Professor Thomas DaCosta Kaufmann’s ART 209 “Between Renaissance and Revolution: Baroque Art in Europe” surveys changes in European art from the end of the Renaissance until the Age of Revolution c. 1800. A highlight of the course is visiting Princeton University Art Museum’s collection to examine works firsthand. “Certainly, my favorite part of this class is visiting the collection and seeing works in person,” said art & archaeology senior David Timm ’23. When the class recently visited the offsite classroom, they were prepared to view a group of paintings and prints Kaufmann had selected by artists he had discussed in class.
Kaufmann asked students to chose a work with which to become familiar and then to reevaluate their responses when they stood before it. Whereas students had gained knowledge of many facets of their selected works, they were seeing them up close for the first time. “Seeing them in person is so exciting, especially after learning about a few of the artists who are featured,” said molecular biology concentrator Zephanie Koh ’23.
The experience showed students that no amount of research can replace examining the actual object. As students presented their findings to the class, they commented that the work’s scale, details, or overall impact had come into much clearer view when they were standing before it.
“Size is one reason to show students the actual objects," Kaufmann explained. "Everything is the same size digitally unless you really play with a powerpoint, and then you can't necessarily see details. All the students remarked on their surprise at how big or small the objects were, and the relation of objects to other ones made (prints) after them or by the same artist was also noted." The condition of a work is also difficult to gauge in digital format, Kaufmann pointed out, as is the technique. "Paintings have facture, how they were made, and you can see impasto, or brushstrokes in the original,” said Kaufmann. Likewise, determining whether the support is canvas, panel, or another material can be difficult to decipher. Students also noted the difference in color between the original and digital or print reproductions.
Timm, who chose Cornelis van Haarlem's Courting Couple and Woman with a Songbook as his focus, commented that it was quite a bit larger than he had envisioned. He also valued seeing it hung beside another of the artist's works. “It was interesting to see the great contrasts between the Israelites [Cornelis van Haarlem's Israelites Crossing the Red Sea (1594)] and the Courting Couple, given that they were painted in the same year.”
Kaufmann praised Princeton's collection of "Dutch Mannerist" paintings as being the best in the U.S. "I have, because of my own interests and also responding to gaps in the collection, sought to help build up the drawings collection of the same group, and related works by contemporary artists active in Rudolf II's Prague," he said.
Throughout the semester, students will survey paintings, sculpture, prints, drawings, and architecture by such artists as Caravaggio, Rubens, Rembrandt, Vermeer, Velazquez, and Bernini. Discussions will explore the political, religious, social, and intellectual context of the works. Their term paper will involve doing research on a work of art they have seen.
Kaufmann has offered many of the students in his class tools to interpret art that they hadn't previously been exposed to. “Professor Kauffman has emphasized teaching us how to interpret," said Koh. "It’s been rewarding to grow more confident in my ability to see a work of art and get a good idea of what it means.”