Research Stream


Richard Read (Full term)
The University of Western Australia

Extra-Intra-Recto-Verso: The Reversed Painting in Western Art

For the purpose of this research project the reversed painting is defined as an easel painting that depicts another painting or paintings seen from the back. Tracing the motif of the reversed painting in several continents over the last five centuries is a history of a mystery that expresses emotional suspense and curiosity about what is hidden on the other side of the depicted painting.


Adélaïde Labille-Guiard, Self-Portrait with Two Pupils, Marie Gabrielle Capet (1761–1818) and Marie Marguerite Carreaux de Rosemond (died 1788)

The aim of this book project, which received ARC funding, is to provide new insights into the institutional history of Western painting revealed by conceptual changes in the nature of secrets and of relationship between viewers and pictorial worlds, especially where the evolving interchange between the visible and the invisible is concerned.

With current interest in the aesthetic theory of doubling, folding, dialectical, anachronistic and other meta-images, the reversed canvas owes its fascination to the virtuosity of its semiotic capacity to withhold, disclose, materialise, idealise, interpellate, zone, occlude and remotely activate beyond the frame, practices which all trigger strong configurations of emotion. These themes are explored in loosely chronological chapters on paintings of ‘backs’ in distinctly different settings: (by chapter) churches, courts, studios, academies, galleries, commercial and colonial spaces and the interactive spaces opened up by new media from the 1960s onward.
As a pictorial motif ‘backs’ arose from the coincidence of four factors during the fifteenth century: the rising social status of the artist, the decline of the ecclesiastical altarpiece, the spread of domestic easel painting, and the perfection of perspective techniques. The core idea that subtends this pictorial motif in its development from the early modern period to the present is how the occlusive power of its many permutations generates social critique and community feeling by promoting reverie about the changing nature of what is collectively unseen, repressed and unknown.

Publications 2009–2018

Read, R. ‘Painting as New Medium: The Reversed Canvas in Colonial Art’.  In Crossing Cultures: Conflict, Migration and Convergence, edited by Jaynie Anderson, pp. 997–1002. Melbourne: Miegunyah Press, 2009. (Invited).

Read, R. ‘Intra-Extra-Recto-Verso: Ontological Realms in Reversed Paintings’. Melbourne Art Journal 11–12 (2009): 120–35.

Read, R. ‘The Diastolic Rhythm of the Art Gallery: Originals, Copies and Reversed Paintings’. The Australian and New Zealand Journal of Art 10 (2010): 57–77.

Read, R. 'The Relational Origins of Inter-media Art in Painting, Interior Design and Picture Framing: Pamela Gaunt’s Errant Abstractions’. craft + design enquiry (2012): 10–133. Nine coloured illustrations (invited).

Read, R. 'Painting and Technology: Samuel F. B.Morse and the Transmission of Intelligence'.  In Samuel F. B. Morse’s “Gallery of the Louvre” and the Art of Invention, edited by P. J. Brownlee. Chicago: Terra Foundation of American Art, 2014. 9,000 words and 15 illustrations (invited).

Read, R. ‘The Thin End of the Wedge: Self, Soul and Body in Rembrandt's Kenwood Self Portrait’.  In Conjunctions: Body and Mind from Plato to Descartes, edited by Danijela Kambaskovic-Sawers, pp. 65–95. Dordrocht: Springer, 2015. (Invited).

Read, R. ‘The Emotional Historiography of Michelangelo’s Antonioni’s L’Eclisse’. Special Dossier: Emotions, History, and Philosophy in Cinema, edited by Louise D’Arcens and Robert Sinnerbrink, Screening the Past, Uploaded 21 December, 2016:  (invited)

Read, R. ‘Possibilization and Desuetude: The Politics of the Reversed Canvas’. Transformations: Journal of Media, Culture and Technology 27 (2016) (invited keynote paper), uploaded January 2016:

Read, R. 'Negation, Possibilisation, Emergence and the Reversed Canvas’. Insights E-Journal 8 (2015) (invited): uploaded 2016:

Read, R. 'Boosting the Power of New Liturgy: the Hidden Sides of Things in Pseudo Giotto's Crib at Greccio'. In Performing Emotions in the Medieval and Early Modern World, edited by Joanne McEwan and Philippa Maddern, ‘Late Medieval and Early Modern Studies Series’. Turnhout: Brepols, forthcoming 2018) (invited)

Image: Adélaïde Labille-Guiard, Self-Portrait with Two Pupils, Marie Gabrielle Capet (1761–1818) and Marie Marguerite Carreaux de Rosemond (died 1788), oil on canvas, 1785. Gift of Julia A. Berwind, 1953. Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.