Viewing the History of Art through an Intercultural and Interdisciplinary Lens
Since she was an undergraduate, UCLA art historian and Associate Professor Meredith Cohen has been fascinated with the stunning Sainte-Chapelle in Paris. But when she admires its breathtaking stained glass windows, she sees far more than just a Gothic masterpiece. Rather, she recognizes it as the successful strategy of a shrewd king who wanted to convince his subjects that he was chosen by God to rule them.
Built by King Louis IX in the 13th century, the chapel sits in the heart of Paris, its steeple rising heavenward, visible to all across the ancient city. The architecture marries the monarchy to church imagery through its alternating gables and pinnacles, giving it the appearance of a crown. Indeed, Louis IX claimed to have built the chapel as a reliquary that housed Christ’s legendary crown of thorns. According to Prof. Cohen, not only did the chapel help Louis IX establish his divine authority and unite his people, it also became a symbol of French cultural, artistic and national identity, securing Paris as the capital of France at a time before the concept of nations was even established.
Sainte-Chapelle is one of the few surviving examples of Gothic architecture. To restore this art form, Prof. Cohen has launched one of the most cutting-edge historical projects in academia today. She and her students are using a CAD (computer-aided design) tool to recreate entire structures in 3-D, such as the abbey of Saint-Germain-des-Prés, based on the remaining building fragments. One of her long-term career goals is to develop an archeologically accurate 3-D model of medieval Paris that students can “walk” through virtually. The project has so captured her students’ imaginations that, even after they graduate, they continue to participate in weekly project meetings. Great architecture, Prof. Cohen believes, is an inspiring and rich source for understanding our social history and the world in which we once lived.
UCLA’S Department of Art History has a long tradition of intellectual innovation, teaching students to question the artistic canon, challenge established boundaries and rethink relationships in a socially and politically responsible way. Creating a unique and dynamic cultural hub, UCLA and Southern California together offer both faculty and students extraordinary opportunities to supplement the formal curriculum for the study of art history.
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