J. Vanessa Lyon

Image of J. Vanessa Lyon

Vanessa Lyon's teaching and research range from early Renaissance to modern and contemporary visual culture with a focus on European painting. She is especially interested in transhistorical and transcultural approaches to gender, race, and representation in early modern visuality, and the legacies of the 'Old Masters' in subsequent art and its histories.


Lyon teaches the histories of art with an emphasis on gender, sexuality, historiography, Critical Race Theory, and post/colonial relationships in Spanish, Flemish, and Transatlantic visual culture (circa 1400–1850). Her first book, Figuring Faith and Female Power in the Art of Rubens (Amsterdam UP, 2020) demonstrates the Baroque artist’s changing conception and figuration of powerful women in/as religious subjects from roughly 1609-1640. Selected publications include: “‘A Relic from the Cave of Pope’: Drawings of the Grotto in an Extra-Illustrated Plan of Pope’s Garden in the Huntington Library” (Huntington Library Quarterly, June, 2015), and “A Psalm for King James: Rubens’s Peace Embracing Plenty and the Virtues of Female Affection at Whitehall” (Art History, Feb. 2017). An essay examining the iconic portraits of the queer Mexican poet-nun, Sor Juana, appears in the Routledge Research Companion to the Works of Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz (E. Bergmann and S. Schlau, eds.; 2017). With Caroline Fowler, Lyon is co-author of “Revision and Reckoning: The Legacy of Slavery in Histories of Northern Art” (JHNA, spring 2022).

While on a junior semester abroad in Florence, Lyon developed an enduring fascination with Renaissance and Baroque painting that eventually led to graduate study in Madrid, Venice, and London. She is currently at work on a second book-length project provisionally titled ‘Blackness Thirteen Ways: On Finding Myself in Art History.’ Since 2017, she has been the Director of Bennington’s Visual Arts Lecture Series (VALS), a venue for introducing the College community to the work of emerging and internationally renowned artists, curators, and scholars from underrepresented backgrounds. In 2021, she was guest curator of Girl You Want, the inaugural exhibition of the new ArtYard, the contemporary art center in Frenchtown, NJ. Lyon’s recent courses include: Watchmen: Watch Us Now; Queer Renaissance; Gothic Vision; Visual Cultures of the Americas, and Harlem and the Northern Renaissance: New Amstergodd@m. A former appraiser for a Chicago auction house, she has received fellowships and awards from the Yale Center for British Art, the Attingham Trust, Yale’s Lewis Walpole Library, the Huntington Library, the Fulbright Commission, Foreign Language Area Studies (FLAS), and the Program for Cultural Cooperation between Spain’s Ministry of Culture and American Universities. Prior to coming to Bennington, Lyon taught art history at Grinnell College, Reed College, and the University of California at Berkeley, from which she received an MA and a PhD in the history of art. She holds an MA in religious studies from the Iliff School of Theology. Lyon joined the Bennington faculty in Fall 2016.

Photo credit: Alexa Nikol Curran