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Patricia Rubin

Professor Emerita of Fine Arts

Yale (B.A.); Courtauld Institute of Art (M.A.); Harvard (PhD)

My career as an art historian began between high school and college in Florence, where I was employed as Dr. Klara Steinweg’s assistant, working on a volume of The Corpus of Florentine Painting under the auspices of the Institute of Fine Arts. Dr. Steinweg’s exacting erudition, meticulous scholarship, and profound understanding of every detail of her subject made a deep impression on me. Under her guidance I was put in direct contact with the great traditions of art historical scholarship, understood as necessarily combining a command of the object of study, materially, technically, formally, and iconographically, with knowledge of its transformation over time, a search for primary sources, and a command of the secondary literature. In sum, Kunstgeschichte als Kunstwissenschaft. No less important was the fact that this initiation took place in Florence, which eventually (though not automatically) became one of the focal points of my research and teaching.

I was a student at Yale (BA) and Harvard (PhD) at a time when the relation between their museum collections and departmental teaching was interactive and porous. My practice as a teacher and researcher has been grounded in that experience, greatly enriched by my years in London, which happily escaped the “two worlds” rift. I define myself as an art historian by those terms: I work historically on the matter and material of art. That history, for me, is physical, social, and cultural. It is inherently interdisciplinary and not hierarchical with regard to media or modes of communication. One motivating force for my work is a desire to understand the sources of my studies – visual and textual, both as products of a certain time and of the operation of time.

That said, my research has been eclectically motivated: it has been inspired by a love of great writing and grand narratives, prompted by courses I have offered, by the attraction of a given work of art, by seeming anomalies, or by being asked a question that has no immediate answer. I have written on the history of collecting, on drawings, Raphael, altarpieces, and on modes of seeing. My first book, Giorgio Vasari: Art and History (Yale University Press, 1995; awarded the Eric Mitchell Prize), originated in my dissertation. In addition to essays and articles on the Lives (including one, “’Not  … what I would fain offer, but … what I am able to present’: Mrs. Jonathan Foster’s translation of Vasari’s Lives,” in Le Vite del Vasari: Genesi, Topoi, Ricezione, 2010), work on the Lives resulted in publications on rhetoric, invention, and the meaning of history. An interest in exploring the Florentine archives and exploiting a generation of new work by historians of the city led me to produce a socially-grounded history of its art (Images and Identity in Fifteenth-Century Florence, Yale University Press, 2007). Spin-offs from that included an invitation to co-curate an exhibition at the National Gallery London (Renaissance Florence: the Art of the 1470s, with Alison Wright, 1999) and an international conference and book of essays, Art, Memory, and Family in Renaissance Florence (with Giovanni Ciappelli, Cambridge University Press, 2000). A seminar series that I organized on “Naming Names” led to an article on artists’ signatures (Art History, 2000) and a working group that I founded at the Courtauld Institute – the Courtauld Women Teachers – resulted in a contribution to the group’s edited volume, Manifestations of Venus: Art and Sexuality (“The seductions of antiquity”; Manchester University Press, 2000). Another working group that I created at the Courtauld – the Writing Art History project – gave me a chance to read novels for work, leading to an essay on Henry James and portraiture in the special issue of Art History edited by the group (“’The Liar’: Fictions of the Person,” 2011). Paradoxically perhaps, since I am never quite sure what can be said about portraiture, I have tried more than once, including an essay Portraits by the Artist as a Young Man: Parmigianino ca. 1524 (2007) and one on “Understanding Renaissance Portraiture,” for the catalog of the exhibitions held in Berlin and New York (The Renaissance Portrait from Donatello to Bellini, 2011). To balance out all of that facing up to faces, I have been studiously examining the other end of the body, particularly the male bottom, with articles on the subject in Art History (2009, 2013) and a book in preparation for Yale University Press. 

I have an abiding belief in conversation and community as instruments of knowledge and have organized or co-organized 13 international conferences, a number of seminars, panels, and working groups, and given more lectures and conference presentations than I can count – including named lectures in the U.K., Germany, Italy, and the U.S. and keynote lectures to major professional organizations (such as the Association of Art Historians and the Renaissance Society of America). That communitarian conviction made me the logical choice to be the founding Head of the Courtauld Institute of Art Research Forum in 2004, defining its mission, deciding its programmatic and administrative structures, and even designing its space. Having left the Courtauld and the Forum in 2009, one of my greatest pleasures it to know that it is a flourishing enterprise and so well embedded in the Courtauld’s research culture that it is taken for granted that the Institute’s research life is based in its Forum.

I am currently on the editorial boards of Art History and Studiolo (the research journal of the Académie de France à Rome), and have previously served on the editorial boards of the Oxford Art Journal and Renaissance Studies (also acting as the exhibition reviews editor). I have had the opportunity to be a Visiting Professor twice at the Kunsthistorisches Institut in Florence (2007, 2009) and  Harvard University’s Center for Renaissance Studies, Villa I Tatti (1992, 2004), where I was the National Endowment for the Humanities Fellow in 1986-87 and Acting Director in 1997. Before having the honor to become the director of the Institute of Fine Arts in 2009, I was Deputy Director of the Courtauld Institute. My committee and administrative service includes: membership of the  UK Higher Education Funding Council Research Assessment Exercise 2001 and 2008 panels; UK Arts and Humanities Research Council Peer Review College; Leverhulme Foundation Fellowship Committee; Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute Advisory Council; ARTstor Council;  Andrew W. Mellon Postdoctoral Fellowship Committee, Center for Advanced Study in the Visual Arts; Director, The Burlington Magazine Foundation Inc.; Metropolitan Museum of Art Education Committee; Metropolitan Museum of Art European Paintings Department Visiting Committee, the Morgan Library Drawing Institute Advisory Board, and Vice-President of the Kunshistorisches Institut in Florenz/Max-Planck-Institut Scientific Advisory Board.

I have been a teacher since 1979, with the fortune to work at specialist institutes in resource-rich cities with very specially talent students. I have supervised well over 100 MA theses, a number of them published, and 24 completed dissertations, with three currently underway at the Institute. Probably the greatest surprise and most meaningful honor I have ever received is the book of essays edited by my former students at the Courtauld, ‘Una insalata di più erbe’: Festschrift for Patricia Lee Rubin (2011).

Sample Courses

Print Culture: Objects and Meaning
The Sculptural Imagination in Italian Renaissance Art
The Creative Touch: Drawing in the Italian Renaissance
Arts in Florence during the Age of Lorenzo the Magnificent
Italian Renaissance Art in New York Collections
Facing up to Fifteenth-century portraiture

Selected Publications


Book cover: Seen from Behind Seen from Behind: Perspectives on the Male Body and Italian Renaissance Art (Yale University Press). [order "Seen from Behind" online]
Book cover: Images and Identity in Fifteenth-century Florence Images and Identity in Fifteenth-century Florence. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2007. [order "Images and Identity in Fifteenth-century Florence"online]
Book cover: Portraits by the Artist as a Young Man Portraits by the Artist as a Young Man: Parmigianino ca. 1524. Groningen: Gerson Lectures Foundation, 2007.
Book cover: Art, Memory, and Family in Renaissance Florence Art, Memory, and Family in Renaissance Florence. Co-edited with Giovanni Ciappelli. New York and Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000. Preface, pp. vii-xiv; "Art and the Imagery of Memory,” pp. 67-85. [order "Art, Memory, and Family in Renaissance Florence" online]
Book cover: Renaissance Florence: The Art of the 1470s Renaissance Florence: The Art of the 1470s. Coedited with Alison Wright.  London: National Gallery Publications Limited, 1999. [order "Renaissance Florence: The Art of the 1470s" online]
Book cover: Giorgio Vasari: Art and History Giorgio Vasari. Art and History. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1995. [order "Giorgio Vasari. Art and History"online]


2022 (in press)

“‘Perverse Images’: Monstrous Beauty and Monkey Business in Italian Art from Botticelli to Bronzino,” for publication in the acts of the conference, Corps troublants, Images et imaginaires dans la première modernité/Disturbing Bodies. Images and Imaginary during Early Modern Period, ed. Francesca Alberti and Antonella Fenech Kroke (Académie de France à Rome)

“Dangerous Liaisons: Compromising Positions and Provocative Allusions in Bronzino’s Martyrdom of St. Lawrence,” Studiolo

“Michelangelo’s Monkey and the Melancholy of Death,” for publication in the acts of the conference Sculpter à la Renaissance: un art pour (é)mouvoir, ed. Monica Preti and Marc Bormand (Paris: Musée du Louvre)


“Poetico disegno: le illustrazioni di Sandro Botticelli per la Divina Commedia,” in Iconografia di Dante, ed. Lina Bolzoni (Rome: Istituto della Enciclopedia Italiana), pp. *. (Poetic Design: Sandro Botticelli’s Illustrations to Dante’s Divina Commedia)


“Art and the Masquerade of History,” in History and Art History, ed. Nicholas Chare and Mitchell Frank (London: Routledge)

Foreword to Carlo Falciani, Vasari, Michelangelo & the Allegory of Patience (London: Paul Holberton Publishing)


‘“Pictures with a Past”: Botticelli in Boston’, in Botticelli: Heroes and Heroines, ed. by Nathaniel Silver, exhibition catalogue, Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Boston (Paul Holberton Publishing: London), pp. 10-31

“George Eliot, Lady Eastlake, and the Humbug of Old Masters,” 19. Interdisciplinary Studies in the Long Nineteenth Century, pp. 1-19 [Read “George Eliot, Lady Eastlake, and the Humbug of Old Masters online]

Earlier Articles

"'The Outcry': Despoilers, Donors, and the National Gallery in London, 1909." Journal of the History of Collections, 25:2 (2013): pp. 253-75. [Read The Outcry online]

"Art History from the Bottom Up." Art History, 36:2 (2013): pp. 280-309.

"'Che è di Questo Culazzino!': Michelangelo and the Motif of the Male Buttocks in Italian Renaissance Art." Oxford Art Journal, 32:3 (2009): pp. 427-6; and introduction to the issue. [Read online]

"Signposts Of Invention: Artists' Signatures In Italian Renaissance Art."Art History, 29:4 (2006) pp. 563-99, special issue; reprinted in Location, ed. Deborah Cherry and Fintan Cullen (Blackwell Publishing, London), chapter 3, pp. 31-67.

"'Contemplating Fragments of Ancient Marbles': Sitters and Statues in Sixteenth-century Portraits." La Revue D’histoire De L’art De L’ Académie De France à Rome: Studiolo, IV (2006): pp.17-39.

"Hierarchies of Vision: Fra Angelico’s Coronation of the Virgin for San Domenico, Fiesole." Oxford Art Journal, 27:2 (2004): pp. 137-53. [Read abstract]

"Portrait of a Lady: Isabella Stewart Gardner, Bernard Berenson and the Market for Renaissance Art in America." Apollo, CLII (2000): pp. 37-41.

"Answering to Names: The Case of Raphael’s Drawings." Word and Image, VII (1991): pp. 33-38.

”The Art of Colour in Florentine Painting of the Early Sixteenth Century: Rosso Fiorentino and Jacopo Pontormo,” Art History, XIV (1991): pp. 175-91.

Chapters in Books

"Understanding Renaissance Portraiture." In The Renaissance Portrait: From Donatello to Bellini, edited by Keith Christiansen and Stefan Weppelman, pp. 2-25. (Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 2011), pp. 2-25 and “Florenz und das Porträt der Renaissance verstehen,“ in Gesichter der Renaissance: Meisterwerk italienischen Porträt-Kunst (Bode-Museum, Berlin), pp. 2-25. [order online]

“‘Not … what I would fain offer, but … what I am able to present’: Mrs. Jonathan Foster’s translation of Vasari’s Lives,” in Le Vite del Vasari: Genesi, Topoi, Ricezione/ Die Vite Vasari: Entstehung, Topi, Rezeption, ed. Katja Burzer, Charles Davis, Sabine Feser, and Alessandro Nova (Marsilio Editore, Florence, 2010), pp. 317-31.

“Filippino Lippi, ‘pittore di vaghissima invenzione’: Christian poetry and the significance of style in late fifteenth-century altarpiece design,” in Programme et invention dans l’art de la Renaissance, ed Michel Hochmann, Julian Kliemann, Jérémie Koering, and Philippe Morel (Académie de France à Rome/Somogy, Rome and Paris, 2008), pp. 227-46.

"Bernard Berenson, Villa I Tatti, and the Visualization of the Italian Renaissance,” in Gli Anglo-Americani a Firenze. Idea e costruzione del Rinascimento, ed. Marcello Fantoni (Bulzoni, Rome, 2000), pp. 207-21.

"The seductions of antiquity,” in Manifestations of Venus. Art and Sexuality, ed. Caroline Arscott and Katie Scott (Manchester University Press, Manchester, 2000), pp. 24-34

"Domenico Ghirlandaio and the meaning of history in Fifteenth Century Florence,” in Domenico Ghirlandaio 1449-1494. Atti del Convegno Internazionale, Firenze, 16-18 ottobre 1994, ed. Wolfram Prinz and Max Seidel (Centro Di, Florence, 1996), pp. 197-208.

"Commission and design in Central Italian altarpieces c. 1450-1550,” in Italian Altarpieces 1250-1550, ed. Eve Borsook and Fiorella Superbi Gioffredi (Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1994), pp. 201-30. [order online]

"Raphael and the Rhetoric of Art,” in Renaissance Rhetoric, ed. Peter Mack (Macmillan, London, 1994), pp. 165-82.