Jacqueline McKenna

BA Honors | Art History


I am graduating with an Art History major with Honors and a minor in Classical Civilization Studies. I have developed a strong and wide-ranging passion for art history during my time at Notre Dame with a specific focus on Italian early modern painting. My love for art history began in high school in England and has been fortified over the years, especially during my internship at Galleria Borghese last year where I developed an even stronger admiration for the Renaissance artworks that I had studied for so long. I am thrilled to be continuing my love and fascination for the Italian Renaissance at the Courtauld Institute of Art in London through their Master’s program next year. 


My passions for both Art History and Classical History have intersected in my thesis, which focused on three paintings of antique heroines by Elisabetta Sirani, an extraordinary woman artist working in Bologna during the second half of the seventeenth-century. I saw in this thesis the opportunity to explore both the socio-cultural position of women artists during this period, focusing on the output and style of an artist who has been relatively under-considered, and to engage with the way in which classical learning and texts could be used for renewed symbolic purposes at this time. The narratives behind Timocleia, Circe, and Cleopatra offer the fascinating potential for an understanding of how Elisabetta Sirani – and artists like her – were considering the position of women within society and within the creative industries themselves. These are narratives of female subjects which reflect a fascination with ancient Greek and Roman writers with how female power itself could express itself and, in certain respects, they speak to a cultural understanding in the ancient world of the limitations of patriarchal power structures and characters. To explore such a complex idea within the medium of painting, and through the life and work of such a determined woman artist, brought with it a wonderfully cross-disciplinary set of academic opportunities. These have been enriching and academically eye-opening to explore over the past months, and they have laid the groundwork for the next steps I intend to take in my studies of Art History.