About the Author
Professor John Skillen directs the Studio for Art, Faith & History while serving as senior advisor for classical learning initiatives at Gordon College.
Dr. Skillen's book, Putting Art (Back) in its Place (Hendrickson, 2016) gives an account of the community-and-site-specific places in which art functioned in medieval-Renaissance Italy, and suggests the value of putting the work of art back in the places where communities perform their work. As Nicholas Wolterstorff remarks,
For those whose acquaintance with Italian Renaissance painting comes from a college art appreciation course or from being a member of a group touring the sights in Italy, Skillen's Putting Art (Back) in Its Place will come as a stunning eye-opener. Renaissance paintings are typically abstracted from their contexts and treated as episodes in stylistic history. Skillen puts them back in their architectural, liturgical, and narrative contexts, and illuminates the social practices whereby the public at the time would have engaged them and whereby the public would, in turn, have been formed by them. The discussion is wide-ranging, deeply informed and insightful. Many times over I had the sense of scales falling from my eyes: "So that's what's going on in that chapel!" "So that's what's going on in that painting."
Professor Skillen’s essays on the arts and tradition have appeared in IMAGE journal, the journal of Christians in the Visual Arts (CIVA), the FORMA journal of the CiRCE Institute; in a book on painter Bruce Herman’s Magnificat triptychs; and on the Studio’s website. Essays published on-line include an account of educating “in situ” in Orvieto in Cardus’s Commentary e-journal, and essays for the European ArtWay on the contemporary architect Richard Meier’s Jubilee Church near Rome and on the new interest in the tradition of ekphrasis, or writing poetry about artworks. Several of the papers presented at the conference entitled Eucharist and Eschatology: Art and Theology in the Orvieto Duomo were published with Dr. Skillen’s assistance by the Seminary of Central Italy in the volume Spazi e Immagini dell'Eucaristia: Il Caso di Orvieto (2007). A new book for the classical-Christian academy movement on the relation of Rhetoric and Architecture in classical tradition is in the editing process for publication with the Classical Academic Press.
Dr. Skillen received his Ph.D. (1982) from Duke University, concentrating in medieval and Renaissance literature. Skillen joined the English department of Gordon College in 1983 as the specialist in medieval, Renaissance and 17th Century literature. After leading a number of Summer Seminars in Italy, Dr. Skillen collaborated with his colleagues in the Art department to create the arts-oriented program in Orvieto, Italy, now in its 21st year. Dr. Skillen directed the Gordon IN Orvieto program from 1998 to 2008. The program has hosted 800 students from over 25 institutions, and was featured in a volume of Best Practices in Christian study abroad programs entitled Transformations on the Edge of the World (Abilene Christian University Press, 2010).
The Studio for Art, Faith & History was established in 2005 as the wing of the semester program for developing and administering special projects that offered creative contemporary responses to premodern traditions in the visual arts, theater, and music.
Professor Skillen lives in Newburyport, MA with his wife Susan, an ordained Anglican priest and spiritual director who regularly leads retreats in Orvieto focused on the continued relevance for contemporary believers of Saints Benedict and Scholastica, Francis and Claire, and Catherine of Siena – all from the region around Orvieto – including Thomas Aquinas, who lived in Orvieto during the 1260’s. The Skillens have four daughters and a growing number of grandchildren.