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Scholarly Interest Report
Robert Leo Costello
Associate Professer
Associate Professor in Art History
  • Ph.D. Art History (2003) Bryn Mawr College, Bryn Mawr, PA
  • BA History (1993) Skidmore College, Saratoga Springs, NY
  • MA Art History (1996) American University, Washington, DC
Primary Department
   Department of Art History
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Department Affiliations
  • Department of Art History
    Research Areas
     Nineteenth- and twentieth-century European art; Marxist theory and aesthetics

    Pictures of Nothing: Romantic of the Void


    My new book project, Pictures of Nothing: Romantic Figurations of the Void is perhaps best characterized as a materialist history of “nothing.” That is, while Hazlitt’s phrase about Turner’s work (“Pictures of nothing, and very like”) is often cited, it is rarely analyzed with respect to the concrete conditions which produced it and in which it gained meaning. This study, therefore, will address Romantic depictions of nothingness, absence, void and immateriality within related theological, socio-political and aesthetic/literary discursive networks.

    Teaching Areas
     Eighteenth- through twentieth-century art history
    Selected Publications
     Refereed articles

    Leo Costello "Portraiture and the Ethics of Alterity: Giacometti vis-a-vis Levinas." October, 151 (2015) : 70-85.In Press


    Leo Costello, 'This Cross-fire of colours: J.M.W. Turner and the Varnishing Days Reconsidered," British Art Journal, v. 10, #3 (2010): 2-15.

     Leo Costello, "Confronting the Sublime," in J.M.W. Turner, exhibition catalog, London: Tate Gallery, 2007: 39-55

    Leo Costello, J.M.W. Turner and the Subject of History (Farnham, Surrey and Burlington, VT: Ashgate Press, 2012).


    Leo Costello "JMW Turner and the Subject of History." In Press


    Leo Costello, J.M.W and the Subject of History, Ashgate Press

     Book chapters

    Leo Costello ""Gorgeous, but altogether false": Turner, Cole and Transatlantic Ideas of Decline." Transatlantic Romanticism: British and American Art and Literature, 1790-1860 (2015)


    Leo Costello "Wyndham Lewis: Art-War-Art." Nothing but the Clouds Unchanged: Artists in World War I (2014) : 70-9.


    Leo Costello, "‘Tearing and Desolating’: Dissolution and Decomposition in The Wreck of a Transport Ship," in Richard Johns and Christine Riding, eds., Turner and the Sea (exhibition catalog), Greenwich: National Maritime Museum, 2013: 196-201


    Leo Costello, "Turner, West and the End of Contemporary History Painting," in Emily Neff and Kaylin Weber, eds.,  West, Copley, Trumbull: Revolutionary Paintings in a Transatlantic World, (exhibition catalog), New Haven and London: Yale University Press for the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston), forthcoming, 2013.


    "'Gorgeous, but altogether false;: Turner, Cole and Transatlantic Ideas of Decline" in Andrew Hemingway and Alan Wallach, eds., Transatlantic Romanticism: An Anthology, forthcoming


    Leo Costello, 'Empire's Dust," in Neil McWilliam, ed., Myths of the Nation in Nineteenth-Century Visual Culture, in preparation.

     Book reviews

    Leo Costello, "Geoff Quilley: Empire to Nation:Art History and the Visualization of Maritime Britain, 1768-1829" Burlington Magazine, April 2013


    Leo Costello, review of Sam Smiles, J.M.W. Turner: The Making of a Modern Artist, Victorian Studies, v. 51, #3 (Spring 2009): 530-2.


    Leo Costello ""Nicholas Tracy, Brittania's Palette: The Arts of Naval Victory,"." University of Toronto Quarterly, 78 (Winter 2009)

     "Turner as Draughtsman, by Andrew Wilton," Victorian Studies, v. 49, #3 (Spring 2007): 527-9.

    "Andrew Wilton, Turner as Draughtsman." Victorian Studies (2007)

     "Bruce Nauman, at the Menil Collection", caareviews.org
     Conference Committee Member

    "In the Face of Skepticism: Giacometti, Portraiture and Alterity." College Art Association, New York, NY. (February 2007)

     Invited Papers

    "'Gorgeous, but althogether false': Turner, Cole and Transatlantic Ideas of Decline." (October 18, 2009)

     Invited Talks

    Series Paintings?: Turner's Paintings of the Thames Estuary, 1807-9

    National Maritime Museum,

    Greenwich, England. Symposium: Turner and the Sea, March 21-22, 2014


    In a time of much professional jealousy’: Rivalry and Competition at the Royal Academy, 38th Annual Ruth K. Shartle Sympoisum, Museum of Fine Arts, Houston.


    Paper title: “Nothing.” Conference, The Long Nineteenth Century, organized by the Victorian Studies Seminar, Rice University and University of Houston, October 22-23, 2010.


    "Turner and de Louthebourg." (January, 12, 2009)


    ""'To tremble even at an Air-Pump': Wright of Derby's Picture of Nothing." Rice University, (November 2011)


    "Respondent, Global Modernities workshop." (December 2011)


    Panelist.  "“Delacroix’s Women of Algiers and the Absence of Subject” ." Nineteenth-Century French Studies Conference, Philadelphia. (October 2011)


    "'Empire's Dust'?: Formation and Disintegration in Turner's Waterloo." (February 11, 2010)


    "History in Decline? J. M. W. Turner and "the conception of a swamp'd world" ." (June 12, 2009)


    For Global Modernities group, Humanities Research Center.

    Supervised Theses & Dissertations
     Julie Knutson, MA Manet's "Portrait of Baudelaire's Mistress". (2012) (Thesis Director)

     Anna Saikin, Ph.D. “Silence, Sentimentalism, and the British Romantic Novel, 1789–1824”. (2017) (Thesis Committee Member)

     Rachel Hooper, PhD "A Singular Cloud": Racial Politics and Art History. (2017) (Thesis Director)

    Awards, Prizes, & Fellowships
     Finalist, Phi Beta Kappa Teaching Award,

     Long List, William Berger Prize in British Art History, British Art Journal

     Graduate Mentoring and Teaching, GSA (2012)

     Finalist, Phi Beta Kappa teaching Award,

     Finalist, Phi Beta Kappa Teaching Award, Rice University (April, 2008)

     Individual Faculty Fellowship, Humanities Resarch Center (Fall 2008)

     Finalist, Phi Beta Kappa Teaching Award, Rice University (April, 2008)

     Master Class
     19th-Century European Painting. (March 2015)
    Positions Held
     Director, William Louis-Dreyfus Foundation. (2014 - 2015)