My research and teaching examine the relationship between artistic forms and ideological content in the art of the ancient world. I have published three articles
on the Emperor Constantine’s monuments in the city of Rome (one of which won the Art Bulletin’s Arthur Kingsley Porter Prize). I continue to work on the relationship between 4th century imperial monuments in the city of Rome and the monumental remains of previous eras. You can also see me talk about the Arch of Constantine on an episode
of an eight-part TV series that aired a few years ago on the History Channel
The interdependence of form and meaning is also the focus of my teaching, particularly at the 100 and 200 levels. In my survey courses (ARTS101 and ARTS105, an Introduction to Architecture), as well as in my 200-level classes on Greek Art, Roman Art, Medieval Art and Islamic art, I begin by asking students to tell me, “What choices did the designer of this monument make?” By isolating each work’s defining formal properties, we can link them to the particular needs or expectations of their ancient users and thence to their social function. This approach conveys both the importance of visual analysis and the inseparability of art and historical context.
The second focus of my scholarship and teaching is the reception and reuse of ancient monuments in the modern world, by scholars, collectors, governments and various other interest groups. I have developed this interest into two 300-level courses, one on Museums (syllabus
) and the other on the City of Rome from Antiquity to the Present (syllabus
), which considers how particular ancient monuments in the city were appropriated by the church, the city council, the national government, the fascists, etc. over the course of 1,700 years. I also taught a senior seminar in fall 2008 called Looting, Faking, Collecting and Understanding Antiquities (syllabus
). This course led to a conference paper, which turned into an article which turned into a book: Shaky Ground: Context, Connoisseurship and the History of Roman Art
(Bloomsbury Academic Press, 2013).
I continue to think, read, teach and write about how museums present objects in their collections, particularly the messy ones (the ancient ones that may have been looted; the ones that other people consider their own cultural property and want back; and the ones that scholars think might be forgeries). My recent articles in the Journal of the History of Collections and the International Journal of Cultural Property explore these themes.
Most recently, working with colleagues both in the Art department and in History and Anthropology, I have developed this topic into a full-fledged, interdisciplinary academic program: Colgate students can now minor in Museum Studies. In the academic year 2017-18, I will have the honor of serving as the Gretchen Hoadley Burke '81 Endowed Chair in Regional Studies, which I will use to strengthen professional and curricular ties between Colgate and the many museums and historical sites in central New York.
One recent (and ongoing) project that illustrates how all these various themes come together in my teaching and scholarship concerns a group of twenty late antique Egyptian limestone reliefs. They were donated to Colgate's Picker Art Gallery by an alumnus in two batches, one in 1966 and the other in the 1982. These reliefs, most of which depict pairs of animals frolicking among spiraling vine-scrolls, lack any information about their findspot. What, if anything, can we, as students of the past, say about these works? How far can connoisseurship get us? Should we even be studying these objects, thereby valorizing the practices of the art market that delivered them to our door, stripped of all of the archaeological context that might have helped us understand their ancient symbolism and function? How can we be sure they aren't forgeries? These issues and many others were explored by the students in my ARTS 481 seminar, who put their findings up on a website
. I also wrote a piece about the course for the Colgate Scene
, our alumni magazine.