Lisa Bourla  Lecturer


Lisa Bourla

LecturerItalian Renaissance Art


Ph.D., University of Pennsylvania, 2013

Lisa Bourla specializes in Italian Renaissance and Baroque art. Prior to coming to art history, she obtained B.Sc. and M.Sc. degrees in the biological sciences, training that has contributed to her particular interest in the intersections between art and science in the early modern period. Bourla is currently preparing a book manuscript that characterizes pictorial naturalism in Florence at the turn of the seventeenth century by examining the shift in theory, training, and practice in the artistic circle of Lodovico Cigoli (1559-1613), a close friend and collaborator of Galileo Galilei. Focusing specifically on anatomy, color, and perspective, the study demonstrates that this circle was in fact one of the most progressive in Italy at the time. It thus challenges the standard historiography of a key transitional moment – the emergence of the “Baroque” – when historic revolutions changed not only art but also science.

Bourla’s work has been published in The Early Modern Painter-Etcher exhibition catalog (Penn State University Press, 2006), Innovation in the Italian Counter-Reformation essay collection (University of Delaware Press, forthcoming), and the academic journals Word & Image (2015) and Sculpture Journal (2015). The latter article, for example, explores the relationship between the teaching of anatomy, the production of écorché models, and networks of sculptural influence in late sixteenth-century Europe. The paper in the Innovation compendium examines some of the ingenious ways in which Florentine painting circa 1600 reconciled advances in astronomy and optics with a retrospective Counter-Reformation theology.  

Her research has been supported by several awards and grants, among them a Fulbright Fellowship at the Kunsthistorisches Institut in Florence (Max-Planck-Institut). She has presented her work at various scholarly venues, including the Rijksmuseum, the Henry Moore Institute, the Frick Collection, the Franklin Institute, and the annual conferences of the Renaissance Society of America and the College Art Association.

Teaching Interests

Fostering critical thinking and stimulating inquisitive looking are central to Bourla’s pedagogy. As students formulate ideas of their own, she enjoins them to do so carefully, basing their argumentation on concrete evidence, both visual and textual. Bourla has taught various courses at the University of Pennsylvania, including the Introduction to Western Art, Italian Renaissance Art, and European Baroque Art and Architecture. In these, she has encouraged her students to develop visual analysis skills, partly through direct engagement with actual artworks found in local collections. At Princeton, where she will be teaching the Italian Renaissance Painting and Sculpture course in fall 2017, she plans to introduce her students to the relevant offerings of the Princeton Art Museum, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. 

Current Research

In addition to the book project, Bourla has several articles underway. One of these relates Giambologna’s famous parliament of birds to the emergence of the new scientific discipline of ornithology in the mid- sixteenth century. Another, which expands on research that she conducted under the aegis of the Andrew W. Mellon Seminar on ‘Color’ at the Penn Humanities Forum, looks at how color was instrumental in transforming both artistic draftsmanship and scientific illustration at the turn of the Florentine Seicento.