Professor Thomas DaCosta Kaufmann led a trip to Central Europe over spring break with seven A&A graduate students for a week of learning, camaraderie, and indelible experiences. The group visited Czechia and Austria.
Kaufmann’s aim was “to enable students to experience architecture and sculpture and urban sites directly, not to mention paintings in collections, churches, and palaces.” According to the students who participated, he more than delivered!
“We arrived on Saturday, March 10th to cold, snowy Prague, but that did not stop us from beating our jet lag by walking around in the historic Malá Strana neighborhood,” said second-year A&A graduate student Sofia Hernandez. “What followed was a week of great art, architecture, and company in Prague, Brno, and Vienna. I enjoyed the varied cadence of one day being in museums and collections, the next being in remote Czechia in a monastery that is closed to the public.”
"Our experiences were as varied as they were exhilarating." – A&A Graduate Student Sharifa Lookman
Kaufmann’s carefully designed itinerary exposed students to a variety of works. “Many of the places we visited are not represented or represented poorly in U.S. collections, especially for the period (c. 1450-1800) on which we concentrated.” From each of the major cities they visited, Kaufmann had arranged to venture further. “We took an excursion from Prague to Kladruby, Plzeň, Plasy, Kralovice, and Marianský Tyniec; from Brno to a castle in Bučovice, a castle garden at Slavkov, and the churches, palace with collections, grotto, frescoes, and town center of Kroměříž; and on the way to Vienna from Brno we stopped at Rajhrad’s monastery church and library as well as Mikulov’s frescoes.”
Third-year graduate student John White, whom the COVID pandemic had prevented from visiting the region previously, described the value of finally seeing objects in person. “Having taken Professor Kaufmann’s seminar on Prague in my first semester, via Zoom, I was particularly grateful for the opportunity to study such rich material on-site in community with colleagues and friends, some of whom were in that seminar with me two years ago and some of whom were not. Some of the students had been to Prague previously, with Professor Kaufmann or independently, and some, like me, had never been. The chance to discuss art and architecture in-depth and in person with scholars who have all different relationships to the material was invaluable in shaping both my individual thinking and our early modern family.”
The importance of community and the exchange of ideas resonated with all participants. “Not only did we have the opportunity to explore collections and sites with local experts in the field, but we also spent so much time closely studying and discussing works of art together,” said third-year A&A graduate student Sharifa Lookman. Hernandez agreed, “For me, one of the most valuable parts of the trip was getting to know the more senior early modern graduate students who no longer live in Princeton. Our early modern graduate cohort is a geographically diverse group of students (both in subject specialty and physical location!), so it was a privilege to spend the week together.”
"The chance to discuss art and architecture in-depth and in person with scholars who have all different relationships to the material was invaluable in shaping both my individual thinking and our early modern family.” —A&A Graduate Student John White
Students marveled at a broad spectrum of material with some unexpected access. “Our experiences were as varied as they were exhilarating,” said Lookman. At the Bishop’s Palace in Kroměříž, the galleries were closed to the public for renovations, but the group was granted special access. "The paintings were covered with plastic," said White, "and lifting the plastic to view them together added an extra element of drama.” Hernandez recounts “Removing the protective plastic to see Titian’s Flaying of Marsyas was a highlight.”
But the near-legendary experience happened on the way to Vienna from Brno when Kaufmann brought the group to Mikulov. “There were many highlights,” said Kaufmann, “but being on the scaffolding with the restorer at Mikulov was for many the highest light. We were able to see the Maulbertsch fresco from inches away, and this was extremely revealing, indicating hitherto unknown aspects of the artist's technique that the conservator pointed out to us.”
“There were many highlights, but being on the scaffolding with the restorer at Mikulov was for many the highest light." —Professor Thomas DaCosta Kaufmann
The group came away enriched by their memorable shared experience and fueled by, as Lookman put it, “the return to the kinds of objects and experiences that drew us to the field in the first place.”