Ricardo De Mambro Santos and his students worked together to discover the history of the drawings.


The students wrote descriptions of the drawings for display in the museum.

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Piecing Together a Puzzle

An exhibition at the Hallie Ford Museum of Art showcased the sleuthing of Willamette art history students.

Willamette art history students don’t just pore over pages of text created by other historians — they write their own.

Visitors to the recent Hallie Ford Museum of Art exhibition “Timeless Renaissance: Italian Drawings from the Alessandro Maggiori Collection” saw the results of the students’ labor as they read the labels describing each of the 75 drawings on display.

Until the Willamette exhibit, the drawings from the 16th to the early 19th centuries had never been seen outside of Italy. This was partly because no one understood their significance until art history professor Ricardo De Mambro Santos began studying them several years ago.

He and his students worked together on the tireless task of documenting which artist created each drawing and what it might represent.

“One of the greatest things about this project is that these drawings had never been published — we got to write about something that no one else has written on yet,” art history major Reva Main says. 

Studying the Drawings

The drawings, collected by Italian Count Alessandro Maggiori during the Napoleonic occupation of Italy, were created by masters who were well-known at the time but are not household names today.

But most of them were not labeled, so De Mambro Santos enlisted his students to assist in the arduous task of studying each drawing to determine its origins.

“It was a great way to put to use the theories and methodologies we’d been studying in class,” Main says.

Real-World Applications

De Mambro Santos says the project will benefit his students even if they don’t plan to become art historians.

“They are using their skills in formal analysis,” he says, “and they are learning interpretive tools that they’ll use in every project they do in the future.”

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