Dr Robert Brennan

Lecturer in Art History

School of Communication and Arts
Faculty of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences
+61 7 336 52139


I am a specialist in Italian art of the late Middle Ages and Renaissance, with research interests in the social history of art, cross-cultural mobility, and discourses of modernity.

My current book project, provisionally titled Thresholds of Art in Renaissance Italy, studies the role that migration and slavery played in Italian art of the late fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. Crucial to this project is archival work on little-known artists, such as a Syrian metalworker in Venice, an Egyptian textile designer in Ferrara, and West African musicians in Rome, among others. In particular, I focus on how the work of these artists stimulated multilingual, theoretical conversations that shaped and conditioned emergent Italian concepts of “art.” In my first article related to this project, recently published in The Art Bulletin (March 2023), I map the emergence of the "arabesque" (arabesco) as a concept that developed in tandem with conscious projects of imperialist appropriation, but also inadvertently furnished a theoretical basis for a highly conflicted affirmation of female needleworkers as "divine" artists.

My first book, Painting as a Modern Art in Early Renaissance Italy (2019), establishes a novel interdisciplinary nexus between painting, intellectual life, and material culture, showing how a period-specific concept of “modern art” (ars moderna) emerged out of dialogue between painting and a wide variety of other “arts,” including music, poetry, medicine, textile manufacture, tailoring, and cosmetics, by the year 1400.

One longstanding topic of my research has been the relationship between art and language, which I most recently explored in an article on temporality in Raphael and Michelangelo for Oxford Art Journal (Spring, 2022), and a co-edited volume (with Marco Mascolo, Alessandro Nova, and C. Oliver O’Donnel) titled Art History before English: Negotiating a European Lingua Franca from Vasari to the Present (2021). Another focus is the relationship between art and capitalism, which I developed in an essay on late fourteenth-century painting for the volume Renaissance Metapainting (2020), and in an article on Albrecht Dürer and the Protestant Reformation, published in Res: Anthropology and Aesthetics (2016-17). I am currently developing two further co-edited volumes, one with Katie Anania and Andrew Leach titled Early Modern Imaginaries in the Long Twentieth Century, and the other with Fabian Jonietz and Romana Sammern titled Ut pictura medicina? Visual Arts and Medicine.

Before joining UQ, I completed a PhD at New York University’s Institute of Fine Arts, and went on to hold postdoctoral fellowships at the Kunsthistorisches Institut in Florenz (Max-Planck-Institut) and the University of Sydney. I have also taught at the Parson’s School of Design (The New School, New York), and worked in the Department of Drawings and Prints at the Morgan Library & Museum in New York. I was recently awarded an RSA-Samuel H. Kress Research Fellowship in Renaissance Art History, which will allow me to conduct archival research in Venice.

Research Interests

  • Medieval and Renaissance Art


  • Doctor of Philosophy


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  • Doctor Philosophy

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Book Chapter

Journal Article

Conference Publication

PhD and MPhil Supervision

Current Supervision