Woman Manion, Margaret Mary (1935 - )

Nowra, New South Wales, Australia
Art Historian

Written by Patricia Grimshaw, The University of Melbourne

Margaret Manion is one of Australia's pre-eminent art historians, whose scholarship on Medieval and Renaissance art and, in particular the art of the illuminated manuscript, is acclaimed internationally. Born in 1935 in Nowra, New South Wales, she was a student of the Loreto Convent at Normanhurst, New South Wales, and subsequently became a member of the Loreto Sisters. A graduate of Melbourne University and Bryn Mawr College, she has dedicated some thirty years of her life to developing the discipline of art history in this country.

As Herald Professor of Fine Arts at the University of Melbourne from 1979 to 1995, Margaret Manion set directions in the teaching of art history that have had far reaching consequences. These include the introduction of specialist courses in art curatorship and cinema studies. The art history programme which she fostered at Melbourne has equipped a generation of students, many of whom now hold positions as directors, curators and academics in major art institutions in Australia and abroad. Her influence transformed the postgraduate programme. She herself supervised in a range of areas, including Australian and indigenous art.

Margaret Manion's publications include the groundbreaking studies of Medieval and Renaissance Manuscripts in Australian and New Zealand collections (1984, 1989); major books such as Medieval Texts and Images (1991) and The Art of the Book: its Place in Medieval Worship (1998); and specialist studies such as The Wharncliffe Hours (1981). The Felton Illuminated Manuscripts in the National Gallery of Victoria (2005) breaks new ground, not only in bringing to light new research but also in the integration of text and image as a result of new technologies. In 2000, she was guest-curator of the major exhibition on the Book of Kells at the National Gallery of Australia. This exhibition also brought together fifty-five manuscripts from Australian collections and attracted an audience of some 81,000 people. An international conference was held in her honour in 2001, with a festschrift entitled: Reading Texts and Images: Essays on Medieval and Renaissance Art and Patronage in Honour of Margaret M Manion, published by Exeter University Press in the following year.

In 2008, Margaret was guest curator of an international exhibition of ninety-one illuminated manuscripts at the State Library of Victoria, called The Medieval Imagination: Medieval and Renaissance Manuscripts from Cambridge, Australia and New Zealand. The exhibition displayed over ninety manuscripts ranging from the thirteenth to the sixteenth centuries, half of which came from public collections in Australia and New Zealand and half from Cambridge and other British libraries. Some 110,000 people attended the exhibition, which was accompanied by many related activities planned to appeal to audiences and viewers of a variety of interests and ages. The exhibition concluded with an international conference the papers from which were published by Macmillan Australia in 2009. Together with co-author Professor Charles Zika of The University of Melbourne, Margaret has recently written a book on the medieval illuminated manuscripts in the Kerry Stokes collection that are now on exhibition at the Art Museum of the Benedictine Monastery in New Norcia, Western Australia.

In conjunction with a team of researchers from the Universities of Melbourne and Western Australia, and the State Library of Victoria as Industry Partner, Margaret is presently concluding an Australian Research Council Linkage Project: Medieval and Renaissance Manuscripts in Australia: researching and relating Australia's holdings to new technologies and new readers. This involves the digitisation of the manuscripts in the State Library of Victoria and the co-ordination on-line of other important collections in Victoria. The comprehensive presentation of these manuscripts on the web is accompanied by up-dated research information on each item.

Margaret Manion's high academic standing in art history is reflected in the role she has played on Australian and international professional bodies. She is a Fellow of the Australian Academy of the Humanities (of which she was Deputy President) and of the Australian College of Education. She was a foundation member for Australia of the Comité International d'Histoire de l'Art; a foundation member of the Società di Storia della Miniatura, Italy; and served for two terms as Foreign Adviser to the International Center of Medieval Art, New York.

Margaret Manion has also made an outstanding contribution to the academic and cultural life of the University. She was the first woman to be appointed to an established Chair in the University and the first woman to chair the Academic Board. She served as Deputy Dean and Acting Dean in the Faculty of Arts, and Associate Dean for Research. Her leadership in these roles included the development of supportive programmes for staff and postgraduate research and the establishment of the Australian Centre. Her achievements across the University have included her major role in the establishment of the Ian Potter Museum of Art.

Margaret Manion has brought passion, generosity, dedication and creativity to her work as a scholar and teacher. In keeping with the mandate of the Herald Chair to communicate the principles of the Fine Arts to the community, she has fostered the visual arts. She was a trustee of the National Gallery of Victoria for fifteen years and its Deputy President from 1984 to 1990. She has been a member of the Council of Adult Education (1989-1994), the Victorian Arts Centre Trust (1980-90), the Australia Council (1981-1984), and the Victorian Tapestry Workshop (1992-2000). She is a Life Member of the National Gallery of Victoria and an honorary curator of its collection of Early Medieval and Renaissance Art. In 2004, she was appointed Trustee emeritus of the National Gallery of Victoria in recognition of her continuing contribution to the Gallery.

Manion was made an Officer of the Order of Australia for her contribution to the arts and education in 1988. She received a Centenary Medal in 2001, and she was awarded an honorary Doctor of Letters by The University of Melbourne in 2007.

Archival Resources

National Library of Australia Oral History Collection

  • Interview with Margaret Manion, Professor Herald of Fine Arts, University of Melbourne, 1979-1995, Emeritus Professor, 1995- [sound recording] / interviewer, Ann Turner, 16 July 1997 - 19 November 1997, ORAL TRC 3605; National Library of Australia Oral History Collection. Details

The University of Melbourne Archives

  • Manion, Margaret Mary, 1987 - 1996, 1999.0036; The University of Melbourne Archives. Details
  • Manion, Margaret Mary, 1958 - 1993, 1996.0008; The University of Melbourne Archives. Details

Published Resources

Online Resources