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Students 'reform' Titian, impress publisher

March  11, 2011

(Click on any square to launch a slide show about the students and their parts of the painting. Students explain what artist they chose and what they tried to accomplish.)

The original Bacchus and Ariadne by Titian. (Click here for larger image) Courtesy Wikipedia Commons

Students in Painting 1 and their teacher were handed a tricky assignment: Come up with something original to illustrate the theme of a history conference entitled Reforming Reformation.

Professor Peter Xiao suggested the class take a classic work of art and reinterpret it in a diverse and contemporary style. They succeeded so well that their image, Titian Reformed, will be used as the cover illustration for an upcoming book.

The conference, organized by Dr. Thomas Mayer, was held at Augustana last fall, and included presenters from the U.S. and Europe. Their papers will go into a volume edited by Dr. Mayer and published in his series, Catholic Christendom, 1300-1700.

"I wager this is a very rare honor bestowed on student work by a group of high-caliber scholars," said Xiao.

He asked each student to choose a modern or contemporary artist, write an analysis of that artist's style, and then apply that style to one section of the Renaissance work, Bacchus and Ariadne by Titian. Each student in the class participated, choosing an artist to mimic and working on an 18x18-inch piece square of the larger painting. Their finished painting is 54x90, and replicates the lower three-quarters of the original.

The students retained the proportions of the original along their square's borders, so the original painting would still be visible in outline. However, they were encouraged to depart from the original's formal style and color in their squares. An example is one painter's choice to alter the blue sky in her section to a barren industrial landscape inspired by her chosen artist, Frida Kahlo, a critic of corporate America.

"It was quite a thrill to see this pulled together," Xiao said.