Extreme Field Trip: To Birmingham and Back in a Day
Whirlwind Excursion Gives Aesthetics Class a Rare Look at Da Vinci Drawings
Nov. 19, 2008
It’s rare that a graduate class takes a 1,282-mile trip to see an exhibit, then flies back home in the same day. But it’s not often that original drawings by Leonardo da Vinci are part of the itinerary.
Dr. Mark Rosen, assistant professor of aesthetic studies in the School of Arts & Humanities, took his graduate seminar to Birmingham, Ala., to see the drawings, which had made a trans-Atlantic journey to spend some time in America.
The class spent the day at “Leonardo da Vinci: Drawings from the Biblioteca Reale in Turin,” hosted by the Birmingham Museum of Art.
The exhibition ran at the Museum from Sept. 28 through Nov. 9. Featured were some of Leonardo da Vinci’s most renowned works, such as the Codex on the Flight of Birds and the preparatory sketch of the painting Madonna of the Rocks. The exhibition moved on to the West Coast, where it remains on display through Jan. 4, 2009, at the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco.
The idea for the trip came to Rosen as he read the fall arts preview in the The New York Times, where he saw the Leonardo exhibition would appear at the Birmingham Museum of Art. Dr. Richard Brettell provided the financial support for the trip through his chaired University funds.
“It is a rare and wonderful thing to have the opportunity to do this. I was stunned that the show would come to the South, much less while I am teaching a course on the subject,” said Rosen.
The curator of the show and author of the exhibition’s catalogue, Jeannine O’Grody, met with the group upon arrival to discuss the challenge of organizing an event of this caliber, shipping da Vinci’s drawings to Birmingham and staging the show in the museum.
Each student presented a drawing on display, taking about five minutes to explain to the group the context of its making, the subjects it illustrates and the place it holds in Leonardo’s art and thought.
“It was a rare opportunity to see such drawings up close and provided a great bonding experience for the seminar,” said Rosen.
Rosen’s students agree.
“After meeting with the exhibit’s curator, who provided fascinating insight into the organization of such a project, we had the chance to closely examine and discuss Leonardo’s important works,” said Mary Young, a Ph.D. student in Humanities - History of Ideas. “By directly viewing these drawings, I acquired a much better appreciation for the subtleties of his extraordinary draftsmanship.”
“Seeing the Leonardo da Vinci drawings up-close and in person was much more rewarding than I expected; and of course there is the awe factor of actually being in the presence of ‘historically sacred’ artwork from the notebooks of Leonardo himself,” said Heidi Ratzlaff Xiong, a Masters student in Humanities.
Rosen’s class trips may not end with the outing to Birmingham. His spring 2009 course, AHST 4342 - Love and Marriage in the Renaissance, coincides with the Kimbell Art Museum’s show “Art and Love in Renaissance Italy,” which explores roles of gender in society. Part of the course will involve a visit to the exhibition as well as a chance to meet some of the show’s curators.