David Freedberg is best known for his work on psychological responses to art, and particularly for his studies on iconoclasm and censorship (see, inter alia, Iconoclasts and their Motives, and The Power of Images: Studies in the History and Theory of Response). His more traditional art historical writing originally centered on Dutch and Flemish art. Within these fields, he specialized in the history of Dutch printmaking, and in the paintings and drawings of Bruegel and Rubens. He then turned his attention to seventeenth-century Roman art and to the paintings of Nicolas Poussin, before moving on to his recent work in the history of science and on the importance of the new cognitive neurosciences for the study of art and its history. Following a series of important discoveries in Windsor Castle, the Institut de France and the archives of the Accademia dei Lincei in Rome, he has for long been concerned with the intersection of art and science in the age of Galileo. While much of his work in this area has been published in articles and catalogues, his chief publication in this area is The Eye of the Lynx: Galileo, his Friends, and the Beginnings of Modern Natural History (2002). As Director of the Italian Academy for Advanced Studies in America, and long committed to cross-disciplinary work in the sciences, anthropology and the arts, he established the Academy’s Art and Neuroscience (later Neuroscience and Humanities) project in 2001. The aim of the project – and of its successful biannual conferences on cutting-edge topics relevant to the understanding of art, music, vision and emotion – has been not to mix fields, but to encourage critical thinking about the methodological and epistemological paradigms underlying each domain. His own work has concentrated on issues of empathy, embodiment and motor responses.
David Freedberg is a member of the Presidential Scholars in Society and Neuroscience Advisory Committee.