Q&A: Scully talks Rudolph, art history

At the ceremony celebrating the renaming of Paul Rudolph Hall on Saturday, three University benefactors spoke about sitting in the classroom of Professor Vincent Scully ’40 GRD ’49, calling it a transformative moment in their lives. His teaching formed their interest in art and architecture, they said.

Decades later, in another Scully class — his Introduction to the History of Art — the Sterling Professor Emeritus referenced Ambrogio Lorenzetti’s work in the Palazzo Pubblico in Siena during his lecture on Monday about Italian art. Lorenzetti painted sprawling frescoes: one illustrating good government and one illustrating bad, Scully told a nearly full auditorium in the Yale University Art Gallery. In an interview later, he likened the themes in Lorenzetti’s work to the presidential election.

Scully, who has taught at Yale for more than 60 years, has witnessed the rise and fall of many buildings in the Elm City. He took some time after his class to talk with the News about the new arts complex and his own journey in the world of architecture scholarship.

QSaturday marked the rededication of one of Yale’s most praised and criticized buildings. What are your thoughts on the restoration?

AI think they did a very good job with restoring the Rudolph building. I think it was wonderful, pretty much the way Rudolph wanted it to look. It had been ruined, you know, over the years. No sooner had it gotten built then it became a symbol of everything people disliked about the style. Overwhelming design, too heroic in scale, too brutal with its concrete, all of those things. It was the climax of that movement in architecture and drew criticism. The chairman of the school after Rudolph hated the building, filled it with junk and let it go to pieces. Then there was a fire in it. Totally accidental. You will hear people say that it was set by students. Nothing of the sort, it was an accidental fire. The University wanted to tear it down. If it had been easier to take apart, because it is one great monolith of concrete, they might have, but I think it was really unfeasible. [School of Architecture Dean Robert A.M.] Stern ARC ’65, a pupil of Rudolph’s and a great admirer of him, insisted that they restore it. And they did. And it restored beautifully.

QHow do you feel about the new Jeffrey H. Loria Center?

AWell, that’s more problematical. It’s very difficult to add on to a building like Rudolph’s. I, and a lot of other people, would have done it very differently. But it’s easy to criticize, and it works very well inside. The art history department’s mad for it. They seem to like it a lot. On the outside, it’s hard to say. I think it’s a little too busy, a little too fragmented. I think it slightly deprecates the Rudolph building. The Rudolph building is such a mass: It needs something all glass. I have a nice office there. I shouldn’t complain. Frankly, the curious thing about human life is we get used to anything in time, and eventually we’ll probably get used to that. The architect [Charles Gwathmey ARC ’62] is such a nice fellow nobody wants to criticize him.

QHow did you first become interested in art and architecture?

AI was interested in it as a kid. I used to run my dog down a great street, which had a wonderful grass part in the middle, and it was a great cathedral of pines. I used to run my dog down there looking at each house and trying to figure out how the rooms were organized from the way I could see the outside. I majored in English at Yale, and my last year I had an art history course. I liked it a lot. Then I was in the service for five years, and when I came out I was going to go back to graduate school in English, but I decided I’d really rather do something else. So I changed to art history and I never looked back. It enabled me to do what I didn’t feel like I could do quite the same way in English. It enabled me to use words about forms. Words about something else.

Comments

  • Wonderful

    Thank you Esther Zuckerman or whoever at YDN thought to interview Scully on this. Every interview I've ever read with him has been rich with wisdom and evidence of Vincent Scully's continuing engagement with the architecture.