On 23 March around twenty OU students gathered in Munich for a study day and tour of the Alte Pinakothek. Tiffany McKirdy, an AL on AA100 and A105 , and Kathleen Christian, Senior Lecturer in Art History, organised the trip for Europe-based students studying on AA100 and A105. Tiffany had worked with all the participants already in her tutorial groups, while Kathleen provided the connection to Munich, having spent time there with an Alexander von Humboldt fellowship.
The event kicked off on Friday evening with greetings and a few of the beverages Munich is most famous for in the Hofbräukeller (it wasn’t yet the season to sit outside in the beer garden, but we were close!).
On Saturday morning we met at the Zentralinstitut für Kunstgeschichte, an institute in the centre of Munich devoted to research in art history. The director Dr. Ulrich Pfisterer, who had been Kathleen’s host during her Humboldt fellowship, kindly offered us the use of a classroom. Being in the Institute was a special experience, since it has a fascinating history: in 1945 it was used by American forces as a ‘Central Art Collecting Point’, where works stolen during the war were collected, conserved and repatriated (think ‘Monuments Men’). Ever since the 1940s it has been a research institute devoted to art history.
In the morning Tiffany led a lively classroom session in which the group were divided into two teams, arguing either for or against the repatriation of the Parthenon Sculptures. Tiffany gave a short introduction, reminding students of their study of Benin in AA100 and looking ahead to the study of philosopher Dr Kwame Anthony Appiah’s cosmopolitanism in Book 4 of A105. Three students had volunteered to be judges, and they also took on the responsibility of making tea and coffee for everyone while the teams devised their speeches. A representative from each team spoke for 5 – 10 minutes and after a brief deliberation by the judges, the winners were announced.
After a trip to the Marienplatz, the city centre of Munich, and some time eating lunch and walking in the gorgeous sunshine, the group headed to the Alte Pinakothek, Munich’s world-famous museum of ‘Old Master’ paintings. Here Kathleen led a tour focused on about twenty of the works, including paintings by Dürer, Titian, Raphael, Leonardo, Van Dyck and Rubens. We covered a lot of ground in an hour and a half and surveyed several centuries of art history, looking for example at the differences between Early Netherlandish and Italian works, and between painting on panel and painting on canvas.
Among the student favourites were Dürer’s famous Self Portrait, Aldorfer’s Battle of Alexander and Darius at Issus, and Boucher’s very Rococo portrait of Madame de Pompadour. Altdorfer’s large history painting, shown below, is a fascinating depiction of Alexander the Great’s defeat of the Persian King Darius, famous for its bird’s-eye perspective, dramatic landscape and teeming battlegound.
Overall it was an enjoyable experience for the participants, as is seen in the positive feedback we received:
‘It gave me the feeling I am not just sitting in front of a screen, but that behind all the forums and all the messages and assessment notes there are live people who share the same goal. I felt validated as a student and human being. There was genuine interest in each other and in the subject matter of our course. The feeling of togetherness can’t be conveyed any other way than in person.’
‘The whole experience was wonderful and it has given a new dimension to my course. I feel closer to my tutor and to the other people on my course, and this means a lot to me. I enjoyed everything about the day, and I think the dinner the night before was a great part of it.
‘The hands-on approach to interpreting the paintings was a valuable addition to the course material.’
‘The visit to the museum was awesome […] It’s mind blowing how much you can see in one picture when you take a closer look and someone guides you through it.’
‘ I had a great time just talking to people. Although our ages and origins were vastly different, we could all connect which I thought was really wonderful.’
‘ I really enjoyed meeting [the group] as well as the debate and tour! I think it is wonderful that the OU shows it values its overseas students as much as its U.K ones.’