Prof. Dr. Jeanette Kohl

Visiting scholar

Jeanette Kohl is Associate Professor of Art History at the University of California, Riverside. Her research focuses on portraiture, sculpture, and concepts of mimesis, memory, and representation in the Italian Renaissance. She earned her PhD from the University of Trier/Germany with a dissertation on Bartolomeo Colleoni's burial chapel (Fama und Virtus, 2004). She was a postdoctoral fellow at the Kunsthistorisches Institut in Florenz (2001–2004), Wissenschaftliche Mitarbeiterin at the University of Leipzig (2004–2008) and Visiting Professor at the Friedrich-Schiller-University in Jena (2007). Kohl has received fellowships from the Getty (2014), Morphomata Center for Advanced Studies at the University of Köln (2015), and she was the Agnes Gund and Daniel Shapiro Member of the Center for Advanced Studies in Princeton (2018/19). While at the KHI, she is working on her book The Life of Busts. Fifteenth-Century Portrait Sculpture in Italy.

  • portraiture, sculpture, and material culture of the Italian Renaissance
  • concepts of memory, mimesis, and representation
  • history of medicine and recent approaches in medical humanities
  • cultural history of the body and face
  • migrations of objects and people

The Life of Busts. Sculpted Portraits in Fifteenth-Century Italy

The Life of Busts is the first comprehensive book-length study of bust portraiture in Renaissance Italy. While sculpted busts have long been in the shadow of portrait paintings, this book foregrounds the eminent role those portraits played in the Renaissance – as potent mirror images infused with societal and cultural expectation, as ambivalent objects of desire and poetical reverence, and as authoritative proxies based on the power of likeness. In a foundational essay and seven chapters built around case studies, The Life of Busts re-evaluates Renaissance ideas of identity and individuality, authority and authenticity, art and love – and their novel visualizations in 15th century portrait sculpture. The book will expand the traditional art historical focus on a single material (most often marble busts), a single category of objects (religious vs. secular objects), or a single period (Middle Ages vs. Renaissance) – fluid categories in the fifteenth century.

In emphasizing the bust portrait's central role in Quattrocento art and culture, my book sheds new light on the objects' materials and meanings, strategies of display, and the viewer responses. Inspired by recent approaches in material culture and image theory, it shifts the traditional art historical foci on the sitters' identity, social status, practices of patronage, and matters of attribution and style toward a more object-centered approach. The fragmentary character of portrait busts, their status as pars-pro-toto in a culture of memoria, their close relation with bust reliquaries and their rootedness in antique ancestor portraits, their status as body-images, their functions as representations of status, gender, and age – and finally the many ways in which bust portraits as per se liminal objects are brought closer to life, all of these aspects are discussed theoretically and in case studies. What emerges is a novel 'phenomenology' of bust portraits in Renaissance culture, between an invigorated autonomy of the individual and a rivaling set of old and new heteronomies.


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