Dr. Matthijs Jonker

Dr. Matthijs Jonker

Director of Studies in Art History
+39 06.326962.28

Discipline and Specialization:
Art History, Cultural Studies, Philosophy, History of Science, Art and Culture of Renaissance and Baroque Italy, Theories of Practice, Epistemic Images

University of Amsterdam

Period in Rome:

On appointment


Simultaneously studying Philosophy (specialisation Philosophy of Science) and Art History (specialisation Early Modern Italian Art and Culture) at the University of Amsterdam (UvA) – and, later, at the Università degli Studi di Pisa – showed me the benefits of examining artefacts, texts, and cultural practices from different perspectives at once. This is why, both in my research and teaching, I have always sought to adopt interdisciplinary approaches. From 2007-2018 I taught courses on the history of philosophy, the history and philosophy of science (in particular of the humanities), and early modern art theory at the departments of Philosophy, Art History, and Cultural Studies, and at the Institute for Interdisciplinary Studies at the UvA.

In the research I carried out for my Research Master Theses (for Philosophy and for Art and Cultural Sciences) and my PhD-dissertation (UvA) I have developed a conceptual framework, which is based on philosophical and sociological theories of practice, to analyze cultural-historical phenomena. The framework employs “practice” as a central concept to analyze the pluriformity of culture, the multiple meanings of artefacts and identities of individuals, and the various types of power relations within culture. In the application of this framework I studied some of the philosophical presuppositions in art historiography, such as the presuppositions in the Debates on Iconology and on the Rembrandt Research Project, and I analyzed the manifold meanings and functions of artworks, buildings, and cultural institutions, such as early modern Italian academies of art.

In 2018 I was awarded the Ted Meijer Prize from the KNIR for my dissertation titled “The Academization of Art: A Practice Approach to the Early Histories of the Accademia del Disegno and the Accademia di San Luca” (defended in 2017 at the UvA). This allowed me to spend three months in Rome and to start my current research project. This project focuses on the transcultural and transatlantic production and circulation of knowledge in the early modern period, and on the functions and meanings of images in this production and circulation. I further developed this project as Postdoc-Fellow at the Bibliotheca Hertziana – Max Planck Institute for Art History (BHMPI) in Rome in 2019, and since January 2020 it is my main research focus as Director of Studies in Art History at the KNIR. Simultaneously and in the context of this project, I started collaborations with Dr. Fransen’s Research Group “Visualizing Science in Media Revolutions” ( at the BHMPI and with Instituto de Docencia e Investigación Etnológica de Zacatecas (IDIEZ) in Mexico (


Amerindian Contributions to European natural history and medicine (2018-present)

My research project is an interdisciplinary inquiry into the transatlantic and transcultural production of knowledge in the early modern period. On the one hand, my project consists of a cultural-historical analysis, in which early modern knowledge practices in Italy, Spain, and Mexico are reconstructed and compared with each other. The primary case study in this part of the project is the Tesoro messicano (TM), an encyclopedia of the natural history of Mexico published by the Roman Accademia dei Lincei in 1651. I place this book in the larger context of artistic and healing practices performed on both sides of the Atlantic. On the other hand, my aim is to further current ‘globalization’ approaches in historiography of art and science by developing my practice-theoretical interpretative framework in dialogue with postcolonial critique, and by focusing on the epistemic qualities of indigenous images. Rejecting the center-periphery distinction for a more ‘horizontal’ approach, this framework focuses on processes of negotiation, as well as on the circulation, appropriation and suppression of artistic forms and knowledge in the ‘contact zones’ where cultures and practices meet.

The TM is a pertinent research object in the cultural-historical part of this project because it is the product of Spanish, Italian, and Amerindian knowledge practices. The importance of this publication for the history of science consists in the use of the original material (descriptions, drawings, seeds, dried plants, observations and experiments) that was collected and produced in Mexico, partly by indigenous ‘artists’ and ‘scientists’ with knowledge of botany and medicine. However, the TM has hitherto only been studied from a European perspective. My project aims to change this by elucidating the contribution by indigenous epistemic actors in the compilation and publication of this book. The leading question in the cultural-historical part of the project concerns the contacts between European and indigenous epistemic actors. How was Amerindian knowledge transformed, appropriated and translated into the TM, so that it could be understood and applied by European scientists?

Dissertation: The Academization of Art: A Practice Approach to the Early Histories of the Accademia del Disegno and the Accademia di San Luca (2011-2017)
My dissertation offers a comprehensive interpretation of the first official art academies in Europe, the Florentine Accademia del Disegno (1563) and the Roman Accademia di San Luca (1593). By conceiving these academies as crossing points of patronage, literary-theoretical, guild, educational, and religious-confraternal practices I present a multifaceted and integral understanding of these institutions. As such I reject previous interpretations, in which these academies are reduced to one of their activities (e.g. patronage). My focus on ‘social practices’ entails the application of insights of theories of practice to a cultural-historical research object. The development of theories of practice, especially those of Bourdieu, Foucault and Schatzki, is the second objective of this study, in addition to improving the understanding of the Accademia del Disegno and the Accademia di San Luca in the early years of their existence. The abovementioned practices of the art academies are reconstructed by focusing on the skills that were required from the participants, on the rules that were observed (or transgressed), and on the goals that were pursued by the participants. Moreover, I show how the social practices that were carried out in the Accademia del Disegno and the Accademia di San Luca converged or conflicted with external practices and with each other, and how this is related to the various types of power relations that were at work in these institutions.


I have taught introductory and advanced courses on the history of art and culture, the history of philosophy, the philosophy and history of science, hermeneutics, critical theory, and theories of practice. I have taught in English and Dutch and to both mono- and multi-disciplinary groups of students.

At the KNIR I teach courses on the relationship between art and science in the early modern period (esp. 16th and 17th centuries), the social history of art, theory and methodology in the humanities, and postcolonial (art) history and philosophy.

Publications and papers

Selection. See also

‘The Accademia dei Lincei’s network and practices in the publication of the Tesoro messicano’, Incontri, 34.1 (2019), 19-35.

‘Review of Henrietta McBurney; Paula Findlen; Caterina Napoleone; Ian Rolfe (Editors). Birds, Other Animals and Natural Curiosities (The Paper Museum of Cassiano dal Pozzo Series B: Natural History – Parts IV/V.) 2 vols., London: Brepols, 2017,’ Isis 110.4, (2019), 825-827.

‘The Cappella di San Luca: A Crossing Point of Religious and Professional Activities of Artists in Pre-modern Florence’, A. Tacke, B. U. Münch, & W. Augustyn (eds.), Material Culture: Präsenz und Sichtbarkeit von Künstlern, Zünften und Bruderschaften in der Vormoderne / Presence and Visibility of Artists, Guilds, Brotherhoods in the Premodern Era, Petersberg: Michael Imhof Verlag (2017), 280-299.

‘Practices and Art Historical Meaning: The Multiple Meanings of Guido Reni’s Abduction of Helen in Its Early Years’, Incontri, 25.2 (2010), 149-162.

‘Meaning in Art History: A Philosophical Analysis of the Iconological Debate and the Rembrandt Research Project’, De Zeventiende Eeuw, 24.2 (2008), 146-161.