Maryan Ainsworth  Robert Janson-La Palme Visiting Professor in Art and Archeology


Maryan Ainsworth

Robert Janson-La Palme Visiting Professor in Art and ArcheologyRenaissance Art History


Ph.D., Yale University, 1982

Maryan Ainsworth began her career at The Metropolitan Museum of Art as the Principal Investigator of a study of the Museum’s Rembrandt, Van Eyck, and Vermeer paintings using a technique called neutron-activation autoradiography, employed to rediscover an artist’s working methods. This three-year collaborative project uniting the fields of art history, paintings conservation, and museum science promoted a new interdisciplinary methodology that she has since embraced. Ainsworth then spent a number of years in a pioneering position as the art historian in the Paintings Conservation Department under John Brealey, studying the working techniques of Early Netherlandish painters using infrared reflectography. There she produced exhibitions, books, and articles on the 15th and 16th century Netherlandish painters well represented in the Met’s collections. The aim of these studies was to integrate the working methods of artists with art historical questions toward a better understanding of the place of a given painter in the context of the development of Early Netherlandish art. Finally, as the Curator of Northern Renaissance Painting, Ainsworth has continued this approach in her daily work on the Met’s collections, her exhibitions, publications, and teaching as an adjunct professor at Barnard College and Columbia University. In addition, Ainsworth has trained over twenty-five MMA Fellows (called the Slifka Fellowship) in technical art history. These former fellows have become museum curators and professors in colleges and universities in the U.S. and Europe.

Professor Ainsworth is a frequent lecturer and contributor to conferences in this country and abroad. Her many publications have been recognized with the Alfred H. Barr Award, the C.I.N.O.A. Prize, and Apollo Books of the Year, among others. She is the recipient of the CAA/National Institute for Conservation – Joint Award for Distinction in Scholarship and Conservation. Ainsworth has served most recently on the advisory committees for the technical study and restoration of the Ghent Altarpiece by Hubert and Jan van Eyck, the Bosch Research and Conservation Project, the restoration of the Mauritshuis Lamentation by a Follower of Rogier van der Weyden, and the upcoming exhibitions on Pieter Bruegel the Elder (in Vienna, Kunsthistorisches Museum) and Bernaert van Orley (Brussels, Palais des Beaux-Arts). For her contributions to the study of Early Netherlandish art, she has been awarded the titles of Chevalier de l’Ordre de la Couronne (2001) and Chevalier de l’Ordre de Léopold (2011), bestowed by King Albert II of Belgium.

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Teaching Interests

As both a curator at The Metropolitan Museum of Art and an adjunct professor at Barnard College and Columbia University, Professor Ainsworth has taught a variety of courses in her field of Early Netherlandish, French, and German paintings. Key among these are courses on the methodology of connoisseurship, the artists of Renaissance Bruges and Antwerp, Netherlandish patronage and art markets, and the making and marketing of art in the later 15th and early 16th centuries.  Above all, her specialty is teaching the now burgeoning field of technical art history. 

Current Research

Ainsworth is presently engaged in the new online catalogue entries of the Met’s Early Netherlandish paintings in an interdisciplinary approach that unites technical examination of paintings with art historical issues. Concurrently, she is writing a book on the Met’s collection in this area from a narrative, issue-based point of view. 

Selected Publications

Petrus Christus: Renaissance Master of Bruges (The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1994).

From Van Eyck to Bruegel: Early Netherlandish Painting in The Metropolitan Museum of Art (The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1998).

Gerard David: Purity of Vision in an Age of Transition (The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1998).

 Early Netherlandish Painting at the Crossroads: A Critical Look at Current Methodologies (The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2001).

“Illuminators and Painters: Artistic Exchanges and Interrelationships,” and catalogue entries in Thomas Kren and Scot McKendrick, Illuminating the Renaissance: The Triumph of Flemish Manuscript Painting in Europe (J. Paul Getty Museum, 2003).

“À la façon de grèce: The Encounter of Northern Renaissance Artists with Byzantine Icons,” in  Helen C. Evans, Byzantium: Faith and Power (1261–1557) (The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2004).

“From Connoisseurship to Technical Art History: The Evolution of the Interdisciplinary Study of Art.” Conservation: The Getty Conservation Institute Newsletter 20, no. 1 (2005).

Man, Myth, and Sensual Pleasures: Jan Gossart’s Renaissance. The Complete Works. Co-authors, Stijn Alsteens and Nadine M. Orenstein (The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2010–11).

German Paintings in The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1350–1600. Co-author, Joshua Waterman (The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2013).

Jan Gossart’s Trip to Rome and His Route to Paragone. Hofstede de Groot Lecture 3 (Rijksbureau voor Kunsthistorische Documentatie, 2014).

“Pieter Coecke van Aelst as a Panel Painter,” and catalogue entries in Elizabeth Cleland, Grand Design: Pieter Coecke van Aelst and Renaissance Tapestry (The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2014).

Lucas Cranach’s Saint Maurice.” Co-authors, Sandra Hindriks and Pierre Terjanian. The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin, published in association with an exhibition of the same title held at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, in 2015.

 Ed. and contributor. Workshop Practice in Early Netherlandish Painting: Case Studies from Van Eyck through Gossart (Brepols, 2017).