Steven Stowell, PhD
Associate Professor, Art History
Steven Stowell is an historian of late medieval and Early Modern Italian art, whose research focuses on the devotional experiences and ritual uses of Renaissance art, the intersections between art and language, and the relationship between art and cultural discourses on gender and sexuality. He received his doctorate from Oxford University in 2009, and holds a BFA and an MA from Queen's University, Kingston. Prior to joining the faculty of Concordia University, Dr. Stowell held a SSHRC Postdoctoral Fellowship in the Department of Art at the University of Toronto, where he also taught in the Renaissance Studies Program at Victoria College. In his recent book, The Spiritual Language of Art: Medieval Christian Themes in Writings on Art of the Italian Renaissance, Dr. Stowell investigates the relationships between art, literature, and devotional responses to images. He has also published research in the journals Word & Image and Dante Studies. His current research projects explore anthropological approaches to Renaissance art, looking at how art objects were implicated in the discourses surrounding issues such as fertility and growth, chastity and abundance, and healing and nourishment. Dr. Stowell is also a practicing artist, with an interest in figurative representation; he has exhibited in Canada and the UK.
Research & Teaching Interests
- Art and Visual Culture in Renaissance Italy
- Early Modern European Art (Late Middle Ages to Baroque)
- Sacred Art
- Early Modern Art Theory
- Anthropology and Art History
- Histories of Sex and Gender
Distinctions & Awards
- SSHRC: Insight Development Grant. "Art, Prayer and Miraculous Growth in Early Renaissance Florence."
- FQRSC Grant: Établissement de nouveaux professeurs-chercheurs. "Art de dévotion pour la chasteté et la fécondité en Italie pendant la Renaissance." "Devotional Art for Chastity and Fertility in Renaissance Italy."
- Faculty Research and Development Program Award from Concordia University
- SSHRC Postdoctoral Fellowship
- SSHRC Doctoral Fellowship
- Overseas Research Student Award Scheme Scholarship (UK)
- Vice-Chancellor's Fund Scholarship; Isaiah Berlin Fund Scholarship; Canadian National Scholarship (Oxford University)
- Dutch University Institute for the History of Art in Florence, Visiting Fellow
- SSHRC Canadian Graduate Scholarship for MA Research
- ARTH 364 Studies in Renaissance Art and Architecture: The Social Contexts of Renaissance Art
- ARTH 363 Studies in Medieval Art & Architecture: An Introduction to Medieval Art History
- ARTH 392 GenderIssues in Art and Art History: Sex and Gender in Late Medieval and Renaissance Art and Culture
- ARTH 400 Adv. Seminar in Art Historical Method: The Artist's Intellectual and Creative World in Renaissance Florence
- ARTH 400 Adv. Seminar in Art Historical Method: The Art and Culture of Early Modern Venice
- ARTH 400 Adv. Seminar in Art Historical Method: Anthropological Approaches to Late Medieval and Renaissance Art
ARTH 633 Creative and Critical Literature in Art History: Anthropological Approaches to the History of Art
ARTH 610R Selected Issues in North American Art and Architectural History: Early Modern North American Art and the European Tradition
ARTH 610 Counter-Reformation, Conversion andColonization: Early Modern Christian Art in Europe and North America
HAR 70001/ARTH 810-A Problématiques actuelles de l'histoire de l'art/Art history and its methodologies: Art, culture and society: sociological, cultural and anthropological approaches to art history.
I approach the history of art with a broad interest in the contextual histories of art objects. I am also open to several theoretical approaches that illuminate these contexts, including anthropological methodologies, theories of sex and gender, and psychoanalytical theories, amongst others.
As a historian of Early Modern art, specializing in Italian art, I especially welcome topics on European art from the late Middle Ages to the Baroque period, as well as projects interrogating European techniques and traditions in a global context up to the present time. Within this broad geographical and historical framework, I am particularly interested in: histories of sacred art, art theory, the philosophy of art and other writings on art, art and language, art and ritual, and art-making techniques and practices.
Art, Prayer and Miraculous Growth in Early Renaissance Florence
In recent years there has been a renewed scholarly interest in miracle working images, a phenomenon that was prominent in the Middle Ages andRenaissance. Miracle-working images, often thought to have been created under miraculous circumstances, and usually depicting the Virgin or Christ,were believed capable of perceiving the devotions made to them and miraculously providing aid in times of need. Though for a long time these images were largely neglected by art historians, they are now being recognized as fascinating objects from which we can learn how medieval and Renaissance people related to images, the prayers they offered to them, and the favours and miracles they were believed capable of bestowing. Innovative and foundational research on miraculous images has appeared in recent years, though many questions remain regarding how devotees interacted with these images, as well as how and why it was believed that such images were capable of performing miracles. The scholarly research project, “Art, Prayer and Miraculous Growth in EarlyRenaissance Florence,” focuses on one particular kind of miracle that images were believed capable of offering: the miraculous protection or the safe growth of agricultural products. There are two important cults of miracle-working images in Renaissance Florence that had significant connections to the issue of food production: the cult of Orsanmichele, where a miraculous image was located in what was once a grain market; and the Madonna of Impruneta, an image that was taken on procession in order to stop or encourage the fall of rain. It is only natural that the issue of access to food should emerge in the culture of early Renaissance Florence: reliable sources of food were a primary concern in the growing urban centres, which drew heavily upon the limited resources of the surrounding country side and were extremely vulnerable to famine due to unusual climate fluctuations. This study will examine the rituals associated with these cults to see how they played an important role in ensuring safe access to food. Looking at the sometimes complex ritual devotions performed, for example, at the shrine of Orsanmichele, this project will ask how specific devotional actions ensured specific favours from the miraculous image. This project thus aims fill a gap in our knowledge of the relationship between images, devotion and food, as well as to deepen our understanding of the ways in which medieval and Renaissance people communicated and interacted with devotional images. This material will also connect to larger discussions, taking place across disciplines including anthropology, art history and visual and material culture, regarding the agency of visual art object.Devotional Art for Chastity and Fertility in Renaissance Italy
This FQRSC-supported project explores the relationship between religion, sexuality and art in late medieval and Renaissance Florence by investigating how art and cult objects were used to encourage and inspire human fertility and chastity, two devotional needs seemingly at odds with one another. It is well known that sacred art encouraged sexual modesty, a central Christian ethic, however, saint's cults and devotional art also responded to prayers for human fertility. This project endeavors to make sense of how and why cult objects were called upon to encourage procreativity while remaining emblems of chastity.
By looking at the context of Renaissance Florence, where devotional practices dependent on visual art flourished, this project illuminates how and why erotic themes arise in works of sacred art, and describes how the visual appearance of these images supported complex devotional needs. Bearing also on the wider theme of anthropological approaches to Renaissance art, this study interrogates dominant interpretations of the agency of works of art by questioning how singular works of art were the object of multiple, sometimes conflicting devotional needs.
The Spiritual Language of Art: Medieval Christian Themes in Writings on Art of the Italian Renaissance. Leiden and Boston: Brill, 2015.
Peer-Review Journal Articles and Book Chapters
- "Reading the Margins in the Hours of Catherine of Cleves." Word & Image 24, no. 4 (2008): 378-392.
- "Visualizing the Sodomites in Dante's 'Commedia.'" Dante Studies 126 (2008): 143-174.
- "Artistic Devotion: Imitation of Art and Nature in Italian Renaissance Writings on Art." In Inganno - The Art of Deception: Copies and Fakes from the Renaissance to the 18th Century, edited by Sharon Gregory and Sally Hickson, 21-46. Aldershot: Ashgate Press, 2012.
- "Michelangelo and the Theory of Allegory in Sixteenth Century Literature on Art." In Michelangelo Buonarroti: Leben, Werk ind Wirkung/Michelangelo Buonarroti: Vita, Opere, Ricezione, edited by Grazia Folliero-Metz and Susanne Gramatzki, 445-462. Berlin: Peter Lang, 2013.
- "A Baptism of Drawing: Coming of Age as an Artist in Giorgio Vasari's 'Lives.'" In Rethinking Renaissance Drawings: Essays in Honour of David McTavish, edited by Una Roman D'Elia. Forthcoming in 2015 from McGill-Queen's University Press.
Articles in Review
- "Querelle des arts libéraux," in Histoire comparée des littératures de langues européennes. Sous-série Renaissance, vol. II: La nouvelle culture (1480-1520), edited by Eva Kushner. Budapest: Akadémiai Kiadó, forthcoming.
- "Early Modern Sacred Art and Sexual Agency: The Language of Fertility and Chastity." In The Performative Image in Early Modernity, edited by Andrew Casper and Christian Kleinbub. Currently in peer-review.
Reviews and Other Publications
- "Walter S. Melion: The Meditative Art: Studies in the Northern Devotional Print 1550-1625," in Renaissance and Reformation/Renaissance et Réforme (forthcoming in 2012).
- "Lisa Monnas: Merchants, Princes and Painters: Silk Fabrics in Italian and Northern Paintings 1300-1550," in Renaissance and Reformation/Renaissance et Réforme (forthcoming in 2012).
- "Brokeback Mountain: A Gay Love Story?," The Oxonian Review of Books 5, no. 2 (2006), 14.
- "Egnazio Danti and Map Cycles of the Italian Renaissance: Book Review of 'The Marvel of Maps,"' Art History 29, no. 3 (2006), 516-518.
- Jan Allen & Steven Stowell, Outdoor Sculpture at Queen's University (Kingston, ON: Agnes Etherington Art Centre, 2003).
Publications of Works of Art
- "A Detail from the Allegory of Love," & "Three Who Would Be Brides," in National Juried Drawing Exhibition 2009 (North Bay: White Water Gallery, 2009).
- Steven Stowell with Alix Rule, "Why Not Become A Member?: Advertising Convention in the UK," The Oxonian Review (photographic essay, published online 26 October 2009 at www.oxonianreview.org).
- "Three Portraits," The Oxonian Review of Books 4, no. 2 (2005), 18.
"A Quiet Resting Place for Us," Windsor Review: A Journal of the Arts 39, no. 2 (2006), 6-11.
Conferences & Lectures
- "How to Persuade a Painting: Sung Devotions to Works of Art," University Arts Association of Canada, Ontario College of Art and Design, Toronto, 24-26 October 2014.
- "Poetry, Painting and Song: Laudesi Confraternities and Devotions Sung to Paintings," Renaissance Society of America, New York, 27-29 March 2014.
- "Singing to Paintings in Late Medieval Italy," Ut pictura musica: La rencontre de la peinture et de la musique dans l'Italie de la Renaissance (XIVe-XVIIe siècles), Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, 15 January 2014.
- "The Ethics of Pictorial Invention: Medieval Hermeneutics in Counter Reformation Treatises on Art," Canadian Conference of Medieval Art Historians, Carleton University, Ottawa, 8-9 March 2013.
- "Fertility from Chastity: How Early Modern Images Responded to Contradictory Devotional Needs," University Arts Association of Canada, Concordia University, 1-3 November 2012.
- "Miraculous Fertility and Chastity in Early Modern Italian Art," Renaissance Society of America, Washington, 22-24 March 2012.
- "Undressing Images and Revealing the Soul: The Interiority of Art Objects in Italian Renaissance Art Theory," invited lecture, Concordia University, 13 November 2011.
- "The Spiritual Meanings of Architecture in the Writings of Giorgio Vasari," Vasari/500, Harvard University, 27-29 October 2012.
- "Baptism and Brotherhood: Male Bonding in Images Relating to Baptism and Spiritual Rebirth in Italian Art," Friendship in Premodern Europe, 1300-1700, University of Toronto, 14-15 October 2012.
- "Religious Attitudes in Giorgio Vasari's 'Vite': Vasari in the Context of Popular Devotional Literature in Sixteenth-Century Italy," Renaissance Society of America, Montreal, 24-26 March 2011.
- Panel organizer and chair: "Sacred and Sexual in Early Modern Italian Art" and "Sacred and Sexual in Early Modern Literature and Biblical Exegesis," Renaissance Society of America, Montreal, 24-26 March 2011.
- "Religious Compunction Inspired by Visual Art in Sixteenth-Century Italian Literature on Art," Sixteenth-Century Society Annual Conference, Montreal, 14-17 October 2010.
- "Francesco Bocchi's Mystical Experience of Art," Renaissance Society of America, Venice, 8-10 April 2010.
- "The Word Became Flesh: Depicting and Experiencing Sacred Scripture in Italian Renaissance Writings on Art," invited lecture, University of Toronto, March 2010.
- "La Theorie de l'art visuel de la Renaissance Italienne," invited lecture, Université Laval, February 2010.
- "Lifting the Veil of the Body: Imagining the Souls of Holy People in the Renaissance Literature on Art," College Arts Association, Chicago, 10-13 February 2010.
- "Painting as a Form of Meditation: Re-reading Leon Battista Alberti's Treatise on Painting," Renaissance Studies Student Association, invited lecture, University of Toronto Art Centre, 26 November 2009.
- "The Book of the World and the Word of God: Leonardo da Vinci as a Reader of St. Augustine," Centre for Reformation and Renaissance Studies Colloquium, University of Toronto, 2 October 2009.
- "Leon Battista Alberti's 'De Pictura' and the Christian Tradition of the Liberal Arts," Renaissance Society of America, Los Angeles, 19-21 March 2009.
- "Painting as Meditation: A Christian Philosophy of the Arts in Alberti's 'De Pictura,'" Invited Lecture, Queen's University, Kingston, February 2009.
- "Allegorical Interpretation in Giorgio Vasari's 'Ragionamenti' and Medieval Biblical Exegesis," Allegory in Theory and Practice, University of Toronto, 17-18 October 2008.
- Conference co-organizer: The Image of Maps/Maps of the Imagination, Oxford University, Ashmolean Museum, 12-13 May 2006.
- "Giorgio Vasari's 'Ragionamenti' and the Truth Hidden Beneath a Beautiful Lie," Fallacies of Naturalism in the Italian Renaissance, University of Essex, 1-2 April 2006.
- Panel co-organizer and co-chair, "An Over-Sexed History of Art? Art History at the Intersection of Gender and Sexuality," Association of Art Historians, Leeds University, 5-7 April 2006.
- "Reading the Margins in the Hours of Catherine of Cleves," Association of Art Historians, University of Bristol, 31 March-2 April 2005.
- "The Hours of Catherine of Cleves," Building New Bridges, University of Ottawa, May 2004.
- "The Function of Homoerotic Imagery in Donatello's 'David,'" Graduate Conference in History, McGill University, March 2004.
- "The Homoerotic Context in Florence and Donatello's 'David,'" Context and Meaning III, Queen's University, Kingston, January 2004.
- "Reading the Margins in the Hours of Catherine of Cleves," University Arts Association of Canada, Queen's University Kingston, November 2003.
- "Piero della Francesca and the Singular Eye," Picturing Knowledge Conference, University of Victoria, May 2003.
- "Veronese's 'Martyrdom of St. Justina,'" Context and Meaning II, Queen's University Kingston, January 2003.
- "Some Thoughts on Caravaggio's Genre Paintings," Context and Meaning I, Queen's University, Kingston, March 2002
- Toronto Outdoor Art Exhibition, Toronto City Hall (juried group exhibition).
- To See You Again, Gladstone Gallery at The Bloc, Toronto (solo exhibition).
- National Juried Drawing Exhibition, White Water Gallery, North Bay (juried group exhibition).
- Steven Stowell: Recent Drawings, Linacre College Common Room, Oxford University (solo exhibition).
- Stargazing: Portraits of Celebrities in the Arts from the 19th and 20th Centuries, Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto (co-curator with Brenda Rix).
- A Celebration of Ontario Artists, John B. Aird Gallery, Toronto (juried group exhibition).
- Toronto Outdoor Art Exhibition, Toronto City Hall (juried group exhibition).
- BFA on View, Agnes Etherington Art Centre, Kingston (juried group exhibition).
- Steven Stowell: Recent Paintings, John Deutche University Centre, Queen's University, Kingston (solo exhibition).
- 24 for Hire, Ontario Hall, Queen's University, Kingston (group exhibition)