Libina, Marsha

Core areas

Early Modern Italy, art of the Catholic Reformation, issues of materiality and mediality, relics, devotional art, Renaissance conceptions of style, vision, the imaginative faculty, artistic collaboration, artists’ academies


My research considers questions regarding mediated knowledge of the divine – a God made known though images, texts, and rituals – and the consequences this has for notions of authenticity and truth in the sacred image. It examines art as it engages with reform movements in sixteenth-century Italy, and investigates the historical challenge to define what it meant to transmit divine truths through man-made images. In this way, my work is concerned with the problematics of the materiality and mediality of Early Modern visual culture.

My book manuscript, titled Distance and Proximity to the Divine, focuses on the devotional art of Venetian artist Sebastiano del Piombo, whose Roman work stands at the nexus of questions regarding reform in religious art and the largely unexplored history of artistic collaboration. The book presents a new way of understanding Sebastiano’s ongoing interest in soliciting Michelangelo’s drawings as catalysts of invention and traces a key preoccupation in Sebastiano’s work: the articulation of effects of distance and proximity in relation to the figure of Christ. Sebastiano’s work in Rome emerges as a profoundly theological and reformist Project – one that challenges our current periodization of Catholic Reform. More broadly, Sebastiano’s paintings complicate our understanding of mimesis as a representational strategy of religious image-making in Renaissance Italy.

As Fellow in Residence at the Lichtenberg-Kolleg Institute, and recipient of the Volkswagen Stiftung and Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Postdoctoral Fellowship in the Humanities, I will be working on my second book on the artistic imagination and its regulation in Reformation Italy, titled The Artist as Visionary: A Defense of Religious Image-Making. The faculty of vision as a means of image production has become an important topic in Early Modern studies. Yet it has been primarily explored in a humanist context, focusing on theories of optics and perspective, desire, and artistic license. By contrast, my project examines vision in context of the meeting point of Catholic Reformation ideology and the artistic imagination, with its own claim to religious image-making. Specifically, it looks at the intersection of Catholic Reformation thinkers’ attempts to reign in the uncanonical and potentially threating side of art-making – deemed too important to be entrusted to the ungovernable fantasia (imagination) of the artist – and the rise of works that, despite this, lay claim to the visionary power of the artist. Surprisingly, the rise of vision as a meaningful subject for artists is evidence not of the rise of the “artistic Genius” or the secularization of art in the Early Modern era, but rather of a growing anxiety over the imagination of the artist, who is tasked with painting the divine. My research considers the consequences of the shift from historical event to private vision in representations of St. Luke painting the Virgin, and investigates the new role of the artist’s imagination in restaging sacred history.


I completed my Ph.D. in the History of Art from Johns Hopkins University in 2015, and earned my M.A. at Johns Hopkins in 2010. I received an Hon. B.Sc. from the University of Toronto in 2007, with a dual concentration in the History of Art and Biology. Before coming to the Lichtenberg-Kolleg, I was a Visiting Assistant Professor in the Department of Art and Art History at Washington College. In addition, I have taught at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and Johns Hopkins University.

Selected Publications

“False Prophecies,” Scripture and the Crisis of Mediation in Early Modern Rome: Sebastiano del Piombo’s Borgherini Chapel in S. Pietro in Montorio. (9,000 word article, under review)

Picturing Time and Eternity in Sebastiano del Piombo’s Viterbo Pietà (10,200 word article, under review)

Distance and Proximity to the Divine (Book manuscript, under review)