Susanna Berger

Associate Professor of Art History and Philosophy
Susanna Berger
Email Office THH 355K



Susanna Berger is Associate Professor of Art History and Philosophy at the University of Southern California. In her research and teaching, she explores diverse facets of visual art and intellectual history in early modern Europe (ca. 1500–1800), from overlooked printed and drawn images of a philosophical nature to well-known works in the history of European painting and architecture by Dürer, Rembrandt, and Borromini, among others. She received her B.A. from Columbia University (2007) and her M.Phil. and Ph.D. from the University of Cambridge (2012). Her work has been supported by numerous fellowships, notably from the Princeton Society of Fellows, the Guggenheim Foundation, the Alexander von Humboldt Stiftung, the ACLS, and Villa I Tatti, the Harvard University Center for Italian Renaissance Studies.

Her first book, The Art of Philosophy: Visual Thinking in Europe from the Late Renaissance to the Early Enlightenment (Princeton University Press, 2017), is a transnational study of the relations between images and philosophical knowledge in early modern France, Italy, England, Germany, and the Netherlands. The book was a finalist for the College Art Association’s Charles Rufus Morey Book Award and was awarded the Bainton Prize from the Sixteenth Century Society and Conference for the best book in English in the field of early modern art and music history. It was also Runner-up for the biennial book prize from the Society of Renaissance Studies and for the “The Bridge” Nonfiction Book Award from the House of Literature of Rome, US Embassy of Rome, and American Initiative for Italian Culture. A Chinese translation is forthcoming in 2024. 

The Art of Philosophy takes as its central thesis that the production and contemplation of visual art in this period were conceived not as supplementary exercises but as activities essential to philosophical thought. This argument overturns prevailing assumptions about the limited function of the visual in Western European intellectual history and demonstrates that images and the activities of printmaking, drawing, and painting played a decisive role in the intellectual discoveries that led to a move away from Aristotle’s authority in the seventeenth century. Rather than merely illustrating already-extant philosophical concepts, these visual representations generated knowledge for both Aristotelian and anti-Aristotelian thinkers such as Descartes and Hobbes. Berger constructs this argument by interpreting images from books, lecture notebooks, friendship albums, broadsides, and paintings.

Her second monograph, The Deformation: Visual Incomprehensibility and the Catholic Reformation, is about a series of interrelated engagements with intentional incomprehensibility produced through visual and spatial deformations in painting, print, architecture, and sculpture. It asks why Catholic Reformation patrons, scholars, artists, architects, artisans, and observers were so drawn to deformations, how they used them, and what those uses teach us. “Deformation,” as a period term, defines an entity as failing to meet an established ideal (the related term “reformation” restores that ideal). Deformations depart from ideals—not necessarily to challenge those ideals but to at least invite consideration of how we perceive and value them. During the periods that German Lutheran historians would later label the “Reformation” and the “Counter Reformation,” deformations became prevalent across Europe, appearing in both sacred and secular contexts. The deformations that Catholic Reformation patrons and practitioners created and identified in the seventeenth century—which are the subject of this study—rubbed against the ideals of classical and Renaissance art and architecture and in particular against the classical rhetorical ideal of clarity and comprehensibility. Deformations expanded, in some cases indefinitely, the temporal distance between visual perception and understanding, modeling contemporary thinking about how humans interacted with divine revelation and divine creation. The Deformation is forthcoming with Princeton University Press in fall 2025 and has been awarded a Barr Ferree Foundation Publication grant from Princeton University.

Her articles are published in The Art BulletinThe Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld InstitutesArt HistoryIntellectual History ReviewWord & ImageEarly Science and MedicineAnnals of ScienceGlobal Intellectual HistoryBritish Art Journal, and Gutenberg-Jahrbuch. Berger is also co-editor with Daniel Garber of the volume, Teaching Philosophy in Early Modern Europe: Text and Image (2021), which explores the pedagogical contexts in which philosophical knowledge was made in seventeenth-century Europe and disputes over science were played out. She is a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society.

Berger is interested in advising graduate students pursuing dissertations across the field of early modern art history. She teaches courses on a wide range of topics, including early modern visual art, architecture, and material culture, aesthetics, intellectual history, and the visual and material culture of science. Her classes make use of area collections, such as the Huntington, the Getty Center, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, and the Norton Simon Museum. Berger taught as a volunteer in the Prison Teaching Initiative in New Jersey while at Princeton and has taught in the USC Dornsife Prison Education Project.


  • Ph.D. Art History, University of Cambridge, 2012
  • M.Phil. Art History, University of Cambridge, 2008
  • B.A. Philosophy and Art History, Columbia University, Columbia College, 2007
    • Postdoctoral Fellow, Princeton Society of Fellows, Princeton University, 2013-2016
    • (Spring 2023) PHIL 445. Philosophy of the Arts, W 02:00pm – 04:50pm,
    • Alexander von Humboldt Fellowship Recipient, 2019-2020
    • American Council of Learned Societies Fellowship Recipient, 2019-2020
    • Guggenheim Fellowship Recipient, 2019-2020
    • Beaufort Visiting Scholarship, St John’s College, University of Cambridge, Spring 2020
    • Library Travel Grant, Warburg Institute, Spring 2019
    • Bainton Art and Music Prize for the best book in English in the field of early modern art or music, Sixteenth Century Society and Conference, Fall 2018
    • Robert Lehman Fellow at Villa I Tatti, the Harvard University Center for Italian Renaissance Studies, 2016-2017
    • Princeton Society of Fellows, 2013/08/01-2016/07/30
    • Panofsky Fellowship, Zentralinstitut für Kunstgeschichte in Munich, Spring 2016
    • Kathleen Bourne Junior Research Fellow, St Anne’s College, University of Oxford, 2011-2012
    • College Art Association Professional-Development Fellow in Art History, Spring 2012
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