Portrait of Professor Dame Nancy Rothwell unveiled at the Whitworth, Manchester

A portrait of The University of Manchester’s first female President and Vice-Chancellor, Professor Dame Nancy Rothwell, has been unveiled at a special event at the Whitworth art gallery in Manchester on 19 June to celebrate her leadership of the University, including her role in supporting its prominent cultural and artistic institutions.

Nancy was joined by other iconic women leaders from the world of arts and museums: Dr Maria Balshaw, Director of The Tate, Professor Sook-Kyung Lee, Director of the Whitworth , and Dr Carla van de Puttelaar, acclaimed Dutch portrait photographer.

Prior to the portrait unveiling, they participated in an ’in conversation’ to debate the importance of universities supporting art. Chancellor of The University of Manchester, Nazir Afzal, presided over the portrait unveiling, in the presence of invited University guests.

An eminent physiologist, Nancy is acclaimed for furthering the understanding of brain injury and stroke. Along with other distinguished academic leadership roles, she served on the Council of the Royal Society, co-chaired the Prime Minister’s Council for Science and Health and was a board member of AstraZeneca.

As President and Vice-Chancellor of The University of Manchester since 2010, she has grown the university, built its reputation and developed much of the campus.

I really wanted to have a different kind of portrait, not another oil painting! So I was interested in having my photograph taken. Carla’s work really appealed to me - not only because she is a renowned female artist - but she is so good at capturing people naturally, with honesty and intensity. I’ve really enjoyed working with her. Her professionalism and energy made this very interesting and fun for us both I hope people will like the final result as much as I do.


So how is The University of Manchester’s first female leader, acclaimed for transformative global and local impact, to be depicted for posterity? Whilst traditional for university leaders to have a portrait painted when they finish their role, Nancy has chosen to have her image captured by Carla van de Puttelaar, the eminent Dutch photographer who specialises in female portraits, shooting against black backgrounds and using only natural light.

In particular, Carla is known for her series of portraits of prominent leading women from across the globe - from artists and directors to cultural policy makers. By capturing the image of The University of Manchester’s first female President and Vice-Chancellor, this commission continues the important celebration of global women leaders in portraiture.

"I really wanted to have a different kind of portrait, not another oil painting! So I was interested in having my photograph taken. Carla’s work really appealed to me - not only because she is a renowned female artist - but she is so good at capturing people naturally, with honesty and intensity. I’ve really enjoyed working with her. Her professionalism and energy made this very interesting and fun for us both I hope people will like the final result as much as I do," said Nancy.

The process of creating the portrait has also been captured in a ’fly on the wall’ film , which was shown at the Whitworth. The portrait will be hung, along with portraits of previous University leaders, in The Christie Building, in the main University quad on Oxford Road.

Nancy’s term of office comes to an end on 31 July 2024, when she hands over the reins to Professor Duncan Ivison, former Vice-President for Research from the University of Sydney. She will continue to inspire the University in her position as Emerita Professor. Her successful tenure as President and Vice-Chancellor will also be marked by the naming of the engineering building, one of the largest educational spaces in Europe, as the Nancy Rothwell Building, on 24 July.