Young Western intellectuals of the mid-1700s often traveled to major ancient Greek and Roman monuments in Italy in order to infuse the ideas of antiquity into their work — an intellectual coming-of-age known as the Grand Tour. This fall 12 Yale students will have the opportunity to recreate the popular journey as part of the new course, “Classicism and Modernity.”
The course, cross-listed between the Humanities, History of Art and Classics departments, examines classical works from an 18th-century perspective, the era of classical modernity. Taught by art history professors Timothy Barringer and Milette Gaifman, who also teaches in the Classics Department, the class will explore the links between two disparate eras of art history.
The course accompanies an upcoming exhibit at the Yale Center for British Art featuring artifacts from the Grand Tour and will culminate in a field trip to cities in Southern Italy that were stops on the path of the tour.
“We want students to become experts equally in the classical and [the 1750s],” Barringer said. “It’s a double expertise, and therefore double the excitement.”
Barringer said that part of the inspiration for the seminar came from an exhibit slated to open on Oct. 4 at the British Art Center, “The English Prize: The Capture of the ‘Westmorland,’ an Episode of the Grand Tour.”
The Westmorland, a British merchant ship, was carrying purchases made abroad by several British Grand Tourists when it was seized by the French navy and sold to Spain in 1779. The bulk of the ship’s cargo remained at the Real Academia de Bellas Artes de San Fernando in Madrid until this summer, when it made its way to England for an exhibition at Oxford.
In October, this “time-capsule” of 18th-century tastes in classical art will come to Yale, said Scott Wilcox, curator of “The English Prize.”
Consisting of roughly 140 objects ranging from paintings to rare books to prints and travel guides, the exhibit will be the first showing in America of the Westmorland artworks. Specific pieces include portraits by Pompeo Batoni, an artist who frequently painted portraits of Grand Tourists, as well personal belongings of Grand Tourists such as journals, sheet music and books, Wilcox said.
Art history major Thomas Burns ’13, who is enrolled in the course, said he is looking forward to working with the British Art Center’s collection.
“We get to go into the collection just like all other students, but our studies will directly pertain to the collection itself,” Burns said, adding that it was the course’s intersection of two different points in art history that drew him to apply for the class.
The collection will be a unique combination of high-quality 18th-century artwork and “tourist souvenirs,” said student Elena Light ’13.
“Classicism and Modernity” also includes two trips, the first to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and the second a four-day tour around Italy to Naples, Paestum, Pompeii and Heculaneum at the start of Thanksgiving break. Naples holds some of the world’s greatest collections of Greek and Roman sculptures, Barringer said, adding that the monuments, architecture and museums at Pompeii, Herculaneum and Paestum will allow students to recreate a portion of the Grand Tour, having spent the semester being trained to examine classical works with an 18th-century eye.
Students in the seminar were chosen by written application, with 12 students selected from around 40 applicants, Barringer said.
Both trips are funded through the Whitney Humanities Center and the Paul Mellon Center for British Art. “Classicism and Modernity” is offered as a Franke Seminar, a yearly course in the humanities.
The curriculum will be supplemented by two visiting speakers from the UK: Frank Salmon, a specialist in 18th-century architecture who will present a lecture on the influence of the classical world on British architecture, and Simon Goldhill, a classical scholar who will speak about the Victorians and the classical world.
“The English Prize” will open at the British Art Center on Oct. 4 and runs through Jan. 14.
Correction: Sept. 6
A previous version of this article stated incorrectly that the Franke Seminar is funded by the Franke Center. In fact, it is funded by the Whitney Humanities Center. The article also misstated the name of the curator of “The English Prize.”