This sounds like a really interesting approach … do other universities do this sort of thing? From the Vassar Miscellany News:
Put an archivist, art historian, classicist and theologian into the same room, if you can, put a Northern Renaissance painting before them, and let them discuss and pick apart it. Students and faculty will have the chance to see these very four in action on Thursday, Oct. 6 at 7 p.m. when this semester’s Kaleidoscope lecture takes place. Kaleidoscope is a lecture series held once a semester that brings a group of Vassar professors—all from different departments—to discuss a work of art from the Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center’s diverse and impressive collection. Thursday’s speakers will include Sarah Gibson Blanding Professor of Art Susan Kuretsky ’63, Professor of Greek and Roman Studies J. Bert Lott, Professor of Religion Marc Michael Epstein, and Head of Special Collections and Adjunct Associate Professor of History Ron Patkus. The program will also include recitations by Vassar students of the biblical account of the first seven days of the creation in Hebrew, Greek, Latin and English. A reception in the Art Center atrium will follow.
The lecture series began just two years ago when Andrew W. Mellon Coordinator of Academic Affairs Diane Butler arrived on campus. As an academic coordinator, one of Butler’s many responsibilities is to make the Loeb’s collection accessible and relevant to all students and professors, no matter what their field may be. “Our life is a barrage of fast imagery,” she explained. Too often, Butler explains, people do not look closely enough at the objects in front of them, even in a museum. Kaleidoscope will give students and professors a golden opportunity to do just that: look closely, thoroughly, at a work of art that lends itself to countless modes of inquiry. She chose for this semester’s lecture series a painting by Northern Renaissance artist Joos van Cleve (1490-1540) called “St. Jerome in His Study,” circa 1530.
As a classicist, Lott will look at the painting from an historical vantage point. He will take into account the central issues of the day during Jerome’s lifetime (347-420 A.D.), such as the Christianization of the Roman Empire and, by extension, Christianity’s transition from a criminal to state religion. As for Jerome himself, the painting’s very subject, he was a highly learned man whose most profound legacy was the Volgate Bible, a Latin translation of the Old and New Testaments, which were originally written in Hebrew and Greek, respectively. By translating these works into Latin, Jerome made these holy texts far more accessible than they had ever been previously.
Jerome’s image as a tireless scholar eventually became a model for emulation in Europe starting around the 16th century. His popularity during the Renaissance had much to do with the religious turmoil that typified this period. The end of the 15th century saw a dramatic shift in expectations regarding the path to salvation. Theologians and ordinary citizens alike believed that they would do better not to count on the rituals of the Catholic Church and to put greater emphasis instead on the word of God as presented in the Bible.
Jerome’s ability to translate the Bible into Latin—a language in which Renaissance scholars and theologians would have been well versed—opened up the possibility of translating the Bible into modern European languages. As Kuretsky points out, “Jerome is often called a patron saint of the Renaissance because he made possible—albeit indirectly—the democratization of knowledge and accessibility to the Bible that helped characterize 16th-century Europe.” In her discussion of the painting, Kuretsky will assess van Cleve’s painting as an object, both in its materiality and visual vocabulary.
Epstein plans to discuss the iconography of van Cleve’s work—that is, the symbolism and meaning of the objects surrounding Jerome. Many scholars have noted that paintings from this period often include a vast array of domestic, household items that also function as religious signifiers, or what art historian Erwin Panofsky has famously called “disguised symbolism.” By incorporating disguised symbolism into their work, Renaissance painters showed their viewers how they could lead their lives as good Christians in the day-to-day.
Patkus will consider the depiction of books in van Cleve’s work. The placement of books, the purpose of looking at books in a painting like this one, the presentation of books in relation to the composition as a whole; these are some of the core issues on Patkus’ mind and by extension, some of the issues that he will discuss. Like Lott, Patkus is also interested in the period during which Jerome was alive—specifically, the materials that were used to make books. Patkus will consider this in relation to the rise of the printing press that became so paramount during the Renaissance.
The four participating professors all agree that this event is a terrific chance to showcase Vassar’s unique interdisciplinary approach to learning through an exchange of knowledge: “I have no idea what I’ll learn, and that’s the wonderful part of it,” Kuretsky said.
- Kaleidoscope series gem of interdisciplinary analysis (Miscellany News)
… another one for the “If I ever win the lottery” list …