Deborah Stott

Professional Narrative


All of my degrees, undergraduate and graduate, are in the history of art, and my particular expertise is Renaissance, Baroque, and ancient Greek and Roman art and culture. Circumstance and inclination have led me to expand my research and teaching into the Renaissance women’s history, the relationship between Renaissance art history and women’s history, and the history of women artists.

As a graduate student, I conducted an oral history with the artist Jacques Lipchitz, interviews that were funded by the Ford Foundation and taped during the years 1968-1970. I used this original material as the basis for my Ph.D. dissertation on Lipchitz’s early sculpture in the context of Cubism, and it was published in 1975 by Garland Publishing as part of the series, "Outstanding Dissertations in the History of Art." Although I have not continued research in this field, I was invited to speak on my experiences with Lipchitz at the Kimbell Art Museum, Fort Worth, in May 2003, in conjunction with the exhibition "Modigliani and the Artists of Mont Parnasse."

After five years teaching at Wheaton College in Massachusetts and a year in Rome at the Intercollegiate Center for Classical Studies, I came to U.T. Dallas, and this decision has resulted in teaching and research fields quite different from what I might have predicted. Graduate and undergraduate programs in the School of Arts and Humanities are interdisciplinary, and I have endeavored to structure my courses, on the graduate level especially, to intersect with other areas of the curriculum, especially the History of Ideas. Both my classes and scholarly work concentrate on the historical context of art - for example, patronage and the place of the artist within early modern society - the art theory and criticism of the period, and, now, women’s history.

My article on the sculpture of the sixteenth-century artist Jacopo Sansovino, which I completed while a fellow at the American Academy in Rome (1980-81), provides new insights into his relief sculpture by analyzing it in its original theoretical and artistic context. I demonstrate both that Sansovino composed the panels to respond to the spectator’s viewpoint and that his stylistic and technical choices were influenced by contemporary debates on the merits of sculpture and painting. These conclusions shed light on the relation between art theory and practice in Renaissance Italy.

I give frequent public lectures on aspects of Renaissance and Baroque art, women artists, and on the imagery of women in art, and I believe that my particular strength is my ability to link aspects of the historical context of the work with its specific appearance, its style. For example, in 1997 I presented a paper at the symposium opening the exhibition of Michelangelo's drawings at the Kimbell Art Museum in which I examined Michelangelo's youthful works as part of his ambition to construct himself as, in Renaissance terms, more than merely a sculptor.

During the past few years, my research interests have moved in the direction of women's and gender studies. I regularly teach an undergraduate interdisciplinary studies course entitled "Venus to Vampire: Women in History and Art." Over time, this has led to new undergraduate and graduate courses on the history of women artists and a graduate course entitled "Renaissance Women: Image and Reality," in which we examine the relation between the situation of real women in the early modern period and their representation in art.

My current research project, for which I was granted a Special Faculty Development Assignment for 1998-99, combines women's history and art history and is provisionally entitled "Cornelia Collonello: Search for a Renaissance Woman." Using her own letters and other archival material, I am reconstructing the life of a working-class woman in sixteenth-century Italy and situating it within the social context of her time. Cornelia was the widow of a man who had served the artist Michelangelo for 25 years. Michelangelo accepted legal responsibility for the man’s children and conscientiously oversaw their financial affairs for more than four years. During that time, 1557-1562, Cornelia corresponded with the artist about her own and her sons’ affairs, and the 28 extant letters represent a unique resource for the life of a non-elite woman in her own words. Her letters to the man she invariably addressed as "like a most beloved father" are filled with her concerns about the most critical issues in her life, such as her struggles to retain legal responsibility for her sons and her dislike of a proposed candidate for second husband. My analysis of the letters is supplemented and expanded by material on Cornelia and her family found in unpublished documents in the archives of Rome and Urbania, her home town. I am continuing to explore the unpublished documents in the Italian archives, especially those in Urbania where Cornelia lived, and found much new and valuable material during the two months I spent in Italy in summer 2003.

This project has resulted in several lectures, one of which was published in 2002. Another, on the rhetorical nature of the letters, will be published in an anthology of essays on Renaissance women’s letters in 2004. A third, on issues relating to guardianship in the Renaissance, is nearly completed. Ultimately, I will publish a monograph that will make a contribution both to early modern history, especially women’s and family history and gender studies, and also to our understanding of Michelangelo as a complex social being, a true man of his time.

6 May 2004