Carolyn Yerkes specializes in Renaissance and Baroque architecture. Focusing on European buildings from the 15th through 18th centuries, much of her latest research investigates relationships between architectural theory and techniques of architectural representation.
Her first book, Drawing after Architecture: Renaissance Architectural Drawings and Their Reception (2017), examines the nature of architectural evidence by asking how Renaissance architects used images to explore structures, to create biographies, and to write history. Countering the enduring tendency to valorize the original, Drawing after Architecture restores the copy to its crucial role in the history of architectural theory and invention. This monograph takes a new approach to the materials of early modern architecture by reclaiming one of its most neglected sources: the copied architectural drawing. Building upon a vast and long-overlooked body of manuscripts and drawings, this book reveals that architecture in early modernity was built through a dynamic process of recording, analysis, and exchange. Drawing after Architecture was awarded the James Ackerman Prize in the History of Architecture, and was a finalist for the 2019 Charles Rufus Morey Book Award from the College Art Association.
Yerkes’s ongoing projects on Giovanni Battista Piranesi (1720–1778) take architecture’s relationship to print as their primary subject. Piranesi Unbound, a forthcoming book co-written with Heather Hyde Minor, demonstrates that within Piranesi’s volumes, textual erudition, academic argument, and experimental printmaking techniques were fundamentally intertwined. The publication of this book in September 2020 will coincide with an exhibition in the new galleries of Princeton’s Firestone Library. The twin goals of the book and exhibition are to view Piranesi’s remarkable imagery within the context of the twelve books that he designed.
Now Yerkes is working on a book about early modern architectural experiments. The book examines how architects used buildings to explore the natural world, including such phenomena as acoustical echoes, gravity, optics, and time. Rather than analyze representations of architecture in other media, Yerkes considers architecture itself as a form of representation and agent of investigation. How did buildings come to be used not only as sites for scientific experiments, but also as experimental instruments? This project seeks the roots of that development across early modern Europe, and considers the places and tools of research as a question of shifting scale.
Yerkes joined Princeton’s faculty in 2014. Before that she was curator of rare books at Columbia’s Avery Architectural and Fine Arts Library. She also taught classes in art history and architecture in Columbia’s Department of Art History and Archaeology. At Princeton, she currently holds the William G. Bowen Presidential Preceptorship, and is a Faculty Fellow of Rockefeller College.