A specialist of modern European art and art historical theory and methods, Sarah Betzer's teaching, research, and graduate supervision is shaped by an orientation to the intersections of art theoretical debates and artistic process; the enduring power of the classical past; and the dynamics of gendered and sexed bodies in representation.
Her recently published book, Animating the Antique: Sculptural Encounter in the Age of Aesthetic Theory (Penn State University Press, 2021), explores the ramifications of the birth of aesthetic theory in the decades around 1750, when a distinctively eighteenth-century way of conceiving the antique emerged, one that had significant echoes throughout the nineteenth century: in the making and beholding of modern art, the articulations of art theory, and the writing of art history. Moving across Rome, Florence, Naples, London, Dresden, and Paris, the book explores the Janus-faced nature of encounters with the antique, whereby sculptures and beholders alike were caught between the promise of animation and the threat of mortification.
Her first book, Ingres and the Studio: Women, Painting, History (Penn State University Press, 2012), focused on J.-A.-D. Ingres, a critical figure of the modern era and an artist celebrated in his lifetime and beyond as one of the most esteemed portraitists of all time. Ingres and the Studio situated this essential aspect of Ingres's oeuvre in the context of his studio practice and his training of students, positing that female portraiture functioned for these artists as a privileged model of ambitious painting itself.
Having completed degrees at Wellesley College (BA), the Courtauld Institute (MA), and Northwestern University (PhD), Betzer joined the University of Virginia faculty in 2007. In addition to teaching in the undergraduate and graduate curricula in art history, between 2016 and 2021 Betzer served as inaugural Co-Director of the College Fellows Program and Engagements Curriculum–fundamental elements of UVA's first broad-scale reimagination of the place of the liberal arts in the undergraduate experience in over forty years.
Betzer is the recipient of grants from the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, the Center for Advanced Study in the Visual Arts, the Kress Foundation, the Howard Foundation, and the Getty Research Institute. In 2019 she was the Thomas Jefferson Fellow at Downing College, Cambridge. She served as the Chair of the Editorial Board for The Art Bulletin, and her articles and reviews have appeared in Art History, The Art Bulletin, the Oxford Art Journal, Art Journal, Sculpture Journal, and The Burlington Magazine. In 2021-22 she served as Interim Chair of the Department of Art. She is currently Associate Dean for Arts & Humanities at UVA.