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Allison Caplan

"Our Flickering Creations: Precious Art Theory under the Aztec Empire"

Allison Caplan

Fellow, Pre-Columbian Studies

Allison Caplan’s research focuses on the art of the Aztec Empire and early colonial New Spain, examining Nahua art theory and aesthetics, issues of materiality and value, and the relationship between visual expression and the Nahuatl language. The focus of her research at Dumbarton Oaks, her first book project reconstructs the key concepts of color, light, surface, and assemblage in Nahua art theory for works combining precious stones, feathers, and metals. Using Indigenous principles to define both the corpus and modes of interpretation, the study pairs the visual and material analysis of artworks with the linguistic study of Nahuatl texts, generating a novel understanding of ancient American luxury arts.

Allison Caplan is an assistant professor in the History of Art at the University of California, Santa Barbara. She received her PhD and MA in Art History and Latin American Studies from Tulane University and her BA in Comparative Literature and Society from Columbia University. Her work has appeared in Ethnohistory, MAVCOR Journal, West 86th, and Golden Kingdoms: Luxury Arts in the Ancient Americas (2017). She has also held fellowships and grants from the ACLS, Center for Advanced Study in the Visual Arts, Getty Research Institute, Metropolitan Museum of Art, and Johns Hopkins University.