Dr Noah Charney is author and specialist in the history of art crime. He was the guest for our podcast episode discussing art crimes and lost art.
I was fortunate enough to study history of art at The Courtauld, which is housed at Somerset House on The Strand in London. I loved the feeling of attending seminars in a palace (a fantasy for us Americans, with no proper palaces of our own), of trundling down the steps into the library, replete with the scent of old books and leather satchels and perfume (it felt like 95 per cent of the student body there consisted of elegant young ladies). Walking across the courtyard, which was converted into an ice-skating rink come wintertime, passing through the cafe at the far side and emerging onto the terrace overlooking the Thames and the Brutalist, though beautiful in its own way, National Theatre across the river felt cinematic. What a privilege for me to have called that my intellectual home for a year!
But turning left and right from that perch on the terrace, what I saw as a postgraduate student back in 2002 was a very different sight from what those would have spied back in the early seventeenth century, the period of art history that I was studying. For few realise that this magnificent palace was just one of many built from the twelfth century on. If a Harry Potter moment might have occurred, the act of my crossing the courtyard transporting me back a few centuries in
There was Arundel House, the seat of the Royal
All but Somerset House were demolished by the seventeenth century, when this area was no longer fashionable for the nobility, who moved towards London’s West End, ceding the Strand to plotters in pubs – the 'Duck and Drake' tavern was where the renegades of the Gunpowder Plot liked to meet, and the Levellers connived against Charles I at the 'Nag’s Head'. A shift in city planning turned this pocket of wondrous houses, packed with art and life, into a decidedly less aristocratic, though also lively, neighbourhood, featuring restaurants and cafes, including Twinings, after which the famous tea brand is named. When King’s College was founded in 1828, the Strand shifted to a student neighbourhood.
With all these changes, we have
Dr Noah Charney, professor
Noah is a graduate of The Courtauld Institute of Art, University of Cambridge and University of Ljubljana. He is a professor of art history specialising in art crime, and a best-selling author of 13 books, including his most recent, The Museum of Lost Art, published by Phaidon. He is the founder of ARCA, the Association for Research into Crimes against Art, and welcomes people of all ages to study with him in Italy in the summer, on the ARCA Postgraduate Program in Art Crime and Cultural Heritage Protection.