J. Vanessa Lyon

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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 cross-cultural exchange, the intersectionality of gender, race, and theology in early modern visuality, and the legacies of the 'Old Masters' in subsequent art and its histories.

Office Hours: Mon. 10:30am-12:30pm & Thur. pm by appt. (S19)


Lyon teaches early modern art with an emphasis on gender, race, historiography, and post/colonial relationships in Spanish, Flemish, and British visual representation (circa 1400–1800). Selected publications include: “Full of Grace: Lactation, Expression and Colorito in some Early Works by Rubens” (in Medieval and Renaissance Lactations, J. Sperling, ed. Ashgate, 2013), and “‘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). The article “A Psalm for King James: Rubens’s Peace Embracing Plenty and the Virtues of Female Affection at Whitehall” appeared in the journal Art History (Feb. 2017). An essay examining the iconic portraits of the Mexican poet-nun, Sor Juana, is forthcoming in the Routledge Research Companion to the Works of Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz (E. Bergmann and S. Schlau, eds.)

While away from Lake Forest College 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. Her current research is divided between two book-length projects. The first, Figuring Faith and Female Power in the Art of Rubens, demonstrates the Baroque artist’s changing conception and representation of powerful women in/as religious subjects from roughly 1600-1630. The second, four essays provisionally titled ‘Color in Black and White: Chiaroscuro, Monochrome, and other Allegories of Race from Rembrandt to Rauschenberg’ historicizes artistic recourse—and critical responses—to an aesthetics of binary contrast, ultimately arguing for the inescapable racial and political valences of black/ness and white/ness in artistic practice and art history.

Lyon’s related teaching and research concentrates on portraiture, critical race and art theory, and the genealogy of ‘painterly’ painters such as Titian, Rubens, Van Dyck, Velázquez, Hogarth, Goya, Manet, Sargent, and Rauschenberg. Her recent courses include: Gender, Race, and Fashion in Western Portraiture, 1550–1950; The Baroque Imaginary; and Subverting the Renaissance: Queerness and Visuality, 1500–1600. A former appraiser of decorative arts 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 and Art Collection, 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 her arrival at 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 (historical theology) from the Iliff School of Theology. Lyon joined the Bennington faculty in Fall 2016.

Fall 2019 Courses

Visual Arts Lecture Series Seminar
Toward a Rigorous Art History
Gothic Vision: Specters of Subversion, Medieval to Tomorrow