Brief Bio

Melissa McCormick, Professor of Japanese Art and Culture at Harvard University, earned her B.A. from the University of Michigan (1990) and her Ph.D. in Japanese Art History from Princeton University (2000). Before moving to Harvard, she was the Atsumi Assistant Professor of Japanese Art at Columbia University (2000-05) in the Department of Art History and Archaeology. As an art historian with an interdisciplinary approach, McCormick investigates the relationship of pictorial form to social history and contexts of artistic production, focusing in particular on the interrelationship of text and image. Tosa Mitsunobu and the Small Scroll in Medieval Japan (Washington, 2009) rewrites the history of emaki (picture scrolls) by arguing for the emergence of a new type of short-story scroll around the late fifteenth century, and by analyzing the relationship between scale and format and media specificity to meaning, representation, and categorical forms. Her work combines integrated analyses of texts and images with original research into historical readers and viewers, emphasizing the material properties of scrolls, contingencies of production, narratological modes of analysis, and the embodied experience of reading.

Several articles have reconstructed the interpretive communities of readers, writers, and artists in the late medieval period by focusing on monochrome pictures called hakubyō, which McCormick argues, functioned as an alternative space for creative expression from a female-gendered subject position. Her ongoing work on the eleventh-century narrative The Tale of Genji has resulted in over a dozen publications in both English and Japanese. Her research on the tale and on the Genji Album in the Harvard Art Museums were featured in two NHK televised specials (2008, 2019). Her book, The Tale of Genji: A Visual Companion (Princeton University Press, 2018),  provides fifty-four interpretive essays on each chapter of The Tale of Genji  as well as visual readings of the symbiotic relationship of calligraphy and image in the album's paired leaves. In 2019 she guest curated the international loan exhibition The Tale of Genji: A Japanese Classic Illuminated, at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.