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Art history professor awarded NEH fellowship

December 11, 2012
Mary Quinlan

Mary Quinlan

Mary Quinlan, a professor of art history in the NIU School of Art, has been awarded a full-year fellowship from the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Quinlan’s fellowship will support the research and writing of a book on Leon Battista Alberti’s 1435-1436 “De pictura” (“On Painting”), and its impact on Renaissance art. Her project is one of 79 funded from the 1,196 applications to the Fellowships for University Teachers category.

The work stems from her research for “Influences: Art, Optics, and Astrology in the Italian Renaissance,” her newest book, which is scheduled for release Wednesday, Jan. 16, by the University of Chicago Press.

“Since my faculty orientation over 15 years ago, when Linda Schwarz (then head of Sponsored Projects) first introduced herself and suggested that I apply for a summer NEH (which I later received), and then supported me for a Mellon Foundation grant (which I received), I have been extremely grateful to NIU for the push it has given me in humanities research,” Quinlan said.

NEH reviewers were effusive in their praise for Quinlan’s proposal, calling her “an engaging writer (who) immediately hooks her audience.”

“As someone who has studied – more correctly, struggled with – Renaissance artistic theory for several years, reading Dr. Quinlan-McGrath’s application was a revelation,” one reviewer wrote. “Dr. Quinlan-McGrath’s careful and creative re-reading of Alberti’s text and her conclusion that the Renaissance master was not promoting mere mimetic skill … is completely convincing.”

“This is a completely new way of conceptualizing Alberti. This is art history, intellectual history and philosophical inquiry of the highest order,” another wrote.

“Alberti’s treatise is central to the development – and understanding – of Western art and any research that can expand current comprehension of this seminal text would be a significant addition to the literature. That a scholar can offer a complete re-thinking of its meaning and thus, a complete re-evaluation of its impact on the course of Western art history, is nothing short of extraordinary.”

Seal of the National Endowment for the HumanitiesQuinlan’s award of $50,400 is part of $17.5 million in grants for 246 humanities projects that span academic disciplines.

“The grants awarded today will allow cultural institutions to protect and expand their collections, assist scholars in unlocking new discoveries about our past,” NEH Chairman Jim Leach said, “and open up educational opportunities for future generations to benefit from the knowledge and insights offered by the humanities.”

A specialist in the Italian Renaissance, Quinlan previously received an NEH grant in 2006 to write a book on art and astrology in 15th and 16th century Italy.

She has published and lectured on relations between Italian Renaissance poetry and the visual arts, as well as on relations between Renaissance science, art and religion. She has studied in England, France and Italy.

Quinlan teaches courses in the introduction to art, the survey of art history from medieval through baroque and upper-level and graduate courses in early modern European art.

“Teaching large survey courses here has made me consider the fundamentally human issues at stake in visual communication – how artists and audiences of all cultures work with those in different ways,” she added. “I am grateful to the thousands of NIU students, from the bored to the intensely interested, who sat in those darkened lecture halls and forced me to think of the bigger picture.”