Elizabeth J. Petcu’s research and teaching examine the intersections of visual and scientific inquiry in the architectural culture and theory of the early modern world, between the fifteenth and eighteenth centuries. Methodologically, her work synthesizes U.S., British, and German traditions of architectural history and history of science to interrogate how investigative practices and beliefs concerning nature are formed and mediated. Petcu is an expert in the architecture and architectural theory of northern Europe and colonial Latin America, and their entanglements with the inquisitive techniques of the natural sciences. By scrutinizing the rapport between the research practices of architecture and science at the start of the modern period and within a global context, her research exposes the deep historical conditions of our current epistemological and environmental predicaments.
Petcu is currently completing her first book project, The Edifice Undone: Art, Architecture, and Scientific Practices in Wendel Dietterlin’s Renaissance, which is the first major study of artistic and scientific practices in early modern architectural culture north of the Alps. The book probes the transformation of architecture in northern Europe from a trade of master-builders to a profession of diverse artistic and scientific practitioners by examining the first architectural treatise primarily addressed to artisans and those interested in natural sciences: Wendel Dietterlin’s Architectura (1593-98). It argues that Dietterlin’s Architectura established a novel rapport between the methods of architecture and the techniques of other arts and sciences, which proved instrumental to the rise of empirical thought in seventeenth-century northern Europe. The Edifice Undonecontributes a new way to analyse the roles of artisanal and scientific techniques in the history of architecture, and a new toolkit for assessing how the visual culture of architecture shaped modern science. Petcu’s second book project, Nature and Imitation in Early Modern Architecture, will probe how early modern architects in Europe and its colonial contact zones—steeped in emerging geological, botanical, zoological, and anatomical sciences—formed modern concepts of nature and thus present beliefs about how humanity shapes the natural world.
Petcu’s articles have appeared in the Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians, the Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes, and 21: Inquiries Into Art, History, and the Visual—Beiträge zur Kunstgeschichte und visuellen Kultur. She is an Editor for Architectural Histories, as well as the Director of the Ph.D. in Architectural History at the University of Edinburgh. Petcu joined the University of Edinburgh following two years as a Wissenschaftliche Assistentin in the Institut für Kunstgeschichte of the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München, having received her Ph.D. from the Department of Art and Archaeology at Princeton University in 2015. Her research has been supported by the German-American Fulbright Commission, the Deutscher Akademischer Austauschdienst, the Samuel H. Kress Foundation, the Society of Architectural Historians, and Villa I Tatti (The Harvard University Center for Italian Renaissance Studies).
Elizabeth J. Petcu invites applications from prospective Ph.D. candidates in her various areas of research, including the architectural culture of early modern Europe and colonial Latin America, the intersections between the history of architecture and the history of science, and the historiography of European architecture before 1800.
Elizabeth J. Petcu’s key publications include:
“Ryff’s Acanthus. On Field Research in Renaissance Architecture,”21: Inquiries into Art, History, and the Visual—Beiträge zur Kunstgeschichte und visuellen Kultur 1, no. 2(2020): 259-301. DOI: https://doi.org/10.11588/xxi.2020.2.76227
“Vasari in Renaissance Straßburg,”Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes LXXXII (2019): 251-282.
“Amorphous Ornament: Wendel Dietterlin and the Dissection of Architecture,”Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians 77, no. 1 (March 2018): 29-55.DOI:10.1525/jsah.2018.77.1.29
"Joseph Boillot and the Architecture of the Inhuman,”Bauen mit dem menschlischen Körper. Anthropomorphe Stützen von der Antike bis zur Gegenwart /Construire avec le corps humain. Les ordres anthropomorphes et leurs avatars dans l’art européen de l’antiquité à la fin du XVIe siècle.Edited by Sabine Frommel, Eckhard Leuschner, Vincent Drouguet, and Thomas Kirchner. Itinéraires percorsi 4 (Paris, Rome: Picard/Campisano, 2018), II: 55-70.
“Anthropomorphizing the Orders: ‘Terms’ of Architectural Eloquence in the Northern Renaissance,” The Anthropomorphic Lens: Anthropomorphism, Microcosmism and Analogy in Early Modern Thought and Visual Arts. Edited by Walter Melion, Bret Rothstein, and Michel Weemans. Intersections 34 (Leiden: Brill, 2015), 341-378.
Was war Renaissance? Bilder einer Erzählform von Vasari bis Panofsky.Edited with Hans Christian Hönes, Léa Kuhn, and Susanne Thürigen. Published in conjunction with the exhibition of the same name, at theZentralinstitut für Kunstgeschichte, Munich, April-June 2013 (Passau: Dietmar Klinger Verlag, 2013).