A specialist in Italian art of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, James Harper holds a Ph.D. in the History of Art from the University of Pennsylvania. His research treats the intersections of art and politics and he has written on topics including monumental biographical imagery as a form of propaganda, materiality and meaning in tapestry, the image of the Turk in western art, the high baroque painter Pietro da Cortona, “art strategies” at the papal court, and the reception of art and architecture in the era of the Grand Tour. His work has received the support of the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Samuel Kress Foundation, the Graham Foundation, and Villa I Tatti, the Harvard University Center for Italian Renaissance Studies.
Harper offers 300-level courses in Renaissance and Baroque Art of Northern Europe, Southern Europe and Latin America. He also teaches graduate and undergraduate seminars on topics including “The Italian Renaissance Villa,” “The Cross-Cultural Encounter in Renaissance and Baroque Art,” “Caravaggio and his Age,” and “Ephemeral Art.” He also teaches lifelong learners in the University's Insight Seminars program and in the Smithsonian Institution's "Smithsonian Journeys" program.
Harper is the Director of the University of Oregon's interdisciplinary Museum Studies Program. Prior to coming to the University of Oregon in 2000, he worked in museums including the National Gallery of Art, the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Harvard University Art Museums. In Oregon he maintains a close relationship with the University’s Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art, where he has served as a guest curator and as a member of the museum’s Leadership Council.