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Celebrating Recent Work by Alessandra Russo

New Books in the Arts and Sciences

dateMarch 7, 2024 timeThursday, 6:15pm EST location The Heyman Center, Second Floor Common Room, Columbia University locationVirtual Event
  • The Department of Latin American and Iberian Cultures
  • Office of the Divisional Deans in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences
  • The Society of Fellows and Heyman Center for the Humanities
email address [email protected]
  • Free and open to the public
cover of A New Antiquity

A New Antiquity: Art and Humanity as Universal, 1400–1600
by Alessandra Russo

We tend to think of sixteenth-century European artistic theory as separate from the artworks displayed in the non-European sections of museums. Alessandra Russo argues otherwise. Instead of considering the European experience of “New World” artifacts and materials through the lenses of “curiosity” and “exoticism,” Russo asks a different question: What impact have these works had on the way we currently think about—and theorize—the arts?

Centering her study on a vast corpus of early modern textual and visual sources, Russo contends that the subtlety and inventiveness of the myriad of American, Asian, and African creations that were pillaged, exchanged, and often eventually destroyed in the context of Iberian colonization—including sculpture, painting, metalwork, mosaic, carving, architecture, and masonry—actually challenged and revolutionized sixteenth-century European definitions of what art is and what it means to be human. In this way, artifacts coming from outside Europe between 1400 and 1600 played a definitive role in what are considered distinctively European transformations: the redefinition of the frontier between the “mechanical” and the “liberal” arts and a new conception of the figure of the artist.

Original and convincing, A New Antiquity is a pathbreaking study that disrupts existing conceptions of Renaissance art and early modern humanity. It will be required reading for art historians specializing in the Renaissance, scholars of Iberian and Latin American cultures and global studies, and anyone interested in anthropology and aesthetics.

About the Author

Alessandra Russo is a Professor in the Department of Latin American and Iberian Cultures at Columbia University. She is the author of The Untranslatable Image: A Mestizo History of the Arts in New Spain, 1500–160 and El realismo circular: Tierras, espacios y paisajes de la cartografía indígena novohispana, siglos XVI y XVII and a coeditor of Images Take Flight: Feather Art in Mexico and Europe. Her research studies the theory, practice and display of the arts in the early modern times, with a special emphasis on the artistic dynamics in the context of the Iberian colonization. Her new book is A New Antiquity. Art and Humanity as Universal (1400-1600).

About the Speakers

Sarah Cole is the Parr Professor of English and Comparative Literature and served as Columbia University’s Dean of Humanities up to September 2023. A specialist in literary modernism, she is the co-founder of the area-wide NYNJ Modernism Seminar and serves on the board of several scholarly journals. She teaches courses in literary modernism and other topics in the 19th and 20th centuries, including the protest novel, war and violence, the body and sexuality, Irish literature, and author-focused courses on Woolf, Eliot, Wells, Joyce, and others. She is serving as the Interim Dean of Faculty at Columbia University School of the Arts.

Michael Cole is a specialist in Renaissance and Baroque European art, with a focus on art in fifteenth-, sixteenth-, and seventeenth-century Italy. His most recent book, Sofonisba’s Lesson, is a study of the portraitist Sofonisba Anguissola and how she changed the image of women’s education in Europe. Cole has also written extensively on the materials of art, with essays on the early modern conception of bronze, on the sculptor’s use of the stone block, on the centrality of wax and clay models, and on the aesthetic of impoverishment.

Cécile Fromont is a professor in the History of Art department at Yale University. Her writing and teaching focus on the visual, material, and religious culture of Africa and Latin America, with a special emphasis on the early modern period (ca 1500-1800), the Portuguese-speaking Atlantic World, and the slave trade. Her first book, The Art of Conversion: Christian Visual Culture in the Kingdom of Kongo, was published in 2014 by the University of North Carolina Press. Her new book, Images on a Mission in Early Modern Kongo and Angola, presents and analyzes a set of unpublished and unparalleled images from seventeenth and eighteenth-century Kongo and Angola created within the Capuchin Franciscan mission to the region.

Seth Kimmel is an associate professor in the Department of Latin American and Iberian Cultures at Columbia University, where he teaches the literature and culture of early modern Spain. He is the author of two books, both published by the University of Chicago Press: Parables of Coercion: Conversion and Knowledge at the End of Islamic Spain (2015) and The Librarian's Atlas: The Shape of Knowledge in Early Modern Spain (forthcoming in May 2024).