Genius Before Romanticism: Ingenuity in Early Modern Art and Science


ERC-funded research project
CRASSH, University of Cambridge

What existed in the European imagination before the Romantic concept of ‘genius’?

This five-year ERC-funded research project, led by Dr Alexander Marr, Department of History of Art, will examine notions of unique talent, heightened imagination and extraordinary creativity in art and science by exploring the language, theories, practices and products of ingenium (ingenuity) ca. 1450–ca. 1750. 

Drawing on the perspectives of history of art, history of science, technology and medicine, intellectual history and literary studies, the project seeks to capture ingenuity across and between disciplines.  Studying six countries (France, Germany, the Netherlands, Italy, England and Spain) across three centuries, it will trace ingenuity’s shifting patterns and fragmented fortunes over the longue durée. 

Research will be conducted in four strands, focused on distinctive but interrelated aspects of ingenuity:

  • the ‘Language of Ingenuity’ will chart the word history of the ingenuity family of terms;
  • ‘Conceptualizing Ingenuity’ will explore the intellectual framework of ingenuity through its theoretical treatment in natural philosophy and artistic theory;
  • ‘Ingenuity in the Making’ will examine the cunning knowledge of ingenious craftsmen and the properties of ‘spirited’ materials;
  • ‘Ingenious Images’ will investigate the visual culture of ingenuity, from the iconography of ingenium to the witty disingenuousness of optical games. 

This project is based at CRASSH, which also co-hosts jointly with English, the ERC project Crossroads of Knowledge in Early Modern England: the Place of Literature

For further information please contact


Funded by the European Research Council under the European Union’s Seventh Framework Programme (FP7/2007-2013)/ ERC grant agreement no 617391.


Principal Investigator

Dr Alexander Marr (History of Art, University of Cambridge)

Senior Research Investigator

Dr Richard Serjeantson (History, University of Cambridge) until December 2016

Senior Researcher

Dr Timothy Chesters (MML, University of Cambridge) from October 2016

Post-doctoral Research Associates

Dr Irene Galandra Cooper (joined the project in January 2018)

Dr Raphaële Garrod

Dr Richard Oosterhoff

Dr Andrés Vélez Posada (joined the project in February 2018)

Advisory Board

Professor Paul Binski (Professor of the History of Medieval Art, University of Cambridge)
Professor Sachiko Kusukawa (History and Philosophy of Science, University of Cambridge)
Professor Rhodri Lewis (Department of English, Princeton University)
Dr Subha Mukherji (English, University of Cambridge)
Professor Pamela H. Smith (Seth Low Professor of History, Columbia University)
Professor Jacob Soll (Professor of History and Accounting, University of Southern California)
Professor Joanna Woodall (The Courtauld Institute of Art, University of London)



From left to right: José Ramón Marcaida, Alexander Marr, Raphaële Garrod, Richard Oosterhoff (EM Keyword Conversation, Venice September 2016)

Affiliated Scholars

Affiliated Scholars

Dr Sietske Fransen (Post-doctoral Research Fellow, Making Visible, CRASSH) Sietske's research  focuses on the translation of early modern science. By studying translators and their practices she tries to analyse the role and function of translation as a form of circulation of knowledge. Textual translations from Latin to the vernaculars and vice versa are often understood as attempts to reach out to a wider readership. However, personal notebooks and marginal annotations in manuscript and printed books also seem to point towards mnemonic reasons for translating texts. Along the same line of this personal comprehension, she also looks at visualisations of scientific knowledge in manuscripts and printed books - from list and diagrams to actual images. This visual material often seems to have a role in the author’s understanding, memorizing and application of the information in the text.

Dr José Ramón Marcaida - José Ramón Marcaida works on the intersections of art and science in early modernity, with a particular focus on the Hispanic context. His research and teaching interests include the history of Spanish painting in the age of Velázquez, the role of images and image-makers in the production and circulation of knowledge, and the history of collecting and the reception of extra-European natural objects and artefacts. José Ramón is a Lecturer in Art History at the University of St Andrews. José Ramón worked as a post-doctoral research associate on the Genius before Romanticism project until December 2017. He continues to engage with the project as an Affiliated Scholar. 

Doctoral Student 

David Zagoury (Cambridge Trust Scholar, Queens' College, email's doctoral project explores the faculty of imagination in the intellectual culture of sixteenth-century Italian artists. In particular, he is examining the notion of 'fantasia' in the writings of artists and critics from Leonardo onwards, accounting for the sources and the nature of their conception of imagination. He is also investigating the iconography and visual representation of creativity and fantasy during the period.

Visiting Fellows


Dr Ita Mac Carthy (University of Birmingham)

Dr Mac Carthy is Senior Lecturer at the University of Birmingham and specializes in Italian Renaissance literature and art. She focuses, in particular, on the connections between visual and verbal culture, on questions of literary genre and aesthetic practice and on women’s studies. She is the author of Women and the Making of Poetry in Ludovico Ariosto’s Orlando furioso (2007) and is currently writing The Grace of the Italian Renaissance, a book that explores the rise to prominence of the keyword ‘grazia’ in early modern Italian society, literature and art. This interest in grazia is part of a broader concern with the keywords that early modern Europeans lived by, and in this vein, she has edited the volume Renaissance Keywords (2013) and co-directs with Dr Richard Scholar a research group, ‘Early Modern Keywords’, whose aim is to compile and explore a European vocabulary of culture and society of the period 1450-1700.

Dr Richard Scholar (Oriel College, University of Oxford)

Dr Scholar's main research interests lie in early modern French literature and thought, comparative and interdisciplinary early modern studies, and questions of critical method and theory. He is the author of two books: Montaigne and the Art of Free-Thinking (2010) and The Je-Ne-Sais-Quoi in Early Modern Europe: Encounters with a Certain Something (2005). His work is principally concerned with the keywords, linguistic structures, and literary forms that enabled early modern writers to test the limits of thought and expression in the period and that thus reveal fundamental features of early modern learning, culture, and society. Dr Scholar is currently working on a major reevaluation of Thomas More’s Utopia and its afterlives in European literature and thought and is a member of the ANR-funded research collective Disputes, Controversies and Querelles (with Paris IV-Sorbonne) and a co-director of Early Modern Keywords, a research group that is compiling and exploring a European vocabulary of culture and society of the period 1450–1700, in the wake of Renaissance Keywords (2013). From 2008–12, he led a four-year collaborative research project entitled 'Francophone Caribbean Writing in Context', which included a Leverhulme International Research Network on the topic of ‘Caribbean Globalizations’.


Dr Guido Giglioni (Warburg Institute, London)

Dr Giglioni teaches Renaissance Latin and philosophy at the Warburg Institute. His research deals with early modern ideas of life and imagination, and their relationships with both matter and knowledge. He studied philosophy at the University of Macerata, Italy, and graduated in history of science and medicine at the Johns Hopkins University in 2002 with a PhD dissertation on Francis Glisson, a seventeenth-century English anatomist who also engaged in philosophical inquiries on the nature of life. In his treatise on substance and its energy (De natura substantiae energetica, 1672), Glisson laid the foundations for the modern notion of irritability, described as an original property of matter. As Francis Bacon is one of the main sources in Glisson’s work, on both a medical and philosophical level, in the past few years, Giglioni has been carrying out a wide-ranging research to trace the Baconian roots of early modern ideas of matter and life (from Telesio to Lamarck). An integral part of Giglioni’s research programme is a comprehensive study of the imagination, as this faculty played a key role in explaining the vital processes of embodiment and ensoulment, both below and beyond the level of the representative powers (i.e., the senses and the intellect).

Dr Marisa Bass (Washington University in St. Louis)

Dr Bass is Assistant Professor at Washington University in St. Louis and a specialist in the art of the Netherlands from the fifteenth through the seventeenth centuries. Her research interests include intersections between art and intellectual culture, the visual impact of the Reformation, and Renaissance notions of imagination and invention. Her publications include articles in the Journal of the Warburg & Courtauld Institutes and Simiolus and an essay on Hieronymus Bosch's "ingenium" in her forthcoming exhibition catalogue Beyond Bosch: The Afterlife of a Renaissance Master in Print (St. Louis Art Museum, April 2015). Her first book The Embodied Past: Jan Gossart and the Invention of Netherlandish Antiquity, is currently under review, and she is in the midst of completing the manuscript of her next book Encrypted Knowledge: The Art of Joris Hoefnagel in the Wake of the Dutch Revolt, which will be the topic of her research at CRASSH.

Professor Claudia Swan (Northwestern University)

Dr Swan is  Associate Professor in the Department of Art History at Northwestern University. Her research interests include early modern (16th- and 17th-century) Dutch and Flemish art; art and science; early modern transcultural exchange of art and material culture; print culture; history of collecting and museology; history of the imagination; art historiography and critical traditions of art history. Dr Swan's recent publications include “Exotica on the Move: Birds of Paradise in Early Modern Holland,” in special issue, Art History, Early Modern Objects in Motion, ed. Daniela Bleichmar and Meredith Martin, forthcoming 2015; “Conceptions, Chimeras, Counterfeits: Early Modern Theories of the Imagination and the Work of Art” in Vision and its Instruments, c. 1350–1750: The Art of Seeing and Seeing as an Art, ed. Alina Payne, forthcoming, The Pennsylvania State University Press; “Lost in Translation: Exoticism in Early Modern Holland,” in Art in Iran and Europe in the 17th Century: Exchange and Reception, edited by Axel Langer (Museum Rietberg, Zurich, CH, 2013), 100–116; “Birds of Paradise for the Sultan: Early Seventeenth-Century Dutch–Turkish Encounters and the Uses of Wonder,” De Zeventiende Eeuw 29 (2013), 49–63.


Professor Peter Stallybrass (University of Pennsylvania)

Professor Stallybrass is Annenberg Professor in the Humanities at the University of Pennsylvania, where he has directed the History of Material Texts seminar since 1993. Peter has been awarded the Andrew Lang Gold Medal from the University of St. Andrews and four teaching awards from Penn. He was the Samuel Wannamaker Fellow at the Globe Theatre in London, the Moses Aaron Dropsie Fellow at the Center for Advanced Judaic Studies, and he is a member of the American Philosophical Society. He has collaborated with Jim Green on curating exhibitions on “Material Texts” and on Benjamin Franklin at the Library Company and the Grolier Club, and on the book Benjamin Franklin, Writer and Printer (2006). With Heather Wolfe, he curated the exhibition on “Technologies of Writing in the Renaissance” at the Folger Shakespeare Library. Stallybrass’s work focuses on early modern printing and manuscripts and he is at present turning his Rosenbach Lectures in Bibliography on “Printing for Manuscript” into a book to be published by the University of Pennsylvania Press.

Prof. Dr. Sven Dupré (Utrecht University)

Prof, Dr.  Dupré is Professor and Chair of History of Art, Science and Technology at Utrecht University, and Professor of History of Art, Science and Technology at the University of Amsterdam. He is the Scientific Director of the project ‘Technique in the Arts: Concepts, Practices, Expertise, 1500-1950’, supported by a European Research Council (ERC) Consolidator Grant.  Previously he was Professor of History of Knowledge at the Freie Universität and Director of the Research Group ‘Art and Knowledge in Premodern Europe’ at the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science in Berlin. In Spring 2015 he was Robert H. Smith Scholar in Residence for Renaissance Sculpture in Context at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. He is a member of the Descartes Centre for the History and Philosophy of the Sciences and the Humanities at Utrecht University, co-directing (with Wijnand Mijnhardt) the project “Creating a Knowledge Society in a Globalizing World, 1450-1800” in cooperation with the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science and the Netherlands Institute for Advanced Study (NIAS). He is actively involved in research in technical art history at the Ateliergebouw (Netherlands Institute for Conservation, Art and Science - NICAS) in Amsterdam, where the Rijksmuseum, the Cultural Heritage Agency of the Netherlands and the University of Amsterdam combine their knowledge in the field of restoration and preservation of art objects.

Professor Pamela H. Smith (Columbia University)

Professor Smith  specializes in early modern European history and the history of science. Her current research focuses on attitudes to nature in early modern Europe and the Scientific Revolution, with particular attention to craft knowledge and historical techniques.  She is founding director of the Making and Knowing Project, founding director of the Center for Science and Society  and chair of the Presidential Scholars in Society and Neuroscience. The Making and Knowing Project involved Professor Smith  and her team  working on a Research and Pedagogical Initiative to produce a digital critical edition and English translation of a remarkable sixteenth-century French manuscript. The manuscript contains a huge variety of recipes and instructions for technical procedures, especially casting, moldmaking and metalworking experiments. These recipes form the basis for the work of PhD students and visiting expert makers in the Making and Knowing Laboratory.


Professor Eileen Reeves (Princeton University)

Professor Reeves is Professor and Chair of Comparative Literature and an Associate Member of the Program in the History of Science at Princeton University.  She took her Ph.D. in Comparative Literature from Stanford.  She works at the intersection of early modern literary studies, the history of art, and the history of science.  Much of her research has focused on the figure of Galileo Galilei and his relationship to astronomy, religion, optics, art, and a range of literary forms, including the scientific treatise and dialogue, poetry, dialect literature, journalism, and drama.  She is currently at work on a book about early modern color, which explores the complex emergence of chromatic theory, the sometime interest of painters in this philosophical project, the non-naturalistic deployment of color, and the improbably high incidence of lost, stolen, or censored treatises on color.  Other recent or ongoing projects include essays on the relationships between optical and musical instruments, between astrology and literature, and between the new sciences and the visual arts. 

Professor Christopher P. Heuer (Clark Art Institute)

Professor Christopher Heuer is an art historian and author with a specialism in early modern European art and architecture. He is a Lecturer in the Graduate Program in Art History at Williams College and is the Associate Director of the Research and Academic Program at Clark Art Institute. Professor Heuer is the author of The City Rehearsed: Object, architecture, and print in the Worlds of Hans Vredeman de Vries and his forthcoming book Ecologies, Agents, Terrains, co-authored with Rebacca Zorach, is due to be published later this year. He has a particular interest in relationships between Renaissance art and the arctic. Prior to his appointments at Williams College and Clark Art Institute, Professor Heuer held positions at Princeton University and at the Centre for Advanced Study in the Visual Arts at the National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C.