History of Art and Architecture


Related tags


cult objects

idolatry and iconoclasm





Gretchen Bender

Josh Ellenbogen

Karen Gerhart


Sahar Hosseini

Jennifer Josten

Barbara McCloskey


Michelle McCoy

Chris Nygren

Kirk Savage

Art objects, makers, and users all have agency, the capability to do and undo, to transform their worlds.  Here we investigate art as a system of action. Agency in all its many variations mediates between the interests or intentions of an individual, group, or other form of organized social life and an audience, viewership, or community. Areas of inquiry include artistic patronage, collecting and cataloging, propaganda, idolatry and iconoclasm, cult and ritual, and performative spaces. Just a few of the key scholars on whom the Agency constellation has drawn in its recent programming have been Catherine Allen, Jane Bennett, Bill Brown, Horst Bredekamp, Cécile Fromont, Alfred Gell, Jonathan Hay, Wu Hung, Robert Maniura, WJT Mitchell, Susan Stewart, Caroline van Eck, and Irene Winter.

The nexus of thought that the constellation mobilizes has structured numerous classes in HAA, such as “Image, Art, Thing in the Renaissance,” “The Living and the Dead,” and the department’s “Methodology” class; provided the conceptual core for the graduate student symposium “Motivating Monuments,” at which Jacqueline Jung was the keynote speaker ; set the agenda for a reading group that focused on Timothy Morton’s Hyperobjects; skyped scholars such as Jonathan Hay into our classrooms; generated field trips to collections from Cleveland to New York City; and contributed to the creation of a multiyear research project title Gun Violence and its Histories (co-sponsored by the Medieval and Renaissance Studies Program, The Early Modern Worlds Initiative, and the Dietrich School’s FRSP program), which investigates how the early history of guns created our modern gun culture.

Agency has also served as an animating theme in the scholarly production of the department. Numerous recent doctoral theses have contended directly with the theme, including Annika Johnson’s dissertation, Agency at the Confluence of Dakhóta and Euro-American Art, 1835-1912 (defended April 2019). Miraculous agency continues to be a major theme among the department’s pre-modernists. The forthcoming issue of Contemporaneity includes reviews by two graduate students of two recent books that take the agency of images as their theme. Miraculous agency also functions as a central theme in Christopher Nygren’s book, Titian’s Icons: Tradition, Charisma, and Devotion in the Italian Renaissance (Penn State, 2020) as well as his article, “Metonymic Agency: Some Data on Presence & Absence in Renaissance Miracle Cults” (I Tatti Studies, fall 2019).