Expertise: Early Modern European Art
I am a specialist in early modern European art with research interests that range from the sixteenth century to the present and engage questions of historical visualities, non-textual knowledge, canon formation, media specificity, periodization, gender, and the historiography of Western art history. Through fine-grained historical research, I seek to recover the cultural specificity of what is commonly called “style” and to activate visual forms as primary sources with the potential to reconfigure larger scholarly narratives in and beyond art history. My scholarship reorients our understanding of the formation of the ideal of Greek classicism, the historical stakes of the “baroque” in sculpture, and, in my most recent work on Caravaggio and the pan-European movement he inspired, Western concepts of naturalism and virtuality. My research has been supported by fellowships from Villa I Tatti, CASVA, and the Kress Foundation, and from 2016-18 I was the Andrew W. Mellon Professor at the Center for Advanced Study in the Visual Arts at the National Gallery in Washington.
My current book project, To Destroy Caravaggio: Art History and the Western Tradition, interrogates the repeated assertions of seventeenth-century art writers that Caravaggio “had come into the world to destroy painting.” My study argues that academic art theory took shape around the perceived necessity of repressing Caravaggio’s innovative technique and the new form of visuality it enabled. This same academic criticism actively produced key conceptual binaries—including “naturalism” and “idealism”—upon which the self-narration of the Western artistic tradition long relied. These conceptual categories, moreover, structured the academic discipline of art history from its emergence in the nineteenth century. My book will offer a new account of Caravaggism as a technique that, in contrast to the projective methods of linear perspective, was fundamentally receptive and approached the studio model from the scenario of still life. Organized around the ground-zero moments of c. 1600 and c. 1900, my study proposes that far from a teleological and technological progression from linear perspective to photography, post-Renaissance image-making in the West was shaped by fear of and resistance to what I term “the photographic option.” By activating censured artworks to interrogate the very categories used against them, we obtain a new vantage point on the investments of the Western tradition, a vantage point critical to the urgent work now underway of rethinking the practice of art history within a global framework.
I offer graduate and undergraduate courses in seventeenth- and eighteenth-century European art and teach regularly at the UW’s Rome Center.