I am privileged to serve as Director of the Institute of Fine Arts as well as being a professor of art history at the Institute. My area of specialization is Italian Renaissance art. Candidly, my choice of that field grew out of an enduring attachment to Florence, dating from three formative years I spent there between high school and college. For two of those years I was an assistant to Dr. Klara Steinweg, who was completing a volume of the Corpus of Florentine Painting, a project begun by her mentor (and Institute professor), Richard Offner. The work was being published by the Institute, which became my first as well as my current employer. Dr. Steinweg’s meticulous erudition both inspired and daunted me. Her example taught me the necessity of achieving intimate knowledge of the works being studied as physical objects and as products of their histories, material and textual.
Subsequently, as an undergraduate student at Yale and in my graduate work at the Courtauld Institute (M.A.) and Harvard (Ph.D.), I roamed through various fields, among them American decorative arts and material culture, English eighteenth-century art, and Islamic art, as well as gaining experience as a museum intern and gallery guide. My academic itinerary eventually led me back to Italy, and I wrote my dissertation on Giorgio Vasari’s Lives of the Artists.
Investigating sources represents an underlying theme in my research, be they objects or texts. So, too, are questions of placements and displacements and transformations over time – transformations in form and in forms of understanding and interpretation. After publishing my book, Giorgio Vasari. Art and History (Yale University Press, 1995), I moved from a textual and biographical study to a project that was contextual and one that would give me a chance to explore the rich resources of the Archivio di Stato in Florence. The resulting book, Images and Identity in Fifteenth-century Florence (Yale University Press, 2007) is a work of socio-cultural art history.
Along the way, I have taken forays into the history of collecting, the functions of drawing, and portraiture, among other subjects. My present book project, Looking Backwards: Perspectives on the Male Bottom in Italian Renaissance Art is a book of essays that takes the strangely overlooked motif of the male buttocks in Renaissance art as a focal point for perspectives on questions of representation, of historical distance and proximity, of vernacular expression and formal languages, and of metaphorical structures of understanding.
Having had the great fortune to teach first in London, at the Courtauld Institute, and now in New York, I have always taken advantage of the collections in those cities. Most of my teaching takes place on site with the objects that are the focus of the course. Since 2009, when I came to the Institute, my seminars have included Italian Renaissance Art in New York Collections, Facing up to Fifteenth-century Portraiture, The Sculptural Imagination in Italian Renaissance Art, and a Museum and Collecting Master Class.