Elizabeth J. Petcu’s research and teaching examine the intersections of visual and scientific inquiry in the architectural culture of the early modern world. Methodologically, her work interrogates how investigative practices and beliefs concerning nature are formed and mediated through architecture and its images. Petcu is an expert in the architecture and architectural theory of northern Europe and colonial Latin America, and their entanglements with the natural sciences. By scrutinizing the rapport between the research practices of architecture and science at the start of the modern period and within colonial contexts, her research exposes the deep historical conditions of our current epistemological and environmental predicaments.
Petcu is currently completing her first book, The Science of the Architectural Image in Wendel Dietterlin’s Renaissance, whichprobes the most important architectural treatise of the German Renaissance, the Architectura (1593-1598) of Straßburg artist Wendel Dietterlin the Elder (c. 1550-1599) to establish how architectural images became platforms for modern science. The book details the ways in which artistic techniques of observation and description infiltrated the architectural culture of sixteenth-century northern Europe and its colonial contact zones via drawing, print, and decorative arts, and examines the apogee of that trend in the nearly 200 richly figural etchings Dietterlin devised and executed for his Architectura. The Science of the Architectural Image further reveals through works like Dietterlin’s Architectura how architecture’s appropriation of artistic techniques such as drawing on paper, printmaking, and nature study made architecture a hotbed of empiricism, or the idea that knowledge derives from experience. It argues that the rise of empirical practices of image-making in the architectural culture of northern Europe and Habsburg colonies such as Peru set architecture in dialogue with the visual investigations of early science (natural philosophy), a shift that proved instrumental to the emergence of architecture and science as the mutually enmeshed fields we know today. 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 research has 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, as well as numerous edited volumes and conference proceedings. 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, after receiving 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). She has delivered invited lectures for the Institute of Art History of the Czech Academy of Sciences, the University of Essex, the University of Basel, and the University of Edinburgh (prior to her appointment there).
Petcu invites applications from prospective M.Sc. and 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(November 2020): 259-301.
“Joseph Boillot and the Architecture of the Inhuman,” in Bauen mit dem menschlischen Körper. Anthropomorphe Stützen von der Antike bis zur Gegenwart/Construire avec le corps humain. Les ordres anthropomorphes et luers avatars dans l’art européen de l’antiquité à la fin du XVIe siècle, ed. 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,” in The Anthropomorphic Lens: Anthropomorphism, Microcosmism and Analogy in Early Modern Thought and Visual Arts, ed. 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).