Art History Professor's Book Earning Kudos


Mary Quinlan-McGrath, professor of art history in the NIU School of Art, will have her latest book published this fall by the University of Chicago Press. Titled Influences: Art, Optics, and Astrology in the Italian Renaissance, Mary's book is garnering pre-press raves from around the world.

From the jacket cover of Influences comes this description:

"Today few would think of astronomy and astrology as fields related to theology. Fewer still would know that physically absorbing planetary rays was once considered to have medical and psychological effects. But this was the understanding of light radiation held by certain natural philosophers of early modern Europe, and that, argues Mary Quinlan-McGrath, was why educated people of the Renaissance commissioned artworks centered on astrological themes and practices.

Influences is the first book to reveal how many Renaissance artworks were designed to be not only beautiful but also—perhaps even primarily—functional. From the fresco cycles at Caprarola, to the Vatican’s Sala dei Pontefici, to the Villa Farnesina, these great works were commissioned to selectively capture and then transmit celestial radiation, influencing the bodies and minds of their audiences. Quinlan-McGrath examines the sophisticated logic behind the theories and practices that were thought to unite macrocosm and microcosm through art and, along the way, sheds light on early creation theory; the relationship between astrology and natural theology; and the protochemistry, physics, and mathematics of rays. 

An original and intellectually stimulating study, Influences adds a new dimension to the understanding of aesthetics among Renaissance patrons and a new meaning to the seductive powers of art."

Christopher S. Celenza, director of the American Academy in Rome, notes “Among the many virtues of this book, Mary Quinlan-McGrath brings two aspects of scholarship together in an innovative way...She presents a different way of understanding aesthetics and one that is much closer to what fifteenth- and sixteenth-century people experienced as they processed art. This sort of aesthetic appreciation was interactive, primarily, and assumed a fluid link between subject and object in a manner often unfamiliar today.”

Michael H. Shank of the University of Wisconsin–Madison says "Quinlan-McGrath breaks new ground, brings together fields that need to communicate more, and offers striking interpretations of Renaissance art by fleshing out the neglected intellectual presuppositions of its practitioners and patrons."

Joseph Connors of Harvard University has this to say: "This book, ranging from Greek and Arabic science to some of the greatest works of Italian painting and architecture, explains the how and the why of astrology and helps us understand, even empathize with, a fundamental substrate of Renaissance art and thought.”

And Armando Maggi of the University of Chicago says “Mary Quinlan-McGrath’s Influences is a work of striking originality. With unique clarity and expertise, she proves that Italian Renaissance architecture and visual arts were significantly influenced by a complex but coherent blending of astrology, Neoplatonic philosophy, geography, and other scientific disciplines. Quinlan-McGrath’s work is a truly significant contribution to the field of Renaissance studies."

Congratulations, Mary!

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