By Kaitlin Worden ’16
December 1st, 2014, 4:31 pm. This moment is seared in my brain as the moment that I opened my email to find out that I was on the adventure of a lifetime. I also remember it as the one time I shouted in a library, and immediately ran out to call everyone I knew to tell them that little old Kaitlin was a Rothkopf Scholar going to Vienna in the summer.
For those who aren’t familiar, the Rothkopf Scholars program sends 4 junior art majors on a summer trip for the sole purpose of studying art, funded by an endowment that was started by former Lafayette President Arthur Rothkopf and his wife, Barbara Rothkopf.
Being chosen as a Rothkopf Scholar meant that we got to spend roughly 10 days with Professor Mattison immersed in Viennese art and culture. Over the next 177 days, I could hardly contain my growing excitement until we finally boarded the plane and my good fortune became real. I couldn’t believe I was about to get up close and personal with art that I had only read about and seen on computer screens. What made it even better was that I would be seeing all this with people who shared my passion for art, and hearing new perspectives from people with different backgrounds.
Based on what I had heard from past trips and the itinerary we were given, I thought I was prepared for what I would see and do. I was wrong. All expectations I had were exceeded in every way possible. Not only is Professor Mattison a wealth of knowledge, he is also incredibly connected, and gave us special opportunities that we could never have done on our own.
For example, we were invited to go to a party held by Sven Boltenstern, who is a renowned Austrian Jeweler. I was stunned to find myself in the company of people like the museum director of Vienna and even descendants of the Emperor Franz Josef I. While we were there, we got to listen to the famous Viennese pianist Marialena Fernandes perform “The List” for the first time ever.
Many of these opportunities were obviously art oriented as well. One moment I will always treasure was when we got to enter the special collections of the Albertina art museum. The curator pulled out some truly breathtaking original prints by Albrecht Durer and Rembrandt, as well as drawings by Gustav Klimt and Egon Schiele. The prints were so detailed that you needed magnifying glasses to see everything. It is a very rare occasion that these pieces are even seen, and being only inches away from the work of such brilliant artists was an enormous privilege.
Prof. Mattison also arranged a private tour of the artist Ernst Fuch’s villa, originally built for the famous architect Otto Wagner, whom we had also studied. Entering that house was like stepping into a new fantasy world of bright colors and bizarre creatures. Fuchs was actually there, and Tati (his biggest fan) got his signature!
Each of us was responsible for preparing presentations on parts of the trip that we found interesting. My presentation was about an exhibit on Viennese Actionism of the 1960s, as well as other performance art at the modern art museum, the Momok. It was an intense experience to come into contact with the artwork I had been researching for my presentation. It also had a pop art exhibition featuring Andy Warhol – I left that museum absolutely mind blown and inspired.
The inspiration continued over the entire trip, where we went to countless art museums from all different styles and time periods. We focused a lot of attention on the Viennese Secession artists, especially Gustav Klimt and Egon Schiele.
The Secession movement took place in Vienna from the late 1890s to the early 1900s. It was essentially a break away from the traditional art that was popular at the time. The Leopold museum had a spectacular exhibition on these two artists and how their art techniques evolved. Unfortunately there were no cameras allowed in most of the museums we entered, but I encourage you to look up the revolutionary artists that I have mentioned.
The palaces that we went to also housed a lot of art, but they were masterpieces in their own regard. In the Hofburg Palace we strolled through a maze of rooms holding just the silverware! Once we got to the actual palace we were dazzled by the glamour of Vienna’s favorite woman, Empress Sisi.
We learned of the drama of her life and death, and gasped at the grandeur of not just her dresses, but her jewelry collection, like the 27 diamond stars she wore in her hair daily. We roamed the imperial apartments of the Schonbrunn Palace to compare the lifestyle of different rulers, and then strolled through the exquisite Baroque gardens. Every time you turned a corner, you would stumble across something different, like an obelisk or fake Roman ruins.
Some of the churches that we went to were just as grand as the palaces. The monastery that we went to in Melk had the most ornately decorated baroque church that I have ever seen, and I’ve been to Rome. What wasn’t covered in gold was covered in beautiful murals, and I strained my neck trying to absorb it all. We did not have to do that in the Karlskirche, because they has an elevator that you could take straight to the dome to see the Biblical frescoes from only a few feet away. It was a rare experience to be able to see how artists have to alter the proportions of the paintings so that they appear normally when churchgoers look up from ground level.
We attended many musical performances, sometimes in the historical places we were studying. For example, we heard Mozart’s Requiem in the Karlskirche, and even talked to the conductor afterwards! We also saw the opera La Triviata, where the soprano hit some notes that I did not think were humanly possible. I loved their minimalist approach to the set, using only a white rotating stage and a gauzy curtain.
However, I think one of my favorite moments was when we got to hear the angelic voices of the world famous Vienna Boy’s Choir perform at Sunday mass in the Hofburg Chapel. Since we couldn’t see them in our pews, it was incredibly hard to believe that it was really just a small group of boys.
Wow, this doesn’t even cover half of the 46 events that Professor Mattison organized for us! When we weren’t listening to lectures from him, taking tours, or hearing presentations from our peers, we spent our time discussing what we were learning and compared it to our studies of art at home. Even the casual conversations that we had (over cake and the world’s best coffee) about everything we had seen gave me even more to think about. I came home more inspired than ever before to make art, and ready to start my thesis!
The way I think about art and the world around me has been changed because of this trip and the people on it. Going to Vienna as a Rothkopf Scholar was a dream come true, and is surely the catalyst for many more adventures to come.