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VIDEO: Professor Ricardo De Mambro Santos discusses his philosophy toward teaching art history. (2:00)


Ricardo De Mambro Santos

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Professor takes art history far beyond names and dates

Hannah Schiff ’12 will never forget one of her first art history classes with Ricardo De Mambro Santos.

The professor drew a squiggly line on the white board at the front of the room. “What is it?” he asked the class.

“It’s a mountain,” one student responded, and De Mambro Santos turned the line into an alpine scene. Then he erased the landscape and drew the squiggly line again.

“What is it now?” he asked. “Lips,” someone said, and the professor changed the picture accordingly. Other suggestions and drawings followed.

“I was so taken with the idea that art isn’t just a picture hanging on a wall, that it can change depending on the meaning we ascribe to it,” says Schiff, who later chose to major in art history as well as English. “That was one of the moments in his class that got me. He can relate art to anything in our society.”

It’s a common reaction among De Mambro Santos’ students, who say his enthusiasm is hard to resist.

“Art history is not simply about memorizing data or putting it in a chronological line,” he says. “One of my biggest ambitions is to make my students curious about art and aware that they can contribute to our knowledge of what art is.”

A Different Type of Global Learning

In addition to his excitement for teaching, De Mambro Santos provides unique personal perspectives that give his students a global education even in the confines of a Willamette classroom.

Born and raised in Brazil, he spent most of his adult life living in Italy. He speaks seven languages and frequently travels abroad to present his Renaissance art research at conferences.

Other scholars were so impressed with his appearance at a 2009 conference in Glasgow, Scotland, that they invited him to serve on the editorial board of the newly created “Journal of Art Historiography.”

De Mambro Santos strives to share his international perspectives with his students.

“I want to help them establish an international dialogue, to let them know that they are part of a larger community,” he says. “The best way to teach Renaissance art is not necessarily by going to Florence. It could be a wonderful use of your critical thinking tools to go to Bangkok instead and try to make connections between the two locations.”

A Rare Opportunity

De Mambro Santos is also using his global connections to bring an unparalleled opportunity to Willamette and his students.

Several years ago, while conducting research in Italy, he came across a collection of 106 drawings from the late 16th and early 17th centuries. Originally part of a count’s personal collection, the drawings had been hidden long ago inside books in a small town’s library — and then forgotten.

It was an art historian’s dream: an extensive Renaissance art collection that had never before been published or studied.

After extensive negotiations, De Mambro Santos arranged for the drawings to have their first-ever public showing thousands of miles away in Salem, Ore. — at Willamette’s Hallie Ford Museum of Art.

In exchange, he agreed to work with his students to discern the origins and creators of the drawings, and to publish their findings in a book. De Mambro Santos and the students have worked diligently for the past year to prepare for the exhibition, which will open next fall.

“It’s awe-inspiring that a small town in Oregon can show these artworks that have never been published before,” art history major Ryder Nishioka ’11 says. “And we’re the first people to start extrapolating what they could potentially mean in art history.”

“My students will use their skills in formal analysis, stylistically deconstructing the images before getting to the final conclusion of naming and classifying the master artists who created these works,” De Mambro Santos says. “They are learning interpretative tools that they’ll use in every project they do in the future.”