Upcoming Events

“Not Just for Sailors Any More”: Maritime Tattooing in Context

Research Seminar – Matt Lodder, Gemma Angel

  • 12 June 2024
  • 5:00 – 7:00 pm
  • This talk is part of a series entitled Out to Sea, which will focus on the influence of oceans and their coasts, in relation to Britain and its global empire, on visual and architectural imagination and production.
  • Paul Mellon Centre and Online, Paul Mellon Centre

Nine stylised illustrations depicting British naval regalia in the form of coat of arms, including sailors, anchors, and swords As an opening line for an article in a popular newspaper about tattoos, the suggestion that “tattoos are not just for sailors anymore” is a familiar one. Indeed, it often feels as if the same sentiment graces every article about tattooing in the mainstream press. Tattooing, we have been told again and again recently, is coming of age – finally coming out of the murky shadows of the deviant underworld to leave its mark on the most well heeled. Tattoos are now to be seen on catwalks, on trading floors and around the chicest tables.

The hacks who churn out these stories might be surprised to learn, then, that the popular media has been reporting the arrival of tattooing in high society for nearly one hundred and fifty years. Indeed, in 1926, Vanity Fair reported that “tattooing has passed from the savage to the sailor, from the sailor to the landsman, and is now to be found beneath many a tailored shirt”.

In this talk, Matt will discuss the longstanding intersections between tattooing and maritime [visual] cultures, but also consider why tattoos have been so indelibly associated with the sea, despite their continuous presence amongst urban populations in Europe and America for more than four centuries. Moreover, with attention to visual evidence, he will illustrate the relationships between handicrafts made on board ships and the persistent folk imagery of the Western tattoo tradition.

Respondent: Gemma Angel, Lecturer in Museum Studies, University of Leicester.

About the speakers

  • Matt Lodder is an art historian, curator, writer, podcaster and broadcaster. He is currently Senior Lecturer in Art History and Theory, and Director of American Studies at the University of Essex. His research primarily concerns the application of art-historical methods to history of Western tattooing from the seventeenth century to the present day, with a principal focus on the professional era from the 1880s onwards.

    His first monograph, Painted People: Humanity in 21 Tattoos, was published in 2022. His next book, on the history of the Western tattoo industry will be released by Yale University Press in 2024. His latest major exhibition, British Tattoo Art Revealed, began at the National Maritime Museum Falmouth in March 2017 and toured the UK through to 2021.

  • Gemma Angel headshot

    Gemma Angel is an interdisciplinary scholar specialising in: the history and anthropology of the European tattoo; post-mortem tattoo collecting and preservation practices; and medical museum collections of human remains.

    She completed her doctoral thesis at University College London (UCL) in 2013 in collaboration with the Science Museum, on a collection of three-hundred preserved tattooed human skins of nineteenth-century European origin. Gemma is currently a lecturer and Programme Director for the MA in Museum Studies in the School of Museum Studies at the University of Leicester.

    She has previously held a number of prestigious teaching and research fellowships including: a junior research fellowship at UCL Institute of Advanced Studies (2015–2016); an O’Donnell visiting educator position at Whitman College, WA (2018); and a society fellowship at Cornell University Society for the Humanities, working on the research theme Skin (2016–2017).

    Her research interests encompass the medical humanities, anthropology, science and technology studies (STS), museums and visual culture, as well as the methodological intersection of ethnography and historiography.