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  October 15, 2001

Art Professor Receives Twin Honors

Bette Talvacchia will write a book about a Renaissance artist and explore that era's religious art, thanks to two prestigious fellowships she received this year.

Talvacchia, a professor of art history, was awarded a Frese Senior Fellowship to conduct research at the Center for Advanced Study in the Visual Arts at the National Gallery in Washington, D.C., and an Andrew W. Mellon Fellowship at the Metropolitan Museum of Art to write a monograph on Raphael, the famous Renaissance painter.

She will spend the next six months at the National Gallery, and will be at the Metropolitan Museum in New York from March to August, 2002.

At the Center for Advanced Study, Talvacchia is examining the use of sexual imagery in religious paintings during the Renaissance (15th and 16th centuries). This research is an outgrowth of her 1999 book, Taking Positions: On the Erotic in Renaissance Culture, where she studied several series of prints that used graphic sexual depictions as their subject matter.

She now will examine how sexual motifs were employed not as the direct subject, but suggestively, symbolically, or metaphorically within the context of religious imagery.

While working on the book, Talvacchia says, "I came across bits of information and particular objects that indicated that this kind of imagery was used for religious works, and I found that fascinating. It makes you explore the ways in which cultures approach the use of the body as an image and what they think of as appropriate for works that deal with religious subjects. Our culture today, for example, is involved in an ongoing debate about the issue of censorship. In the 15th and 16th centuries, there was a similar debate."

In addition to studying works of art, Talvacchia will examine documents, such as letters written by members of the Papal Court. She'll spend considerable time reading them, "because there might be one little reference in the midst of a much longer letter that is important. Those are the things you have to be on the lookout for. They often give you insight into the way the people were thinking." She will also examine poems, particularly those that are satirical.

She says the research is "like playing detective. You have to look through everything you can. When you've been looking and looking and you finally come across a bit of information, the excitement is just terrific."

Talvacchia has also started research for her monograph on Raphael. The book will be part of a series called Art and Ideas, published by Phaidon in London. Talvacchia says the book is geared toward those "who enjoy going to museum exhibitions and reading about cultural matters."

She welcomed the opportunity to write the book because she loves Renaissance art and wanted more people to know about Raphael. Although most people have heard Raphael's name, "they really don't have a sense of what his accomplishments were, in comparison to his contemporary, Michelangelo," Talvacchia says.

"I want to present Raphael in his historical context and I think that will make his art much more interesting and exciting," she says. Raphael worked in the Papal Court, as did Michelangelo, but Raphael was very successful at being a courtier as well as an artist who produced work for it.

She will focus her time during the spring and summer on the Metropolitan's collection, particularly of drawings by Raphael and drawings and prints that his followers and assistants created.

Talvacchia has been at UConn since 1981. She received a Ph.D. in history of art from Stanford University.

Sherry Fisher