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"The Matter of Baroque" Lecture Series begins September 30

This fall, the Smith College Department of Art is pleased to host Helen Hills as the 2014-2015 Ruth and Clarence Kennedy Professor in Renaissance Studies.

Helen Hills, Professor of History of Art at the University of York, UK, studied History at Oxford University before turning to History of Art at the Courtauld for her MA with Distinction & PhD. Her doctorate study of inlaid marble decoration in Sicily later became her first book, Marmi Mischi Siciliani: Invenzione e Identità (Società Messinese di Storia Patria, 1999). Helen taught at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, USA and at the University of Manchester, UK before joining the History of Art Department at York as Anniversary Reader in 2005.

Helen's research focuses on the relationships between architecture, urbanism, religious devotion, spirituality, gender and social class, with particular interests in baroque Italy. Invisible City: The Architecture of Devotion in Seventeenth-Century Neapolitan Convents (Oxford University Press, 2004) was awarded the Best Book Prize in 2004 by the Society for the Study of Early Modern Women, USA. Rethinking the Baroque (Ashgate, 2011) offers essays by leading scholars from art history, philosophy, and literature studies to reconsider the potential of ‘baroque’. Her most recent work, New Approaches to Naples c.1500–c.1800: The Power of Place (Ashgate, 2013) focuses on the Treasury Chapel of San Gennaro in Naples.

Helen is co-founder of the Neapolitan Network which developed from an AHRC-funded network and was established in 2010. It is an exchange and meeting point for scholars of Neapolitan culture from all over the world. Helen has been the recipient of numerous distinguished research awards and scholarships from the AHRC, British Academy and the Getty. She has given papers at conferences and research seminars from Adelaide, Australia to Santiago, Chile. She has been Visiting Professor at the University of Stockholm, Emory University, and the University of Colorado-Boulder.

This fall, Professor Hills teaches ART 280 Art Historical Studies: Redeeming Matter: The Work of Art, ca. 1550-1750. This course explores matter in relation to the spiritual economy of art in Italy from ca. 1550 to ca. 1750 and thereby challenges prevailing conventional historical and art-historical assumptions that the period is best understood as an articulation of liturgy, the Council of Trent, or the “Counter Reformation.” How were associations between matter and the holy understood, contested and redefined? How were relationships between materiality and spirituality explored? We shall investigate issues turning on the significance of place, on metamorphosis and transformation of matter as metaphors for redemption and salvation. The course is offered from 1:10-2:30 on Monday and Wednesday, in Hillyer 109.

Please join us for the Kennedy lecture series,The Matter of Baroquebeginning September 30. All lectures take place on Tuesdays at 5:00 pm, in Graham Auditorium/Hillyer Hall, Brown Fine Arts Center (Download the poster here.)

September 30: Unveiling Architecture: Leon Battista Alberti and aristocratic female convents
October 28: Silver and Salvation: Flirting with capital in baroque Naples
November 11: The Matter of Miracles: Inventing corpses in baroque Naples

As an art historian Professor Hills isinterested in form and materiality. Specifically, she is concerned with the complex forms and ‘excessive’ materiality of the art usually labeled baroque in 17thC Italy. Rich, formally complex, full of twists and turns, redundancies, repetitions, apparently inconsequential swerves that seduce the senses and lead the eye racing through curls and queues to curlicues and arabesque dead-ends, baroque art is characterised by its resistance to ready decipherment. Indeed, art historians (especially those from the Protestant north) have tended to dismiss this art as ‘over the top’, ‘wilful’, and ‘bizarre’. How then might we think of baroque beyond style and in relation to materiality and matter and without restricting it to a simple periodization? More than this, how might we consider the matter of baroque architecture in relation to the spiritual, while avoiding transcendence or the subsumation of one in the other? These lectures explore these concerns through female convents, prints, reliquaries, silver and bronze—with particular emphasis on the Italy that tends to remain overlooked—Naples and the south.

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Recent Kennedy Professors-in-Residence:

Kennedy Lectures, 2013-2014

Kennedy Lectures, 2012-2013

Kennedy Lectures, 2011-2012

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