Christopher Lakey

Christopher Lakey

CRIA Fellow
Persistent Materialities: The use of gold leaf in painting, c. 1300 - 1600


Christopher Lakey (PhD, University of California, Berkeley; MA, Centre for Medieval Studies, University of Toronto) is Assistant Professor of Medieval Art and Architecture at Johns Hopkins University. His research interests include the relationship between art and science, the history of sculpture and sculptural aesthetics, and the history of visual theory from antiquity through the Renaissance. His first book, Sculptural Seeing: Relief, Optics, and the Rise of Perspective in Medieval Italy is forthcoming from Yale University Press in 2018. His articles have appeared in The Getty Research Journal, postmedieval, English Language Notes, and elsewhere.

Project Summary

My research project, “Persistent Materialities: The use of gold leaf in painting, c. 1250 – 1600,” questions normative period divides within art history by examining continuities in the use of gold in painting between the later Middle Ages (c. 1250-1400) and the Renaissance (c. 1400-1600). In so doing, the relationship between natural philosophy and art making comes into focus. Texts as diverse as debates on natural philosophy, treatises on the nature of God, lapidaries, alchemical texts, and artistic handbooks, all dating between 1250 and 1600, discuss topics related to gold’s manifold significations. Although these texts are disparate, they share a common concern with the natural and supernatural properties of gold and contributed to an aesthetics of materiality. Drawing from research in the history of art and conservation, natural philosophy, and theology, my book investigates how gold in particular produced meaning for historical subjects, and how works of art were informed by and also contributed to late medieval and Renaissance understandings of gold’s materiality.