Saturday, 5 May 2012

Art in 16th-Century Venice: Context, Practices, Developments. (A conference in honour of Peter Humfrey, University of St Andrews) & TheEssence of Beauty: 500 Years of Italian Art (Glasgow).

Review written retrospectively.

For anyone who isn't a St Andrean Art Historian, allow me to let you in on a little secret. Professor Peter Humfrey is a pretty big deal. I have never taken any of his classes, partly due to other priorities, partly due to the fact that getting something wrong in his presence would have haunted me for the rest of my days. He is an icon of the Art History department, if not the entire university/art historical world. He is also incredibly lovely to talk to, even as a lowly-undergraduate, and he encouraged my friends & I to come to the conference that was being held in his honour. Yeah that's right.

In his honour.

Professor Humfrey was retiring, so this was like his going away gift from his faculty successor. I had never been to a proper academic conference before, and boy, it was overwhelming. The room was chock to the brim with academics from all over the world, some of the best universities in the universe, all wearing spectacular collections of tweed and generally appearing incredibly knowledgeable about absolutely anything you could think of.

Admittedly, I spent most of the actual lectures being slightly baffled by the fact that EVERYONE KNEW SO MUCH. But it was an incredibly fun environment to be in. There's something about being an art historian which makes you feel like you should know everything about Italian art, particularly Renaissance Italian art. It's the art that most people are familiar with in some respects, but it wasn't part of the path I chose for myself in my honours modules so I entirely missed out that point in history (except for some retrospective material in my Grand Tour module).

The following day, a sample delegate from the conference attendees were bussed over to Glasgow to see the exhibition.

The Essence of Beauty: 500 Years of Italian Art.


Exhibition party.

The biggest Rosa I've ever seen! The only other one I've seen in the flesh is at the Walker Gallery & it is nowhere near as big as this. There were two of them! I was overjoyed!

The Dying Gaul.

I absolutely adored the exhibition. It was beautifully curated in every respect and the breadth of work was amazing. The experience was definitely enhanced by having Professor Humfrey there. He was able to talk to us about individual artworks (as shown above), as well as talking about issues organising the exhibition itself. One of the reasons I enjoyed my university lectures so much was listening to people who felt all of this in their bones. Professor Humfrey certainly does, as did all of the academics that were there to see him off to retirement. What was the most beautiful, however, was watching how closely they all listened to him. To be an expert in a field and still be utterly captivated by someone who shares your interests, that's got to be an amazing and humbling feeling!

Last I heard, Professor Humfrey is easing into retirement & still doing the odd module at St Andrews. I am glad. He'll get to terrify some new students with his amazing wealth of knowledge.

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