Elizabeth Honig

Elizabeth Alice Honig was obsessed from an early age by anything to do with her namesake, Elizabeth I. An undergraduate career at Bryn Mawr, where she served as Costumes Mistress to the annual Elizabethan May Day celebrations, confirmed this inclination. She worked at Hampton Court Palace and then went to Yale. There, her secondary fascination with shopping lead to a change in direction and she wrote her dissertation on Flemish market scenes and the history of economic thought. She lived in Amsterdam for many years, where she could listen to English radio while studying the art of Belgium. A brief period of museum work there ended in complete disaster, and since then she has been back in America teaching art history. In 1996 she abandoned the Atlantic seaboard and came to Berkeley, where she began working on the art of Jan Brueghel, son of the more famous Pieter. Through Brueghel she has become interested in issues of copying, originality, artistic collaboration, and historical techniques of painting; narrative, scale, style, and the notion of the Baroque.

Honig’s first book, Painting and the Market, concerned the ways in which painting responded to changing notions of value, exchange, and display in the commercial city of Antwerp from about 1550-1625. Her recent Jan Brueghel and the Senses of Scale focuses on a single artist and how he proposed an aesthetic in the years around 1600 that countered that of his colleagues Rubens and Caravaggio in operating at a very small representational scale that demanded a closer visual engagement and mobilized the sense of touch as well as sight. She is currently writing a book about Pieter Bruegel, Erasmus, and ideas of what it meant to be human in early 16th-century Northern Europe. Another current project concerns the discourse of dwelling in Elizabethan wall painting, literature about the homeless, and the writings of prisoners of conscience. She is also preparing the Oxford Online annotated bibliography on Rubens, a daunting task.

Her graduate students work on a diverse range of topics in the arts of The Netherlands, Spain and Germany; they study painting, prints, architecture and urban planning; violence, propaganda, devotion, and failure. They travel and publish a lot, and she alternately encourages, bullies, and feeds them. Elizabeth Honig’s ultimate goal is to truly understand Rubens. She also has pursued a major project in former Soviet Central Asia.