Emeritus Professor Elizabeth Anne Rankin

BA(Hons), PhD, HDipLib (Witwatersrand)

Profile Image
Emeritus Professor


Elizabeth Rankin began teaching in the 1960s while studying for her first postgraduate degree in the Department of Fine Arts at the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg. She was to pursue motherhood and research concurrently with her lecturing, with two sons born in 1968 and 1970 and a PhD awarded in 1978. The first doctoral degree in Art History at that university, her thesis was a study of the development of knowledge and taste in the rediscovery of Greece, entitled "Englishmen on the Acropolis: an historiography of the Parthenon, c. 1750-1850".

In 1982 she was appointed to the new Chair of the History of Art at the University of the Witwatersrand. She became increasingly involved in the development of her discipline in South Africa, shifting her research interests to cross-cultural developments and the retrieval of neglected histories in South African art, not only in publications but also in the curating of exhibitions. She was elected to the Chair of the newly established South African Association of Art Historians in 1985. In 1990 her Faculty elected her as the first woman Dean of Arts for a challenging three-year term at a time of transition in South Africa. The many committees she served on at that time included the Minister of Education’s Advisory Council on Universities and Technikons.

In 1998 she took up the Professorship of Art History at The University of Auckland, where she has taught and supervised in a wide range of areas. Apart from heading her department at Auckland for many years, she was chair of the first exhibitions committee for the newly established Gus Fisher Gallery at the University, and the inaugural coordinator of the Postgraduate Programme in Museums and Cultural Heritage. In 2016 she was appointed Professor Emeritus when she retired, and she still supervises a number of PhD students.

Although she continues to pursue research in South Africa, her interests have expanded to include the art of her new home and she has published on a number of New Zealand artists.

Research | Current

Elizabeth Rankin's current research is focused on the historical frieze of the Voortrekker Monument in Pretoria, inaugurated in 1949, which visualised the story of the nineteenth-century 'Great Trek' to the hinterland of South Africa, and how it came to embody the foundation myths and ideology of Afrikanerdom. This challenging research has taken her not only to South African archives, but to the sculpture workshop in Florence where it was made, and to Munich where she is co-writing the book with Professor Rolf Schneider. They recently enjoyed a Getty Summer Scholarship which allowed them to work together at the Getty Villa, drawing on its outstanding library resources. 

Another important collaboration has been her long-standing work with South African printmaker Philippa Hobbs. Their most recent project was on South African artist Peter Clarke, who achieved a life-long career as a painter, printmaker and writer, despite being denied art training and forced from his home because of apartheid policies. The book was originally launched at a large scale retrospective exhibition in Johannesburg in May 2011 and subsequently at Iziko South African National Gallery in Cape Town in October 2011 to May 2012. and a second edition of the book was published in 2014. It is the most recent of many publications she has written on South African art, particularly the work of black artists who had been neglected in the past.

In New Zealand Elizabeth curated an exhibition with accompanying catalogue,'Collateral: Printmaking as Social Commentary', which opened at Auckland University's Gus Fisher Gallery on 1 July 2011 and included the work of New Zealanders Michael Reed and Sandra Thomson, American Daniel Heyman and South African Diane Victor. Also in 2011, Otago press published 'Fiona Pardington: The Pressure of Sunlight Falling', on a photographic series by New Zealand artist Fiona Pardington, which she co-edited with Kriselle Baker.

Elizabeth has also published a number of essays on New Zealand artist Marian Maguire, including a catalogue for an exhibition of Maguire's series of lithographs and etchings on Herakles as a New Zealand settler, which was shown in various European centres in 2015-16. She has recently edited a digital book on Neil Pardington's photographs in the series The Order of Things, written a catalogue essay on Robyn Hughes' Paschendaele works produced for the centenary of this battle of WWI, and has begun researching a project entitled Michael Shepherd's New Zealand icons: reinventing history painting for an exhibition at the Waikato Museum in Hamilton in 2019.

Postgraduate supervision

PhD supervision

Jane Davidson-Ladd Louis John Steele and the construction of a European art tradition in New Zealand; second supervisor (commenced 2015)

Hao Wu: Challenges in cross-cultural tourism: New Zealand museums and Chinese visitor experience​(commenced 2014)

Chiara Mannoni: Legislation on the protection of art and antiquity in nineteenth-century Rome and Athens (completed 2017)

Natalie Bell: The other woman: Non-marriage portraits of women in Renaissance Italy; second supervisor (completed 2016)

Ian Cooke: Encounters and Interactions: Artistic Contact and Exchange between New Zealand and the United States, 1955 to 1974 (completed 2015, Dean’s List)

Christopher Sommer: Representations of immigration in New Zealand Museums; co-supervisor (completed 2015)

Kathryn Higgins: Pacific Island residencies; second supervisor (completed 2011)

Mary Barker: Marian iconography in Rembrandt; second supervisor (completed 2010)

Kriselle Baker: Ralph Hotere 1968-1977: A Decade of Black and Light (completed 2009)

Celia Walker: Tracking Heaphy: Travels in the New Zealand Landscape (completed 2009)

Areas of expertise

  • Sculpture
  • Printmaking
  • South African art
  • Exhibitions and museums

Selected publications and creative works (Research Outputs)

  • Hobbs, P., & Rankin, E. (2013). Word and image in dialogue: Peter Clarke’s collages and Fan series. Image and Text, 21, 6-28. Related URL.
  • Rankin, E. (2013). Creating/Curating Cultural Capital: Monuments and Museums for Post-Apartheid South Africa. Humanities, 2 (1), 72-98. 10.3390/h2010072
  • Rankin, E. (2011). Negotiating narrative interstices: the lithographs and etchings of Marian Maguire. IMPACT 7: Intersections and Counterpoints: Proceedings of the Impact 7 international multi-disciplinary conference, 428-433. Melbourne: Monash University Publishing. Related URL.
  • Rankin, E. (2011). ‘Lonely Road: Formative episodes in the development of black artists in early twentieth-century South Africa’. In G. Jantjes, M. Pissarra, J. Carman (Eds.) Visual Century: South African Art in Context 1907-2007 (pp. 92-113). Johannesburg: Wits University Press.
    URL: http://hdl.handle.net/2292/13591
  • Rankin, E., & Baker, K. (Eds.) (2011). Fiona Pardington: the pressure of sunlight falling. Dunedin: Otago University Press. Pages: 159.
    URL: http://hdl.handle.net/2292/13722
  • Hobbs, P., & Rankin, E. (2011). Listening to distant thunder: the art of Peter Clarke. Johannesburg: Standard Bank.
    URL: http://hdl.handle.net/2292/12676
  • Rankin, E. (2011). Human rights and human wrongs: public perceptions of Diane Victor's 'Disasters of Peace'. South African Journal of Art History, 26 (1), 85-95.
  • Rankin, E. (2011). Creating communities: art centres and workshops and their influence on the South African art scene. In G. Jantjes, M. Pissarra, L. Von Robbroeck (Eds.) Visual Century: South African Art in Context 1907-2007 (pp. 52-77). Johannesburg: Wits University Press.

Contact details

Primary office location

ARTS 1 - Bldg 206
Level 4, Room 413
New Zealand