Jennifer Stager specializes in the art and architecture of the ancient Mediterranean and its afterlives. Her areas of focus include theories of color and materiality, feminisms, multilingualism and cultural exchange, disability studies, ancient Greek and Roman medicine, performance, and classical receptions.
Stager’s first book, Seeing Color in Classical Art: Theories, Practices, Receptions from Antiquity to the Present (Cambridge University Press 2022), offers a critical account of color as material in ancient Mediterranean art and architecture. Traversing sites from Athens to Antioch, Seeing Color in Classical Art traces color across media, including handheld panel paintings, painted monumental reliefs, alloyed bronzes, and mosaic floors. This book explores the materiality of color from the ground up through analysis of the pigments, dyes, stones, soils, and metals that artists crafted into polychrome forms. Artistic practices also shaped a literary and philosophical landscape encompassing Sapphic lyric, Presocratic atomism, and Theophrastan natural history and produced a discourse on color by ancient Greek writers that reverberates in the present. Despite these abundant traces of color, ancient Mediterranean art has long been reduced to the white marble of its ruins to stage an idealized, monochrome picture of the past. This book examines the process by which this reception tradition has elevated whiteness and feminized and racialized color. In response, this book illuminates the construction of the category of the classical in modernity and challenges its claims to order and exceptionalism. Ultimately, Seeing Color in Classical Art harnesses ancient ideas of materiality, care, landscape, visual exchange, and artistic atomism to theorize color in the ancient Mediterranean and its afterlives.
Ancient artists and healers often put the same materials to different use—making art and healing people—a connection that Stager explores in her next book. Making Medicine: The Arts of Healing in the Ancient Mediterranean (in progress) explores the importance of the visual arts for the development of ancient medicine. Crafting such a visual history intervenes in the predominantly text-driven histories of medicine to elevate women healers, laborers across the gender-spectrum, and transcultural knowledge-sharing produced through and archived in the visual arts.
In Spring 2020, Stager launched the Antioch Recovery Project (ARP), using digital tools to analyze mosaic fragments excavated from Antioch in the 1930s and now dispersed to institutions across the globe, including the Baltimore Museum of Art. Phase III is underway in Fall 2023. Connected with a suite of public-facing, digital components, Stager is working on a monograph, The Antioch Recovery Project: antiquity, archaeology, & archive.
An Archaeology of Disability, a research station curated for La Biennale di Venezia Architettura (May-November 2021) with David Gissen and Mantha Zarmakoupi, reconstructs elements of the Acropolis in Athens through the lens of disability and impairment and in languages and forms developed by and for contemporary disabled people. After Venice, the research station traveled to La Gipsoteca di Arte Antica, Pisa (January-April 2022) and is currently on view in Athens at the Canellopoulos Museum.
As a curator, Stager has collaborated on a range of institutional and extra-institutional exhibitions and she writes for academic and public audiences at Art Practical, ASAP/J, Classical Receptions Journal, Eidolon, Hesperia, Open Space, Post 45 Contemporaries, RES: Aesthetics & Anthropology. With Leila Easa, she is guest editing a folio “Locating a Collective Lyric I” for The Hopkins Review. The folio’s exploration of the frictions between individuals and collectives expands from a book of essays in classical receptions and feminist criticism, Public Feminism in Times of Crisis: From Sappho’s Fragments to Viral Hashtags, co-written with Easa and published in 2022 ("highly recommended" by Choice Reviews).
Professor Stager’s work has been supported by fellowships from the National Institute of Humanities and the Getty Research Institute, the Center for Advanced Study in the Visual Arts, and the Center for Hellenic Studies in Washington DC, and the Johns Hopkins Catalyst Award.