Who are you and what do you do at the OU? What modules are you involved in?
My name is Carla Benzan and I’m a Lecturer in Art History. I have been a member of the module teams for the MA in Art History (A843/844), Art and its Global Histories (A344), and Exploring Art and Visual Culture (A226). My favourite part of being on the module teams is definitely getting to meet students and share my research during the guest seminars!
What got you interested in Art History?
When I was growing up I wanted to study to become an art therapist after finishing university because it seemed like the perfect way to bring together my passion for art with my desire to make a difference in people’s lives. But when I took my first art history class I never turned back. All of a sudden I could see how the study of art and history together could shift our thinking about the contemporary challenges around us. Since then, teaching art history has allowed me to stay true to my early plans, fostering students’ personal growth and social awareness (as well as my own).
What are your main research areas?
My research is focused on early modern art and visual culture in northern Italy around 1600. I am interested in the so-called ‘realism’ or ‘naturalism’ that is often attributed to the painting and sculpture of this area, and perhaps most famously linked to Caravaggio. I move beyond well-known ‘masters’, however, to examine rare and unique examples where incredibly lifelike images are produced in sacred and scientific contexts from pilgrimage sites and church chapels to gardens and natural history collections.
What is your most significant publication or latest publication?
My most recent publication is an article published in an edited volume Ad Vivum? Visual Materials and the Vocabularies of Life-Likeness in Europe before 1800 (2019). It re-examines the language of animation and lifelikeness in pilgrimage guidebooks to the Sacro Monte (Holy Mountain) di Varallo during the Catholic Reformation.
I’m particularly fond, though, of my publications on modern art and visual culture. I published an article on a rare series of figurative drawings by the Milanese artist Piero Manzoni from 1959, and their connection to commodity culture and the space race in post-war Italy (2018). A transformative early piece I wrote examined the ethics of interspecies relations in Carolee Schneemann’s work with her cats (2010). These issues are coming back into my work now as I turn to my new project on the early modern representation of bird life in print and featherwork.
For more information about my publications and research interests, please see my OU people profile.