History of Art


Conor Kissane

Conor Kissane


I completed my B.A. in English Literature and the History of Art at Trinity College Dublin in 2010, and graduated with an MA in the History of Art from UCL in 2011. My M.A. thesis on the Roman church of Santi Nereo ed Achilleo was awarded the 2011 Oxford Art Journal prize for best Postgraduate Thesis and the 2011 British Association of Art Historians award for Best Postgraduate Thesis in the United Kingdom. Before returning to begin my PhD in 2014 I lived and worked in Rome, where I was able to gain a deeper understanding of my research field and engage directly with the material culture of the city.



Space, Time and Martyrdom: Unruly Images and Subversive Bodies in Counter-Reformation Rome

In its broadest terms, my project seeks to understand the explosion of violent martyrological imagery in late sixteenth-century Rome. The fraught subject of the saintly body and its representation was central to the artistic climate of the Post-Tridentine city. The Council of Trent's decree on imagery fundamentally linked image-making with the formation and maintenance of sanctity, and it is through this relationship that we can begin to understand the vital space that this frequently maligned era holds in the history of art. The increasingly popular genre of the violent martyrological image, whose virtues came to be extolled by many of the most important thinkers in the Roman church, was one site where the ambiguous nature of these bodies was stretched to breaking point. From the fresco cycles commissioned by new Christian orders such as the Jesuits and Oratorians to sculptural projects initiated by bishops looking to increase the profiles of their churches, a whole new army of dead and dying (or rather, eternally living) saints was invading Rome. But how could the theological and cultural messages encoded in these bodies be effectively disseminated and contained? In a period when representation reached a zenith of both violence and conservatism, the question becomes a pressing one: how could the lasciviousness of violent images of pagan martyrdoms, their emphasis on naked or nearly naked bodies, violence and impious lusts, be effectively harnessed into a wider narrative in which they are legitimised? As a discursive site that rejects univocal interpretations, the represented body can be seen to encompass many of the contradictions inherent to the reforming Church's promotion of imagery during the Counter-Reformation. The saintly body was a vital tool in this process, but as a site of desire and waywardness its presentation had to be rigidly controlled. This dissertation seeks to explore the unruly power of the represented body in repressive cultural regimes, and to demonstrate that such figurations can be reluctant to speak with the voices they have been assigned.

Research Interests

Counter-Reformation art theory and theology, violence and representation, popular religion and social ritual, the materiality of fresco, the creation of urban space, censorship and social repression, images and aporia, martyrdom and transformation

Research Themes

Art, Design & Architecture, Language, Linguistics & Literature, Thoughts, Beliefs & Philosophy