Copies, Casts, and Pedagogy: The Early Teaching of Art and Art History at Vassar College
When: September 13 - October 22, 2006
About the show
In the nineteenth century, painted copies and plaster casts of major works of Western art were used to convey art historical knowledge and appreciation to those who could not travel abroad to see the works firsthand. Therefore, before the availability of inexpensive photographic reproductions, there was a great market for these copies at art schools, colleges, and universities in the United States and abroad. In 1862, a vital year in the founding of Vassar College, Matthew Vassar sent his President, Milo Jewett, to Europe to investigate various institutions of higher learning as models for his new college. During Jewett's stay in Rome, he hired Emma C. Church, an American painter resident there, to execute copies of famous Old Master paintings by Dolci, Guercino, and Raphael. Then, in 1866, the College began to purchase plaster casts of Ancient and Renaissance sculpture; at its peak the collection numbered close to two hundred casts.� However, with changing instructional techniques and the growth of modernism, copies and casts fell out of favor.� In the early twentieth century, Vassar's copies were relegated to storage and most of the casts were dispersed and destroyed.
This exhibition, curated by associate professor of art Jacqueline Marie Musacchio, with assistance from the Ford and Lehman Foundations, includes a selection of objects that shed light on the history of Vassar's art department and its place in this tradition of copies and casts. It includes two of Emma Church's paintings for Vassar, together with another Church painting from a private collection; these are accompanied by several of the surviving casts, photographs, and other documentation to illustrate the ways in which Vassar women were educated in the arts from the founding of the College through the early twentieth century. This exhibition and its related symposium on 22 September are sponsored by the Robert Lehman Foundation and the Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center.