Alessandra Russo

Alessandra Russo

Alessandra Russo is Professor and Chair of the Department of Latin American and Iberian Cultures and Director of the Hispanic Institute. Her research studies the theory, practice and display of the arts in the early modern times, with a special emphasis on the artistic dynamics in the context of the Iberian colonization. An Interview with Columbia News is accessible here.

Professor Russo's new book, A New Antiquity. Art and Humanity as Universal (1400-1600), Penn State University Press), addresses the active role that the art objects encountered —but also pillaged and collected— in the global context of the Iberian colonization of the Americas, in Africa, and in Asia, had on the modern idea of art. She proposes that their circulation, observation and description generated radically new theoretical approaches toward human artistry. 

She is also author of The Untranslatable Image (Texas University Press; French edition: L’image intraduisible, Les Presses du Réel), El realismo circular (IIE-Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México), and co-editor of Images Take Flight (Hirmer Verlag-distr. University of Chicago Press; Best book award in "theory of art" and Grand Prix du Jury at FILAF and Honorable Mention, ALAA Book Award). 

Russo's upcoming book manuscript, entitled The Great Custodian. Artistic Education with Sebastiano Biavati, explores at 360 degrees the artistic universes safeguarded in seventeenth century Bologna by Sebastiano Biavati, the custodian of Ferdinando Cospi's art collections —most likely, the first art custodian represented authoritatively holding an artifact in his hands. Biavati was in charge of artworks and naturalia spanning from Italian contemporary painting to classical antiquities, from masterpieces arrived from the Americas, Africa, and Asia to natural species, from fine scientific instruments to documents kept in different writing and pictographic systems (see the essay "The Curator's Eyes"). In tandem with the book, Russo is working on the exhibition project Sebastiano, il Custode del Mondo. Universi artistici a Bologna nel Seicento.

Professor Russo is Museum Advisory Committee at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (for the reinstallation of the Gallery of Central Europe, and for the recently opened Gallery of Northern Renaissance). With the support of a Getty Foundation Collaborative Research Grant, she has curated with Gerhard Wolf and Diana Fane the exhibition El vuelo de las imágenes. Arte plumario en México y Europa. 1300-1700 (Museo Nacional de Arte). She also collaborated with Serge Gruzinski in the curatorship of Planète Métisse (Musée du Quai Branly, Paris).

Professor Russo was trained in art history and historical anthropology at the Universitá di Bologna, at the Universiteit Leiden, and at the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales, in Paris. She has been visiting researcher at the Instituto de Investigaciones Estéticas/ UNAM, in Mexico, where she did intensive archival and fieldwork. She has been a fellow of the Wissenschaftskolleg-Institute for Advanced Study, in Berlin and a visiting professor at ESBA of Genève and at the Institut National d’Histoire de l’Art, and at the EHESS where she is associate member of the Centre de recherches sur les mondes Américains (CERMA). 

Teaching and Advising

At Columbia, Professor Russo teaches undergraduate and graduate courses on the Early Modern period with a special emphasis on the artistic dynamics in the context of the Iberian expansion. She has designed for the Global Core of the Columbia College the course Artistic Humanity, which she offers both in English and in Spanish. 

Researching, teaching, and advising are for me interrelated thinking activities. I conceive all my courses (both at the undergraduate and graduate level) in close dialogue with my ongoing writing projects—hence, they are always research courses. In this way, students participate in the discovery of materials and in the production of new questions and analysis. They are in contact with the newest ideas and archives that I am myself thinking about. Yet, the syllabi are always designed to introduce students to broad topics related to Early Modern times where they can discover their own interests as well. Throughout the semester and the years following, I help students give shape to their own topics and hypotheses. I do not assign paper themes, nor thesis subjects. I rather echo the initial idea or question a student shares with me, and together we work from there. I find this the most rewarding advising experience: to see how new thinking and potentially substantial research subjects generate from students' initial interests, intuitions and work."
Recent advisees' and co-advisees' dissertation topics in Early Modern global history and art history can be consulted on clio.

    Research group "Spanish Italy and Iberian Americas" (Getty Foundation, 2017-2025)

    Alessandra Russo and Michael Cole have been awarded a Getty Foundation "Connecting Art Histories" grant for a project on the artistic interactions between Spanish Italy and the Iberian Americas in the 16th century. The project brought together younger scholars from Italy and Latin America with a group of distinguished faculty to study the artistic ties that developed between these two regions. After supporting a first phase on Milan and Naples (with a workshop in NYC), the Getty Foundation offered a second fellowship to continue the project with a special focus on Sardinia and Puglia. On January, 10 and 11, 2023, the research group offered a final symposium at the Kunsthistorisches Institut-Max Planck and at Villa I Tatti-Harvard University in Florence. The program of the two-day event is available here.

    The project disseminates the group's research through public initiatives, including the digital publication which features : a catalogue with essays authored by the participants on objects, monuments, maps, and prints; a bibliography; and a photographic library. A collective volume is in preparation for the series "Essays and Studies" of the Center for the Renaissance and Reformation Studies, CRRS.



      A New Antiquity. Art and Humanity as Universal (1400-1600), Penn State University Press, 2024.

      The Untranslatable Image. A Mestizo History of the Arts in New Spain (1500-1600), Austin, University of Texas Press, 2014 (374 pp., 150 ils.). Paperback edition, 2023.

      L’image intraduisible. Une histoire métisse des arts en Nouvelle-Espagne (1500-1600), Dijon, Les presses du réel. Collection Œuvres en Société, 2013. (496 pp., 150 ils.)

      El realismo circular. Tierras, espacios y paisajes de la cartografía novohispana. Siglos XVI-XVII, Mexico, IIE- UNAM, 2005. (250 pp., 351 ils. (60 col., 291 b/n))

      Alessandra Russo, Gerhard Wolf, Diana Fane (editors), Images Take Flight. Feather Art in Mexico and Europe 1300-1700, Munich, Hirmer/KHI/MUNAL/distr. Chicago U. Press, 2015 (480 pp., 271 color illustrations).


      "Dopo l’Esotismo. Per una storia contemporanea delle arti nella prima modernità,” in La scuola del mondo. Storie globali della collezione Farnese, a cura di Simone Verde, Milan: Electa, 2023.

      "Parlare al presente. Rinascite dell'arte precolombiana," (with English version) in Recycling Beauty, ed. by Salvatore Settis and Anna Anguissola. Milan: Fondazione Prada, 2022.

      "Multilingual Dialogues between Artifacts and Words in Early Modern Times," in Robert Brennan et al,  editors, Art History before English: Negotiating a European Lingua Franca from Vasari to the Present (Milan: Officina Libraria, 2021), 107-122 and 2 plates.

      ""Questa macchina mondiale". Thresholds and circulations through Spanish Italy and the Iberian Americas", in Michael Cole and Alessandra Russo, Spanish Italy and the Iberian Americas, 2021, digital publication (link).

      Lights on the Antipodes. Francisco de Holanda and an Art History of the Universal”, The Art Bulletin, Dec. 2020, Vol.102, Issue 4, 37-65.

      "This is [Not] a Crown. Annunciazione with Donors", in Michael Cole and Alessandra Russo, Spanish Italy and the Iberian Americas, 2019, digital publication (link).

      “The Curator’s Eyes. Sebastiano Biavati, custodian of a heterogeneous artistic world”, in The Significance of Small Things, edited by Luisa Elena Alcalá and Ken Moser, Madrid, Ediciones El Viso, 2018, pp. 150-158.

       “Le temps en mouvement” in Carmen Bernand et al., editors, Serge Gruzinski.Le passeur persévérant, Paris, CNRS, 2017, pp. 11-25.

      “A Contemporary Art from New Spain”, in Alessandra Russo, Gerhard Wolf, Diana Fane (editors), Images Take Flight. Feather Art in Mexico and Europe 1300-1700. Hirmer/KHI/MUNAL 2015, distributed by Chicago University Press, pp. 4-49.

      “Inventory of extant feather mosaics from Mesoamerica and New Spain”, in Alessandra Russo, Gerhard Wolf, Diana Fane (editors), Images Take Flight. Feather Art in Mexico and Europe 1300-1700. Hirmer/KHI/MUNAL distributed by Chicago University Press, 2015, pp. 452-468.

      An Artistic Humanity. New positions on art and freedom in the context of the Iberian expansion (1500-1600)”, Res, Anthropology and Aesthetics, 65/66 (2014/2015), pp. 353-363, Harvard University Press.

      “These statues they generally called çemi. A new object at the crossroad of languages” The Challenge of the Object/Die Herausforderung des Objekts, Ed. by Ulrich Grossmann, Petra Krutisch, Nuremberg, 2013, pp. 45-49.

      De tlacuilolli. Renaissance Artistic Theory in the Wake of the Iberian Global Turn”, in Jill Casid, Aruna D’Souza, ed., Art History in the Wake of the Global Turn. Clark Institute/distributed Yale University Press, 2013, pp. 20-39.

      “Cartography: Spanish America” (pair entry on “Cartography” with Ricardo Padrón) for the Lexikon of the Hispanic Baroque: Technologies of a Transatlantic Culture, Editors:Kenneth Mills and Evonne Levy, Austin, Texas University Press, 2013, pp. 28-32.

      Tradition”,The Art Bulletin, (“Notes from the Field”), December 2013, pp. 540-543.

      “Recomposing the Image. Presents and Absents in the Mass of Saint Gregory, Mexico, 1539”, in: Synergies: Creating Art in Joined Culture, ed. Manuela De Giorgi, Annette Hoffmann, Nicole Suthor, (Studies in Honor of Gerhard Wolf). Florence, Kunsthistorisches Institut-Max Planck, 2012, pp. 465-481.

      “Uncatchable Colors”, Postface to Colors Between Two Worlds. The Florentine Codex of Bernardino de Sahagún, Florence, Villa I Tatti, The Harvard University Center for Italian Renaissance Studies /Kunsthistorisches Institut-Max Planck, (distributed Harvard University Press), 2012, pp. 388-410.

      “Salir del laberinto. Tradición y contemporaneidad en las propuestas de tres artistas mexicanos”, chapter 3, Brincando Fronteras.Creaciones locales mexicanas y globalización, edited by Patrice Giasson, México, CONACULTA, 2012, pp. 116-144.

      Cortés’s objects and the Idea of New Spain : Inventories as Spatial Narratives”, Journal of the History of Collections(Lia Markey, Jessica Keating, editors, special issue "Captured Objects: Inventories of Early Modern Collections"), Oxford University Press, 2011, pp. 229-252. 

      (with Barry Flood; David Joselit; Alex Nagel; Eugene Wang; Chris Wood; Mimi Yiengpruksawan),“The Global before Globalization”, OCTOBER– (MIT Press), 133 (Summer 2010), pp. 3-19.

      Everywhere in this New Spain. Extension and articulation of an artistic world”, Source. Notes in the History of Art, New York, Ars Brevis Foundation, vol. V. XXVIII, no. 3 (Spring 2010).

      “Horizontlinie, Point of No Return. Die Ankunft der Spanier an der Küste Mexikos in den Illustrationen des Codex Durán”, in Das Meer, der Tausch und die Grenzen der Repräsentation, Berlin, Diaphanes Verlag,2009, pp. 311-322.

      “Figuras, Mosaicos y Queros… otras “artes de la pintura” en los reinos”, Pintura de los Reinos. Identidades Compartidas. Territorios del Mundo hispánico, siglos XVI-XVIII, (edited by Juana Gutiérrez, with an introduction by Jonathan Brown), Fomento Cultural BANAMEX, 2009, vol. III, pp. 775-819.

      “Image-plume, temps reliquaire? Tangibilités d’une histoire esthétique”, Traditions et Temporalités des Images(edit. by G. Careri, F. Lissarague,  J-C. Schmitt, C. Severi), Paris, EHESS, 2009: chapter 9, pp. 153-164 + 6 pp. color illustrations.

      “A travers l’image. Invention et fabrique des métissages”, Planète Métisse, exhibiton catalogue edited by Serge Gruzinski, Actes Sud/Musée du Quai Branly, 2008, pp. 90-105.

      “Le Codex Borbonicus, corps-document : Anatomie du visuel”, Planète Métisse, exhibiton catalogue edited by Serge Gruzinski, Actes Sud/Musée du Quai Branly, 2008, pp. 25-31.

      “Le temps en accordéon, soit le Codex Borbonicus”, Dossier Métissages(sous la direction de Serge Gruzinski), numéro special TDC, November 2008, pp. 25-28.

      Caminando sobre la tierra, de nuevo desconocida, toda cambiada”: la invención de la pintura del paisaje en la cartografía novohispana, siglos XVI-XVII", in Terra Brasilis, Revista de História do Pensamiento Geográfico no Brasil. Ano VI-VII-VIII, Nos. 7-8-9 - Carografias ibero-americanas, Rio de Janeiro, 2008, pp. 97-120.

      A Tale of two bodies. On aesthetic condensation in the Mexican colonial graffiti of Actopan, 1629”, RES. Antrhropology and Aesthetics(Harvard University-Peabody Museum) 49-50 (2006), pp. 59-79.

      Plumes of Sacrifice. Transformations in Sixteenth-Century Mexican Feather art” Res. Anthropology and Aesthetics42 (2002), Harvard University-Peabody Museum, pp. 226-250.

      “ 'Lenguaje de figuras y su entendimiento'. Preparación de un estudio sobre los graffitis de la época colonial”, Anales del Instituto de Investigaciones Estéticas, n. 73 (1998), IIE-UNAM, pp. 187-192.

      El Renacimiento vegetal. Arboles de Jesé entre el Viejo Mundo y el Nuevo”,Anales del Instituto de Investigaciones Estéticas, n. 73 (1998), IIE- UNAM, pp. 5-39.