Art history students’ Eternal City impressions on display at Herring Hall

In mid-May, an experiential art history course took a group of 12 Rice students on a three-week exploration of Rome, the Italian capital whose history spans more than 2,500 years. The students’ experiences in images and words are now on display in “Rome 2016: A HART in the World Student Exhibition” in Herring Hall’s first-floor gallery walkway.

John Hopkins, right, assistant professor of art history and classical studies, speaks with students Marley Foster and Bryce Deskins at the Nov. 2 exhibit opening in Herring Hall. Photos by Jeff Fitlow; video by Brandon Martin

From right, John Hopkins, assistant professor of art history and classical studies, speaks with students Bryce Deskins and Marley Foster at the Nov. 2 exhibit opening in Herring Hall. Photos by Jeff Fitlow; video by Brandon Martin

“When I was in middle school, I made a bucket list, and on the bucket list was to go to Rome,” said Marley Foster, a Wiess College junior majoring in English and visual and dramatic arts, who curated the exhibit with her peers. “I got here (to Rice), and they had a class that was going to Rome. It is a place and a history and a mythology that I’ve always been interested in.”

Indeed, the very stones of some of the roads the students walked upon were laid under emperors who ruled millennia in the past, and they bore the footsteps of iconic figures such as Julius Caesar, Michelangelo and Pier Luigi Nervi.

The course was part of the HART in the World program, an art history initiative established by former department chair Linda Neagley, an associate professor of art history. The program covers airfare and lodging for students to travel to a different city each year with department faculty.

“The study of art history is as much the study of spatiality, architecture, the experience of architecture, paintings, sculpture, all of that … the whole manmade built world that surrounds you and understanding humanity through that work,” said John Hopkins, an assistant professor of art history and classical studies. Hopkins led the course with Natasha Mao, an art history doctoral student. “Rome is the test kitchen of that creation. It houses everything from ancient Rome: the Colosseum, the (Roman) Forum, the Pantheon, all of these great monuments and the sculptures that were in them, but also the politics that went behind creating that.”

Starting May 16, the students immersed themselves in the art, architecture, archaeology, museums and neighborhoods of Rome by tracing the city’s mythical beginnings to modern times, including Fascist redistricting and contemporary monuments. The class, called Rome: The Eternal City, packed local tours, readings, day trips and independent study into a three-week syllabus, all the while encouraging creative ways to capture the city’s sights, sounds and textures through text and images. In addition to the Roman Forum, St. Peter’s Basilica, medieval pilgrimage routes, the Borghese Gallery, the Jewish Museum and the National Museum of XXI Century Arts, to name a few, the itinerary included visits to temples and museums not normally open to tourists.

The exhibit will be on display through the spring semester.

The exhibit will be on display through the spring semester.

“When you study architecture, the most frustrating thing is not being able to actually go to the building itself,” said Mitch Mackowiak, a Lovett College senior majoring in architecture and art history. “One of the most interesting things I learned was getting this vocabulary of experiences and spaces that I can use in the future when I’m thinking about designing a space.”

Hopkins and Mao allowed time for students to roam and discover the city on their own and indulge in the famous culinary delights, from pizza to gelato and espresso. The course included day trips to Florence, the port of Ostia, Orvieto, and guest lectures by specialists.

The students’ experience was part of two opportunities the Department of Art History now offers Rice students every year to study and explore some of the world’s most impressive cities, museums and collections. Over spring break, the department takes majors on a free trip to New York City to experience its museums and collections. Each May, a faculty member and an advanced Ph.D. student team up to teach a summer course in one of the greatest centers for art in the world. For that course the department covers students’ airfare, lodging and site admissions. In 2017, the summer course will visit Rio de Janeiro. For more information, go to

To view a Rice News video about the exhibit, go to

About Jeff Falk

Jeff Falk is director of national media relations in Rice University's Office of Public Affairs.