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Professor Alexander Marr FSA
Historian of Renaissance and Early Modern Art

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New article on Holbein's portraits of Sir Thomas More published in
The British Art Journal

February 2024

About Me

I am Professor of Renaissance and Early Modern Art

at the University of Cambridge

and a Fellow of Trinity Hall, where I am Dean of Discipline.

Before coming to Cambridge in 2012, I was Lecturer in Art History at the University of St Andrews and Associate Professor of Art History at the

University of Southern California.

I studied at Sotheby's Institute of Art in London and the University of Oxford (MSt and DPhil in Modern History, New College), where I was Clifford Norton Fellow Commoner in the History of Science at

The Queen's College.

I am President of The Leonardo da Vinci Society, a UK charity supporting the study of art & science from the Renaissance to today, and a Trustee of The Walpole Soicety.

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My research is on the artistic and intellectual culture of Europe, ca. 1400-ca. 1800.

I study paintings, prints and drawings; the sciences; languages and literature; the history of books and reading; artistic theory; architecture and landscape; patronage and society. I work on Italy, France, Germany, the Netherlands, and England.

My work has been supported by awards from the British Academy, the Leverhulme Trust (Philip Levehulme Prize, 2008), the AHRC, and the ERC (Consolidator Grant, 2014). In 2011, I was Robert H. Smith Scholar in Residence for Renaissance Sculpture in Context at the V&A. In 2022-23 I will hold a Senior Fellowship at the Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art, to complete my monograph on Hans Holbein the Younger.

Some of my current research topics are:

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Hans Holbein the Younger

I'm currently writing a monograph called Holbein's Wit, which will examine the artist's oeuvre in relation to ingenuity, wordplay (especially puns), "character", and the enterprise of mimesis. The book is set within the context of the serio ludere (serious play) of Holbein's humanist patrons, Erasmus and Thomas More. Beginning with Holbein's early years in Basel, where he made astonishingly ingenious designs for trompe l'oeil murals, it goes on to consider the portraits he made during his first visit to England (liberty and facetiae in the Portrait of Thomas More, erotic puns in Lady with a Squirrel and a Starling). There will be a chapter on Holbein's "Steelyard" portraits, tackling selfhood and vanity in the Portrait of Georg Gisze, presence and parentage in the Portrait of Dirck Tybis. The book concludes with a new interpretation of Holbein's masterpiece, The Ambassadors, as the acme of visual wit.



My monographs have been published by University of Chicago Press, University of Pittsburgh Press, and Reaktion. My articles have appeared in journals such as The Art Bulletin, Renaissance Quarterly, The Burlington Magazine, Word & Image, Print Quarterly, and the Nederlands Kunsthistorisch Jaarboek.

You can find out more about my published books and articles in the pages below.

A full list of my publications is available here.

My latest monograph, Rubens's Spirit: From Ingenuity to Genius, was recently published by Reaktion Books.

My next book--Holbein's Wit--will be a study of Hans Holbein the Younger in relation to ingenious wordplay, "character" and the enterprise of mimesis.

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Rubens's Spirit front cover.png

Peter Paul Rubens was the most inventive and prolific northern European artist of his age. This book charts his life and work in relation to three interrelated themes: spirit, ingenuity, and genius. It argues that Rubens and his reception were pivotal in the transformation of early modern ingenuity into Romantic genius. The first chapter, "Holy Spirit", considers Rubens's early religious altarpieces. The second, "Vive l'esprit", explores the ingenious milieu in which he lived and worked: early modern Antwerp. Chapter Three, "Vital Spirits", examines his mythological painting in relation to medicine, the body and imitation. Chapter Four, "Genial Painting", turns to his Bacchic works and the spirit of pleasure. The book concludes with "Genius Loci": Rubens's late landscapes and the spirit of the place.

"Packed with original important contribution to the literature.

...It is the writing itself that counts the most – and which makes this book enjoyable from cover to cover."

Historians of Netherlandish Art Reviews

"A beautifully written, subtle analysis of the prodigious creativity that informed and permeated

the work of this most versatile artist."

Christine Göttler

"Few introductory texts to Rubens have presented so much original research, and none move with such ease from subjects like seventeenth-century dietetics and optical theory to the implications of Rubens’s representations of male and female figures for issues of gender. A moving and beautifully written account of

the astonishingly diverse aspects of Rubens’s art and life."

David Freedberg


Logodaedalus: Word Histories of Ingenuity in Early Modern Europe
University of Pittsburgh Press, 2018

Co-authored with Raphaële Garrod, José Ramón Marcaida, Richard J. Oosterhoff

Before Romantic genius, there was ingenuity.  Logodaedalus, a prehistory of genius, explores the various ways the language of ingenuity was defined, used, and manipulated between 1470 and 1750. By analyzing printed dictionaries and other lexical works across a range of languages—Latin, Italian, Spanish, French, English, German, and Dutch—we reveal the ways in which significant words produced meaning in history and found expression in natural philosophy, medicine, natural history, mathematics, mechanics, poetics, and artistic theory.

  "The book might almost be a Republic of Letters in microcosm."

        Renaissance Studies

   "Logodaedalus is a book no student of early modern cultural history will have an excuse to succeeds in guiding us confidently through an incredibly broad and intricate panorama of early modern thought."

     Renaissance Quarterly

"Logodaedalus is a cunning and vast example of how the study of a single theme…can lead scholars into unexpected and incredibly enlightening directions, overturning assumed knowledge in some areas while providing important nuance to others. It is a well-conceived and ingenious study that is exemplary, really, from beginning to end."


"This book is a significant contribution to comparative
lexicography and cultural studies, and demonstrates how close attention to a cluster of words can
improve the historical and linguistic understanding of the early modern period."

Forum for Linguistic Studies

"A model for this type of investigation."



An interdisciplinary study of art and science, this book resurrects the career and achievements of Mutio Oddi of Urbino (1569–1639). Plunging the reader into Oddi’s world, Between Raphael and Galileo is a finely wrought and meticulously researched tale of mathematical images, objects, commerce, and society in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth century.

"Interdisciplinary scholarship of this depth is the closest thing we have to time travel"


“This beautifully written and elegantly executed book on Oddi’s life and work navigates several fields: history of science, history of art, intellectual history, visual studies, and material culture.”


Ingenuity in the

Ingenuity in the Making: Matter and Technique in Early Modern Europe
 University of Pittsburgh Press, 2021

Edited with Richard J. Oosterhoff and José Ramón Marcaida

This volume of essays explores the myriad ways in which ingenuity shaped the experience, discourse and conceptualization of materials and their manipulation in early modern Europe. Contributions range widely across the arts and sciences, examining objects and texts, professions and performances, concepts and practices. The book considers subjects such as spirited matter, the conceits of nature, and crafty devices, investigating the ways in which wit acted in and upon the material world through skill and technique. Contributors ask how ingenuity informed the "maker's knowledge" tradition, where the perilous borderline between the genius of invention and disingenuous fraud was drawn, and what were the ambitions of material ingenuity in a rapidly globalizing world.

"A rich treasure chamber full of carefully crafted gems of scholarship, this collection brings together abundant and original evidence that concepts of ingenuity in early modern Europe had as much to do with the making and materials of art as with the excellence of intellect."

Pamela H. Smith

"All essays are paragons of erudition. All of them are very learned and a
pleasure to read."

Technology & Culture

Places cover.jpg

The Places of Early Modern Criticism

Oxford University Press, 2021

Edited with Gavin Alexander and Emma Gilby

This book brings together scholars working in departments of English, modern languages, and art history to look at the many different places of early modern criticism. It argues polemically for the necessity of looking afresh at the scope of criticism, and at what happens on its margins; and for interrogating our own critical practices and disciplinary methods by investigating their history.

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This volume calls for a wholesale reassessment of Cartesian dualism by envisaging Descartes’s philosophy from the perspective of the ingenium. Reading Descartes as a philosopher of early modern ingenuity means highlighting his lasting anthropological and ethical outlook on human beings--as creaturely wholes rather than as mind-body philosophical constructs. The book reinterprets Cartesian method as the practical cultivation of one’s wit rather than as a theory of knowledge. Envisaged from the perspective of the ingenium, Descartes's philosophy is no longer a set of abstract norms, but a sort of "how-to" guide to good thinking.

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Oronce Fine was one of the most prolific mathematicians of sixteenth-century Europe and is a much understudied figure, until now. This volume examines afresh Fine’s life and work in Renaissance mathematics. From the role of mathematics in natural philosophy to the practical uses of instruments, from teaching mathemetics to map-making, the book charts this remarkable polymath’s position in the flourishing arts and sciences of his age.

"This book, brilliantly edited by Alexander Marr...provides a particularly interesting and useful insight into the development of Renaissance mathematical culture in Europe, including mathematical cartography."

     Imago Mundi

"This volume employs a diverse set of approaches to elucidate an important and poorly understood intellectual life, an excellent contribution to intellectual history."

     Intellectual History Review


This volume investigates the various manifestations of, and relationships between, 'curiosity' and 'wonder' from the 16th to the 18th centuries. From instances of curiosity in New World exploration to the natural wonders of 18th-century Italy, Curiosity and Wonder from the Renaissance to the Enlightenment locates its subjects in a broad geographical and disciplinary terrain. Taken together, the essays presented here construct a detailed picture of two complex themes, demonstrating the extent to which both have been transformed and reconstituted, often with dramatic results.

"The book opens with Alexander Marr's beautifully lucid essay on the state of the research in this area...This shift of emphasis from objects to subjects suggested by this book may have profound implications for the study of collections"

     Journal for the History of Collections

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Recent Articles

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Eramus's Nose
Source: Notes in the History of Art

Erasmus was self-conscious about his prominent nose,

but in Quinten Matsys's famous portrait it was used

to denote the humanist's acumen and style


Special Issues

Epistemic Images

21: Inquiries into Art, History, and the Visual

Edited with Christopher P. Heuer
Includes articles by Elizabeth Petcu, Christine Goettler, Alexander Marr and Richard J. Oosterhoff, Christopher P. Heuer, and Christopher Johnson

Edited with Catharine MacLeod, forthcoming 2020
Articles on English Renaissance miniatures by Christina J. Faraday, Karin Leonhard, Alexander Marr, Catharine MacLeod, Will Aslet, Ed Town, Christine Slottved Kimbriel and Paola Ricciardi, and Polly Saltmarh

Essays on the visual culture of the early Royal Society by Nico Bertoloni Meli, Lorraine Daston, Paula Findlen, Nathan Flis, Matthew C. Hunter, Urs Leu, Scott Mandelbrote, and Kim Sloan

Early Modern Invention

Intellectual History Review

Edited with Vera Keller, includes essays on invention from the Middle Ages to the seventeenth century by Paul Binski, Richard Oosterhoff, Fabian Kraemer, Susanna Berger, Sean Roberts, Frances Gage, Marius Buning, and Michael Cole

Articles on the "pictures of collections" genre by Arthur J. DiFuria, Sven Dupré, Alexander Marr, Frances Gage, Alexander Wragge-Morley, Charles M. Peterson, and Angela Fischel

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Trinity Hall
United Kingdom

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