Home Faculty Full Time Faculty Blake McHam, Sarah

Blake McHam, Sarah

blake mcham horiz


Distinguished Professor
Italian Renaissance Art
Ph.D., Institute of Fine Arts
New York University

Phone: (848) 932-1244

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Biographical Information:

Professor McHam is a specialist in Italian painting and sculpture between 1200 and 1600. Her book on the influence of Pliny the Elder on Italian art and art theory was published by Yale University Press in February 2013. Recent publications include articles such as “Pliny’s Influence on Vasari’s First Edition of the Lives,” Artibus et Historiae, 64 (2011), 9-23; “Giambologna’s Equestrian Monument to Cosimo I: The Monument Makes the Memory,” Patronage and Italian Renaissance Sculpture, ed. Kathleen Wren Christian and David J. Drogin, Surrey: Ashgate, 2010, 195-222; “Donatello’s Judith as the Emblem of God’s Chosen People,” The Sword of Judith: Judith Studies across the Disciplines, ed. Kevin R. Brine, Elena Ciletti and Henrike Lähnemann, Cambridge: Open Book Publishers, 2010, 307-24;“Tomba come testamento: Il monumento funerario di Andrea Bregno,” Andrea Bregno: Il senso della forma nella cultura artistica del Rinascimento, ed. Claudio Strinati and Claudio Crescentini, Rome: Ministero per i Beni e le Attività Culturali and Maschietto editore, 2009, 414-29, and “Reflections of Pliny in Giovanni Bellini’s Woman with a Mirror,” Artibus et Historiae,  58 (2008), 157-71.

She also contributed to the exhibition and catalog, An Antiquity of Imagination : Tullio Lombardo and Venetian High Renaissance Sculpture, ed. Alison Luchs, to be held at the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 4 July – 31 October 2009.

Her book, The Chapel of St. Anthony at the Santo and the Development of Venetian Renaissance Sculpture (Cambridge University Press, 1994), was the first historical assessment of the design and decoration of the burial chapel of St. Anthony of Padua, a major artistic commission of sixteenth-century Italy.  She has also published many essays and articles on fifteenth-century and sixteenth-century sculpture and painting in Tuscany and in the Venetian Empire.

She has advised recently completed dissertations on such topics as Medici patronage of art in the Grand Duchy during the late 16th and early 17th century; the role of painted labels (cartellini) in fifteenth- and sixteenth-century painting; the painted illustrations of Virgil’s pastoral poetry; representations of the non-married ideal beloved in the Renaissance, and on the earliest representations of Mary Magdalen in Italy.


Dr. McHam thanking her former students at the symposium they held in her honor on March 9, 2013

Recent Awards: Dr. McHam's book on Pliny won the Roland Bainton prize for the best art history book of 2013, awarded by the Sixteenth Century Studies Society. She was awarded the Ailsa Mellon Bruce Senior Fellowship at CASVA for 2014-2015, and declined an invitation to be a scholar in residence at the Istituto Universitario Olandese di Storia dell'Arte in Florence (2015). Professor Blake McHam is the recipient of two Graduate Teaching Excellence Awards from the Northeastern Association of Graduate Schools (2003) and from Rutgers University (2002). 


mcham pliny sheet

Pliny and the Artistic Culture of the Italian Renaissance: The Legacy of the Natural History, Yale University Press, 2013

Looking At Italian Renaissance Sculpture, editor, Cambridge University Press, 1998; paperback edition 2000.

The Chapel of St. Anthony at the Santo and the Development of Venetian Renaissance Sculpture, Cambridge and New York, Cambridge University Press, 1994
Central Italian Sculpture, 1400-1500:  An Annotated Bibliography, Boston, G.K. Hall, 1986

The Sculpture of Tullio Lombardo; Studies in Sources and Meaning, New York, Garland Press, 1978

Selected Publications:

 “The Triumph of the Church: Campagna’s High Altar at San Giorgio Maggiore,” Encountering the Renaissance: Essays in Honor of Gary Radke, ed. Molly Bourne and Victor Coonin, Zepherus Scholarly Publications, 2016, 279-92

“Donatello’s High Altar at the Santo and its Surroundings: Movement, Materials, and Meanings,” Making and Moving Sculpture in Early Modern Italy, ed. Kelley Helmstutler di Dio, Aldershot: Ashgate, 2015, 9-24

“Visualizing the Immaculate Conception: Donatello, Francesco della Rovere and the High Altar and Choir-Screen at the Church of the Santo in Padua,” Renaissance Quarterly, 69.3, Fall 2016 (in press)

“Antiquity as Cultural Capital in the Age of Giorgione,” Venice in the Renaissance: Essays in Honor of Patricia Fortini Brown, ed. Mary Frank and Blake de Maria, Milan: Five Continents, 2013, 83-93.

 “Pliny’s Influence on Vasari’s First Edition of the Lives,” Artibus et Historiae, 64 (2011), 9-23.

 “Giambologna’s Equestrian Monument to Cosimo I: The Monument Makes the Memory,” The Patronage of Sculpture in the Italian Renaissance, ed. Kathleen Christian and David Drogin, Aldershot: Ashgate, 2009.

"Renaissance Monuments to Favorite Sons," Renaissance Studies , 19, no. 4 (Sept. 2005), 458-486.

 “Donatello’s Bronze David and Judith as Metaphors of Medici Rule in Florence,” The Art Bulletin, LXXXIII, March 2001, 32-47.


Recent Lectures and Activities:

“Where Did Piero di Cosimo Get His Ideas?” College Art Association Meetings, Boston, February 2016

"The Fantasia of the Cricket in Piero di Cosimo's Vulcan and Aeolus," Istituto Olandese di Storia dell’Arte, Florence, October 2015

“Falling in Love with Your Sitter,” Ecole Normale Supérieure, Paris, October 2015

“The Most Extraordinary Altarpiece of the Fifteenth Century,” Museum of Biblical Art, May 2015

“The Value of Studying Pliny,” Institute for Advanced Study book Presentation by Former Members, Princeton, April 2015

“Gattamelata; Condottiere as Patron,” Renaissance Society of America Annual Meetings, Berlin, March 2015

“Would a Florentine Take On Paduan Ideas?: Donatello’s High Altar at the Santo, Colloquium at CASVA, January 2015

“Laocoonte, o Plinio vendicato,” Italian Art Society/ Kress Annual Lecture in Italy, Rome, May 2013

“Pliny Endorses the Unfinished Work of Art,” Renaissance Society of America Annual Meetings, San Diego, March 2013

Pliny and the Birth of Disegno,” College Art Association Meetings, New York City, February 2013

“The Birth of Ekphrasis in Sculpture,” Seventh Quadrennial Italian Renaissance Sculpture Conference, Lawrence, Kansas, November 2012

“The Disputed Space of the Casino and Giambologna’s Samson and Philistine,” Renaissance Society of America Annual Meetings, Washington, D.C., March 2012 Keynote Speaker, “In the Shadow of Michelangelo: Giambologna’s Samson and Philistine Group,” Symposium Honoring Edward Olszewski, Cleveland Museum of Art, October 2011.

“Vasari’s Dialogue with Pliny,” Renaissance Society of America Annual Meetings, Montreal, March 2011.

“St. Mark Outside Venice; The Monumental Reliefs on the Facade of the Scuola di San Marco," Renaissance Society of America Annual Meetings, Chicago, March 2009.

"The Monument Makes the Memory: Ferdinando I's Monument to his Father Cosimo I," Piazza e Monumento Conference, Kunsthistorisches Institut, Florence, November 2008.

"The Armchair Traveler's Guide to the Ancient World: Renaissance Readers and Pliny's Natural History," "Travel, Trade, and Translation in Early Modern Europe," New England Renaissance Conference, Wesleyan University, October 2008.

"Donatello's Judith as an Emblem of God's Chosen People: The Statue's Political Meanings after 1495," Keynote Address, Sixth Quadrennial Italian Renaissance Sculpture Conference, Memphis, October 2008.

"Savonarola's Interpretation of Judith," The Sword of Judith Conference, New York Public Library, April 2008.

Louis Martz Plenary Lecture, "Inscriptions in Renaissance Art: Pliny Creates Cultural Capital," South-Central Renaissance Conference, March 2008.

Organizer and Chair, Six Sessions, "Renaissance Rulers Construct Identity," Renaissance Society of America Meetings, Chicago, April 2008.


Dr. Blake McHam supervising photography at the Santo in Padua

Seminar on Fourteenth through Sixteenth- Century Italian Images of Women and their Worlds

Selection Committee, Officers of the Renaissance Society of America, 2007-

Organizing Committee, Interdisciplinary Conference on the "Sword of Judith" and Adviser re establishing online sites organizing the NYPL's textual and visual resources related to the theme of Judith, New York Public Library, 2007-

" Piazza e Monumento" Project Planning Committee, Kunsthistorisches Institut, Florence, 2007-

Gordon Book Prize Committee, Renaissance Society of America, 2006, 2008.

Discipline Representative, Renaissance Society of America, 2005-11
Editorial Board, Renaissance Quarterly, 2005-

Longer list of publications

Current Interests & Research:

Revival of antiquity in Renaissance art and literature
--Social and political context of painting and sculpture of the Venetian Empire and of Florence, especially patronage and religious practices.
--Ïmages of Stability: Rhetorical Construction of Identity in Fifteenth- and Sixteenth-Century Italy

Undergraduate Classes Taught:

  • --Birth of Renaissance Art
  • --Age of Giotto, Masaccio and his Contemporaries
  • --Italian High Renaissance and Mannerist Art
  • --Venice: The City and its Art
  • --Italian Renaissance Domestic Art
  • --Italian Renaissance Sculpture
  • --Public Monuments, 19th-21st Centuries
  • --Michelangelo
  • --Art and Politics in Late Medieval and Renaissance Italy
  • --Sepulchral Monuments from Old Kingdom Egypt to Canova
  • --Leonardo da Vinci
  • --Domestic Art in Italy
  • --Women in the Italian Renaissance

Graduate Classes Taught:

  • --Italian Renaissance Images of Women and their Worlds
  • --Fifteenth- and Sixteenth-Century Italian Art “Images of Stability”
  • --Altarpiece in Italy, 1400‑1520
  • --Secular Art in Renaissance Italy
  • --Thirteenth‑ and Fourteenth‑century Italian Sculpture
  • --Fifteenth‑century Italian Sculpture
  • --Sixteenth‑century Italian Sculpture
  • --Donatello
  • --Interaction between Venetian Painting and Sculpture, 1450-1600
  • --Central Italian Sixteenth‑Century Painting
  • --Venetian Painting of the 15th and 16th Centuries
  • --Late Sixteenth‑Century Sculpture and Painting in Central Italy

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P  848-932-7041

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