John Alexander, PhD

Associate Professor, Architecture and Planning



Dr. Alexander is an historian of Italian Renaissance and Baroque architecture. He studied architecture (B.Arch., 1986, University of Detroit) and worked in professional studios for a couple of years (1986, Edinburgh; 1987-1989, Chicago) before studying architectural history (M.Arch.Hist., 1991; Ph.D., 2001, University of Virginia). He focuses his research on the Counter-Reformation and Mannerism in northern Italy. Specifically, he studies the patronage of Carlo Borromeo (1538 – 1584), the reforming archbishop of Milan. His dissertation illuminated the history of the Collegio Borromeo in Pavia, a college building that Borromeo commissioned from the architect Pellegrino Tibaldi (1527 – 1596). Using previously unstudied documents (including the construction accounts), Dr. Alexander delineated the process of design and construction. This provided a basis for further investigation into the patron’s goals and criteria, and the significance of the architect’s design.

Borromeo is credited with defining sacred space for Catholics, and thus his significance goes far beyond the sum of what he accomplished. In researching his dissertation, Dr. Alexander realized that Borromeo’s mature patronage is well known, but that his background and early development remained inadequately investigated. To rectify that problem, he expanded upon his study of the Collegio Borromeo and researched all of Borromeo’s commissions from an early, formative period in his life. That resulted in the book, From Renaissance to Counter-Reformation. The Architectural Patronage of Carlo Borromeo during the Reign of Pius IV (Rome: Bulzoni, 2007). Wishing to expand upon that study to understand the context (and thus to achieve a more nuanced interpretation of Borromeo’s achievements), he is currently investigating the contemporary architecture and patronage of Tortona, a town near Borromeo’s Milan and intimately connected to it.

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