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Marika T. Knowles studies French art of the seventeenth, eighteenth, and nineteenth centuries. She is particularly interested in the way that motifs travel between a variety of media, from Salon painting to decorative objets d’art, to etching and photography. Her dissertation about the stock character Pierrot, first painted by Watteau in the early eighteenth century, tracked the character’s journey between high and low mediums in theater, literature, and visual art over a two-hundred-year period, from 1665 to 1860. A forthcoming publication, based on her presentation at the 2011 College Art Association meeting in New York, will appear in a volume edited by Katie Scott and Melissa Hyde, Rococo Echo (Studies in Voltaire and the Eighteenth Century, 2014). This piece, “Pierrot’s Periodicity: Watteau, Nadar and the Circulation of the Rococo,” argues that Nadar’s 1855 photographs of the mime Charles Deburau in the costume of Pierrot recycles a Rococo motif in order to invigorate the nascent medium of photography on paper. Other conference papers, including presentations at the 2012 Courtauld Institute of Art Early Modern Conference and a 2013 College Art Association panel, explored Knowles’s interest in the relationship between decorative painting, ornament, and the wall as a site of social fantasy. A staunch believer in the mutually complementary rhetorical strategies of text and visual art, she works closely with period texts on painting and with literature. Specific interests include the works of the seventeenth-century poet Vincent Voiture and the performance of elite culture as well as the Romantic authors of the School of Disenchantment: Charles Nodier, Gérard de Nerval, and Théophile Gautier. Her study of the latter group of authors has suggested the possibility, which she is currently investigating, of the virtual medium, which refers to the existence of certain works of art as a hybrid of material object, text, and imagination.
After graduating from Stanford University, Knowles worked for three years in the Department of Painting and Sculpture at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. During her tenure as a doctoral student at Yale University, she researched and traveled for two years in France, where she held a fellowship for one year at the Centre Allemand d’Histoire de l’Art (Deutsches Forum für Kunstgeschichte) in Paris. Her 2013 dissertation, “Pierrot’s Costume: Theater, Curiosity, and the Subject of Art in France, 1665-1860,” was awarded Yale’s Frances Blanshard Fellowship Fund prize.
Having joined the art history faculty at Grinnell College in 2013, Knowles offers two courses on nineteenth-century European art, “Figures and Grounds: European Art 1789-1848” and “European Artistic Modernities from Realism to Impressionism.” She also plans to teach a course that pairs a chronological study of the history of photography with readings in the theory of photography: “History and Theory of Photography.” Courses in development include a class on the question of genre in eighteenth-century French art, as well as a possible seminar entitled “Women in Westerns.”