My research and teaching interests concern Italian art and culture from c. 1300–c. 1600. My current research focuses on the artistic culture of the late Renaissance (c. 1520–1600), a period characterized by religious crisis, intense artistic and cultural experimentation and debate, and the accelerating development of early modern art theory and criticism. I have studied archaism and retrospection as responses to concerns about religious and social identity; more generally, I am committed to the study of ways in which artistic styles in this period could signify and make meaning. In Federico Barocci. Allure and Devotion in Late Renaissance Painting (Yale, 2008), I probed the negotiations between retrospection and innovative pictorial practice that characterized much of the best art of the second half of the sixteenth century. In so doing, I explored both the formation of distinctive early modern pictorial strategies and unexpected ways in which period art criticism and theory enable new readings of the cultural significance of stylistic choices in sixteenth-century painting.
In my current project, Bronzino’s Bodies and Mannerism's Masks, I reconsider the radical and ultimately contested sixteenth century attempt to place the ideal human body at the center of representation, even in sacred art. Moreover, I offer a new reading of the art we have called Mannerism, which dominated Italy and ultimately Europe for half a century and yet remains an interpretive conundrum. I argue that it is precisely a self-conscious elusiveness in much Mannerist art that produces our historiographic aporia. Masking, dissimulation, and irony haunt much ambitious Central Italian art from the 1520s through the 1560s, engendering a poetics of style that frequently appears calculated to exceed, even at times to destabilize, its ostensible political and religious functions. As I am completing Bronzino's Bodies, I have evolved a third book project, Painting's Dreams at the End of the World, which reinterprets a cluster of remarkably inventive artistic experiments around 1500 in relation to fertile tensions between an increasing investment in the artistic imagination, religious reform and millenarian expectations, the fashion for neo-antique grotesque ornament, and the momentous European encounter with the Americas.
My research has been supported by the Center for Advanced Study in the Visual Arts; Villa I Tatti, the Harvard Center for Italian Renaissance Studies; and the Kress Foundation. Beyond my book projects, other research and teaching interests include: the religious image, and particularly the altarpiece; the rise of mythological painting; period conceptions of the power of images; the culture of the “desiring beholder,” and the developing relationship between painting and music. I offer courses in Italian art of the fourteenth through the sixteenth centuries, and teach in the University of Washington’s Art and Art History Seminar in Rome.