Alicia Cannizzo Awarded $30,000 Schallek Fellowship for Her Art History Dissertation on Medieval Tombs

Alicia Cannizzo (Photo courtesy of Cannizzo)

A fascination with medieval art and science connects the ceramic sculpture that Graduate Center Ph.D. candidate Alicia Cannizzo (Art History) creates and the art history she researches. That research has received important recognition with the award of a $30,000 Schallek Fellowship from the Medieval Academy of America and Richard III Society, American Branch. She will use the fellowship to complete her dissertation focusing on a particular category of burial tombs in France and England that reflect the contemporary understanding of material change in the body. Drawing on her study of the history of science, Cannizzo offers a new interpretation of this funerary art of the late Middle Ages. 

The award comes at a particularly critical time for her. As for so many graduate students, the pandemic has affected Cannizzo’s research. She had to cancel a research trip to England, delaying the completion of her dissertation. Funding from the Schallek Fellowship starts in August and will allow her to continue her research. Until then, loans and a small grant from her department will help to support her and her work. Like many graduate students, she has been resourceful in finding alternate routes.

Cannizzo spoke to The Graduate Center about the grant, the impact of the pandemic, her advice for fellow graduate students, and her hopes for the future.

The Graduate Center: How has the pandemic affected your research?

Cannizzo: I meant to go to England in 2020 and visit some of the main objects of the chapters I received the grant for. I also planned to visit some archives. Of course, that totally fell apart. I'm just doing the best that I can. But at some point, I'm going to need to see these in person and see some of the texts and the libraries nearby.

GC: How have you been able to pivot to continue research until you can travel?

Cannizzo: There's a fair amount of material that is available that I can use to kind of build up everything and then go there and see if there's anything in the environment that causes a major rewrite.

It's a challenge. Thank goodness for the internet and for all kinds of things that have been archived. 

I still hope that that I can travel. Or, I have friends in the U.K. whom I may be able to call on to go and take videos, and I can compensate them a little bit.

GC: Would you explain the focus of your research?

Cannizzo: There are a category of tombs that appear in France and England at first in about the 1390s, and these show the body of the deceased person laid out atop the tomb, but in a state of decay instead of something kind of perfect and beautiful. If you go to The Met Cloisters, you could see a different version. There are these perfected beautiful bodies lying on top of the tombs that represent the deceased person, and they’re usually clothed in garments that tell you what they did for a living or what their status was. 

The tombs that I study are really interesting and weird, even for many people, uncomfortable, because usually the person, the deceased, is shown in the nude, either very skeletal, or in a state of decay. This period is about 40 years after the plague and for many thinkers it's an example of some kind of trauma from the great first wave of the black plague, or some kind of response to another religious context. 

My background is both in the history of art and in the history of science. I know that around the same period, the theories of matter, of how matter behaves, what it does, why it goes through change were really a kind of hot topic. I'm looking at the tombs of people who have some connection, hopefully to university life, or to elite culture that would have been in contact with university life and tracing how they might have thought about material change in the body. And still connecting it to religion, but trying to work as much of the history of science into this conversation as I can.

GC: Do you have any advice for other students who might be seeking grants?

Cannizzo: Apply for the things you don't think you're going to get. I really didn't expect to receive this grant. I had great feedback on my applications from a number of people. I treated the grant application as a real piece of writing in its own right that I worked and reworked and asked for help and reworked some more. 

GC: You are a working artist and art historian. You have also done some curating. Do you hope to work in academia or some related field?

Cannizzo: It's not a perfect world for academic careers. I love to teach. I really valued my time in the classroom and with my students throughout my time at The Graduate Center. I would love to see myself teaching the history of art, and there are some smaller schools that could have positions teaching both the history of art and studio art, and that would be really right up my alley. 

GC: Is there a Plan B?

Cannizzo: I probably have Plan B, C, D, E, F, G. Being in New York is so dynamic, especially as the person who's both studying and making art. I hope that in some way, I'll be able to continue my studio practice and be able to write and engage with my material and contribute to the field. 

Submitted on: FEB 17, 2021

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