About Dr. Denva Gallant

I always knew my life would be dedicated to arts and humanistic inquiry. As a theater kid attending the South Carolina Governor School for the Arts and Humanities, I learned the power of stories to connect us to ourselves and each other, and I applied that knowledge to a study of the past.

After studying at Sweet Briar College and Harvard University, I joined the Art History department at the University of Delaware in 2018 and then moved to Rice University in 2023.

I understand, through lived experience and research, that images shape our world and the way in which we view it. My work asks a fundamental question — how do images elicit and encourage behavior from their medieval viewers? And I apply that question to an array of objects to understand how images gave viewers access to the divine and constructed hierarchies here on Earth.

My book, Illuminating the Vitae patrum: The Lives of the Desert Ascetics in Fourteenth-Century Italy (Penn State University Press, 2024), is the first to examine the Morgan Library’s manuscript Vitae patrum (MS. M. 626), whose extraordinary illustrations comprise a singular witness to the rise of eremitism as a spiritual ideal and its impact on the visual culture of late medieval Italy.

In my next book, tentatively titled Going in Eremo: The Desert and the Medieval Imagination, I examine a range of media from fresco cycles to travel logs, from maps to romances. As the field of medieval art history begins to engage more critically with environmental humanities and ecocritical scholarship, Going in Eremo interrogates the largest and perhaps the most ambiguous environmental space within the medieval imagination — the desert — to show that the desert was not simply a backdrop for religious experience, but a vital space that played an active role in shaping and communicating the medieval experience of devotion.

Beyond this research work, I work in collaboration with other disciplines to tell the stories of the medieval world, introducing them to new audiences.

Support for my research and writing includes grants and fellowships from the Center for Advanced Study in the Visual Arts, Harvard University’s Center for Italian Renaissance Studies in Florence, and the American Academy in Rome.
Scroll to Top