Doctor of Philosophy in Art History (PhD)
Microscope/Macrocosm: Early Modern Technology, Visualization and Representations of Nature
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Dissertations completed in 2010 or later are listed below. Please note that there is a 6-12 month delay to add the latest dissertations.
The female act of childbirth was deemed grotesque and an unsuitable subject for medieval Christian art while the veneration of images of the crucified Christ’s naked, ruptured, bleeding body was assiduously fostered. My dissertation interrogates the visual and textual interpretive frameworks that constructed the image of a dead, tortured, man as the mother of humankind while rendering women’s childbirth invisible. Saturating medieval visual culture with crucifixes, depictions of the naked, suffering body of Christ, and in images of Christ’s side wound isolated as an independent subject for veneration and depicted as preternaturally vaginal and sexual, the medieval church normalized the notion of the male body as parturitive. Striking, visceral fourteenth century frescoes of Hell are activated by a feminized Satan birthing “babies”, visually articulating the church’s misogynistic perception of the female body as monstrous and dangerously carnal and childbirth as ugly and grotesque. My dissertation examines how gender was manipulated in medieval Christian visual media to communicate powerful and enduring perceptions of the role of men and women, of the female and male contribution to procreation, and their contribution to the origin and existence of humankind. I argue that radical shifts in the figuring of the Virgin and Christ in the eleventh to fourteenth centuries neutered and infantilized the Virgin to construct Christ as the mother of humankind. Estranging the Virgin’s and Christ’s figuring in medieval art, I analyze the visual mechanisms deployed in constructing their gender – figural poses, gestures, activities, body language, clothing or state of undress, and demeanor – to explore the differences in their expressive potential, of their bodies ability to express mental, emotional, and physical states. My analysis of the shifts in the figuring of the Virgin and Christ, and the dynamic of their complex visual interrelationship, opens significant new discourses of appropriation and displacement, applying the expanding field of spolia to the plundering of the Virgin’s creative materiality to construct Christ as generative and maternal. My dissertation postulates that images – reinforced with the apparatus of religion, natural philosophy, medical, and art historical discourses – underpinned and sustained the displacement of female generative materiality onto Christ’s male body.
Theses completed in 2010 or later are listed below. Please note that there is a 6-12 month delay to add the latest theses.
In 1551, Pieter Aertsen produced a painting that would cause a paradigm shift in the discipline of painting. In the midst of the Protestant Reformation, Aertsen pushed the previously dominant religious subject matter into the background while having earthly foodstuffs dominate the foreground of his panel. This form came to be known as the “inverted still life” and allowed Aertsen to infuse the work with religious symbols while also conforming to the new structures of the Reformation. Aertsen’s panel, covered with a panoply of representations of meat would serve a dual purpose: the legitimization of the secular world as a subject worthy of painting and it would be inspiration for artists for centuries to come. Indirectly influenced by Aertsen, Annibale Carracci would soon after paint a scene of a butcher’s stall. One hundred years after Aertsen, Rembrandt would directly quote a hanging carcass from the background of Aertsen’s work. These works while tied together thematically through representations of animal flesh and meat, can create within a viewer a vastly different experience from one another. This thesis examines the reasoning behind such differences: the materiality of paint. How paint is applied to canvas or panel can drastically alter a viewer’s perception of the represented scene. Thinly applied paint allows for finer details, but can present a more static image. Thick impasto, piled into peaks and valleys that catch and block light forestall detailed representations, but do instill a physical, visceral experience in a viewer. Paint becomes a physical trace of the artist’s hand, a hand which ultimately wrests the power of incarnation away from God and instilling it within His own creation: the artist.
The Vanishing Point series of drawings by contemporary British artist Barbara Walker consists ofreplicas of early modern paintings in which a Black figure is depicted in a service, subordinate rolewithin the composition, creating clear and harmful power dynamics with the white main subjects.With the help of technology Walker removes the overall scene leaving it almost abstracted throughthe technique of embossing and draws out the Black figure in graphite. By transferring visibilityback to the Black subject, and offering another perspective or interpretation on the works, tocontrast with the institutional position, Walker emphasises the absence of Black representation inthe national archives and, by extension, in the collective memory of British society. This thesisconsiders Walker’s series potential as paradigm of anti-racist, Black feminist approach/action inorder to challenge and disrupt the very conception of National Galleries’ Western canonical arthistorical discourse.By analysing Walker’s work, I do not contend it to be purely her — or any other minority artist’s—responsibility to challenge the canonical discourse. On the contrary, employing Giorgio Agamben’stheories on profanation, I argue for the public national institutions’ urgent active engagement in anact of self-profanation, explicitly exposing the construction of their self professed authority and ofthe Western art historical narrative. The main narration of my thesis considers the implications ofWalker’s drawings as critical replicas of past epistemologies establishing a dialogue with earlymodern ideologies and reflecting on their repercussions on the social fabric of the present. Aparallel discussion, taking place through interludes between the main chapters, speculates over thefuture of institutional handling of historical art, and the changing positions towards museum-goingamong the public. The research aims at expressing the necessity of new readings of canonical textsand works, in order to make whiteness and its power visible, while simultaneously acknowledgingthe interpretative powers and agencies of minorities in defining and expressing their experiences assubjects.
Shortly after the initial experiments in linear perspective began during the early fifteenth century so too did the printed image begin to assert itself with increasing prevalence. As a purely linear medium, and with the presence of crosshatching, printed images visualize the grid in ways unlike that of painting. The grid is often presented within these images wholly and integral, as that which is not only responsible for mapping space but also for making space. However, the grid also seems to appear at its most salient precisely in the places within the image where it seeks to conceal or naturalize its presence; places such as shadows, empty walls, or between pleats of fabric. From the outset it was Alberti’s intention that his velo, a perspectival tool comprised of a gridded net-work of threads reticulated inside an empty frame, transcend its materiality to reach the level of internalization in its users. This would assist in the development of an intuitive sense of proportion and perspective – as a tool to alter the individual’s perception of the world and therefore change the way it was represented. Similarly, theorists of the printed image have commented on its ability to materialize perceptual processes, to transmit information through the process of impression. By examining Alberti’s velo alongside the theme of the Veil of Veronica as it appears in the printed image, my thesis will consider the notion of reproducibility as it relates to both the iterability of the homogenizing system of linear perspective as well as the replication and dissemination of printed images in order to point to the pervasive power of the grid as a form which infiltrates the image in early modern Western Europe and acts as a structural paradigm of modernity.
Elements from Dutch seventeenth-century still-lifes—the trompe-l’oeil motif of the painted curtain, vases of flowers, books and writing instruments—appear in a unique form of Korean painting on folding screens (Chaekgeori) during the late Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910). Connecting still-life paintings from the seventeenth-century Dutch Republic to the culture of eighteenth-century Joseon Korea, this thesis explores the natures of representation and vision and anxieties about material wealth and everyday objects in both the Protestant Netherlands and the Confucian Joseon dynasty. An important bridge between these two cultures is Qing (1644-1911) China, which had closer cultural contact with Europe than Korea during the eighteenth-century. During this period, Korean scholars were part of the same circles in the same environment in Beijing as European envoys and painters in residence at the Beijing Palace, such as the Italian Jesuit father Giuseppe Castiglione (郞世寧, 1688–1766), known for his illusionistic still-lifes. Thus, China, Korea and Europe were in direct contact, exchanging ideas on various fields of arts and sciences. Not only do I consider the still-life genre as a series of conventions in painting, but more importantly as a mode of exchange through and in representation that allows me to position late Joseon Korea within the larger artistic network of the early modern era between Europe and East Asia.
My thesis examines for the first time the extraordinary relationship among the frontispieces and illustrations of three mid-sixteenth century anatomical texts: Andreas Vesalius’ famous 1543 De humani corporis fabrica, hereinafter “Fabrica;” Juan Valverde’s 1556 Historia de la composicion del cuorpo humano, hereinafter “Historia;” and Realdo Columbo’s 1559 De re Anatomica. These frontispieces enact a sequential, dialogic – and most importantly – visual exchange of contemporary, interpenetrating debates on anatomical science, art practice, and art theory. They stage a contest, paregone, between Michelangelo and Titian, art and science, image and text and different modes of producing and framing knowledge. Vesalius’ paradigm shift in anatomical science required direct observation of the human body’s interior structures and their accurate, systematized, visual representation. Anatomy’s demands for precise visual depiction collided with sixteenth century Italian ideology that perceived the body as the pinnacle of creation and portrayed it in a classical, idealizing mode. Vesalius’ and Valverde’s insistence that their anatomical illustrations serve different visual constituencies – physicians, anatomists and artists; audiences with conflicting visual demands, posed unprecedented problems of presentation. These frontispieces and illustrations expose the graphical processes underpinning a new visual paradigm forged to meet these diverse, conflicting representational requirements. Combining new visual conventions developed to illustrate machines in the emerging genre of engineering treatises, innovative drawing techniques appropriated from art practice, and fine art practice’s classicized human form, generated the animated cadavers that strut and gesture across the pages of these works creating a template for anatomical illustration that persisted for centuries. These frontispieces’ oppositional iconographic systems, encoded visual vocabularies, and emblems reveal the contemporary taste for deciphering visual puzzles, opening a portal into the mid-sixteenth century visual imagination. Inscribing an extended, witty, historiography of the origins of a new visual paradigm plundered from fragments of Raphael’s, Michelangelo’s and Titian’s most celebrated works; works whose own pillaging from classical art they expose, these frontispieces and illustrations peel away layers of artistic artifice to reveal the means of their own representation and its limitations.