Elizabeth Sears

Elizabeth Sears

Fellow: Awarded 2010
Field of Study: Fine Arts Research

Competition: US & Canada

University of Michigan, Ann Arbor

A specialist in European medieval art and an eminent proponent and historian of the Warburgian school, Elizabeth Sears received a B.A. from Duke University (1974, summa cum laude) and an M.A. and Ph.D. from Yale University (1982). She came to prominence with her doctoral dissertation, entitled The Ages of Man: Medieval Interpretations of the Life Cycle. Written during her term as Kress Fellow at the Warburg Institute in London (1977–79) and her fellowship at the Wellcome Institute for the History of Medicine (1979–80), it received the Frances Blanshard Fellowship Prize from the art history department at Yale, as well as the Theron Rockwell Field Prize, a university-wide honor. Princeton University Press published it in 1986, and four years later it won the Medieval Academy of America’s John Nicholas Brown Prize, which is awarded annually to the best first book on a medieval subject. The Ages of Man is frequently consulted in interdisciplinary contexts.

After a brief time as a lecturer at Yale, Ms. Sears accepted a position in 1982 at Princeton University as an Assistant Professor and Mellon Preceptor in the Department of Art and Archaeology. She also was Acting Director of Princeton’s Index of Christian Art database in 1987–88. Early in her tenure at Princeton, she spent a year as a Visiting Fellow at Oxford University’s Magdalen College. She went on to hold a J. Paul Getty Postdoctoral Fellow in the History of Art (1988–89) and held a Research Fellowship from the Alexander von Humboldt-Stiftung to the Zentralinstitut für Kunstgeschichte in Munich (1989–91); during the 1991–92 winter semester she taught three courses in German as a Visiting Professor at the University of Hamburg.

Her extensive researches at Princeton and abroad produced a number of important articles that reflect her two principal foci, which she succinctly describes as the “historical (problems in medieval art) and the historiographical (the nature and history of disciplinary thought).” These include “Louis the Pious as Miles Christi: The Dedicatory Image in Hrabanus Maurus’s De Laudibus Sanctae Crucis,” in Charlemagne’s Heir: New Perspectives on the Reign of Louis the Pious (814-840), edited by P. Godman and R. Collins (Oxford UP, 1990); “The Iconography of Auditory Perception in the Early Middle Ages: On Psalm Illustration and Psalm Exegesis,” in The Second Sense: Studies in Hearing and Musical Judgement from Antiquitiy to the Seventeenth Century, edited by C. Burnett, M. Fend, and P. Gouek, Warburg Institute Surveys and Texts, 22 (Warburg Institute, 1991); and “The Life and Work of William S. Heckscher: Some Petites Perceptions,” in Zeitschrift für Kunstgeschichte, 53 (1990), a tribute to her mentor of over thirty years, and a prelude to the Festschrift The Verbal and the Visual: Essays in Honor of William Sebastian Heckscher (Italica Press, 1990), which she coedited with K.-L. Selig.

In 1992, Ms. Sears moved to the University of Michigan’s Department of the History of Art, progressing from Assistant Professor to her current position as George H. Forsyth Jr. Collegiate Professor of History of Art. In addition to her teaching responsibilities and her editorship of Gesta (2000–03), which is published under the auspices of the International Center of Medieval Art at The Cloisters in Manhattan, she continued her own research, resulting in a number of important articles, “The Afterlife of Scribes: Swicher’s Prayer in the Prüfening Isidore,” in Pen in Hand: Medieval Scribal Portraits, Colophons and Tools, ed. M. Gullick (Red Gull Press, 2006); “Craft Ethics and the Critical Eye in Medieval Paris,” Gesta, 45 (2006); “Eye Training: Goldschmidt/Wölfflin,” in Adolph Goldschmidt (1863-1944): Normal Art Hisistory im 20. Jahrhundert, ed. G. Brands and H. Dilly (Verlag und Datenbank für Geisteswissenschaften, 2007), as well as three new monographs. For the volume Edgar Wind, The Religious Symbolism of Michelangelo: The Sistine Ceiling (Oxford UP, 2000), she collected four decades’ worth of Wind’s largely unpublished writings on Michelangelo; she contributed an article and seven short essays and coedited (with T. K. Thomas) Reading Medieval Images: The Art Historian and the Object (University of Michigan Press, 2002); and, with Charlotte Schoell-Glass, she prepared Verzetteln als Methode. Der humanistische Ikonologe Williams S. Heckscher, Hamburger Forschungen zur Kunstgeschichte (Berlin: Akademie Verlag, 2008).

In addition to the honors already mentioned, Elizabeth Sears has received numerous awards from the University of Michigan, including a Faculty Fellowship at the Institute for the Humanities (1997-98) and an LS&A Excellence in Teaching Award (1999). She was a visiting fellow at All Souls College, Oxford (1995); she was invited to the Getty Research Institute as a Getty Scholar (2000) and to Warburg Haus as the Aby-Warburg-Gastprofessur (2003); she was the Paul Mellon Centre Fellow at the British School in Rome (2004) and the Anna-Maria Kellen Fellow at the American Academy in Berlin (2008); and she is, at present, the Paul Mellon Senior Fellow, Center for Advanced Study in the Visual Arts, Washington, D.C. (2010).

During her Guggenheim Fellowship term, she is working on a new book, tentatively titled Warburg Circles: Towards a Cultural Historical History of Art, 1929–1964.


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