Sometimes there’s no substitute for seeing the object you are studying first hand.Rebecca Teague before Michelangelo's David in the Academia in Florence, May 2018, Study Abroad (detail). Photo courtesy R. Teague.

For more than three semesters, from a graduate seminar in medieval cathedrals, to intensive thesis research, art history graduate student Rebecca Teague has focused on the sculpture programs of three 12th-century cathedrals in three small towns in northern Italy. She is now writing her master’s thesis on the cathedral facades designed by the sculptor Niccolò in Verona, Piacenza and Ferrara.

Teague’s research focuses on what may have shaped the iconography of the programs, especially local influences. “My thesis looks at some of the large-scale political issues going on at the time of the cathedral was built, filtered through a local lens,” she said. “Why, for example, was a less common historical figure or saint chosen over one more commonly used? You have to delve into what the local people valued, what the local culture was like at the time. So, not only do sources for some of this imagery come from farther afield, such as the Lateran in Rome, but there are similar examples of the imagery at sites nearby.”

Then, during a study-abroad trip with the Department of Art and Art History last May, Teague got to see the cathedrals in context. She was able to visit Rome, Florence and Venice with the student group and served as a teaching assistant to Dr. Tanja Jones, who is also her thesis advisor. After the main part of the trip was over, Teague and Dr. Jones made a side trip to Verona, to view first hand the cathedral doorways at Verona, and nearby Piacenza and Ferrara.

View of Piacenza Cathedral facade (and the pharmacia in front). The work in the south portal (at the right, here) is attributed to Niccolò around 1122. Study Abroad, May 2018. Photo by Rebecca Teague. View of Verona Cathedral facade. The entire facade is attributed to Niccolò and his workshop, around 1149. Study Abroad, May 2018, photo by Rebecca Teague.

Teague made her home base in Verona for four days. Each day she would work on one of the cathedral sculpture programs. She traveled to each town to experience the space, take photos and make notes about details that particularly struck her as she viewed the work up close. To get to Ferrara, for example, she traveled by train, which took a little over an hour. Once there, she explained, “I would spend the rest of the morning taking photos of the cathedral all the way around.” After lunch, she returned to the cathedral square to take more photographs. “I would look at the interior and take photos of the architectural plans that nearly every church displays in the crypt. I would also often take a walk in the area surrounding the church and make notes about nearby buildings. Then I would check to see if the same buildings were around during the time period that the cathedral was being built.”

Getting to see the buildings and their sculptures up close, and to explore the town around the cathedrals, some of which existed in the 12th century, helped her understand their reality. She said, “I devoted all my time to the actual experience of the space,” and saved researching sources for when she was back in the US. This fall, with her thesis almost completed, Teague hadn’t forgotten about the real-life experience of her research subjects. She still sounded in awe of the scale of the architecture she was able to see: “I got a sense of how weathered they are, how large they are, their sense of power.”

 Titian's Assumption of the Virgin in Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari still in situ. The day we visited the church was the 500th anniversary of the installation of the painting! Venice, Study Abroad, 2018. Photo courtesy Rebecca Teague. View of St. Mark's Cathedral and the Campanile in the evening sunset. Study Abroad, 2018. Photo courtesy Rebecca Teague.

Rebecca Teague received the BA in psychology at Auburn University at Montgomery before being accepted in the MA program in art history at The University of Alabama, where she was awarded a teaching assistantship for three years. In 2017, she was awarded a mid-year Academic Merit Scholarship from the Joseph and Carolyn Bolt Endowed Support Fund in Art History. At the 22nd Annual Graduate Student Symposium in Art History, she won second place for the Harrison Award for Excellence in Research – Graduate Paper Presentation for her paper, “Nanni di Banco’s St Luke as a Statement Against Albizzi Control.” After defending her thesis, “Carving Politics: Niccolò’s Façades at Piacenza, Ferrara, and Verona Cathedrals,” Teague hopes to graduate in December and take some time off before she continues her studies in Romanesque art in a doctoral program.

View of the Logia dei Lanzi with Benvenuto Cellini's "Perseus with the Head of Medusa" in Florence from the Palazzo Pubblico. Study Abroad, 2018. Photo courtesy of Rebecca Teague. Our group leaving the Colosseum and the Arch of Constantine in Rome. Pictured, from left to right: Anna Pitts, Catie Stone, Jordan Hadley, and Tanja Jones. Photo by Rebecca Teague, Study Abroad, May 2018. Lacöon and his Sons, Vatican Museums, Rome, photo by Rebecca Teague.

For information about UA Art and Art History’s programs, go to: https://art.ua.edu/academics/
For information about our trip to Spain in 2019, go to: https://art.ua.edu/study-abroad/