The Princeton University Art Museum will present “Princeton and the Gothic Revival: 1870–1930” from February 25 through June 24, 2012.
The exhibition of 40 works explores America’s changing attitudes toward the art and architecture of the Middle Ages around the turn of the 20th century. Organized by Johanna G. Seasonwein, the Museum’s Andrew W. Mellon Curatorial Fellow for Academic Programs, “Princeton and the Gothic Revival” investigates the adoption of the Gothic Revival as a style appropriate for American universities, as seen through the lens of Princeton University’s campus and collections.
“Princeton and the Gothic Revival” covers the years between the dedication of the first High Victorian Gothic building on the Princeton campus, Chancellor Green Library, and the completion of the extraordinary University Chapel. The exhibition draws from the Art Museum’s collections and resources of Princeton’s Firestone Library and University Archives, along with those of the Metropolitan Museum of Art and other institutions, to highlight Princeton University’s role as a major patron of Gothic Revival art and architecture and the role of this style — of England’s “ancient universities” — in shaping the identity of modern-day Princeton.
“Princeton’s campus and collections provide a unique opportunity to explore the transformation of the Gothic Revival into a symbol of the American academy. Princeton moved forward into the 20th century by essentially looking back at the architectural style of Oxford and Cambridge,” said Ms. Seasonwein, a historian of the art of the Middle Ages. “Ultimately, “Princeton and the Gothic Revival” examines how the language of medieval forms was used to articulate a new model of American higher education, both in campus design and in the classroom.”
“Princeton and the Gothic Revival: 1870–1930” is organized into four sections. The first, the Gothic Revival prior to 1870, introduces the Gothic Revival movement in America and its English roots. Wealthy Americans visiting medieval sites or modern “Gothick” estates such as Fonthill Abbey often were inspired to design their own Gothic Revival homes that were a mix of the authentic and the fantastic. This section features a design for a stained-glass window for Fonthill Abbey by painter Benjamin West and a design for the first American Gothic Revival estate by noted architect Alexander Jackson Davis (on loan from the Metropolitan Museum of Art).
The Gothic Revival in the Gilded Age presents the first High Victorian Gothic buildings constructed on the Princeton campus with a mix of medieval and other styles that reflected the donors’ interest in the Aesthetic movement, and its eclectic approach to design. This section highlights the former Marquand Chapel, designed by renowned architect Richard Morris Hunt. The chapel was later lost to fire. Featured works include Hunt’s original architectural plans and artist Francis Lathrop’s models for one of the stained-glass windows.
The Middle Ages and the Modern University investigates the connection between architectural style and academic identity and use. This section presents works relating to the first Biological Laboratory and Art Museum buildings, both of which were constructed in the Romanesque Revival style. Also on view are some of the earliest works of medieval art purchased by the Museum (one of the great repositories for medieval art in the United States), including one of the first English medieval alabaster reliefs to enter an American collection.
The final section, The Collegiate Gothic Campus explores, the development of Princeton’s campus in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The new buildings, which simulated those of Oxford and Cambridge, conferred an instant pedigree on the University and communicated the school’s desired stature to the student body (at that time all male and almost exclusively white and Christian). This section includes images related to many of the Gothic Revival buildings on campus, most notably a set of never-before exhibited watercolors of the original designs for the University Chapel.
“‘Princeton and the Gothic Revival’ continues the Museum’s interest in understanding the ways in which Princeton University’s buildings and its design choices have shaped its identity as one of the world’s great research universities and vice versa, while offering a lens through which we can reconsider one of the 19th century’s most significant design movements,” said Princeton University Art Museum Director James Steward.
In conjunction with Princeton and the Gothic Revival, a mobile web application will take the exhibition out of the Museum and onto the campus for visitors. The tour will provide a multimedia exploration of nine campus buildings that are featured in the exhibition and related catalogue. Drawing from the special collections of the Firestone Library and Archives and the Museum Collections, the experience will emphasize existing and historic sites presented in the exhibition, highlighting the recently digitized Historical Photograph Collection, Grounds and Buildings Series from the University Archives, as well as historic photographs and audio that features experts from across the campus.
A reception for “Princeton and the Gothic Revival: 1870–1930” begins at 5:30 p.m. on Sunday, February 26 at the Art Museum. A concert by the Princeton Singers follows in the University Chapel at 7 p.m.. The group will take a look back at music of the Victorian age, from sacred to sentimental, and at the British traditions that took root in America. Tim Harrell, guest organist, will play the Chapel’s 1928 Aeolian-Skinner organ. Both events are free and open to the public.
Admission to the Princeton University Art Museum is free. Hours are Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday, 10 a.m. through 5 p.m.; Thursday, 10 a.m. through 10 p.m. and Sunday, 1 to 5 p.m. Free highlight tours of the collections are given every Saturday and Sunday at 2 p.m. The Museum is closed Mondays and major holidays. For information, call (609) 258-3788 or visit the Museum’s website at http://artmuseum.princeton.edu.