Late into the evening of Friday, Oct. 3, unlike most Fridays nights, the Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center was still brightly lit—while the rest of campus descended into night’s usual darkness—with the cheerful yet unusual sound of an accordion vaguely leaking out from the Sculpture Garden. This was an event organized by the Student Committee of the Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center to celebrate the current exhibition at the Loeb: Augsburg After Dark.
From 6 p.m. to 10 p.m., students came to the artistic hub of the campus to enjoy a German-themed evening that featured music, art works, merriment and “biergarten,” or beer garden, treats.
Augsburg After Dark was part of a series of artistic, musical, cultural and academic events in conjunction with “Imperial Augsburg: Renaissance Prints and Drawings, 1475-1540,” the first U.S. exhibition that explores the artistic output of the city of Augsburg, Germany during the High Renaissance. Organized by the National Gallery of Art in Washington, “Imperial Augsburg” focuses on prints, drawings and illustrated books. It also includes medals and one etched set of armor. Of the almost 100 works presented, most are from the National Gallery’s own collection, with additional loans from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; the Library of Congress, Washington; and private collectors Andrea Woodner and Andrew Robison.
Augsburg and its impressive Renaissance heritage have been distant and unfamiliar to the public imagination, as well as to the academia of art history. As Elizabeth Nogrady, the coordinator of Academic Programs at the Art Department as well as an expert on the Renaissance pointed out that Albrecht Durer of Nuremberg was such a famous figure playing a major role in German Renaissance that he and Nuremburg obscured the artistic output of Augsburg to some extent. However, scholars argue that Augsburg was as just vital to the flowering of the Renaissance in Germany.
Patricia Phagan, the Philip and Lynn Straus Curator of Prints and Drawings at the Loeb, explained, “The city’s artists created really astonishing works for the Habsburg imperial court, and for the city’s thriving market. Augsburg artists liked to experiment and they were open to new ideas.”
Fortunately, however, with the rich and varied works of art from equally rich and varied collections, this exhibition provides the general public, as well as art historians, with an opportunity to appreciate, learn about, and reflect upon the artistic achievement and the historical context of the region.
Many people worked together to bring the exhibition to Vassar, including Phagan, Susan Kuretsky, Professor in the Art History Department; Gregory Jecmen, Associate Curator of old master prints and drawings at the National Gallery of Art, Washington; and Freyda Spira, Assistant Curator of drawings and prints at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.
“This is the only venue for the show in the Northeast, and the stunning visual quality and intellectual heft of these works are a big attraction for students, faculty and all of our visitors. The show has been in the planning for Vassar for several years, and we are so pleased to have it here after all of this time.” said Phagan.
Although the subject of the show may sound far away from our own life and experiences, its organizers believe that these works are in fact relatable and relevant to everyone because they provide a window into the everyday life of the Renaissance.
“Patti (Patricia Phagan) broke the show up into everyday morality, vices and virtues, etc. When I was working with family groups, I broke it into three concepts: having fun in the Renaissance, being famous in the Renaissance, and telling tales in the Renaissance…The art can be a little hard, but our job is to help to open people’s eyes to something at first glance might seem less vibrant than they’re used to.” said Margaret Vetare, Coordinator of Public Education and Information at the Loeb.
According to Vetare, the show’s opening was quite well received. People mostly expressed amazement at and interest in the intricacies of the works as well as the city’s innovation in color-printmaking explored by one of the four galleries of the show. Moreover, both visitors in the area and Vassar students have benefited from the educational aspect of the exhibition.
A class of A.P. European History, local high school painting and drawing classes, and home schoolers have come to use the works on show to supplement their studies. Vassar students also find the show helpful to their academics.
“I’m in printmaking and I thought it would be interesting to look at these prints,” said Emma Gregoline ’15.
Despite the accolades the show received, there were still people who expressed a lack of interest in the show’s content. That being said, they attributed their visit to the Art Center’s strong reputation and their past experiences with other exhibitions and showcases. One local resident, visiting the exhibit, said, “This show isn’t my favorite, but I come here maybe twice a month since there are usually interesting happenings here.”
In the same spirit to explore the story of German Renaissance, a complementary exhibition in addition to the exhibition, is presented by the Vassar College Libraries, focusing on the most heavily illustrated book of the 15th century, “The Nuremberg Chronicle.” The exhibition, “Never Before Has Your Like Been Printed: The Nuremberg Chronicle of 1493,” showcases printed leaves and editions of this landmark book, and marks the 500th anniversary of the death of the author, the German humanist Hartmann Schedel.