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.


Lyon teaches the histories of art with an emphasis on gender, race, historiography, and post/colonial relationships in Spanish, Flemish, and Transatlantic visual representation (circa 1400–1850). 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); “‘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 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).

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. Her first book, Figuring Faith and Female Power in the Art of Rubens (Amsterdam University Press; expected 2020) demonstrates the Baroque artist’s changing conception and figuration of powerful women in/as religious subjects from roughly 1609-1640. She is currently at work on a second book-length project provisionally titled ‘Blackness Thirteen Ways: Abstractions of Race in Visual Culture’ which historicizes artistic recourse—and critical responses—to an aesthetics of binary contrast and ‘colorful,’ non-human, visual tropes, significations, and metaphors with inescapable racial and political valences.

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; Queer Renaissance; Gothic Vision, and Visual Cultures of the Americas. 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.