Senior Art History Majors Study Original Works in Vienna

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  • The students rest on the stairs of the Belvedere Museum where Anne Gutierrez '14 presented on Gustav Klimt and Lauren Wilson '14 presented on Oskar Kokoschka.

  • The class spent one day at a renovated 18th century late baroque monastery in Melk called, "Das Stift Melk von der Donau aus gesehen."

  • The students ended their day at the Belvedere with a tram ride to the wine garden district where they tasted wine and ate dinner for a complete "Heurigen Experience."

  • After arriving in Vienna, the class spent their first day walking around to become acquainted with the city and fight off jet lag. Here we see Anne Gutierrez '14 (left), Prof. Larry Ligo (middle), and Jessica Gerard '14 (right).

  • To learn about Vienna's musical culture, the class watched a symphonic concert at the Musikverein, a famous Viennese concert hall, where they attended a performance by Deutsches Symphonie Orchester Berlin.

At the beginning of each spring semester senior art history majors find out the title of their capstone seminar-the title reveals not only what they'll be studying, but also where they'll be traveling. This spring, Professor of Art History Larry Ligo announced to the nine majors that the course would be "The Art and Architecture of Fin-de-Siècle Vienna."

"It's a significant period not only in terms of painters, but also sculptors and architects," said Ligo. Artists and architects, including Oskar Kokoschka, Adolf Loos, Joseph Maria Olbrich, Josef Hoffmann, Egon Schiele, Gustav Klimt and Otto Wagner, produced work during this 20-year period from 1890 to 1920. Two major driving forces were the 1897 Secession, during which artists hoped to transition from the traditional ornamental baroque style to a new visual language, and the Wiener Werkstätte, a production community of painters, architects and designers that evolved from the Secession.

Ligo added, "It wasn't solely a revolutionary time for the visual arts. Freud was developing his ideas in psychology, Wittgenstein in philosophy, and Arthur Schnitzler in theatre." To explore these subjects further, he invited three outside lecturers to lead class discussions: Professor of History Patricia Tilburg, Professor of Psychology Cole Barton and Professor of Theatre Caroline Weist.

However, the students delivered the majority of class lectures. Ligo said, "Although I designed the course, I wanted the students to take over." Students were randomly assigned an artist, architect or movement to study in depth throughout the semester and then teach to the class. "The topics are randomly assigned because the course is meant to be a time of discovery rather than learning more about something you already know."

The students' individual research culminated in final lectures presented on site in Vienna.

Marisa Martinson '14 said, "Throughout the semester our research felt more meaningful and we became more invested in it because we knew we would have the opportunity to study the works in person."

While the paintings and sculpture greatly affected the students, they said encountering the architecture in Vienna made the most significant difference.

Adrian Muoio '14 presented on architect Adolf Loos at the Loos House on Michaelerplatz. He explained, "Loos began thinking of space in terms of volume rather than mass. Walking through the house almost added a fourth dimension because we could actually see how the 3D spaces interlocked."

As the students walked the streets of Vienna, they said they felt overwhelmed by the baroque architecture and began to understand why artists wanted to create an alternative during the Secession.

Along with visiting sites and museums related to their lectures, the students experienced additional facets of Viennese culture. For instance, they spent an evening picnicking and tasting Vienna's famous white wine in Heurigen. Music is an integral part of Viennese life, so the group attended an evening performance of the Mozart Requiem at the baroque church Karlskirche on Easter Sunday and a symphonic concert in the famous concert hall Musikverein.

To peel back more layers of the area's history, they traveled to Melk where they spent the day at a reconstructed monastery built in 1000 C.E. They ended their visit with a boat ride down the Danube River back to Vienna. The final evening of their trip, the class shared a traditional Viennese meal.

"The capstone is a wonderful way to sum up what the students have been studying for the past four years," said Ligo. "I'm a strong believer that you can only study works of art from the original."

Ligo began the capstone course in 1993 with the idea that majors could focus on a particular topic that reflects an important aspect of art history and then study it in person.

"I wanted them to realize how good they were and graduate feeling emboldened and proud of their work, which is why I focused on their research and their presentations," he said.

The spring capstone seminar alternates between Ligo and Professor of Art History C. Shaw Smith; Professor of Art History Nina Serebrennikov teaches the fall senior seminar. The college originally provided funding for travel, but that changed in 2003 when a parent, impressed by her student's experience in an art history semester abroad program, decided to anonymously fund the abroad component of the capstone.


  • May 14, 2014