Rebecca Zorach

Rebecca Zorach

Robert Lehman Visiting Professor
The idea of Nature as artist in early modern Europe; short thematic biography of Paolo Uccello


Rebecca Zorach is the Mary Jane Crowe Professor in Art and Art History at Northwestern University. She teaches and writes on early modern European art, contemporary activist art, and art of the 1960s and 1970s. Particular interests include print media, feminist and queer theory, theory of representation, the Black Arts Movement, and the multiple intersections of art and politics. Her books include Blood, Milk, Ink, Gold: Abundance and Excess in the French Renaissance (University of Chicago Press, 2005), The Passionate Triangle (University of Chicago Press, 2011), and the forthcoming Starring the Black Community (Duke University Press, 2019). She co-edited Ecologies, Agents, Terrains, the 2018 volume in Clark Studies in the Visual Arts, with Christopher P. Heuer.

Project Summary

Rebecca Zorach will be working on a project entitled The Designs of Nature: Art, Intentionality, and Ecology, which addresses questions about human and nonhuman intention proposed by the early modern European idea of Nature as an artist. If Nature was a constant maker, driving the reproduction of animals and plants, how did early modern observers understand the forces at work when Nature appeared to make artifacts, images, or designs? What parallels existed between the human artist’s and Nature’s activities of creating beauty, reproducing like from like, creating ordered wholes from separate parts, and solidifying the flow of liquid materials into fixed forms? This project will trace how early modern Europeans put human and natural making in parallel, blurred the boundaries between them, or revealed human art as modeled on nature—not only in its subject matter but more importantly in its processes. When human making was set apart, why was it? Did Nature operate with intention? If “she” did not, yet could make images, what then should we make of the human artist’s work? Was art mere imitation, something “dumb” nature could also deploy, or did it operate through genius—itself understood quite explicitly as the work of Nature? Case studies are drawn from art theory, natural history, and philosophy from the fifteenth to the eighteenth century. Zorach will also be researching a short thematic biography of Paolo Uccello which is in its very early stages.