Art history professor elaborates on opulent European churches

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By Christina Deal

Contributing Writer

 

 

Phi Beta Kappa and the Provost’s office hosted distinguished guest lecturer Dr. Caroline Bruzelius, the Anne M. Cogan Professor of Art, Art History, and Visual Studies at Duke University, this past Thursday and Friday. Bruzelius’ talk, “Building on the Inquisition: How Poor Friars Paid for Expensive Churches in the Middle Ages,” gave insight into the important history of the medieval churches that many University of Dallas students have come to love during their Rome semester.

Art and Architecture professor Laura Bruck saw the visit as a great opportunity for UD students to experience a different approach to art history.

“I think that a lot of UD art students take the intro to Art and Architecture I and II, they see the big overview, and this was a chance to really kind of delve in more deeply to a specific topic,” Bruck said.

The lecture on Thursday night mainly focused on how religious orders such as the Franciscans and Dominicans were able to finance building churches during medieval times despite their strict vows of poverty. Bruzelius gave examples such as Santa Croce in Florence and Santa Chiara in Naples as churches that were built up over time as the result of donations from private donors with whom the friars usually had a personal relationship.

“I think this is very much my approach, I am very much a person who focuses in on specifics of architecture and construction and that was so of the point of departure seeing that these buildings are built not all at once, but in very slow periods of intense construction,” Bruzelius said. “I’m just trying to figure that out moving from what I could measure and see to the broader historical question of why.”

“I thought it was also interesting how she touched on the way that money plays such an important role,” Bruck said. “It’s not just spiritual, but there’s kind of the economics that come into play. I think it’s fascinating, and I think placing objects and buildings in their context is a really important way to look at structures.”

Bruzelius also discussed the Cistercian influence on the mendicant friar architecture. This point interested many of the audience members, especially the local Cistercian monks in attendance. Father Joseph Van House, O.Cist. reflected upon Bruzelius’ mention of the Cistercian influence in medieval Europe.

“When they have the four-walled system with the courtyard in the middle, that’s a very Cistercian style thing,” Fr. Van House said. “You see that all over Europe with the Franciscans and Dominicans, so it was just the experience of them becoming a monastic institution in the middle of the city. The Cistercian tradition of architecture is very much focused on simplicity and so what was going on in the cities, all these relationships of trying to be accessible to people and to be appealing to people.”

The lecture truly inspired many UD students to further understand complex historical questions.

“The talk as a whole was wonderful,” sophomore art history major Montserrat Palacios said. “[Bruzelius] is very knowledgeable about a lot of things, very passionate about teaching. She inspired me to continue my education in art history, not to just simply finish after graduating.”

“I’ve had a wonderful time,” Bruzelius said of her visit to UD. “I’m so impressed by the students, and the core curriculum, and the campus which I find really quite lovely and very coherent with the intellectual concept of the school that everything fits together really nicely.”

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