Leo Costello

WEBSITE(S)| Curriculum Vitae

Ph.D Bryn Mawr College
M.A. American University
B.A. Skidmore College

Research Areas

Eighteenth- and Nineteenth-Century European Art; Marxist Theory and Aesthetics

Leo Costello teaches eighteenth- and nineteenth-century European art. He worked for two years at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston before coming to Rice in Fall 2004. His book, J.M.W. Turner and the Subject of History, was published in June 2012. This book examines the ways in which Turner's subtle and complex historical representations reveal changing notions of individual and collective identity in an age of both developing and fragmenting nationhood. Dr. Costello's work on Turner's Slave-ship was published in the literary anthology Discourses of Slavery and Abolition (Palgrave, 2004). He also contributed to the catalog for the retrospective exhibition J.M.W. Turner, organized by Tate Britain (2007). His article on Turner and the Royal Academy Varnishing Days appeared in the February 2010 issue of The British Art Journal and has essays appearing in the catalogs for the exhibitions "American Adversaries" (Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, 2013) and "Turner and the Sea" (National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, 2013-4). His essay on Turner and Thomas Cole appears in the anthology Transatlantic Romanticism (University of Massachusetts Press, 2014).

Dr. Costello's current book, Pictures of Nothing: Romantic Figurations of the Void, is perhaps best characterized as a materialist history of "nothing." That is, while Hazlitt's phrase about Turner's work ("Pictures of nothing, and very like") is often cited, it is rarely analyzed with respect to the concrete conditions which produced it and in which it gained meaning. This study, therefore, will address Romantic depictions of nothingness, absence, void and immateriality within related theological, socio-political and aesthetic/literary discursive networks.

Selected Articles and Essays

Power, Destruction and Creativity in Turner’s Fires,” 19: Interdisciplinary Studies in the Long Nineteenth Century, December 2017.

“Air, Science and Nothing in Wright's Air Pump’,” Studies in English Literature 56, #3 (Summer 2016): 647-70.

“Portraiture and the Ethics of Alterity: Giacometti vis-à-vis Levinas,” October 151 (Winter 2015): 62-77.

“‘Gorgeous but altogether false’: Turner, Cole and Transatlantic Ideas of Empire,” for Alan Wallach and Andrew Hemingway, eds., Trans-Atlantic Romanticism, anthology in preparation. (Amherst, MA: University of Massachusetts Press, 2014).

"Contested Waters," in Richard Johns and Christine Riding, eds, Turner and the Sea (Greenwich: National Maritime Museum, 2013).

"Turner, West and the End of Contemporary History Painting," in Emily Neff and Kaylin Weber, eds, Copley and West: American Adversaries in a Transatlantic World (Houston: Museum of Fine Arts, 2013).

“This cross-fire of colours’: Turner and the Varnishing Days Reconsidered,” British Art Journal, v. 10, #3 (February 2010).

“Confronting the Sublime,” in Ian Warrell, ed., J.M.W. Turner, (exhibition catalog), London: Tate Publishing, 2007: pp. 39-55.

“Turner’s Slave-ship: Towards a Dialectical History Painting,” in Brycchan Carey, Markman Ellis and Sarah Salih, eds., Discourses of Slavery and Abolition: Britain and Its Colonies 1660-1838, Basingstoke and New York: Palgrave McMillan, 2004: pp. 209-22.

Vija Celmins: Works from the Edward R. Broida Collection, Houston: Museum of Fine Arts, 2002

With Gridley McKim-Smith, “Crafting the Intangible: The Art of John Clemmer,” in David Clemmer, Leo Costello and Gridley McKim-Smith, John Clemmer: Exploring the Medium, 1940-1999, (exhibition catalog), New Orleans: New Orleans Museum of Art, 1999.

Selected Awards and Honors

2013 - GSA Faculty Teaching and Mentoring Award, Rice University

2008 - Individual Faculty Fellowship, Humanities Research Center, Rice University

2008 - Finalist, Phi Beta Kappa Teaching Award, Rice University


J.M.W. Turner and the Subject of History, Farnham, Surrey and Burlington, VT: Ashgate Press: June 2012.

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