History of Art and Architecture

Christopher J. Nygren

Associate Professor and Director of Graduate Studies



Dr. Christopher Nygren is associate professor of Renaissance and Baroque Art in the Department of the History of Art and Architecture at the University of Pittsburgh. He earned a B.A. with honors from the University of Notre Dame and completed his M.A. and Ph.D. (with distinction) at Johns Hopkins University. His research focuses on the intersection of religion, philosophy, and art in the Italian Renaissance, and it has been featured in The Art Bulletin, Renaissance Quarterly, Word & Image, Modern Language Notes, and other leading academic journals. Over his career, he has received fellowships from the Kress Foundation, the Mellon Foundation, the Delmas Foundation, the American Council of Learned Societies, and the National Science Foundation.

His book 2020, Titian’s Icons: Charisma, Tradition, and Devotion in the Italian Renaissance, won the 2022 Phyllis Goodhart Gordan Prize for best book in Renaissance studies from the Renaissance Society of America. This study tracks the career of one of the most successful painters of the Italian Renaissance, who was credited by his contemporaries with painting a miracle-working image (Christ Carrying the Cross, San Rocco). Taking this unusual circumstance as a point of departure, the book revisits the scope and impact of Titian’s life’s work and shows how, motivated by his status as the creator of a miracle-working object, Titian played an active and essential role in reorienting the long tradition of Christian icons over the course of the sixteenth century. Titian’s unique status as a painter whose work was viewed as a conduit of divine grace allowed him to fundamentally reconfigure Christian icon painting. This book not only tracks the career of one of the most important artists in the tradition of Western painting but also brings to light new information about how divergent agendas of religious, political, and artistic reform interacted over the long arc of the sixteenth century.

He is currently developing a second book-length project that examines the phenomenon of painting on stone substrates, which emerged in Italy around 1530. This project is provisionally titled Sedimentary Aesthetics: Painting on Stone and the Ecology of Early Modern Art.

Since 2015, Dr. Nygren also researches the impact of advanced computation on the History of Art. Between 2017 and 2019 he was Principal Investigator for “The Morelli Machine,” a project funded by the National Science Foundation (project ID: TG-ART170002) that used advance super computing to test the hypothesis that the nexus of style and authorship can be interrogated computationally. The findings of that project were published (in collaboration with Alison Langmead) in Digital Humanities Quarterly. More recently, he has been considering the role that Artificial Intelligence plays in researching the History of Art. He has co-authored an article reflecting on some of the challenges that our field faces when looking to incorporate Artificial Intelligence into its tradition research agendas. 

Dr. Nygren is also developing a number of collaborative research projects, which give the humanities a public face, including the Genealogies of Modernity project (https://genealogiesofmodernity.org/). He is co-founder of the Gun Violence and Its Histories working group at the University of Pittsburgh, which aims to shed light on the historical contexts around gun violence. Guns, gun violence, and societal responses to them change over time and in response to the fluctuation of local, national, and global forces. GVH believes that excavating and exposing the historicity of those trajectories not only highlights the potentialities that are embedded in our own historicity, but also reveals that early modernists working in the humanities have something to say about gun violence today.

His teaching encompasses a wide array of themes, periods and geographies including Italian art from 1200-1700, German and Netherlandish Renaissance and Baroque art, and early modern Iberian art. His interest in the materiality of art and religious practice have led him to begin teaching Spanish Baroque art within a global context. This work focus on the frictions – cultural, religious, artistic – created by the enhanced flow of peoples and cultures in the Spanish colonial world.

Education Details

Ph.D. Johns Hopkins University (2011)

M.A. Johns Hopkins University (2005)

B.A. University of Notre Dame (2003)

Selected Publications


Titian’s Icons: Tradition, Charisma, and Devotion in Renaissance Italy. Penn State University Press.


Co-authored with Sonja Drimmer, “Art History and AI: Ten Axioms.” International Journal for Digital Art History 10, 5.01-10 (2032). https://doi.org/10.11588/dah.2023.9.90400.  

“Sedimentary Aesthetics,” in Purity and Contamination in Early Modern Art and Architecture, edited by Lauren Jacobi and Daniel Zolli (Amsterdam University Press, 2021), 129-155. https://www.degruyter.com/document/doi/10.1515/9789048541003-005/html

“Leonardo, Morelli, and the Computational Mirror” (co-authored with Alison Langmead and Paul Rodriguez). Digital Humanities Quarterly 15.1 (2021). http://www.digitalhumanities.org/dhq/vol/15/1/000540/000540.html

“A Stone Through the Window of Art History: Paintings on Stone and the Legacy of Pictorial Illusionism.” Steinformen. Materialität, Qualität, Imitation, edited by Isabella Augart, Maurice Saß, and Iris Wenderholm (Berlin: de Gruyter, 2019): 75-96. https://doi.org/10.1515/9783110583618-006 

“A Role-Based Model for Successful Collaboration in Digital Art History,” co-authored essay written in collaboration with Tracey Berg-Fulton, Alison Langmead, Thomas Lombardi, and David Newbury. International Journal for Digital Art History 3 (2018), 152-180. https://journals.ub.uni-heidelberg.de/index.php/dah/article/viewFile/34297/43447

“Titian’s Ecce Homo on Slate: Stone, Oil, and the Transubstantiation of Painting.” The Art Bulletin 99:1 (2017), 36-66. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/00043079.2017.1265285 

“Titian’s Christ with the Coin: Recovering the Spiritual Currency of Numismatics in Renaissance Ferrara.” Renaissance Quarterly 69.2 (2016), 449-88.  http://dx.doi.org/10.1086/687607

Titian’s Miracles: Artistry and Efficacy Between the San Rocco Christ and the Accademia Pietà.” Mitteilungen des Kunsthistorischen Institutes in Florenz (Max-Planck-Institut), 57.3 (2015), 320-349. http://www.jstor.org/stable/43738211

“The Hypnerotomachia Poliphili and Italian Art Circa 1500: Mantegna, Antico, and Correggio.” Word & Image: A Journal of Verbal/Visual Enquiry, 31:2 (2015), 140-154. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/02666286.2015.1023020

Selected Awards

Phyllis Goodhart Gordan Prize for best book in Renaissance for Titian’s Icons from the Renaissance Society of America, 2022.

Samuel H. Kress Senior Fellow, CASVA, 2021-22 

RSA-Kress Mid-Career Publication Fellowship for Titian’s Icons, 2019

Gladys Krieble Delmas Publication Subvention for Titian’s Icons 2019

American Council of Learned Societies Fellowship for the project Matter and Similitude in Italian Painting and The Transatlantic Renaissance, 2017-18.