I am a Master Craftsman who became an Historian
My passion for art and history was ignited in childhood by my father, who was a Bletchley Park code-breaker during WWII. I came into the field as an artisan, the first modern Master Armourer in the West to have his title officially acknowledged, and entering the museum world along that route was not easy. Much as some people in the field were true professionals who welcomed the insights that my abilities could bring, others were rather ‘less welcoming’ to someone who got his hands dirty in the workshop, hadn’t even gone to university, and yet still saw things that they had completely missed. I also challenge established narratives. It was a reminder that in the Middle Ages and Renaissance, artisans may have created stunning works of art, but their wealthy and refined patrons saw them mostly as mere hired tradesmen who should know their place. Working in the fine art market gave me further insight into the world of those artisans: it brought me face-to-face with the power dynamics involved in the commissioning of work, and showed me that clearly nothing much has changed in hundreds of years. To me, life is too short for all that, and in the end it led me to withdraw from the art market completely and to devote more time to writing.
So while I tried to fit into the art world at first, time has taught me that not only was it never going to be possible, but also I never should have tried in the first place, and the very best thing that I could do was to just go my own way, no matter what it cost me professionally. Now, after over 35 years in the field, I embrace what my experiences in the art world have made me. I believe that art is for everyone, and I write my lectures, articles and books to be accessible to all, without ‘dumbing-down’ the material in any way, because our shared cultural heritage is not just the preserve of exclusive academic circles or wealthy private interests. And thanks to my experiences, I believe that I have become a better historian. I am also completely independent: I receive no funding from any museum, university or public body.
I am a dissident
I write for the Florence-based cultural blog ArtTrav, the Piemontese cultural website Piemonteis, and I have written for the magazine The Florentine. I accept commissions for written work, from articles to complete books, and also historical consultancy work. I am available for interview. For more information click here or get in touch via the Contact page.
Publications, Articles and Appearances
Beaten Black and Blue. The Myth of the Medieval Knight in Shining Armour (Due for publication September 2022). Read more here
Kunz Schott, Death and the Devil. Nuremberg Armour and the Art of Albrecht Dürer (Article, 8th September 2022). Read here
The Great Corridor. Vasari’s Aerial Masterpiece (Article, 11th May 2021). Read here
The Prism of Mars: How the Study of Arms and Armour Can Bring a New Perspective to the Dating and Attribution of Piemontese Art (Piemonteis, 12th April 2021). Read on Piemonteis here (scroll down the page for the English text version).
Art and Armour in the Western Alps. Milan, Savoy and ‘the French style’ 1400-1500 (Chris Dobson eBook, 3rd February 2020). Available here
Il Ponte Vecchio di Firenze. La storia di una città e il suo fiume. (Chris Dobson eBook 11th December 2019).
Gilding the Lily. A Fresh Look at the Sculptures of Orsanmichele (Article, 27th March 2019). Read here
The Heraldry of Florence 2: The Heraldry of the Quartieri and Sestieri (Article, 20th January 2019) Read here.
Restoration. The Art of Chris Dobson (Chris Dobson eBook, 2018). Available here
As Tough As Old Boots? Essays on the Manufacture and History of Hardened Leather Armour (Chris Dobson eBook, 18th May 2018). Available here
Surprising Piedmont: A Medieval Jewel in the North (Arttrav article, 7th August 2017). Read on ArtTrav here
The Heraldry of Florence 1: The Heraldry of the Palazzo Vecchio (Article, 2nd August 2017). Read here
Gothic Piedmont. The Art at the Foot of the Mountain (Italian Art and History Essays 1, February 2017).
Medieval Hell’s Angels in the Florence Baptistry (Arttrav article, 13th December 2016). Read on ArtTrav here
The Art of Assassination: The Pazzi Conspiracy and the Frescoes of Benozzo Gozzoli (Article, 24th March 2016). Read here
The Ponte Vecchio. The Old Bridge of Florence (Chris Dobson eBook, December 2015). Available here
Sex, Violence and Parties: Politics in Renaissance Florence (Arttrav article, 11th May 2015). Read on ArtTrav here
6 Things you didn’t know about the Ponte Vecchio (Arttrav article, 12th March 2015). Read on ArtTrav here
How to Spot the Hidden Medieval Towers of Florence (Arttrav article, 17thFebruary 2015). Read on ArtTrav here
The Lost Towers of Florence. A Vanished Medieval Skyline (Chris Dobson eBook, Second Edition November 2014) Available here.
“like burning coals of fire”: Meet the Angels (Vinoutlet lecture, Florence, July 2014).
“Un uomo di cultura straordinaria”. Federico II, Dante e Firenze (Vinoutlet lecture, Florence, June 2014).
Silk, Steel and Peacocks' Tails. Fashion in Renaissance Florence (Vinoutlet lecture, Florence, June 2014).
Smoke and Shadows. High Renaissance Painting in Florence (Vinoutlet lecture, Florence, May 2014).
The Compasses and the Knife. The Art of Assassination in Medici Florence (Vinoutlet lecture, Florence, April 2014).
The Lost Towers of Florence. A Vanished Medieval Skyline (Chris Dobson eBook, January 2014).
San Romano, the Art of War (Second edition as eBook December 2013).
Sangiovese: Blood of Jupiter (Vinoutlet lecture, Florence, October 2013).
Two Besagews. A Comparison of Some Surviving 15th Century Shoulder Defences (Article published as free PDF download, 26th August 2012).
Alla Tedesca? Italian ‘Gothic’ Armour and the Export Trade (Chris Dobson eBook, July 2012). Available here
L’Uomo d’Arme Italiano del Rinascimento (Lecture, Museuo di Arte Sacra di San Giusto, Suvereto, November 2006).
Ethical Restoration - Renaissance and Re-Birth (IAAConference Lecture, Imperial Splendour, Vienna and Graz, 7th October 2005).
The Restoration and Re-Mounting of the Armour of Willhelm von Roggendorf (IAAConference Lecture, Imperial Splendour, Vienna and Graz, 6th October 2005).
Director, International Arms and Armour Conference: Imperial Splendour. Vienna and Graz, 6th - 9th October 2005.
The Private Life of a Masterpiece, ‘The Battle of San Romano’ (consultant and interview, BBC2 Television Documentary 2005, BBC USA television, 2008, RAI5 Italy, November 2015).
What do Armourers’ Marks Mean? (Article, Park Lane Arms Fair Catalogue, 2005).
The Horned Helmet of King Henry VIII - The Inspector Morse Approach (Lecture, Wallace Collection Arms and Armour Study Day, November 2003).
San Romano, the Art of War (IAAConference Lecture, Art and Arms. Florence, City of the Medici, Florence, 1st June 2003).
‘As Tough as Old Boots?’ A Study of Hardened Leather Armour. Part 1: Techniques of Manufacture (IAAConference Lecture and Article, Art and Arms. Florence, City of the Medici, Florence, 31st May 2003). Out of print.
Director, International Arms and Armour Conference: Art and Arms. Florence, City of the Medici, Florence, 31st May - 2nd June 2003.
St. George’s Workforce (Article, Park Lane Arms Fair Catalogue, 2002).
San Romano, the Art of War (Chris Dobson 2001). Out of print.
The Man at Arms, Layers of Defence from the Inside Out (Lecture, Wallace Collection Arms and Armour Study Day, November 1999).
The ‘all’antica’ Embossing of Armour (Live Demonstration, Wallace Collection Arms and Armour Study Day, November 1997).
Nature by Design. The Protection Racket (Costumed Workshop and Arming Sequences, BBC2 Television Documentary, broadcast 26th September 1993).