Joseph Manca’s areas of research and teaching extend from the late Middle Ages and Renaissance to the art of the twentieth century. He welcomes applications to the department’s doctoral program from those who wish to work with him and other faculty members on European and American art and architecture from 1300 to 1950.
In current research, a nearly completed book project by Manca is a broad study of writings about British garden design, titled Virtue in the Garden: Writing about Designed Landscape in Britain, forthcoming with Harvey Miller Publishers, an imprint of Brepols Publishers (Turnhout, Belgium). Before that, his published books include Shaker Vision: Seeing Beauty in Early America (Amherst and Boston: University of Massachusetts Press), which appeared in 2019; it is a study of the visual world of the Shakers, an American religious sect. In preparation for that book, he was a Research Fellow and Visiting Scholar at the Winterthur Library. His George Washington's Eye: Landscape, Architecture, and Design at Mount Vernon (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2012) was awarded several prizes, including the John Brinckerhoff Jackson Book Prize for 2014, which is given out by the Foundation for Landscape Studies. Among his other books of the last decade is Subject Matter in Italian Renaissance Art: A Study of Early Sources (Tempe, AZ: ACMRS [Medieval and Renaissance Texts and Studies], 2015), which is a study of what Renaissance artists, writers, and viewers knew and wrote about the meaning of art around them. Manca’s main ongoing book project is an analysis of the behavior, self-presentation, and social status of artists in Europe from the Renaissance to the age of revolution in the eighteenth century. Finally, a longer-term research project is a monograph on the art and cultural context of the seventeenth-century Dutch artist Willem Claesz. Heda, who specialized in luxurious and meaningful tabletop still-life paintings.
Through varied topics in Manca’s publications and teaching, there have been several main focal points. First is attention to the stylistic qualities, materiality, and fine aesthetic qualities of an artwork, and how the work functioned in the culture in which it was created. Students and readers benefit from learning about the most beautiful, most meaningful, and most influential works of art. A second focus is the exploration, to the greatest extent possible, of the original documents and period writings that record what artists, patrons, and early viewers thought. A third avenue concerns moral qualities, in the broadest sense: to show, above all else, how works of art embodied and conveyed the best, not the worst, social and philosophical beliefs and aspirations of artists and their patrons and public.
Manca has been fortunate during his career to have at his disposal outstanding research facilities at Rice University; generous support from Rice for travel and other research expenses; an administration at Rice that supported, while he was departmental chair in 2004-2009, the founding of the doctoral program in art history; the stimulating presence of superb undergraduates, graduate students, and colleagues; and fine and remarkably extensive museum holdings in Houston.