For her Division III capstone project, Monroe studied three Renaissance triptychs commissioned for hospitals
For Sally Monroe, paintings from the Renaissance are a bridge between time periods. "There's something really fascinating about having an object that bridges the gap between you and a historically-distant person. You can't even begin to imagine who they were or what their lives were like, and yet you share the experience provided by a given artwork," she says.
For her Division III capstone project, Monroe 10F studied three Renaissance triptychs commissioned for hospitals: Matthias Grünewald's The Isenheim Altarpiece, Rogier van der Weyden's The Last Judgment Altarpiece, and Hans Memling's The Altarpiece of the Two Saint Johns.
"All three contained some degree of disturbing or unpleasant imagery," Monroe says. "I was looking at the paradox of how these things could shock you, at face value, but in a strange way were meant as a tool for spiritual healing."
Monroe wrote a 135-page study spurred by her interest in the triptychs, exploring medieval notions of illness, sin, and spirituality. "I put myself in the patients' place and could see how they could take away from their encounters with these objects a feeling of closeness with the divine, and a renewed spirituality that would serve to help their body by helping their spirit," she says.
Patients could potentially see the triptychs as reflections of themselves: "The triptychs have wings that open up, where you see these splendidly colored panels of spiritual visions," Monroe says. "Patients could look at that like 'this is my body, I have contained in me this brilliant vibrant spirit that's housed by a shell that's not as great, especially not now because I'm ill and suffering. Inside of me there's something much greater than that.'"
Monroe says her Division III taught her how to "plunge right in" on a project. "I've learned how to put a project together, and be in charge, and go through with my own projects and ideas, how to formulate them and actually pursue them," she says. "It's the Div III experience."
Div III faculty committee:
Professor of Art History Sura Levine
Professor of Comparative Religion Alan Hodder
Smith College Associate Professor of History Joshua C. Birk