Kathryn Murphy is a fellow and tutor in English literature at Oriel College, Oxford

Interior with Woman at a Virginal

Do paintings have minds of their own?

Not all works of art need be interpreted – some simply demand that we spend some quality time with them

25 Aug 2021
Aby Warburg (centre), with his assistants Gertrud Bing and Franz Alber, at the Palace Hotel, Rome, 1929.

With his cryptic clusters of images, Aby Warburg remapped the art of the past

Warburg brought together Greek gods and golfers, antiquities and airships – and in reconstruction, his puzzling arrangements of images are as suggestive as ever

13 Feb 2021
Noli Me Tangere (c. 1514), Titian

Touching distance – the fine art of keeping apart

The encounter between Mary Magdalene and the risen Christ has challenged the artists who have chosen to represent it

4 Jul 2020
Woman with a Child in a Pantry (detail; c. 1656–60), Pieter de Hooch. Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam

A Delft touch – the intricate patterns of Pieter de Hooch

The Dutch painter’s courtyard and interior scenes reveal his fascination with frames, grids and lines

10 Dec 2019
Elements, Ignis’ (c. 1575/80), Joris Hoefnagel. National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.

Meet the beetles! The insect drawings of Joris Hoefnagel

The Dutch polymath’s lifelike drawings are masterpieces of wit and invention

15 Jul 2019
The Lister sisters' handcoloured engraving of a bear paw clam, after Wenceslaus Hollar, published in the 'Historiae Conchyliorum' (1685-92).

Shell company – how a family of naturalists captured marine life

Science, art and natural history are intertwined in the Lister family’s monumental Historiae Conchyliorum

25 Mar 2019
The Scullery Maid (detail; c. 1738), Jean-Siméon Chardin. Hunterian Art Gallery, Glasgow

Pots, pans and pondering in Chardin’s domestic scenes

The 18th-century painter’s depictions of servants paused at work raise questions about the nature of attention

2 Nov 2018

The visual side of Renaissance thought

Susanna Berger’s enquiry into philosophy and visual culture is full of original insight

31 Jul 2017
Illustrated pages from the Voynich Manuscript, c. 15th century. Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University

The Voynich Manuscript is a book you’re not meant to read

Despite Yale’s new facsimile edition, this 15th-century manuscript happily remains as indecipherable as ever

17 May 2017
Still Life with Cheeses, Almonds, and Pretzels (c. 1615), Clara Peeters

More to cheese than meets the eye?

How Dutch meal still life paintings captured the great intellectual preoccupations of the 17th century

11 Mar 2017

The illuminated manuscripts that are lighting up the Fens

The Fitzwilliam Museum’s ‘Colour’ exhibition is a triumphant introduction to medieval manuscript painting

20 Oct 2016

Drawing the Curtain

Why paint a curtain? A look at the long tradition of depicting trompe l’oeil curtains in painting

15 Aug 2015