Masterpiece Symposium | Museums, Research and Discovery: Knowing Collections

This discussion explores how research within museums allows for the reconsideration of individual works or types of work, be that their facture, authorship, meaning, provenance or wider cultural significance. The conversation covers the relationship between research and: display; conservation; exhibition-making; digitisation; and acquisitions.

To what extent are collections rediscovered, in some sense, by successive generations of curators and conservators?

Paola D’Agostino | Director, Musei del Bargello, Florence
Helen Jacobsen | Executive Director, The Attingham Trust
Francesca Whitlum-Cooper | Associate Curator, National Gallery, London
Katie Ziglar | Director, Ackland Art Museum, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Moderated by Thomas Marks | Associate Fellow, Warburg Institute, London

Paola D’Agostino was appointed Director of the Museo Nazionale del Bargello in 2015. An expert on Renaissance and Baroque sculpture, D’Agostino was the Nina and Lee Griggs Assistant Curator in European Art at the Yale University Art Gallery from 2013 to 2015, where she co-curated the exhibition ‘The Critique of Reason: Romantic Art 1760–1860’. Previously, she worked as Senior Research Associate in the Department of European Sculpture and Decorative Arts at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. During her tenure at the Metropolitan she co-organized the exhibitions ‘Bernini: Sculpting in Clay’ (2012–13), and ‘Antonio Canova: The Seven Last Works’ (2013).
D'Agostino studied at the Università degli Studi di Napoli ‘Federico II’, where she received her PhD, at the Courtauld Institute of Art, London (MA) and at University College London (MPhil programme). Since her appointment as Director of the Musei del Bargello, she initiated several major reinstallations and renovations projects in all the five museums, improved access to visitors, forged international partnership with prestigious Italian and foreign museums, fostered academic relationships with several Italian and American Universities and organised groundbreaking exhibitions at the Museo Nazionale del Bargello, such as ‘Verrocchio, the master of Leonardo’ in collaboration with the Fondazione Palazzo Strozzi and the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., in 2019, ‘“An ancient and honourable citizen of Florence”: The Bargello and Dante’ in 2021 and (forthcoming) ‘Donatello, the Renaissance’ in collaboration with the Fondazione Palazzo Strozzi, the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin and the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. She received the 2019 FIAC Excellency Award in New York.

Helen Jacobsen is Executive Director of the Attingham Trust, an educational charitable trust that organises continuing professional development for curators and other professionals in the international heritage sector. Former Senior Curator at the Wallace Collection, she has published on French eighteenth-century decorative art and collecting history. Most recently, she led the Riesener Project, a collaborative research project that culminated in a monograph, Jean-Henri Riesener. Cabinetmaker to Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette, and an on-going digital resource, The Riesener Microsite ( She is co-curator of ‘Inspiring Walt Disney. The Animation of French Decorative Art’, an exhibition to be held at the Wallace Collection in collaboration with the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Francesca Whitlum-Cooper is the Myojin-Nadar Associate Curator of Paintings 1600–1800 at The National Gallery, London. Since joining the National Gallery in 2015, she has curated the exhibitions ‘Poussin and the Dance’ (2021), ‘Boilly: Scenes of Parisian Life’ (2019) and ‘Cagnacci’s Repentant Magdalene: A Baroque Masterpiece from the Norton Simon Museum’ (2017). She was awarded her PhD from the Courtauld Institute of Art in 2015 with a thesis about the pastel medium in eighteenth-century Europe. She has previously worked as a research assistant at The Metropolitan Museum of Art and The Frick Collection, New York.

Katie Ziglar has been director of the Ackland Art Museum at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill since July 2016, and during a period of substantial growth and increased visibility for the museum. The budget has doubled, enabling more programming, and attendance has risen more than 50 per cent. A new website has been created and the Museum has rebranded. She is leading the process to achieve a new building for the Ackland.
Prior to this, in serial roles as director of external affairs for over 20 years, she contributed to the successful management of four visual arts organisations: the Smithsonian American Art Museum, the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, the National Gallery of Art, and the Smithsonian’s Freer|Sackler Galleries in Washington, D.C., where she was responsible for establishing international partnerships throughout Asia, and to a lesser extent in Europe and South America, as well as fundraising, board development and relations, membership, special events and marketing and media relations. Her academic background includes an MA in Islamic Art and Architecture from the American University in Cairo and a BA in European history at UNC-Chapel Hill as a Morehead-Cain Scholar.
Since arriving at the Ackland, she has begun a program of purchasing Islamic art to enhance the Museum’s collection and to demonstrate connections between the Middle East and Asia, Africa, and Europe through art.

Thomas Marks is a writer and art critic. He is currently an Associate Fellow at the Warburg Institute, London, where he is researching Elizabeth David's collection of historical cookery books, and was Editor of Apollo from 2013-21. He has contributed to numerous publications, among them Prospect, Literary Review and the TLS, and continues to write a monthly column for Apollo about the relationship between art and food. Marks is a trustee of Art UK, the cultural education charity that exists to democratise the UK's public art through digitisation and storytelling.
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