Robert A. Maxwell

Sherman Fairchild Associate Professor of Fine Arts

PhD History of Art, Yale University; MA, MPhil History of Art, Yale University; AB, Medieval Studies, Princeton University

My interest in medieval art is driven by curiosity about the nature of images – their capacity to communicate meaning (often about themselves and their own condition or production), their variable modes of signification (over time and from one context to another), and their social values (then and now).  These general questions motivate my teaching and research and inform critique of the terms by which the field has traditionally defined the medieval art object.  I think that grappling with the inherent strangeness—the alterity—is fundamental to a critical approach to medieval art. 

Sculpture, architecture, and illuminated manuscripts steal my attention most, along with historiography and theories of art.  My first book, The Art of Medieval Urbanism: Parthenay in Romanesque Aquitaineaddressed the role of monumental art in the construction of the idea of a town, unpacking the discursive construction of ‘place’ as shaped by familial and dynastic history, legend and mythology, and social transformation of the feudal environment.  My current project, Art Inventing History: Documentary Culture and the Rise of Secular Pictorial Narrative, 1000-1200, examines images’ role in medieval epistemological debates on the limits of history and how images negotiate a dual crisis of pictorial credulity and historical doubt.  

I have also edited volumes on the medieval interpretations of the past (Representing History, 900-1300: Art, Music, History) and on critical approaches to Romanesque sculpture (Current Directions in Eleventh- and Twelfth-Century Sculpture Studies, with K. Ambrose).  Some of my other published work concerns 18th- and 19th-century antiquarianism, historiography, technical analyses of art, funerary and other liturgical practices, and word/image relations.  Research in progress investigates medieval art’s poetics, inscriptions in and on art, the temporality of dreams in the twelfth century, and medieval forgery.

Over the years, collaborative environments have enriched and expanded my teaching and research, as with curatorial projects at the Glencairn Museum and Rosenbach Museum & Library.  Future collaborations, including several involving European institutions and colleagues, are in the works.  Invited professorships have taken me to Johns Hopkins in Baltimore (2008) and the Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales in Paris (2011).

I received my degrees in Medieval Studies (Princeton, A.B.) and in the History of Art (Yale, M.A., Ph.D.).  I began my teaching career at the University of Michigan and then taught for thirteen years at the University of Pennsylvania before joining the Institute of Fine Arts in 2014.

Research Interests

• sculpture, architecture, and illuminated manuscripts
• medieval and contemporary (poststructuralist) theories of the image
• historiography and theories of history/historical time
• approaches to narrative, word-image relationships, and inscriptions in/on art
• notions of artistic value, discernment, enchantment and forgery

Sample Courses

• Dreams and Visions in Medieval Art
• Truth/Fiction: Recent Research in Medieval Art
• Apocalypse Then (and Now)
• Romanesque Art
• Medieval Art and Modernism: Catalonia
• Gothic Art: Mind, Body, and Expression
• Medieval Urbanism: Art, History, Theory
• Medieval, Postmodern
• Spanish Medieval Art
• German Gothic Sculpture
• 1066: Conquest, Colonialism, and Anglo-Norman Art



Current Directions in Eleventh- and Twelfth-Century Sculpture Studies book cover Current Directions in Eleventh- and Twelfth-Century Sculpture Studies, co-edited with K. Ambrose (Brepols, 2011) [order online]
Representing History, 900-1300: Art, Music, History book cover Representing History, 900-1300: Art, Music, History, edited volume (Penn State Press, 2011)
[order online]
The Art of Medieval Urbanism book cover The Art of Medieval Urbanism: Parthenay in Romanesque Aquitaine (Penn State Press, 2007)
[order online]

Selected Articles

“Accounting for Taste: American Collectors of Twelfth-Century Sculpture,” Journal of the History of Collecting: Special Issue, ed. V. Brilliant (2015).
“Visual Argument and the Interpretation of Dreams in the Illuminated Chronicle of John of Worcester,” The Medieval Chronicle vol. 8 (2014), 261-88.

“Héraldique, Sigillographie, et Dimplomatique, leurs contributions en l’histoire de l’art médiévale,” with M. Gil, M. Späth, A. Vilain de Bruyne, L. Hablot, Perspective: la revue de la Institut National de l’Histoire de l’Art (2014).

“Le portail roman en Aquitaine et ses implications funéraires,” Cahiers de Saint-Michel de Cuxa 45 (2014), 117-31.

“L’entrevista: Protagonistes de la Història,” feature interview in Sàpiens: Descobreix la teva història 139 (Barcelona, Feb. 2014).

“Chartes décorées à l’époque romane,” Bibliothèque de l’École des Chartes 165, numéro spécial, ed. G. Brunel (2011), 11-39.

“Le goût pour la sculpture romane de Parthenay: les collectionneurs américains,” in L’age roman: Arts et culture en Poitou et dans les pays charentais, Xe-XIIe siècles, eds. P. Brudy & A. Benéteau Péan (Gourcuff Gradenigo, 2011), 270-73.

“Sceaux, monnaies, et discours urbain dans l’Aquitaine des Plantagenêt,” in Pourquoi les sceaux? La sigillographie, nouvel enjeu de l’histoire de l’art. Actes du colloque organisé à Lille, Palais des Beaux-Arts, 23-25 octobre 2008, ed. M. Gil & J.-L. Chassel (Université de Lille, 2011), 275-91.

“La sculpture romane et ses programmes: questions de méthode,” in Cahiers du Léopard d’Or 12, Le programme: Une notion pertinente en histoire de l’art médiéval?, ed. J.-M. Guillouët, Cl. Rabel, M. Pastoureau (Léopard d’Or, 2011), 135-64 

with K. Ambrose, “Romanesque Sculpture Studies at a Crossroads,” in Current Directions in Eleventh- and Twelfth-Century Sculpture Studies, eds. R. Maxwell, K. Ambrose (Brepols, 2010), 1-22.

“Pilgrimage Architecture and the Dynamics of Urbanism Reconsidered: Faubourg Architecture in Twelfth-Century Aquitaine,” Architectural History (Society of Architectural Historians of Great Britain) 53 (2010), 41-76.

“Romanesque Construction and the Urban Context: Parthenay-le-Vieux in Aquitaine,” Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians 66, no. 1 (2007), 24-59.

“Modern Origins of Romanesque Sculpture,” A Companion to Romanesque and Gothic Art, ed. Conrad Rudolph (Blackwell, 2006), 334-56.

“Autour de Meyer Schapiro: un débat avec Enrico Castelnuovo, Robert A. Maxwell, et Roland Recht,” Perspective: Revue de la Institut National de l’Histoire de l’Art 1, no. 1 (April, 2006), 80-96.

with L. Holmes, G. Harbottle (Brookhaven National Laboratories), “The Dispersed Sculptures of Notre-Dame-de-la-Couldre and the Contributions of Nuclear Science,” Medieval Archaeology 49 (2005), 247-80.

“Parthenay-le-Vieux, église Saint-Pierre,” Congrès archéologique de France, 151e session, Deux-Sèvres 2001 (Paris, 2004), 209-16.

 “Découverte d’une tête, provenant de Notre-Dame-de-la-Couldre ?,” Bulletin monumental 162, no.3 (2004), 185-89.
“Misadventures of a Style: Romanesque Art and the Druids in Eighteenth-Century France,” Art History 26, no. 5 (2003), 609-37.

“Sealing Signs and the Art of Transcribing in the Vierzon Cartulary,” Art Bulletin 81, no. 4 (1999), 576-97.