Community Art

Romance Languages Dept. uses McMullen exhibit to create Web site aimed at educating local students

By Sean Smith
Staff Writer

The McMullen Museum of Art's widely acclaimed Caravaggio exhibition is reaching - and educating - a whole new audience in cyberspace, thanks to a project undertaken by members of the Romance Languages and Literatures Department.

Three graduate students and a faculty member have constructed a World Wide Web site for area elementary school, high school and college foreign language classes that uses the exhibition, "Saints and Sinners: Caravaggio and the Baroque Image," as a multi-purpose learning tool. The site, at /artsi, provides activities in French, Spanish and Italian combining elements of language instruction and art history.

Newton South High School junior Clara Karpovsky takes notes during a tour of the McMullen Museum's "Saints and Sinners" exhibition last week. (Photo by Lee Pellegrini)

Classes can utilize the Web page in conjunction with a field trip to the exhibition, which may include a visit to a Romance Languages class, or employ the site's activities as a self-contained exercise.

Organizers of the project say it exemplifies the educational benefits the Web and computer technology can offer, and the intertwining of disciplines.

"We're happy that we were able to put together this resource for not only our own students, but those in the greater community," said Senior Lect. Debbie Rusch (Romance Languages). "People can see Boston College as a place where art and culture are presented in imaginative, exciting ways."

The site has registered over 3,000 hits since it opened last month, according to graduate student Daniel O'Sullivan, and several high school classes - including one from Newton South High School last week - have visited campus to view the exhibition and sit in on a class. An area adult education class also has utilized the site.

Users who access the Web site are given a menu of activities in French, Spanish and Italian, divided into four levels of ability, with "A" being the simplest and "D" the most difficult. Some activities are done in class prior to the field trip and introduce students to Baroque art and to specific artists. Other activities are intended to prompt participation during the museum visit, or to give students an opportunity to reflect on and synthesize what they have learned and experienced afterwards.

While the Italian activities focus on artists in the exhibition, the French and Spanish Web pages use the exhibition as a springboard to explore information about artists such as Georges de la Tour, José de Ribera and Diego de Velázquez, who were all greatly influenced by Caravaggio and the Baroque movement in Italy.

The "French A" link, for example, includes a brief summary of Caravaggio's life which segues into sections on la Tour and another artist of the period, Nicolas Poussin. Using la Tour's "The Repentant Magdalene," students match a list of French words with objects in the painting to which they correspond, or answer questions related to straightforward visual information. Students using the most advanced-level Spanish page, meanwhile, are asked to write elaborate, analytical passages in Spanish on several aspects of a selected painting or artist.

"I found the pages informative, stimulating for my students and for myself and very well planned out," said Stella Cocchiara, who teaches advanced Italian classes at Melrose High School. "My students were able to do the first two levels and now they are looking forward to our visit at the museum later this month. The project has also stimulated cross-curriculum work between Italian and art. When we finished the pages the students went on to do further research on various art periods and several other artists.

"I welcome this sort of challenge for them and I am grateful to BC for giving me the opportunity to do it," she said.

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