Benton program approaches art topics in short sessions

 The short, 30-minute time frame is meant to be a short enough time that people can appreciate art without feeling it’s a huge time commitment or losing interest.(Natalija Marosz/The Daily Campus)

In the same amount of time it takes to walk from North Campus to South Campus and back, Benton Museum docent Judy McChesney taught a small group of students and community members the basics of Baroque and Neoclassical artwork on Wednesday afternoon. In a program called Art in Small Bites, the William Benton Museum of Art is giving short tours focused on specific topics on Wednesdays through April 11.

The short, 30-minute time frame is meant to be a short enough time that people can appreciate art without feeling it’s a huge time commitment or losing interest.

“Particularly we gear it around the lunch hour so students or staff or faculty members can spend part of their lunch hour with us,” McChesney said. “We’ll try and show you something new or illustrate something you didn’t know much about.”

In the spring, after the Art in Small Bites program ends, an outdoor art walk program will begin, and McChesney said it’s especially nice to take a short break for a walk around lunchtime.

“I enjoyed that amount of time,” second-semester mechanical engineering major Jack Baumgartel said after the talk on Wednesday. “I’d rather have a short amount of time and enjoy it more.”

Using a painting called “Saint Sebastian,” painted in the style of Guido Reni by an anonymous artist, McChesney pointed out characteristics of Baroque artwork, including the lighting, emotion, drapery and level of detail. Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio, another artist of the Baroque period particularly demonstrated the use of light and dark typical of the period, although his work was more rough around the edges, presenting less refined aspects of life, than that of Reni.

“I liked learning the motivations behind some of the paintings,” Baumgartel said. In particular, he mentioned the Baroque paintings commissioned by the Catholic church, to help explain biblical stories for largely illiterate followers.

Moving on to Benjamin West’s painting “Venus Comforting Europa,” McChesney explained Neoclassical artwork. For the most part, Neoclassical is used in an architectural context, but it also manifests in the more reserved emotions and less exuberant colors of paintings following the Baroque period.

Beyond describing the artistic styles, McChesney also told the stories behind the paintings. “Saint Sebastian” depicts the saint in his death throes after being shot by Roman soldiers for his Catholicism. Although Sebastian ended up surviving this encounter with the help of a fellow saint, it depicts his resignation to his fate. “Venus Comforting Europa” depicts Europa after being raped by Zeus, who disguised himself as a white bull to reach her. Venus and Cupid are delivering the news to Europa that Zeus wants to marry her.

Next Wednesday, Feb. 7, the topic will be Sculpture.


Alex Houdeshell is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at alexandra.houdeshell@uconn.edu.