Photograph of Professor William Wallace

William Wallace

Director of Undergraduate Studies in Art History and Archaeology
Barbara Murphy Bryant Distinguished Professor of Art History
PhD, Columbia University
research interests:
  • Art and Architecture of 14th-18th Century Italy
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    mailing address:

    • Washington University
    • CB 1189
    • One Brookings Dr.
    • St. Louis, MO 63130-4899
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    William E. Wallace received his Ph.D. in Art History from Columbia University in New York in 1983 and is currently Professor in the Department of Art History and Archaeology.

    He teaches Renaissance art and architecture 1300-1700, and is an internationally recognized authority on Michelangelo and his contemporaries. In addition to more than 90 essays, chapters and articles (as well as two short works of fiction), he is the author and editor of  eight different books on Michelangelo, including Michelangelo at San Lorenzo: the Genius as Entrepreneur (Cambridge, 1994); Michelangelo: Selected Scholarship in English (Garland, 1996), Michelangelo: The Complete Sculpture, Painting, and Architecture (Hugh Lauter Levin, 1998); Michelangelo: Selected Readings (Garland, 1999); Discovering Michelangelo: The Art Lover's Guide to Understanding Michelangelo's Masterpieces (Rizzoli 2012). His biography, Michelangelo: The Artist, the Man and his Times appeared with Cambridge University Press in 2010, and issued in paperback in 2011.  

    Wallace is the recipient of numerous awards and fellowships, including at Villa I Tatti, Harvard University’s Center forRenaissance Studies in Florence and a year at the American Academy in Rome.  He has been a principal consultant for two BBC television programs on Michelangelo, and has taped a 36-lecture audio-visual course, “The Genius of Michelangelo” for “The Teaching Company.”  His recently completed book, Michelangelo, God’s Architect: The Story of His Final Years and Greatest Masterpiece (Princeton, 2019) focuses on the artist’s late life and his greatest creation: the building of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome.

    Listen to Professor Wallace's recent interview with the Washington University Ampersand about a rare document housed in the Washington University Library written by Michelangelo Buonarroti, and what it exposes about the life and times of the artist. 

    Michelangelo, God’s Architect: The Story of His Final Years and Greatest Masterpiece

    Michelangelo, God’s Architect: The Story of His Final Years and Greatest Masterpiece

    As he entered his seventies, the great Italian Renaissance artist Michelangelo despaired that his productive years were past. Anguished by the death of friends and discouraged by the loss of commissions to younger artists, this supreme painter and sculptor began carving his own tomb. It was at this unlikely moment that fate intervened to task Michelangelo with the most ambitious and daunting project of his long creative life.

    Michelangelo, God’s Architect is the first book to tell the full story of Michelangelo’s final two decades, when the peerless artist refashioned himself into the master architect of St. Peter’s Basilica and other major buildings. When the Pope handed Michelangelo control of the St. Peter’s project in 1546, it was a study in architectural mismanagement, plagued by flawed design and faulty engineering. Assessing the situation with his uncompromising eye and razor-sharp intellect, Michelangelo overcame the furious resistance of Church officials to persuade the Pope that it was time to start over.

    In this richly illustrated book, leading Michelangelo expert William Wallace sheds new light on this least familiar part of Michelangelo’s biography, revealing a creative genius who was also a skilled engineer and enterprising businessman. The challenge of building St. Peter’s deepened Michelangelo’s faith, Wallace shows. Fighting the intrigues of Church politics and his own declining health, Michelangelo became convinced that he was destined to build the largest and most magnificent church ever conceived. And he was determined to live long enough that no other architect could alter his design.

    Discovering Michelangelo: The Art Lover's Guide to Understanding Michelangelo's Masterpieces

    Discovering Michelangelo: The Art Lover's Guide to Understanding Michelangelo's Masterpieces

    This exceptionally produced art book with die-cut windows and overlays identifies, decodes, and explains symbols hidden in Michelangelo’s works. Discover the full meaning behind fifty featured paintings, drawings, and sculptures in this unique volume celebrating Michelangelo. This book’s innovative design pairs stunning art reproductions with a page of die-cut windows that help the reader focus on specific aspects and features captions that highlight the most important symbols and innovations of the Renaissance’s master painter, architect, and sculptor. Learn the secrets behind famous works such as the Sistine Chapel ceiling, The Last Judgment, Doni Tondo, and David, as well as Bacchus, Battle of the Centaurs, and Bruges Madonna. Each work featured in Discovering Michelangelo: The Art Lover’s Guide to Understanding Michelangelo’s Masterpieces tells a story that becomes more fascinating as layer upon layer of symbolic meaning is revealed.

    Michelangelo: The Artist, the Man and his Times

    Michelangelo: The Artist, the Man and his Times

    Michelangelo is universally recognized to be one of the greatest artists of all time. In this vividly written biography, William E. Wallace offers a substantially new view of the artist. Not only a supremely gifted sculptor, painter, architect, and poet, Michelangelo was also an aristocrat who firmly believed in the ancient and noble origins of his family. The belief in his patrician status fueled his lifelong ambition to improve his family’s financial situation and to raise the social standing of artists. Michelangelo’s ambitions are evident in his writing, dress, and comportment, as well as in his ability to befriend, influence, and occasionally say “no” to popes, kings, and princes. Written from the words of Michelangelo and his contemporaries, this biography not only tells his own stories but also brings to life the culture and society of Renaissance Florence and Rome. Not since Irving Stone’s novel The Agony and the Ecstasy has there been such a compelling and human portrayal of this remarkable yet credible human individual.

    Michelangelo: The Complete Sculpture, Painting, Architecture

    Michelangelo: The Complete Sculpture, Painting, Architecture

    With an engaging text by renowned Michelangelo scholar William E. Wallace, Michelangelo: The Complete Sculpture, Painting, Architecture brings together in one exquisite volume the powerful sculptures, the awe-inspiring paintings, and the classical architectural works of one of the greatest artists of all time. Including everything from his sculptures Pietàs and David to his beautiful paintings of the Sistine Chapel and the Doni Tondo, the book provides an opportunity to view Michelangelo’s work as never before, and to more fully understand the artist who, through his work, spoke of his life and times. The frescoes are specially printed on onion skin paper to recreate the actual appearance of light reflecting off of the plaster walls. The stunning black-and-white photography of the sculptures is printed in four colors to bring out the rich details of the marble.