Emeritus Professor Elizabeth Anne Rankin

BA(Hons), PhD, HDipLib (Witwatersrand)

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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 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.

Elizabeth continues to pursue research and publish on both South African and New Zealand art.

Research | Current

Elizabeth Rankin's most recent research has 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 has taken her not only to South African archives, but to the sculpture workshop in Florence where the frieze was carved, to Munich to write with her co-author, Professor Rolf Schneider, and to Los Angeles where a Getty Summer Scholarship enabled them to work together at the Getty Villa, drawing on its outstanding library resources. The lavishly illustrated two-volume work is being published by De Gruyter in 2020, and will also appear as an open access online publication by African Minds.

While Elizabeth has written on many South African artists, particularly sculptors and the work of black artists neglected in the past, another important collaboration has been her long-standing work with South African Philippa Hobbs. Together they have published monographs and organised exhbitions on South African printmaking and the important art centre at Rorke's Drift, which uniquely offered training to black artists during the apartheid years. Their most recent book was on artist Peter Clarke, originally launched at a major retrospective exhibition in Johannesburg in May 2011 and subsequently at Iziko South African National Gallery in Cape Town in October 2011 to May 2012. A second edition of the book was published in 2014. Elizabeth also contributed chapters to the four-volume revisionist history, Visual Century: South African Art in Context 1907-2007.

In New Zealand she brought an exhibition on William Kentridge to Auckland University's Gus Fisher Gallery in 2002, and, in 2011, curated an exhibition with accompanying catalogue,'Collateral: Printmaking as Social Commentary' that included the work of New Zealanders Michael Reed and Sandra Thomson, American Daniel Heyman and South African Diane Victor. The same year Otago press published 'Fiona Pardington: The Pressure of Sunlight Falling', which she contributed to and co-edited with Kriselle Baker. As well as writing articles, catalogue essays and chapters on various New Zealand artists, she has edited a digital book on Neil Pardington's photographs in his series 'The Order of Things'.

Elizabeth has also published a number of essays on New Zealand printmaker 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. Her most recent New Zealand research was for an exhibition and catalogue entitled 'Michael Shepherd: Reinventing history painting', hosted at the Waikato Museum in Hamilton in 2019. She will give an invitation lecture on the work of these two artists at the University of Johannesburg in April 2020.

Postgraduate supervision

PhD supervision

Hao Wu: Challenges in cross-cultural tourism: New Zealand museums and Chinese visitor experience​ (completed 2019)

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)

As of 29 October 2020 there will be no automatic updating of 'selected publications and creative works' from Research Outputs. Please continue to keep your Research Outputs profile up to date.
  • Rankin, E. (2018). Michael Shepherd: Reinventing history painting. Hamilton, New Zealand: Waikato Musuem Te Whare Taonga o Waikato. Pages: 115.
  • Rankin, E. (2017). A Janus-like juncture: Reconciling past and present at the Voortrekker Monument and Freedom Park. In Miller, K, B. Schmahmann (Eds.) Public art in South Africa: Bronze warriors and plastic presidents (pp. 3-28). Bloomington, USA: Indiana University Press.
  • Rankin, E., & Schneider, R. M. (2017). 'Copy nothing': Classical ideals and Afrikaner ideologies at the Voortrekker monument. In G. Parker (Ed.) South Africa, Greece, Rome: Classical confrontations (pp. 141-212). Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press. Related URL.
  • Rankin, E. (2015). Marian Maguires Mythologie: Bilder der Antike in Aotearoa Neuseeland. The Labours of Herakles as a New Zealand pioneer (pp. 18-60). Christchurch, NZ: PaperGraphica.
  • Hobbs, P., & Rankin, E. (2014). Listening to distant thunder: The art of Peter Clarke (2nd). Cape Town, South Africa: Fernwood. Pages: 224. 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). ‘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

Contact details

Primary office location

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