Irene Backus

Irene Backus

Berenson Fellow
Virile Roots, Generative Earth: Chinese Rhizomes in Florentine Fertility Treatments
2016 - 2017 (September-December)


Irene Backus is Assistant Professor of Art History at Oklahoma State University.  This project is part of a series of articles that derive from her dissertation, Asia Materialized:  Perceptions of China in Renaissance Florence, which she defended in 2014 at the University of Chicago.  In addition to medical compounds, Irene is a specialist of Medici Porcelain, which forms the core of a book-length project that will explore both the material properties of porcelain that is at once technological, artistic, and cultural in its significance.  Most recently, she has been delving into its significance as an emissary of ornament.

Project Summary

“Virile Roots, Generative Earth” links Chinese-grown herbal drugs and medical fertility treatments in late sixteenth century Florence. This project shows that galangal’s generative effects were tied to China as a land of such abundance that the earth itself comprised a precious commodity, with regenerative qualities of its own.