Meet MA in Art History Alumna Anaiis Avanesian

Born and raised in the San Fernando Valley in Los Angeles, California, Anaiis Avanesian graduated from JCU in Spring 2024 with an MA in Art History. After obtaining an undergraduate degree in Marketing, Anaiis decided to change fields and started looking for a graduate program in Art History abroad, which is what led her to JCU.

Tell us about your background.
I’m Armenian and Los Angeles has the largest Armenian population outside of Armenia itself. As such, I grew up going to Armenian school and taking Armenian dance lessons throughout my life. I’m very proud of my culture and heritage, and even teach Armenian dance now.

Anaiis Avanesian
Anaiis Avanesian

How did you find out about JCU’s MA in Art History and what made you decide to apply? How did the program enrich you?
My undergraduate degree is in Marketing, and while I genuinely enjoyed combining my love of the creative with business, I could not shake the feeling that I should have been pursuing my lifelong passion, the field of art history, instead. This led me to start researching master’s programs in Art History. Specifically, I had my heart set on pursuing my degree abroad, which is how I first came across JCU. After quite a bit of research I applied to JCU’s MA in Art History program. The opportunity to live in Rome and experience the works and sites we were learning about rather than just read about them was absolutely invaluable.

How did you become passionate about Art History?
My passion for art was instilled in me by my parents. They were adamant that my brother and I be exposed to arts, culture, and literature from a young age, for which I’m extremely grateful. They began taking me to the museums in and around Los Angeles when I was three years old. The Getty, in particular, was one of our favorite spots. My favorite painting to visit as a child was Lawrence Alma-Tadema’s Spring. Its colors, cast of young children like me, and stunning florals attracted me to the piece. I realize now that due to its unique vertical dimension, it was also one of the few paintings in the museum that was at my eye level as a child.

Tell us about your thesis.
My thesis explored the life and career of little-known eighteenth-century Roman miniature painter Maria Felice Tibaldi Subleyras. Despite considerable fame and academic recognition in her own time, today she is mostly forgotten with little scholarship available regarding her work and career. Her most famous work, Feast in the House of Simon the Pharisee, is located in the Pinacoteca Capitolina, and remains the only work by the artist on public display in Rome today. Using that work and the unique signature she left upon it as a point of departure, my thesis utilized a largely contextual approach to analyze and expand upon the existing scholarship, and further explore Tibaldi’s career.

I first came across the artist during my research on another eighteenth century woman artist, the Venetian miniaturist Rosalba Carriera, who was the first woman to be inducted into the Accademia di San Luca in Rome as a full member. It turned out that the second woman was Maria Felice Tibaldi. When it was time to pick a paper topic for our eighteenth century Rome class, I knew who and what I wanted to write about. That paper turned into my thesis.

The most exciting discovery I made during my research was an entry in Diario Ordinario from May 1741, that mentioned that Tibaldi was publicly recognized for creating a miniature featuring Saint Catherine of Siena commissioned by the Dominican nuns as a gift for Pope Benedict XIV. It was the first and only time I came across mention of this work, and I would love to attempt to track it down one day.

What classes and/or professors impacted you the most and why?
I was fortunate enough to establish relationships with many of my professors, and each of them positively impacted me and the ways in which I approach art history, but first and foremost, I have to mention, my thesis advisor, Professor Laura Foster. Her class on eighteenth century Rome inspired my thesis and introduced me to a thoroughly understudied and singular moment in Rome’s long history of artistic production. Her passion for this period ignited my own, and I deeply appreciated her enthusiasm for my project.

What are your plans for the future?
Currently, I’m looking to pursue a career in a museum setting. I’m particularly drawn to research and would love to start as a research assistant and move toward curation. In the same vein I would eventually like to pursue a Ph.D. that would allow me to continue the research I began with my thesis. I feel as though I barely scratched the surface of Maria Felice Tibaldi’s career and the role of women artists during Rome’s eighteenth century and would love the opportunity to dive deeper and contribute to the discourse surrounding an understudied period in Art History.