Rachel writes: Unassuming object meets irresistible force

I learned some interesting things at the talk given by Professors Ivan Gaskell and Robert Scanlan at the Sackler Museum last week.

One small oil sketch by Rubens, in a gilt baroque frame (still on view at the Sackler), is but the tip of a conceptual iceberg. Gaskell & Scanlan told about the monumental triumphal entry of Cardinal-Infante Ferdinand into Antwerp in 1635, the planning of which the painting is a lonely relic. The event involved the construction of huge temporary arches and other structures; the painting sketched the proposed scene. Professor Scanlan told us how painting anticipated many aspects of theater, that Rubens the painter was a sort of theater director and lighting manager, within his canvases. The various sections of the picture plane, Professor Scanlan felt, were analogous to areas of a theatrical stage. . .that’s a connection I hadn’t made before, but I think it’s one that bears contemplation. This notion I will want to expand upon, as I am an art history/visual arts concentrator.

Professor Gaskell talked about beginning a research project by “starting with a single object,” a single artifact–such as the small Rubens sketch. . . which investigation reveals, of course,  to have been a planning aid in the development of a huge but ephemeral political event, which was rather like theater in that all of the sets and props were destroyed after the performance/event. One seemingly unassuming object can lead you down a very interesting investigative and interdisciplinary path. I plan on trying that approach myself.

Two more weeks left in the current semester; it was great at this point, when things can get a bit stressful, to take the time to hear and see these two lively originals for a much-needed dose of insight and inspiration!


  1. Tina
    Posted May 12, 2010 at 2:17 am | Permalink

    Dear Rachel, could you please tell me, which subjects did you take for your Master in Visual ARts and how many online courses can you take to complete it? How difficult are those courses? How long you need to study to finish every course? When is the final exam? Does Summer counts as 1 semester or you need to stay exactly 9 months ( all Academic year) for this Master? Where did you stay all that time? Could you please answer me, or write me to – kristina25@net.hr
    I need help because I am also interesting in this programme, but for now it seems very complicated. I hope you will write me? Thanks. Kristina

    • Rachel Y., ALM candidate/visual arts
      Posted May 18, 2010 at 12:05 am | Permalink

      Hello, Kristina. Thank you for writing.
      First, I still have 4 more courses to take (and a thesis to write!) to fulfill the requirements for the ALM degree. So far, I have not taken any online courses, but I may do that in the fall.
      I find that the courses are not “difficult” but that they do require a lot of time and energy spent reading, researching , and writing. Most graduate-level courses require essays rather than exams. Typically, there may be 2 or 3 papers required for a single course; some shorter and one longer one (“long” could be from 10 to 25 pages, depending on the course and the instructor). Final exams (usually for undergraduates) and final papers are usually due on the last day of the course, at the end of the semester.
      Since I am not in a hurry to finish my degree, I have been taking only one course per semester; but I may try for two in the fall this year. I know some people who take more courses in a semester; they want to finish the degree sooner for whatever reason. But since I work full time, I need to pace myself. And I live in the Boston area, so I commute to Harvard from home on the subway or bus.
      I know it sounds complicated, but it’s actually quite straightforward! You can go to the Extension School Web site and click on the appropriate link (eg, “Request Information”) and get more details, if you like. Or you can email more questions to the email address shown there. Best of luck!

  2. Posted May 27, 2010 at 1:18 pm | Permalink

    The technique you described here is quite useful. I’m currently using a similar approach in forming my thesis question.

    Hope your semester turned out well!

    • Rachel Y., ALM candidate/visual arts
      Posted May 29, 2010 at 4:04 pm | Permalink

      I’m curious now about your thesis question. What is your field of concentration?

      This semester was good. I find that as I become accustomed to writing papers and the general academic routine, I have some hope that maybe I can manage more than one course per semester (still have 4 to go–then the thesis!).

      When I began it had been a very long time since the last paper was written, and I needed a semester off after that initial experience!

      Hope you have a great summer.

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