Professor Donal Cooper

Fellow, Director of Studies in History of Art
University Positions
University Professor
Specialising in
Italian Renaissance art

Donal Cooper is a specialist in medieval and Renaissance art in Italy and the broader Mediterranean.

Academic interests

Donal Cooper's main academic interest is art and architecture in Italy and the Mediterranean during the later Middle Ages and Renaissance. He is particularly interested in:

  • Giotto
  • Franciscan artistic patronage at Assisi and elsewhere
  • The art and culture of Venice and its maritime empire in the Adriatic
  • The display of Renaissance art in the modern museum.

Degrees obtained

  • BA, Oxon.
  • MA and PhD, London.

Awards and prizes

  • Philip Leverhulme Prize for outstanding research, 2007.
  • Art Book Prize for The Making of Assisi, 2014.


Donal Cooper read modern history at Oxford University before studying art history at the Courtauld Institute of Art. He completed his PhD on Franciscan art and architecture in central Italy at the Courtauld in 2000.

Between 2002 and 2005 he worked in the Research Department at the V&A, contributing to the redisplay of the Museum’s Medieval and Renaissance Galleries. Before joining Cambridge in 2013, he was Assistant and then Associate Professor in the History of Art Department at the University of Warwick.

He was awarded a Philip Leverhulme Prize for outstanding scholarship in 2006 and held a Hannah Kiel Fellowship at the Harvard University Center for Italian Renaissance Studies at Villa I Tatti in Florence from 2009 to 2010.

Dr Cooper’s research focuses on sacred art and architecture in Italy from the 13th to 16th centuries, with particular emphasis on the patronage of the most dynamic religious order of the age, the Franciscans.

Beyond Italy, Dr Cooper researches Latin artistic patronage in the Eastern Mediterranean, especially in Dalmatia, Crete, and other former territories of the Venetian Stato da Mar.

​Donal’s interests range widely from Byzantine style mosaics through Renaissance painting to Baroque architecture, but a common thread is the perception of artworks within their historical contexts. In other words, how artworks could have been viewed differently at different times by a range of different audiences.

Donal’s approach combines close examination of paintings and artefacts in museum collections with extensive on site analysis of historic buildings in Italy and elsewhere. He is also keen to exploit the potential of new digital technologies for presenting past environments. This sensitivity to historic contexts shows how we can still discover fresh insights about major works by painters like Giotto and Raphael.

Dr Cooper welcomes applications from research students interested in the art and architecture of Southern Europe between around 1200 and 1550.

Department link

Publications, links and resources

The first volume of his co authored study with Dr Janet Robson on the Basilica of San Francesco, The Making of Assisi: The Pope, the Franciscans and the Painting of the Basilica, was published by Yale University Press in 2013, receiving a five star review in The Daily Telegraph and winning the 2014 Art Book prize.

Other recent publications have focused on Giotto’s Franciscan commissions, and Dr Cooper was a major contributor to the catalogue accompanying the Giotto e compagni exhibition held at the Louvre in spring 2013. Future publications reassess works by Raphael and Titian for Franciscan churches in light of their spatial settings and ritual contexts.

He is also interested in the application of digital media to recover and communicate original contexts for artworks. In conjunction with the National Gallery, Dr Cooper is co supervising an AHRC funded doctoral project to reconstruct the historic settings of a number of the gallery’s Renaissance altarpieces.

Together with Professor Francois Penz in Cambridge's Department of Architecture, he collaborated with the National Gallery to create a film and virtual reconstruction for the recent Visions of Paradise exhibition which ran from November 2015 to March 2016.

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