A central concern of all my work in the Renaissance is the historical investigation of what we call “style” and its role in visual communication. Literary conceptions of style in poetics and rhetoric provide an essential starting point for investigating style as social performance. My writing on role of calligraphic line in the fifteenth century Ferrarese painter Cosmè Tura, or disturbing stylizations of the body in the work of the sixteenth century Florentines Pontormo or Rosso is grounded in the inseparability of formal/aesthetic concerns on one hand and discursive/semiotic ones on the other. The 2006 book The Cabinet of Eros made a case for the interdependency of literary and aesthetic concerns to one of the distinctive idioms of Renaissance art (secular and mythological painting), in opposition to Modernist and modernizing narratives about the period which have tended to treat “literariness” as a vestige of the non-artistic. The book also sought to re-open the question of the role of paganism and the pagan gods in the elite cultures of Renaissance Italy before and after 1500; it locates discussion of two important cycles of mythological paintings (for the studioli of Isabella and Alfonso d’Este) away from the idiosyncracies of individual patrons and into a more systematic examination of the cultures of reading and collecting among Italian elites, while maintaining a focus on questions of gender, sexuality, and embodied viewing. More recent work on the principle of “grafting’ in Venetian art (especially Titian and Giulio Campagnola) develops further analogies with modes of literary composition in the 1500s. Other work has concerned the construction of Jews and Judaism in Renaissance Christian art (Ferrara, Rome and Brescia in particular) – through stylistic as well as iconographical means.
I was educated at Trinity College, Dublin (BA 1985), the University of North Carolina (MA 1987), and Johns Hopkins University (1993). Before joining the faculty of Johns Hopkins in 2002, I taught at Case Western Reserve University (1993-94), the University of Michigan (1995-1999), and the University of Pennsylvania (1999-2002). In 1993 I published a book for a general audience on the Great Irish Famine of 1847-1851, with a preface by President of Ireland Mary Robinson. In 2002 I was guest curator at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Boston, for the exhibition Cosmè Tura: Painting and Design in Renaissance Ferrara.
I have held post-doctoral fellowships at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (1994-95); the Harvard University Center for Italian Renaissance Studies at Villa I Tatti in Florence (1999-2000); and the Center for Advanced Study in the Visual Arts, National Gallery, Washington (2005-06).