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The National Endowment for the Humanities Awards CotA Art Historian for Research

Dr. Judith Steinhoff explores the representation and performance of grief in Italian Gothic painting.

This summer, the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) awarded UH College of the Arts (CotA) Associate Professor Judith Steinhoff a grant to delve deeper into her book project, “Representing, Performing and Gendering Grief in Italian Gothic Painting.”

The two-month, $6,000 stipend supported Dr. Steinhoff’s research into the ways that 14th-century Italian art—a period also called the trecento—shaped viewers’ understanding of religious and socially acceptable grieving behaviors. She examines explicitly religious images in conjunction with other cultural artifacts from the period such as sermons, plays, and literature. Looking at these media holistically, she explains that they not only informed one another, but also reinforced acceptable and expected expressions of grief, especially for women.

“My work reveals that gendered social behaviors were encoded even in pictures created primarily for purposes of prayer and spiritual edification,” she said.

Dr. Steinhoff was drawn to this work shortly after completing her first book, Painting in Siena After the Black Death: Artistic Pluralism, Politics, and Patronage, which explored the political aspects of 14th-century Italian art.

“I thought it was time to consider the spiritual and emotional dimensions in trecento art,” she said.

This project, which she hopes to complete by the fall of 2018, aims to bring a new perspective to the ways we look at visual culture.

“I believe my work will help us understand how images work with religious and political systems to shape emotional behaviors—especially for women—not only in the past, but also in the present,” she said.

The opportunity to devote two full months of undivided attention to her work proved to be invaluable.

“The NEH grant has been crucial in enabling me to progress on the text,” she said. “I’ve nearly completed the entire first draft of the book!”