Christina Neilson


  • Associate Professor of Renaissance and Baroque Art History

Areas of Study


  • BA (Honours), University of Sydney, 1997
  • MA, Johns Hopkins University, 2000
  • PhD, Johns Hopkins University, 2009


My research tackles the relationship between theory and practice, especially the meaning of materials and techniques, primarily in Europe but also in Latin America. My book, Practice and Theory in the Italian Renaissance Workshop. Verrocchio and the Epistemology of Making Art, published by Cambridge University Press in 2019, explores the significance of processes of making in the oeuvre of the 15th-century Florentine artist Andrea del Verrocchio. It answers the crucial question of what meanings Verrocchio and his viewers assigned to the artist’s unusual methods of manufacture in sculpture, painting, and drawing. Verrocchio frequently transferred tools and techniques from one medium to another and drew attention to materials and techniques in his finished objects.

I have also published articles on the meaning of wood in early modern European sculpture (in The matter of art. Materials, Practices, Cultural Logics, c.1250–1750, ed. Christy Anderson, Anne Dunlop, and Pamela H. Smith, University of Manchester Press, 2014); on Verrocchio’s techniques of making a silver panel for the altar of the Florentine Baptistery (The Burlington Magazine, Nov. 2012); and on the concealment and revelation of knowledge in artists' workshops (I Tatti Studies, 2016).

My research has been supported by grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities (full grant), the American Council for Learned Societies, Villa I Tatti-the Harvard Center for Italian Renaissance Studies in Florence, the Volkswagen Foundation, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the Furthermore Foundation, and the American Philosophical Society, among others.

Currently I am working on a number of different projects. My second book focuses on the central role played by life-size, polychromed wood sculptures with movable parts in religious devotion in Spain, Italy, Germany, France, England, Wales, the Netherlands, Bolivia, and Mexico between the 14th and 17th centuries.

Other shorter projects include articles on the significance of notes hidden within late medieval and early modern sculptures, polychromy as a mode of animation in sculpture, gender and artistic genius in the art of the Flemish baroque woman painter Michaelina Wautier, and visual translations of rhetorical structures in the art of Zurbarán.

In September 2014, I co-organized the international conference Cultural Encounters and Shared Spaces in the Renaissance City, 1300-1700, in memory of Shona Kelly Wray, with Roisin Cossar (professor of history, University of Manitoba, Winnipeg), and Filippo De Vivo (professor of early modern history, Birkbeck College, London), at the University of Manitoba. The conference proceedings were published in a special edition of I Tatti Studies in the Italian Renaissance (2016) that my conference co-organizers and I edited.

In spring 2016, I co-curated, with Frances Gage, the exhibition A Picture of Health: Art and the Mechanisms of Healing at the Allen Memorial Art Museum at Oberlin College; and I organized and wrote the catalogue to accompany the exhibition, Parmigianino’s Antea: A Beautiful Artifice at the Frick Collection in 2008.

I teach intermediate-level classes on European and Latin American art from c. 1300 to c. 1750, including:

  • Gender and the Visual Arts in Europe, 1450-1700
  • The Arts of Conquest and Resistance in 17th century Europe and Latin America
  • Art of the Italian Renaissance
  • Baroque Art
  • Art, Politics and Religion in Sixteenth-Century Italy

I teach the seminars Love, Lust, and Desire in Renaissance Art; and Wood, Flesh, Metal, Blood (on the meaning of materials in early modern art).

I also teach the introductory class, Approaches to Western Art, covering art from ancient through contemporary eras.

Practice and Theory in the Italian Renaissance Workshop: Verrocchio and the  Epistemology of Art Making, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2019.

Review of Amy Bloch, Lorenzo Ghiberti’s “Gates of Paradise”: Humanism, History, and Artistic Philosophy in the Italian Renaissance, CAA reviews, Nov 21, 2017.

Demonstrating Ingenuity: The Display and Concealment of Knowledge in Renaissance Artists’ Workshops, I Tatti Studies in the Italian Renaissance, vol. 19: Shared Spaces and Knowledge Transactions in the Italian Renaissance City, no. 1 (spring 2016): 63–91.

Coedited themed issue (including introduction) of I Tatti Studies in the Italian Renaissance, coauthored with Roisin Cossar and Filippo de Vivo,  vol. 19: Shared Spaces and Knowledge Transactions in the Italian Renaissance City, no. 1 (spring 2016): 5–22.

Carving Life: The Meaning of Wood in Renaissance Sculpture, in The Matter of Art. Materials, Technologies, Meanings, ed. Christy Anderson, Anne Dunlop, and Pamela Smith, Manchester: University of Manchester Press, 2014, pp. 223–39.

Two entries on drawings by Verrocchio for Donatello, Michelangelo, Cellini: Sculptors’ Drawings from Renaissance Italy, ed. Michael Cole, exh. cat. Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Boston (London, 2014).

Rediscovered Photographs of Two Terracotta Modelli by Verrocchio, The Burlington Magazine, vol. 154, no. 1316 (Nov 2012): 762–67.

Parmigianino’s Antea: A Beautiful Artifice, exh. cat., the Frick Collection, New York, 2008.

Ingenious Monks and their Machines in Pre-Reformation Europe. Invited essay for Ingenuity in the Making, edited by Alexander Marr, Richard Oosterhoff, and José Ramón Marcaida Lopez, forthcoming from the University of Pittsburgh Press.

Invited review of Like Life: Sculpture, Color and the Body (1300-Now), ed. Luke Syson and Sheena Wagstaff, exh. cat. Metropolitan Museum of Art (New Haven, 2018), forthcoming in Sculpture Journal.

My research has been generously supported by grants from the following organizations and foundations:

  • National Endowment for the Humanities
  • Andrew W. Mellon Foundation
  • Harvard Center for Italian Renaissance Studies (Villa I Tatti, Florence)
  • American Philosophical Society
  • American Council of Learned Societies (ACLS)
  • Volkswagen Stiftung (at the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin)
  • Furthermore: A Program of the J. M. Kaplan Fund

Fall 2024

Geoaesthetics: Art, Geosciences, and Earthly Matter — ARTH 920
Fashion and Identities of the British Empire — ARTH 925


Christina Neilson Gives Lectures in the United Kingdom

December 5, 2017

Christina Neilson, associate professor of Renaissance and Baroque art history, gave three lectures in the United Kingdom. Neilson presented "Wood, Flesh, Vermillion, Blood: Making Supernatural Sculpture" on November 27 in the Department of the History of Art at the University of York. She gave the annual Robert H. Smith Renaissance Sculpture in Context Research Seminar titled, "Animating Automata in the Age of the Miraculous, 1400-1600” on November 29 at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London. Neilson gave a talk, "Incarnating Skin: Polychroming Sculpture in Early Modern Europe" at The Porous Body in Early Modern Europe conference on December 1, at King's College in London.