Triennial Conference Copenhagen 4-8 September 2017. ICOM-CC, Copenhagen

Richardson, E., Woolley, E., Corda, K., Julien-Lees, S., Pinchin, S., & Roberts, Z. (2017). ‘In situ characterisation of readhesion treatments for ceiling paintings using unilateral NMR’. Insight-Non-Destructive Testing and Condition Monitoring, 59(5), 249-255.

Woolley, E., Nadolny, J., and Shekede, L. (2012). ‘Tin relief on thirteenth-century Cypriot wall painting: technology and conservation’, Preprints: The Decorative: Conservation and the Applied Arts. 24th IIC Congress, 10-14 September, 2012, Vienna. IIC, London.


Richardson, E. and Woolley, E. (2017, forthcoming). ‘Are we being too easily LED? Assessing the impact of LED lighting on pigments and paper in heritage collections’. Museum Lighting Symposium & Workshops, UCL, September 2017.

Woolley, E. (2016). ‘English Victorian Ecclesiastical wall painting: who wanted it, who painted it, and why it matters’. Manchester Victorian Society evening lecture, December 2016.

Woolley, E. (2014). ‘Victorian mural painting: revivalist art, revolutionary technique’. Fresh Brush Strokes: Contemporary Practice and innovation in wall painting conservation, meeting of the Stone and Wall Paintings Group of the Institute of Conservation. March 2014.

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