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Object Matters

The Chau Chak Wing Museum's monthly podcast series
Host Dr Craig Barker asks guests to choose any one item to discuss from the museum’s collections of art, archaeology, natural history, science and culture.

The scallop’s gaze: visual culture in the aquarium

Episode three


Art historian Dr Ann Elias came across the haunting image of a scallop in an aquarium while researching ocean histories and early 20th century underwater photography. Captured by the camera while opening its valves, the scallop almost appears to be grinning at us. Dr Elias was immediately reminded of the work of artist Odilon Redon, who created hybrid human and non-human creatures in his paintings and drawings. The gaze of the scallop also captured the attentions of philosopher Henri Bergson and University of Sydney marine biologist William John Dakin, who proposed contradictory theories about the similarities of scallop eyes and human eyes. Science, philosophy, art and dreams are all on the table in this deep dive into an underwater lantern slide.

Visit the object record to see more about this lantern slide. 

Ann Elias

Guest: Associate Professor Dr Ann Elias is Chair of the Department of Art History at the University of Sydney and is a researcher with the Sydney Environment Institute.

Lantern slide image of a scallop

'Mollusca - Pecten', Zoology Department Lantern Slide Collection, c. 1909-10. Photograph by Francis Ward. Macleay Historic Photography Collections.


Graveside Gifts - three white ground lekythoi

Episode Two


When Dr Paul Donnelly first saw the grieving figures depicted on this trio of white ground lekythoi, he felt an instant human connection. Created in the 5th century BC, these Greek ceramic vessels were intended as a graveside gift for a departed loved one, filled with oil for use in their afterlife. Paul speaks to Dr Craig Barker about these finely crafted vessels and their journey from ancient Athens to the Nicholson Collection in Australia, via World War Two Paris.

Download transcript (docx, 1.1 MB)

Guest: Dr Paul Donnelly, Deputy Director of the Chau Chak Wing Museum and practicing archaeologist.


Attic white ground lekythos, Athens, Greece,

Three attic white ground lekythoi, Athens, Greece, Classical period. Nicholson Collection.

Object details:

  1. Attic white ground lekythos, Athens, Greece, 450-425BC. (NM41.1) View full object record
  2. Attic white ground lekythos, Painter of New York 23.166, Athens, Greece, 450-425BC. (NM41.2) View full object record
  3. Attic white ground lekythos, Triglyph Painter, Athens, Greece, 425-400BC. (NM41.3) View full object record


The Venetian Queen of Cyprus

Episode One

Dr Craig Barker was an archaeology student when he first encountered the captivating painting of Caterina Cornaro, Queen of Cyprus, in his professor’s office. Venetian born Caterina’s rule began with tragedy in 1474, as she took the throne following the death of her husband King James II and infant son, and it ended with sorrow in 1489 as the last monarch of Cyprus was forced to surrender control of Cyprus to the Venetians. 

Visit the object record to read more about the painting. 

Download transcript (docx, 1.1 MB)

Oil painting depicting regal woman in black

Caterina Cornaro Queen of Cyprus
Italian school, circa 1500
Oil on Canvas
Donated by Sir Charles Nicholson 1865



Top banner: Microphone from the Macleay scientific instruments collection. 


Dr Craig Barker

Manager, Education and Public Programs, Chau Chak Wing Museum

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