“I wanted a course of study that involved multiple cultures, multiple languages,” says Nora Lambert, who entered Mount Holyoke College intending to major in international relations. But two art history classes in her second semester and a job at the college’s art museum helped change her direction.
Meng Zhao was studying Chinese literature at Fudan University in Shanghai when a professor suggested she take a closer look at the pictures that accompanied a poem she was writing about. “Before I realized it,” she says, “I started spending more time looking at paintings.”
Now in their second year as graduate students in UChicago’s Department of Art History, Lambert and Zhao are the first two students to pursue their doctorates with the help of the Lindsay Graduate Fellowship Fund in the Division of the Humanities. Established last year through a gift from Bruce C. Lindsay, MBA’65, and Suzanne Glover Lindsay, the fellowships provide a stipend and research funds for students in their first five years of graduate study, as well as dissertation-completion support for a sixth-year student.
Lambert’s interest in languages and cultures comes into play in her study of Italian Renaissance art, with a special interest in Italy’s interactions with Islamic cultures. She has written about the crusade imagery in the frescoes of the Piccolomini Library in Siena, Italy, commissioned to honor Pope Pius II. Part of what drew her to UChicago is the guidance and resources the program provides to students like her, who “really need a lot of languages.” With Italian and French already in her tool kit, she’s currently adding Arabic and “maybe another Middle Eastern language.”
Zhao, meanwhile, focuses on the development of imagery in premodern Chinese art. She is particularly interested in the self-consciousness—an “awareness of the fictitiousness of representation,” as Zhao puts it—shown by the act of looking portrayed in many works of Southern Song (1127-1279) court painting. What struck her, she says, was “the fact that someone, most likely the imperial patron, would enjoy seeing himself enjoying the landscape by commissioning paintings depicting himself gazing at the landscape.” An early version of the selfie, perhaps.
An additional benefit of the Lindsay Fellowships, she says, is that she and Lambert can talk shop with their benefactor: Suzanne Glover Lindsay is an art historian at the University of Pennsylvania and a former curator at the National Gallery of Art.
“It is not very often that people can have a serious discussion with their donors about the research they are currently working on,” Zhao says. “This kind of interaction and emotional support really means a lot to me.”
“Having a benefactor immersed in the profession,” Lambert adds, “is profoundly motivating.”