March 31, 2015
By Madeline Ruoff '18

Law, Morales, Johnson
Maggie Law '15, Pablo Sebastián Morales '16 and Rachel Johnson '15

Three emerging art historians at Amherst College have been recognized for their research. Maggie Law '15, Pablo Sebastián Morales '16 and Rachel Johnson '15 gave presentations on 17th-century European art at "Baroque Brilliance," a series of two inaugural student symposia held at the Bruce Museum in Greenwich, Conn., and moderated by art history scholars from Manhattanville College and Columbia University. According to the museum's press release, Law, Morales and Johnson were three of only eight student speakers from prestigious art history programs selected to present. 

The three Amherst students began their research in Professor Nicola Courtright's Fall 2013 course "Baroque Art in Italy, France, Spain and the Spanish Netherlands," and tailored their final papers from that class to fit the symposia. They began by looking very closely at individual works from the Mead Art Museum's collection. Though they didn't chose Mead works for further research, Courtright says, "the Mead's presence and the faculty always teaching from the collection really encourages the practice of visual analysis that was the foundation of all of their papers and talks."

Law's presentation, "Martha and Mary Magdalene: A Closer Look at the Elder Sister in Caravaggio's Conversion Scene," focused on a lesser-known work by the famous Italian painter. "I knew there would be plenty to write about in a close analysis of [Caravaggio's] work," she says. Because it isn't well known hasn't been thoroughly studied, "that left more room for my own interpretation."

Morales wanted to introduce a new perspective into a common subject with his presentation "Artemesia Gentileschi’s Sleeping Venus." "I decided to take a fresh look at the subject of Venus within the context of Artemisia's likely sources of inspiration," Morales explains. "Representations of Venus are common; however, the curriculum tends to focus exclusively on those painted by male painters."

Johnson's presentation, "The Apollo and Daphne Tapestry," explored one of four tapestries in a series produced by Barberini tapestry manufactory, established in early-17th-century Rome by Cardinal Francesco Barberini. Her presentation focused "on how the representation of Apollo and Daphne in the tapestry was so different from other two-dimensional representations of the story that came before and why these differences were important.”

The students agree that presenting their research was ultimately a rewarding process. "Getting the opportunity to share work that you have been invested in is satisfying," says Morales. "In a larger sense, my studies … have shown me the importance of understanding material culture. [Art history] teaches its students to fill in the blanks, add color to a black-and-white understanding, and question where no questions have been asked before."

"I learned a great deal from my peers and the audience about the range and depth of art that was created during the Baroque period," says Law. "I think the greatest thing about art history is that it teaches you how to look at the visual world with a critical eye, but it also teaches you how to appreciate its beauty."