History of Art and Architecture

Claire N. Ptaschinski


I am a 2023–2024 Andrew W. Mellon Predoctoral Fellow and Associated Researcher at the Koninklijk Nederlands Instituut Rome (KNIR). There I am working on my dissertation, "Designing Baroque Ecologies: Dynamic Altar Spaces in Rome, 1640–1720," which examines how ecological ontologies and experiences transformed the Baroque built environment and integrated chapel spaces into Rome's urban landscape and broader global networks.

My research sits at the intersection of ecocriticism, new materialism, and environmental history, and adopts their critical methods to chart the intersection between natural elements (geology, weather, sunlight, etc.) and complex social ecosystems that facilitate the construction of built environments in the 17th century. My MA Thesis, “The Ecology of Chapel Design in Baroque Rome,” which won the 2021 Early Modern Worlds Biennial Graduate Essay Prize at the University of Pittsburgh, built upon eco-materialism to provide a fresh analysis of three spaces in 17th-century Rome. In Summer 2021, I received funding from the Bibliotheca Hertziana to participate in the Summer School, “Cultures of Science and Art in Rome, 1400-1900,” cosponsored by the KNIR, to advance this research and explore the common visual language embedded in the design of the high altar of Santa Caterina a Magnanapoli and early modern mineralogical printed books. My dissertation develops this material to analyze Roman Baroque chapels in the long 17th century by considering media and typologies of the built environment through the theological, natural-historical, and artistic languages used to describe them, thereby revealing an ecological mindset and transforming our conception of the Baroque bel composto.

I began my graduate studies in the History of Art and Architecture at Pitt in 2019 after spending several years working in museums, publishing, and academic administration. Just prior to joining Pitt’s department, I worked in the Center for Renaissance Studies at the Newberry Library in Chicago where I had the opportunity to contribute to the development of a new Italian Paleography website, a digital resource for the study of the Newberry’s hybrid version of Georg Rem’s Emblemata Politica, and a print catalogue published by Northwestern University Press for the Fall 2020 exhibition, “Renaissance Invention: Stradanus’s ‘Nova Reperta.’”

Education Details

Ph.D., University of Pittsburgh, History of Art and Architecture, in progress
Advanced to Candidacy, October 2022
Committee Members: Dr. Christopher J. Nygren (Advisor), Dr. Sahar S. Hosseini, Dr. Drew Armstrong, Dr. James Coleman (External)

M.A., University of Pittsburgh, History of Art and Architecture, 2021
Thesis: “The Ecology of Chapel Design in Baroque Rome”
Advisor: Dr. Christopher J. Nygren; Second Reader: Dr. Shirin Fozi

M.A., Texas Christian University, Art History, 2013
Thesis: “Edward Burne-Jones, G.E. Street, and the American Church in Rome: Revivalism, Religion, and Identity”
Advisor: Dr. Babette Bohn; Second Reader: Dr. Amy Freund

B.A., University of Dallas, History, 2011
Thesis: “Bernard Berenson and the American Expatriate Tradition”

Selected Publications

“Vannoccio Biringucci, De la pirotechnia,” “Georg Agricola, De re metallica,” “Johannes Stradanus, Passio, mors, et resurrectio Dn. Nostri Iesv Christi,” “Tommaso Campanella, Civitas Solis,” and “Lucretius, De rerum natura,” in Renaissance Invention: Stradanus’s Nova Reperta, edited by Lia Markey. Chicago: Northwestern University Press, 2020.

“The Curious Collection of George Hubbard Clapp,” in The Curious Drawings of Dr. Clapp, edited by Christopher Nygren and Alex J. Taylor. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh, 2019.

Selected Presentations

"Catastrophic Thinking: Picturing Natural Disaster in Quarant'ore Altar Design of 17th-century Rome," 'A Great Miracle is Man': Anthropocentrism and Ecocriticism in the Early Modern Netherlands and Italy, The Royal Netherlands Institute in Rome, February 2024

“Ecology and Chapel Design: Athanasius Kircher, Melchiorre Cafà, and Santa Caterina,” 2022 Multidisciplinary Conference in Premodern Studies, Newberry Library Center for Renaissance Studies, January 2022

“Material Iconographies, Natural History, and the High Altar of the Chiesa di Santa Caterina a Magnanapoli in Rome by Melchiorre Cafà,” Cultures of Science and Art, 1400-1900, The Royal Netherlands Institute in Rome and the Bibliotheca Hertziana – Max Planck Institut of Art History, July 2021

“Carlos de Sigüenza y Góngora, his Teatro de Virtudes Politicas, and the Project of Mediterraneanization,” Contact, Colonialism, and Comparison, Antiquity in the Americas, Virtual Conference, April 2021

Selected Awards

Andrew W. Mellon Predoctoral Fellowship, University of Pittsburgh, 2023-2024

European Studies Center Graduate Student Professional Development Grant to Participate in the Winter Seminar in Paleography and Archival Studies, Medici Archive Project, Florence, 2023

Wilkinson Prize for Outstanding Scholarship in Premodern Art, University of Pittsburgh, 2022

Bibliotheca Hertziana – Max Planck Institut for Art History Grant to Attend Summer School: Cultures of Science and Art, 1400-1900, The Royal Netherlands Institute in Rome, 2021

Early Modern Worlds Biennial Graduate Essay Prize, University of Pittsburgh, 2021