Fifteen years ago, the Common Intellectual Experience was officially launched at Ursinus in a rather colorful way. In addition to studying works by Plato, Dante and Galileo, along with other meaningful texts, all first-year students also studied the Renaissance.
Enter Barnaby Ruhe, a professor at New York University’s Gallatin School of Individualized Study with a knack for creating paintings quickly. Ruhe worked with students to paint an updated version of the Vatican fresco “School of Athens,” which was created between 1509 and 1511 by Italian Renaissance artist Raphael. The original featured a mix of scientists, philosophers and mathematicians – all of whom lived at different times – but in Ruhe’s modernized version, the famous faces were replaced with much more familiar ones: Ursinus students and faculty members.
When Ruhe and his students brought that first campus creation to life, most members of the Class of 2019 were just 3 years old. Now, as first-year students just four weeks into their own Common Intellectual Experience (CIE), they have created magic with Ruhe once again – in just five days.
For this project, Ruhe’s group reimagined “The Gross Clinic.” Widely regarded as one of greatest canvases in American art, the original was created by Eakins for Philadelphia’s 1876 Centennial Exhibition, “intending to showcase his talents as an artist and to honor the scientific achievements of his native Philadelphia,” according to the website for the Philadelphia Museum of Art, where the painting now resides. Its current proximity to campus, and therefore its accessibility to students, was just one of the many reasons that made “The Gross Clinic” a fitting choice for the project.
Of course it fit the most obvious criterion simply by featuring many subjects who could be replaced by Ursinus students, faculty and staff. Additionally, “one of the three ‘big questions’ of CIE is, ‘How should I live my life?’” says Tom Carroll, associate professor of physics and CIE coordinator. “This event allows students to directly experience one answer to that question: as an artist.”
Diving a bit deeper, “the painting is also part of a thread of conversation that goes from ancient Greek study of the human form, through the Renaissance art that the students study in CIE, and through Descartes’ discussion of anatomy and the workings of the human heart,” says Carroll. “When students look at Renaissance art in a few weeks, they can relate what they see to this experience.”
The 2015 rendering of “The Gross Clinic” will be displayed on the first floor of Olin next to 2000’s “School of Athens.” The Ursinus faces you’ll see, in a variety of bold colors, include:
Naseem Syed, Amanda Palladino, Professor of Biology Robert Dawley, Grace LaDelfa, Barnaby Ruhe (as artist Eakins, who inserted himself into the original), Andrew Tran, Sam Ha, Professor of English Jon Volkmer, Cori Cichowicz, Le’Shante Cox, Bailey Ehasz, Ella Morris, Associate Professor of History Susanna Throop, Associate Professor of English Matt Kozusko, Melody Dieckman, Valerie Osborne, Romina Kalmeijer, Luna Kang, Tahira Davis, Gabriella Tisumick, Alexandra Hemp, Arthur Robinson, Melanie Lee, Zach Sibson, Professor of History Ross Doughty, President Brock Blomburg (as Samuel D. Gross), Professor of Theater and Dance Domenick Scudera, Associate Professor of Biology Kate Goddard, Assistant Dean of Students Melissa Giess, Kara Travis, Associate Professor of Physics Tom Carroll, Jacob “Squat’ Bigelow, Kwynn Garcenot-Hogan and Audrey Simpson.