Collaborative Doctoral Partnership scheme

A consortium of the National Gallery and the Bowes Museum has been awarded nine doctoral studentships over the next three years (three per year) as part of the the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) Collaborative Doctoral Partnership scheme. Each institution is able to offer studentships in partnership with higher education institutions, to enable students to study for a PhD at a UK university.

The National Gallery and the Bowes Museum have substantial synergies in their research interests, which arise not only from the fact that they both hold significant collections of Old Master paintings, but also from shared interests in the research themes:

  • Buying, Collecting, Display: This strand concentrates on the histories of the art market, as well as of picture collections and the tastes, economics, and politics that lay behind them. It also concerns audiences for art (including museum visitors today) and the histories of the institutions themselves. It provides a context for collections that supports new approaches for presentation to the public.
  • The Meaning of Making: This strand seeks to use object-based research, combining the disciplines of art history, science and conservation, to contextualise technical study of collections by situating it within a larger art historical discourse, investigating notions of authorship, collaboration, copying, design, inspiration and their re-use/reinterpretation over time. It is a distinctive aspect of Museum/Gallery research.
  • Art and Religion: This strand focuses on the iconography, functions and context of Christian art. A high percentage of works in collections of Western European art are of religious subjects, nearly all of them Christian, reflecting the fact that, after classical antiquity, Christianity became the predominant power shaping European culture between the 13th and 19th centuries. The research addresses how and why these sacred works of art were made, to explore what they might have meant to their original viewers and to discover what they mean to beholders today.

The consortium builds on these common interests that are shared between the National Gallery and the Bowes Museum, as well as more generally in many museums, galleries and Higher Education Institutions (HEIs). For the National Gallery, the consortium is also an important element in the Gallery’s national strategy

The specific themes above are not intended to be prescriptive but they serve as an effective expression of the consortium’s areas of interest, giving a framework for collaborations with HEIs and other research organisations, and for potential shared studentships. For more general information, find out about the scope of research at the National Gallery and the Bowes Museum.

Each studentship will be jointly supervised by a member of the consortium partner’s staff and an academic from an HEI in the UK, as with the existing Collaborative Doctoral Awards (CDA) scheme. The HEI administers the studentship, receiving funds from the AHRC for fees and to cover the student’s maintenance. The consortium partner provides additional financial support to cover travel and related costs in carrying out research.

More information about Collaborative Doctoral Awards is available on the AHRC website.

Further details

Information for universities

Proposals for new studentships are developed by National Gallery or Bowes Museum staff (as co-supervisors) together with a named university partner (as principal supervisor) and are chosen on their academic strengths and clear support for the National Gallery’s or the Bowes Museum’s research objectives. We welcome expressions of interest and project ideas from any UK university. The deadline for applications for the next round of projects will be late 2016.

For more information about partnering with the National Gallery, advice on potential internal collaborators and guidance for applications contact Marika Spring,

For more information about partnering with the Bowes Museum, advice on potential internal collaborators and guidance for applications contact

Information for students

AHRC Collaborative Doctoral Partnership PhD studentship: 

The National Gallery, Scientific Department & Nottingham Trent University, School of Science & Technology: "Conservation varnishes at the National Gallery: studying their optical and material properties"

Applications are invited for a Collaborative Doctoral Partnership PhD studentship, to be undertaken at Nottingham Trent University (School of Science & Technology) and the National Gallery (Scientific Department). This three-year (full-time) studentship commences on 1 October 2017 and will be jointly supervised by Professor Haida Liang (Nottingham Trent University) and Dr Catherine Higgitt (National Gallery). The student may undertake a (remunerated) six-month placement at the Gallery during the PhD to further develop and expand their skills. The student will need to spend concentrated periods of time both in Nottingham and London. This interdisciplinary project involves close collaboration between physicists, conservation scientists and conservators.

Historically and today, conservation varnishes are applied to Old Master paintings after cleaning and restoration, altering a painting's appearance by saturating the surface and reducing variation in gloss. Optical, chemical and physical properties are crucial in selecting a varnish with suitable aesthetic characteristics. Many varnishes become yellow and cloudy over time, so stability is also important in order to limit how often they need to be removed and replaced. Understanding of such properties is largely based on experimental studies or the expected properties of the bulk resin, which do not always accurately reflect the behaviour of thin varnish films. Furthermore, in practical usage, conservators often adjust formulations to obtain a varnish with a satisfactory appearance.

This project will investigate the properties of conservation varnishes, to predict more accurately how they will behave in practice and how they might be improved or modified for particular applications, based on the use of cutting-edge non-invasive imaging techniques, especially optical coherence tomography (OCT), to allow (non-subjective) assessment of their appearance, condition and properties. OCT produces 3D images (‘virtual’ cross-sections) of surface and subsurface microstructure of (semi)-transparent materials and shows promise for research on varnishes. OCT and other non-invasive portable equipment, and more traditional chemical analysis will be used to investigate the effect of not only the choice of resin but also practical issues of formulation and application method on varnish properties. The research will draw on the unique resource of the actual, naturally aged conservator-applied varnishes on Gallery paintings and also experimental systems in which formulations and application method can be explored. The research outcomes have the potential to feed directly into conservation practice at the National Gallery and around the world.

Applicants must have a good first degree (usually a minimum 2:1) or a Masters degree (or equivalent experience) in physics, chemistry, materials science, conservation science, heritage science, archaeological science, or a related physical science discipline, or conservation (in which case a first degree in a physical science subject is desirable). They should be highly motivated individuals with a keen interest in art history and conservation, and in conducting interdisciplinary research. The project would suit a candidate interested in a career in conservation science or a scientist with an interest in applying cutting-edge scientific techniques and complex data processing methods to challenging questions such as those posed by cultural heritage artefacts. Students must also meet eligibility requirements of the Art and Humanities Research Council for graduate students. The minimum English language proficiency requirement for candidates who have not undertaken a higher degree at a UK HE institution is IELTS 6.5 (with a minimum of 6.0 in all skills).

The full studentship award for students with UK residency includes fees, a stipend of £14,553 per annum plus £550 p.a. additional stipend payment for Collaborative Doctoral students for 3 years. In addition, the Student Development Fund (equivalent to 0.5 years of stipend payments) is also available to support training, work placements, and other development costs. Students with EU residency are eligible for a fees-only studentship award. International applicants are normally not eligible to apply for this studentship. The Gallery will provide up to £1000 a year to cover travel and other costs incurred travelling to undertake research at the Gallery or other locations. Both partners and the Collaborative Doctoral Partner consortium will provide opportunities for training and career development.

The closing date for applications is 12.00 noon (GMT) on 13 March 2017.

For informal enquiries, please contact the main supervisors Professor Haida Liang ( or Dr Catherine Higgitt ( Application is by covering letter, CV and online application form, and should be sent to and copied to

Application packs can be obtained from