Steven Stowell, PhD
Associate Professor, Art History
Undergraduate Program Director, 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 sacred images, the intersections between art and language, and the relationships 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 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 numerous edited volumes, as well as the journals Word & Image and Dante Studies among others. His current research projects explore anthropological approaches to Renaissance art by looking at how art objects were implicated in the discourses surrounding fertility and growth, chastity and abundance, and healing and nourishment.
Dr. Stowell maintains both a creative writing and an artistic practice. As a painter he has an interest in figurative representation and has exhibited in Canada and the UK. As a fiction writer, he has published short stories in The Windsor Review and Carte Blanche.
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 200 Perspectives of Art History
- 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 450 Adv. Seminar in the History of Art and Architecture: High Renaissance and Mannerist Art in Florence
• 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
• ARTH 641 Issues in Visual and Material Culture: Living Art – The Power and Presence of Images from Late Antiquity to Early Modernity and Beyond
• ARTH 633 Creative and Critical Literature in Art History: Anthropological Approaches to the History of Art
• 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.
My research in recent years has centred on three interrelated axis, most of which explore issues regarding attitudes toward sacred art in the Italian Renaissance.
A major focus of my research has been the literature on art of the Italian Renaissance and its relationship to spirituality. In engaging with these literary sources, I aim to better understand how the spiritual dimensions of works of visual art were being reimagined and repositioned as objects of intellectual and academic discourse. This was the main focus of my book The Spiritual Language of Art, and it has likewise informed forthcoming studies on the art theory of Gabriel Paleotti, and Giorgio Vasari's biography of Leonardo da Vinci. Giorgio Vasari's attitude toward the sacrament of Baptism was also the focus of my study "A Baptism of Drawing" in the edited volume Rethinking Renaissance Drawing.
A second theme of my research in recent years has been the phenomenon of miracle-working images in Renaissance Italy. A forthcoming publication in the journal Renaissance and Reformation explores the relationships between the origins of a miracle-working image and its subsequent agency. I am also preparing articles on the shrine of Orsanmichele in Florence, as well as on Early Modern books of miracles. My work on miracle-working images engages with theories of agency derived from anthropological research.
A third area of research concerns issues of gender and sexuality in Renaissnace Italy. I have explored the relationships between images and homosexuality in an article for the journal Dante Studies, as well as more recently in a forthcoming chapter on represenations of male bathers in images of the Baptism of Christ. I have also explored sexual responses to spiritual images in my chapter "Purging the Eye" for the edited volume Renaissance Religions.
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
- "The Origins and Agency of the Miraculous Annunciation at the Santissima Annunziata in Counter-Reformation Florence", Renaissance and Reformation / Renaissance et Réforme 45, no. 1 (2022): 9-62 [Forthcoming].
- "Purging the Eye: Images and the Cure for Lust in Catholic Reformation Italy." In Renaissance Religions: Modes and Meanings in History, edited by Peter Howard, Nicholas Terpstra, and Riccardo Saccenti, 207-230. Turnhout: Brepols Publishier, 2021.
- "Le 'paragone', querelle des arts libéraux." In L'Èpoque de la Renaissance (1400-1600), Tome II: La Nouvelle Culture (1480-1520), edited by Eva Kushner, 255-264. Amsterdam and Philadelphia: John Benjamins Publishing Company, 2017.
- "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, 107-117. Montreal and Kingston: McGill-Queen's University Press, 2015.
- "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.
- "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.
- "Visualizing the Sodomites in Dante's 'Commedia.'" Dante Studies 126 (2008): 143-174.
- "Reading the Margins in the Hours of Catherine of Cleves." Word & Image 24, no. 4 (2008): 378-392.
Articles in Review
- "Bathing and Bonding: Sensual Male Imagery in Italian Paintings of the Baptism."
- "Between Religion and Magic: Miraculous Art in Vasari's Biography of Leonardo da Vinci".
Exhibition Catalogues, Reviews and Other Publications
- Vecce, Carlo (ed.). La Biblioteca di Leonardo. Florence: Giunti Editore, 2021. Contributor of four entries: "Storia di Santa Margherita," "Sermones ad heremitas," "Della confessione regole xii", and "De civitate Dei."
- "Walter S. Melion: The Meditative Art: Studies in the Northern Devotional Print 1550-1625," in Renaissance and Reformation/Renaissance et Réforme 35, no. 2 (2012): 166-168.
- "Lisa Monnas: Merchants, Princes and Painters: Silk Fabrics in Italian and Northern Paintings 1300-1550," in Renaissance and Reformation/Renaissance et Réforme 35, no. 1 (2012): 217-219.
- "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).
"Gerald and Rita's Secondhand Book Shoppe," Carte blanche, issue 42 (2021).
"A Quiet Resting Place for Us," Windsor Review: A Journal of the Arts 39, no. 2 (2006), 6-11.
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.
Conferences & Lectures
"Leonardo était-il un artiste « gai »?" (invited lecture). 7e édition de la Semaine de la philosophie: décoder le génie de Vinci, Cégep régional de Lanaudière à Terrebonne, 4 novembre 2019.
- "The Tranquility of the Mind: Aspects of the Creative and Intellectual Training of Artists in Renaissance Italy," (invited lecture) Agnes Etherington Art Centre at Queen's University, Kingston, 18 October 2019. In conjunction with the exhibition "Artists at Work: Picturing Practice in the European Tradition".
- "The Agency and Origins of Miracle-Working Images in Late-Medieval and Renaissance Italy," Canadian Conference of Medieval Art Historians, Carleton University, Ottawa, 16-17 March 2018.
- "From Song into Stone: Laude Confraternities and Musical Devotion at Orsanmichele in Florence," Intersensory, Performative, Material: Music and Visual Culture in Early Modern Italy. Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library, University of Toronto. 24 November 2017.
- "Spiritual and Sexual Therapy: Images to Purge the Mind of Lust," Renaissance Society of America, Chicago, 30 March – 1 April 2017.
- "Inseminating the Mind/Purging the Eye: Miraculous Agency in Italian Renaissance Art," Séminaire des Nouveaux Modernes, Université de Montréal, 27 January 2017.
- "Images Enfolded in Ritual, and Ritual Materializing from Images: Studies on Miraculous Agency in Early Modern Italian Art" (Keynote lecture), Intérieurs du rituel: Approches, pratiques et représentations en arts, 4e Colloques arts et médias de l'Université de Montréal, 24-25 November 2016.
- "Sacred Art at the Intersection of the Miraculous and the Scientific: A Case Study on Sexual Responses and Religious Images in Renaissance Italy," Renaissance Religions II, Bologna, Fondazione per le Scienze Religiose Giovanni XXII, 9-10 June 2016.
- "The Materiality of Prayer in Early Italian Marian Miracles", Renaissance Society of America, Boston, 31 March–2 April 2016.
- "The Time of Miracles: Temporality and Devotions to Miracle-Working Images in Early Modern Italy," Sixteenth-Century Society Conference, Vancouver, 22-25 October 2015.
- "From Song into Stone: Orcagna's Tabernacle at Orsanmichele," Canadian Conference of Medieval Art Historians. Université de Montréal, 19-20 March 2015.
- "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)