Renaissance Dissident
Art History from a Different Perspective

About Renaissance Dissident Chris Dobson

The Calumny of Apelles by Sandro Botticelli
Sandro Botticelli The Calumny of Apelles, c.1495. On the left, Truth appeals to Heaven, next to Repentence, dressed in black. Centre, Perfidy, dressed in red and yellow, stands over the innocent victim, who is being dragged by his hair by Calumny, dressed in white and blue and holding a flaming torch. Fraud, behind, arranges Calumny’s hair. Right, Envy, a bearded and hooded man in black, extends his hand to distract the king and obscure his view, while Ignorance and Suspicion whisper into his ass’s ears, making a fool of him. Such is the world of art and antiques.

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. He used to take me to every museum, castle and cathedral within reach, and by the age of eleven I was taking myself off for days in London, attending lectures and gallery talks on Ancient Egypt at the British Museum, and I began to study Hieroglyphic. This was combined with school studies in art and metalwork, for which I showed a natural aptitude. I also studied Latin at school, which was to provide a good grounding for learning Italian later in life. In 1985 I started my own business, founding a studio to reconstruct and restore armour and edged weapons, from the Classical World to the Baroque, receiving commissions from private individuals, living-history groups, and museums. I also found myself working as an armourer for film and stage, including Sir Ian McKellen’s production of King Lear at the Royal National Theatre in London, and Franco Zeffirelli’s film version of Hamlet.

In my professional life since then, I have worked for, in and around museums in the field of applied and graphic arts for over 30 years, originally on arms and armour. I worked my way into the field with my hands - using the same techniques as the artists and sculptors of the Renaissance - 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 challenged established narratives and didn’t ‘stay in my lane’. Over the years I was a regular lecturer at the Wallace Collection, London, I organised and lectured at the two International Arms and Armour Conferences in Florence (2003) and Vienna/Graz (2005), and my consultancy work has included complete museum gallery design.

Historian Chris Dobson in Florence.

From the outset my field of research encompassed Italian art and history, but in time they became increasingly important in my work, specifically, the artists and sculptors of the Florentine Renaissance. In 2001 I published my first book, San Romano, The Art of War (due to be republished as a third edition soon), demonstrating the close relationship between arms and art in Renaissance Florence. In 2005, I was consultant on the BBC TV programme The Battle of San Romano, part of the series The Private Life of a Masterpiece. I have written much on Florence over the years, but now I also specialise in the largely-unknown but beautiful Medieval and Renaissance art of Piedmont.

Whilst I tried to fit into the museum world at first, time has taught me it was never really going to work out, 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 30 years in the field, I embrace what my experiences in the museum and art world have made me. I believe that art is for everyone, and I write my books and organise my art history tours 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, and a better person.

Qui tacet consentire videtur? Not me: not ever. Che gira, torna...

I’m a dissident: a Renaissance dissident

I write for the Piemontese cultural website Piemonteis, the new Piemontese cultural blog Il Lambello, and the Florence-based cultural blog ArtTrav. I accept commissions for written work, from articles to complete books, and I organise art history tours in Piedmont. I am also available for interview. For more information please get in touch via the Contact page.

Publications, Articles and Appearances

Art and Armour in the Western Alps. Milan, Savoy and ‘the French style’ 1400-1500 (revised and expanded second edition hardback book, June 2024). Read more here
Beaten Black and Blue. The Myth of the Medieval Knight in Shining Armour (printed hardback book, 12th August 2023). Read more here
Gothic Piedmont. The Art at the Foot of the Mountain (free PDF eBook, 7th July 2023). Read more 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).
Kunz Schott, Death and the Devil. Nuremberg Armour and the Art of Albrecht Dürer (free PDF eBook, 8th September 2022). Read more here
Art and Armour in the Western Alps. Milan, Savoy and ‘the French style’ 1400-1500 (Chris Dobson eBook, 3rd February 2020). Out of print.
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 (free PDF eBook, September 2018). Out of print.
As Tough As Old Boots? Essays on the Manufacture and History of Hardened Leather Armour (Chris Dobson eBook, 18th May 2018). Read more 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
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). Out of Print.
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). Out of Print.
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).

© Chris Dobson 2024 | All rights reserved