College of Arts and Sciences

Department of Art History

Department of
Art History

A cutting from the lower border of a manuscript (Johann Plaecsaert, artist)

Bret Rothstein

Bret Rothstein Associate Professor, Department of Art History
Director of Graduate Studies

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Office hours: Wednesdays 9:00-10:00 a.m. and by appiontment


  • PhD, University of California, Santa Barbara, 1998
  • MA, University of California, Santa Barbara, 1991
  • BA, Reed College, 1989

Research Interests

  • Visual jokes and games
  • Early modern conceptions of interpretive skill
  • Northern European art of the fifteenth and seventeenth centuries
  • The history and theory of mechanical puzzle design
  • Founding Editor, Ludic Cultures, 1300-1700 (Medieval Institute Press)

Selected Publications

Sight and Spirituality in Early Netherlandish Painting
  • "Better Living Through Misinterpretation," in Debra Cashion, Henry Luttikhuizen, and Ashely West, eds. The Primacy of the Image: Essays in Honor of Larry Silver (Brill, 2017), 90-102
  • With Karen Inouye (American Studies, Indiana University--Bloomington), "Visual Games and the Unseeing of Race in the Late Nineteenth Century," American Quarterly 68:2 (June 2016), 287-313
  • "Visual Difficulty as a Cultural System," RES: Anthropology and Aesthetics 65/66 (2014/2015), pp. 332-347
  • Co-edited with Walter S. Melion and Michel Weemans, The Anthropomorphic Lens: Anthropomorphism, Microcosmism and Analogy during the Early Modern Period (Brill, 2014)
  • "On Empathy as a Type of Early Netherlandish Visual Wit," in Walter S. Melion, James Clifton, and Michel Weemans, eds. Imago Exegetica: Visual Images as Exegical Insturments, 1400-1600 (Brill, 2014), pp. 189-209
  • “Making Trouble: Strange Wooden Objects and the Pursuit of Difficulty ca. 1596,” The Journal for Early Modern Cultural Studies 13:1 (2013), pp. 96-129
  • “Beer and Loafing in Antwerp,” Art History 35:5 (2012), pp. 886-907

Grants and Honors

  • Fellowship in Residence, College Arts and Humanities Institute, Indiana University, Spring 2013
  • New Frontiers in the Arts and Humanities Grant, 2011-2012
  • New Frontiers Exploration Travel Fellowship, Indiana University, 2010
  • Summer Faculty Fellowship, Indiana University, 2008
  • Fellowship, American Council of Learned Societies, 2006-2007
  • Samuel H. Kress Foundation Travel Fellowship, 1996
  • J. William Fulbright Fellowship, 1995-1996

Courses Taught

  • Seminar topics: Visual Wit in Sixteenth-Century Northern Europe; Difficulty and Interpretation in Early Netherlandish Visual Culture; The Early Modern Thing
  • Critical Theory and Methods in Art History, ca. 1900 to the Present (A510)
  • Art History Goes to the Movies (A490)
  • Toys and the Visual Culture of Play (A483)
  • Sixteenth-Century Visual Culture in Northern Europe (A482)
  • Print and the Invention of the Modern Medium (A476)
  • Playing With Pictures in the Fifteenth-Century Netherlands (A437)
  • From Van Eyck to Vermeer (A333)
  • Renaissance through Modern Art (A102)

Department of Art History
Radio/TV Building 316
1229 E. Seventh Street
Bloomington, IN 47405
Phone: 812-855-9390
Monday-Friday 9:00 a.m.-5:00 p.m.