AS: Today is July 31, 2009. I’m Anne Steptoe and this is Elizabeth Gettinger, and we’re here today to talk to Betsy Rosasco in the Fellows Building at Dumbarton Oaks about her year as a Junior Fellow and her memories of Dumbarton Oaks.
BR: Well, it was really a fantastic year. It was one of the best years I’ve ever had, so I have very vivid memories. I think what was so wonderful about it was that everybody was very supportive of each other’s work; people were really interested in what the others were doing, we had great conversations, and we also didn’t just stick to our library and our writing; we had lots of parties. The people that were on the staff said they’d never had a year with so many parties. So, we got to know each other very well, and in different contexts, and once the weather got nice, the pool opened and we were out there every evening. There were a few people I didn’t get to know very well, but there was a core group that was very congenial and from all the different sections. I think it was especially stimulating to get to know the people in pre-Columbian art, because I had no idea about that. Where I went to school – the Institute of Fine Arts – that just didn’t figure at all. The people, Richard Townsend, Al Kolata, Flora Clancy, were really just extraordinary people. Now I work in a museum where there’s an important pre-Columbian collection, and I’m a colleague of the curators there, and they too confirm that these were great scholars, and so it was a chance for all of us to learn from them. In the garden section we had very diverse projects. George Gorse was working on a Genoese city-garden, the Palazzo Doria, and David Schuyler was working on American. I didn’t get to know David as well as George and Naomi. They were big party people. They had an apartment in the same building on Wisconsin Avenue, where most of the Junior Fellows were, and they would give taco parties, and they would invite senior Fellows, they would invite Betty MacDougall, just lots of people over, and we would sit around and make tacos and it was just good fun. I think the senior Fellows appreciated being able to interact in an informal way with the Junior Fellows, and to us it was just great that they took us so seriously as junior colleagues. I think in the Byzantine section the tone was set by having Gerhart Ladner there; he was such an eminent scholar, and the senior Fellows – I remember Oystein Hjort from Denmark was saying that when Hans Belting came the two of them were just marveling that they were here under same roof, because he was one of their idols, and here he was. He was so approachable. At one of our dance parties we had records – I think it was still records in those days – out in the Orangery and I was dancing with him. He really was Old Vienna, and sort of multifaceted, with a lot of different interests, so you could just have wonderful conversations. At lunch wherever you sat there was going to be something interesting going on. It was almost hard to choose. You’d get a table of Byzantine scholars and pre-Columbian scholars and I’d be listening to them talk about the tree of life and the symbolism in their respective cultures and about kingly power; we all have that in common. I was dealing with a king, Louis XIV. We just always found things where we could learn from each other and compare notes. To me, coming from the Institute of Fine Arts, which is a kind of commuter school and you don’t really get to know your fellow students, it was a godsend to have all these people from totally different backgrounds. One of my friends from the Byzantine section was Anna Gonosova, who was from Czechoslovakia, and she brought both American training but a European background. Hello! She and Jim Trilling were students of Kitzinger at Harvard, and I’d always wondered what it would have been like if I’d decided to go into medieval studies, so I got to hear about what his classes were like, what their subjects were. Jim Trilling was working on ornament, and he’d gone to Afghanistan because Kitzinger had very cleverly told him, go now, while you still can, so that was really good advice for him. It meant that a generation of well-trained medievalists got to see all that material, and who knows what state it’s in now. Then there were also people on the staff we got to know that turned up later. Gary Vikan was working in the Byzantine section, and later in my present job we had a Russian icon show and a big symposium to honor Professor Weitzmann, and of course he had very strong Dumbarton Oaks connections, so Gary Vikan was one of the moving forces of that, and I already knew some of the medievalists. It’s just sort of strange that I ended up in a position where – Princeton has a long tradition of Byzantine studies and also pre-Columbian art, so it was very useful for me, all the things I learned informally here. I really spent the year concentrating on the first chapter of my dissertation, because I had made a catalog of the sculptures in the garden I was studying, but to sort of characterize the garden and try to figure out why it was the way it was and what they had in mind was what this library was so good for. So, that was really fantastic, to be able to talk to people. Mirka wasn’t always around, because she had some health problems, but she and I sometimes had a car and I would drive her to New York for the weekend when I went back there, and we would talk on the way about the gardens and that was a wonderful thing, to be able to bounce ideas off of her and get her feedback. All the contacts were just very enriching, and I think they really helped my work. At first I thought, well, I really want to finish in this year, and so I was very single-minded, and then Halloween came, and true to the party spirit, people said, we have to have a party in the Fellows Building, so over in that room we had a party. Everyone got dressed up and I remember Dick Townsend had gone up to the five and dime store and bought fabric and little mirrors, and he also had a devil mask. He put the devil mask on his back and he cut out red fabric for the back of his suit and attached all the little mirrors and he was this devil; you looked in the mirror and saw yourself; from the front he looked normal and then in the back you saw this devil, and I thought, you know, there are some really brilliant people here. He was very talented, because he’d been a window dresser, it turned out, and he was very good with his hands, and also had just wonderful stories about Mexico. So, I thought, you know, this would be really counterproductive to just keep to myself in my room and not go to the parties and find out about these people, because they just were a fascinating bunch. They came from all over, as I said. One of the people that was there I think all year, Dr. Kuban, was from Istanbul, so he of course knew the people that were doing the big Hagia Sophia project, and everybody had been to Istanbul except me; I still haven’t been. It was so fascinating, because that was the year the Iranian revolution took place, so there would be political discussions over lunch also, and I guess it was sort of the point where I began to wonder about New York Times reporting, because all these people who’d been reading the paper every day were totally clueless, everyone was totally surprised; there was no build-up in the papers, it just happened. That was very strange, and it seemed very close because people like Dr. Kuban came from that part of the world and were really worried about what’s going on over there and what’s it going to be like going back. I saw these different perspectives, and there were also people like Danny Curcic, who later went to work at Princeton. He’s a Byzantinist from the former Yugoslavia – in those days, of course, it was Yugoslavia – so that brings all those world events very close, and it seems as though the former Byzantine empire is – this little heritage has carried on. Well, I only deal with post-Byzantine art in my present job, but I’m grateful for everything I learned about that part of the world and about the different nations that make it up now. Someday we do have to do a catalog of our post-Byzantine icons, but that probably will be when I’ve already retired, because I don’t see that on the horizon at the moment. Still, just being aware of all that, and also the Mexican connection. Betty Bensen invited every Fellow to dinner in little groups during the course of the year, and it was so nice to meet her. She was very gracious. I didn’t get to know Giles Constable very well. I remember sitting next to his wife at one the dinners at one of the symposia and she had wonderful stories about the Caribbean; her family came from there, I think, on one of the Danish islands. Betty MacDougall wasn’t around too much; we were working in our offices. She didn’t check in on us and make us toe the line or anything. She was there if we wanted to talk, but I think it worked well to give us the time to write, because I know that some of the complaints about other places was that if you’re a Fellow in those places, they keep you so busy you don’t have time to do your work; you spend a whole year and you don’t get anything done. I did manage to get my research done and my writing for that chapter, so I think that the formula worked. I also was really, really grateful to have a room and dishes. The year before I was in residence at the National Gallery; I had a fellowship that gave me two years in Europe and one year at the National Gallery. I was living in a little residential hotel on Capitol Hill, this very lonely life; I had one plate and one pan and so it just seemed miraculous to suddenly come to a program where they thought of everything, they really knew what we needed and I think having us together there fostered a lot of friendships, and as I said, parties. All in all, I just thought it was heavenly, and it was so sad at the end. The last day we all went for a last swim at the pool. I remember it was during the Carter years and of course there was all this problem about the oil and the gasoline, so we had our cars packed. I remember Al Kolata had this huge package on the roof of his car with all this rope holding it on, and he said, this is pre-Columbian webbing. So, I followed them all the way up Route 95 till they had to turn off for the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge and go out to Long Island, and it was just so sad, I was really in tears. I would see them – I had a van – it was just a little bit of Dumbarton Oaks. I saw Anna Gonosova a few times later, because her professor, Kitzinger, had a house in Princeton, and she would come to visit him, so that was nice, but I haven’t seen her for a long time. The Gorses I’ve run into a few times at the College Art Association; they’re out at Irvine. When I went to Copenhagen I saw Oystein and Vivian Hjort, and they’re doing fine, although he had some health problems. Really, they were just fantastic. Vivian only came at the end, but Oystein was here the whole year, and I think part of what made the year so good was having somebody who was very thoughtful of everybody and had this great egalitarian approach. It’s not that he didn’t have very discriminating intellectual standards, but he treated everyone well and didn’t play the big professor; he was very down-to-earth. I think that’s the Scandiniavian approach. I remember he used to tell the switchboard operator when she came to our parties, you know, you should really be doing something that’s more challenging, so I don’t know what she decided to do eventually, but he was just kind of paternal to everybody, and I think that helped with the good atmosphere. A few years ago I was talking to John Walsh about fellowship programs, because, of course, the Getty has the research institute, and about what a fantastic year I had at Dumbarton Oaks, and I think what he wanted to hear was that it had been all the doing of Dumbarton Oaks. Well, the setting was here and everything had been done to make it all work, but from what I heard there wasn’t always that good chemistry. I think they had chosen really good people who were very compatible and that cared about other people and wanted to make the whole year work. I don’t know how it is other years because I can’t judge, but everything just seemed perfect as far as I could see.
AS: What else do you remember about Dumbarton Oaks during the year you were a Junior Fellow?
BR: ‘78-’79, is that right? I remember the director, Giles Constable. I think some people were afraid of him because they didn’t know what was happening with a Western medievalist at the helm, and I think they worried it wouldn’t continue to be a center for Byzantine studies, or they just didn’t quite know. And of course I remember the garden symposia, and I’ve come back to some garden symposia in more recent years. Not as many as I would have liked, because our museum advisory council meets the first weekend in May, so that a conflict, but a few times I’ve been able to. I really admired the mix of people. You meet people that are actually landscape gardeners and have very practical experience, as well as all the scholars. The program has been taking different directions with different directors. I remember also the concerts. It was all harpsichord music in my day. I don’t know if they have other instruments now, but it was harpsichords and old music and I wondered if that was what the Blisses liked and that was why. At any rate, in those days when I was driving in my car I had a little tape recorder, and I listened to a lot of Mahler. I remember telling Jim Trilling, when our generation is in charge there’ll be Mahler! But now, of course, you look at the concert listings at Avery Fischer Hall and at Carnegie Hall and it seems to be Mahler all the time, and it’s getting to be a little old. It’s funny how these things are cyclical. I didn’t go to the pre-Columbian symposium. That was a stupid thing on my part. I think it was in the fall and I hadn’t figured out yet that it was going to be fascinating, and that I should have gone and I should have met all those people and found out who the big figures were. Michael Coe did come down to visit at one point; Al Kolata was his student, so we all went out to a disco, and I thought, this is amazing, my thesis advisor I don’t think even knows what discos are. I didn’t go to their symposium, and I missed hearing good people, I’m sure. I did go to the Byzantine symposium, and Hans Belting gave a really brilliant talk about the epitaphios, and of course here I work in a museum now that has an epitaphios, so I knew exactly what it was and the speculation about how it was used. It was also great because Robert Taft, the Jesuit scholar, was there – just really luminaries. It was really fantastic to have the privilege of going to that, just because I was in residence here. Then the garden symposium was about ancient gardens; that was very interesting. Wilhelmina Jashemski from the University of Maryland talked about the gardens at Pompeii, and Greg Cunliffe from England talked about the archaeology of the gardens there. It was really a different kind of approach to gardens than what I was doing, where they’re historical and you have texts and a few maps. Just seeing garden studies as a field was so interesting, to see all the ramifications. Then when I went to Princeton, David Coffin was one of the people that had been involved with the garden program from the beginning – I think as a board member – so he was teaching garden history. You could sort of see how it’s grown from something that concerned Renaissance scholars into a whole enormous field and preservation and reconstruction and all the different aspects. I’m trying to think what I haven’t covered. Are there any questions you have?
AS: If we went back to the very beginning, I wonder if you could talk a little bit about how you found Dumbarton Oaks, and if it had a reputation at N.Y.U., where you were at the time?
BR: Well, this is an interesting question. I knew about Dumbarton Oaks originally because when Irving Lavin was teaching a course that I didn’t take, but a friend took, about Italian Renaissance villas, he brought his class here. So, they all knew there was this program and it sounded fabulous, but somehow I hadn’t thought of my own subject in those terms, because I was working on sculpture. But I had my two years in Europe and I had my catalog of the sculptures, and I had to somehow figure out what this garden was all about, what they were doing, why they had all these marble sculptures and then a few bronze and lead sculptures. So, I hadn’t come to grips with that. I had the year at the National Gallery and I wasn’t finished with my thesis yet. I was still worried about this first chapter, how to set the scene in the garden. So, Doug Lewis, who was in charge of the Fellows at the National Gallery, said, well, you’ll just have to go to Dumbarton Oaks. I thought, I don’t think after three years of working on my thesis they would take me! Because I had really strung it out, although I did have some health problems on the way that held me up and took a year out. So, I applied, and, lo and behold, I was able to come, and it was just great. George Gorse and David Schuyler had been the only two Fellows the previous year, and I think that they had been a more tightly-knit group with Betty. She had the two young men, and I think there was a lot more interaction then. Then George was renewed and David was renewed, and I came new and Mirka Benes came new, and so then it got a little bigger. I think maybe because they didn’t know us as well, things changed a little bit, and we didn’t sit around and talk as much about our work; we were doing our work and talking informally, but not in any formal sense. We did have to give papers, though; each person had to give a talk, and I remember David Castriota was discussing ornament – there were several people working on ornament, he and Jim Trilling – and at one point in his talk he said, well, there was this Syrian example, and then it turns up in Ireland, and so William Loerke, who was very precise, said, I want to know the name of the ship and the name of the captain and the date it sailed. You could really see that there were these different factions in Byzantine studies, the Richard Brilliant student who was a little more free-flowing, and then the Loerke trying to pin everything down. But for the most part the Byzantine scholars got along. You think of that being a field where there are probably a lot of rivalries, because Byzantine history is so fraught with nationalistic questions and all, but everybody got along. It was just wonderful; it was part of what made the year so great. Besides the talks, we would get together on Friday afternoon for sherry at the end of the week. That’s when we saw the staff members most, especially those of us in the garden section, because we were a little physically removed from the staff members in the Byzantine area. So, that too made us sort of like a family and a community. They just gave us everything. Oh, and the food, my gosh! that was delicious. It was hard not to gain weight. When swimming season came, the signs of it were a little too obvious.
EG: So you ate lunch here in the Fellows Building at that time?
BR: Yes, I think it was right here. Not that far over there was a house where a family lived; that was where the Kazhdans lived. They came about halfway through the year from Russia. Mr Kazhdan’s son had come to teach mathematics at Harvard, and he and his wife were able to immigrate. I didn’t really get to know them well; now I use his dictionary of Byzantine art all the time and I think of him, but at the time I didn’t know him. They had just fallen out of the blue in America and they seemed a little stunned, it was so different from the old Soviet Union. I would run into them at the grocery store in the vegetable section, and they would come over and point at something and say, what is that? And you’d tell them the name and they’d say, how do you cook it? – all these new things, artichokes and asparagus. I think they turned out to be an incredible resource for the Byzantinists. I’ve heard since how much everyone learned from them that had been preserved in Russia, the third Rome. I think that was very stimulating for the Byzantinists, to be able to work with them.
JNSL: How did the presence of the gardens here themselves help to stimulate your own work? – just having that environment there, and the friendships that were forged.
BR: I didn’t go in the gardens in the afternoon; I tried to go in the morning, take a little mid-morning break and walk around. It was just so beautiful, and to see the seasons, the whole year of it. I liked to see how the gardeners were working, because one of the things in my thesis work was payments to the gardeners, just what has to be done to the soil, what is all this planting, when they would change the plantings with the seasons and pull out one and put in another. I also was very interested that Beatrix Farrand designed some of the gardens here and she worked at Princeton also, so to see that you can keep up these plantings that are historical and that reflect a different era’s idea of what went best in different seasons. I’ve been to some of the garden talks about Loudon and some of the British gardeners who are importing all sorts of new and exotic plants, and I’ve visited the Borromean Islands, where there is also a kind of garden with exotic plants that were imported in the Baroque era, and I think it’s so rare and precious that you have just in a few places a historic garden. I think it’s a sort of duty to keep them up, because the garden I worked on is no longer extant. You try to imagine it and you can’t reconstruct it from the evidence that we have; it’s just too sparse. You just have these payments to the gardeners and lists of different kinds of flowers that you know were there, but you have no idea what the plantings were like. It’s a real privilege to be able to live in close contact with a great garden.
EG: Speaking of the resources here at Dumbarton Oaks, I’m assuming you also made use of the library pretty extensively during your year?
BR: I think what my task was was partly to see what the Italian influence had been on this French garden – it was really Louis XIV’s villa. Any book or article you wanted to consult about Italian villas was here, all in one place; you didn’t have to take them out and form your own little carrel, they were just there at your fingertips already, so that was a great luxury, to be able to have that, and then also to be able to talk to Mirka and to Betty MacDougall about the Italian gardens, and what might have been the influences. I didn’t really work on the floral part at all, I was really mostly concerned with the iconography, but I think there are distinct borrowings that I tried to document and I think that my big challenge going into this dissertation was I was dealing with a generation of sculptors that were the first French ones to go to the French Academy in Rome and to have direct sustained contact with the Italian sculptures and the ancient sculptures, and that was supposed to be their education, to emulate the great works of antiquity; they were only allowed to copy, they weren’t allowed to do their own works, and so I think there was something similar with the gardens, that garden architects finally were actually going to Italy and looking for things that they could adapt. So, picking your way among the ancient models and the Baroque and Renaissance models and what was properly French, and what they were taking and what they were rejecting, that was a delicate business. It was a really good thing to be here in a place where Betty had brought together this wonderful library, because that was her field, after all, the Italian Renaissance gardens, and Mirka was there talking about the Baroque gardens, so it was a wealth of knowledge and ability to tap into other people’s work.
AS: You mentioned earlier that you came from the National Gallery to Dumbarton Oaks, and I wonder if from that experience you had any perspective on the relationship between the two organizations, or Dumbarton Oaks’s relationship to other D.C. institutions, like the Library of Congress, or the galleries?
BR: Well, my year at the National Gallery ended just as they were opening CASVA. I went to the dedication and got a bad sunburn. I could really see that they were probably trying to model it partly on the Dumbarton Oaks program, probably this and the Institute for Advanced Study, and I think they were probably trying to compete for getting foreign scholars to come to the National Gallery, but for certain subjects this is just the place, there are no two ways about it. When I was at the National Gallery I had a stack pass, and I would go into the Library of Congress and plant myself on the floor in the section that interested me and just pull books off the shelf, because I thought, this is one way of learning more bibliography. But here you don’t have to do that; it’s all here. Basically the only time I went to the Library of Congress was once Tony Cutler came down from the University of Pennsylvania, and out at the pool he thought we should all play the match game, so we set up the matches in rows and a triangle and take them away and the one who leaves the last match loses. At any rate, I remembered when the movie came out when I was about in high school, I think it was either Time or Newsweek had printed the answer of how you win. So, I went over to the Library of Congress, found the date the movie came out, looked up the little diagram, I photocopied it and came back, so it sort of spoiled his fun, I’m afraid. At any rate, I didn’t have to go over to the Library of Congress because the books were here; it was wonderful. We were invited to a couple of openings at the National Gallery and we went as a group. I thought, this is just so nice, to have all these friends that I know well, and I was thinking about how the previous year had been a kind of isolated experience. I didn’t go to the Gallery very much, because – basically I would go to see a show, but it was so rich here, and of course I’d been there the year before so I’d learned the collection pretty well. We just had such a nice atmosphere. I keep coming back to that. So, we went over and ate their very lavish h’ors d’oeuvres, but we all stayed together. And I kept wanting to invite people to lunch that I knew in New York, because I thought they wouldn’t believe what a wonderful place this is, they should see it for themselves. My sister came; I think she was the only one. Most of my friends from the Institute didn’t come. I think before I moved to Washington I had been a little wary of it, because it’s a kind of company town; everybody works for the government and being a graduate student just seems like you’re in such a minority. I know there are a lot of universities here, but my year at the National Gallery I felt as though I was the only person in the world writing a thesis. Here everybody was deeply involved in their theses. Nowadays I notice that there are programs where people sit around and talk about their writing problems, discuss how am I going to structure this, and how am I going to bring in that aspect, what’s the best time in the thesis to make this digression. I don’t know if that that would have helped me; I don’t think it would have, frankly. I think it was just good the way it was.
EG: You mentioned you attended some of the symposia in the years since you were a Fellow here. Were there any that really stood out in your mind as being important or meaningful in the field?
BR: I attended one that was Betty MacDougall’s anniversary. I forget exactly which anniversary it was, but –
AS: We’ve heard good things about that one.
BR: It was former Fellows. That was really interesting, to see what everyone was doing and have the different subjects. We were a real range of papers. Then when John Dixon Hunt was here, there was one where he talked about John Evelyn on gardens. That was a real breakthrough, I thought. It really made me understand why David Coffin could integrate a course on garden history into the traditional Princeton curriculum, because it’s all based on ancient theory and ancient writing, and fits perfectly with the study of the classics. There was one where – who was the German head of Dumbarton Oaks?
BR: He gave a talk about these Nazi gardens; it was a little frightening. It was sort of the Saxon grove and it was supposed to be reconstructing the Germanic tribes’ gardens. It was a little chilling. The really memorable one, I think, in my field was one about Baroque gardens. I had this surprise that I saw the list of talks and Michel Conan was talking about something like fantasy in the garden, and I thought, oh, this is what I’ve been working on, seventeenth-century gardens, and then I got there and it turned out he was sort of carving up an article I’d written, so it was a little surprising. But it’s interesting to hear what people’s objections are. Then there was a student from Bryn Mawr – I taught a year at Bryn Mawr as a replacement when Charles Dempsey left; they had a one year position – one of the students had actually come to Dumbarton Oaks afterwards, Ann Friedman, and then it turned out that another Bryn Mawr student also came to Dumbarton Oaks. I can’t think of her name, but when I was there she was just starting her graduate studies. So anyhow, in this Baroque garden symposium she gave a talk also, and it was nice to see her again, and see that she had gone into garden studies as well. It just seems to me like a really special thing, and my colleague in pre-Columbian art at the museum, Bryan Just, was a Fellow here, so we sometimes talk about Dumbarton Oaks, and I’m really curious to see the Pre-Columbian Collection again, because I went with him and his class to Mexico in March, my first trip to Mexico. Now that I’ve seen the locations I understand so much better the context of all of this pre-Columbian art. I’d been told about it by Dick Townsend. He has such a feeling for that landscape, and it’s all true.
AS: I wonder, on the subject of the Collection, as a Fellow did you have much interaction with Dumbarton Oaks’s collections, with the garden collection or any other collection?
BR: There was one volume that was in my area that had the pavilions of Marly, which was my chateau, so that was great, to have that right here. I think that was really the principal thing that I used. But then of course there was the garden, and the experience of walking in the garden, and I have to say, if you haven’t had time to walk in gardens that are laid out like this and see what moving through them is like, you can’t imagine from the maps that exist of old gardens that no longer exist just what the experience is, and how this succession of spaces – some people try to compare it to cinema; I don’t think it’s really comparable to cinema, it’s a kind of kinetic thing, because it also has to do with whether you’re going uphill or downhill, and your heart rate changes and your breath changes, and that was the exercise they got in the seventeenth century. They say sometimes – in one memoir Mademoiselle de Montpensier says she rented a house with a big garden for her health. They weren’t doing gymnastics; they were walking in the garden. That’s a whole part of it and how you perceive it as you move through, and you’re either walking on a level or you’re walking on gravel or you’re walking on grass. It’s a whole experience. And also as you go up the hill at Marly, clearly it was windier at the top, it was cooler, and it was harder to get up there, and I think probably some of the older people didn’t climb that hill. I think it was the young people. Then up at the top, in my most recent article I was talking about how that’s why they put Mercury carrying off Pandora there, because it’s this airborne subject and you’re up there with the breezes.
EG: You’re at the Princeton art museum right now, right? Is there any sort of a relationship between the Princeton art museum and Dumbarton Oaks?
BR: Just that my colleague Bryan Just is a former Fellow and I think he’s talked here. Our Byzantine collection is in the care of Michael Paget, who is actually in ancient vase paintings; he’s not a Byzantinist. Danny Curcic in the department is the person who makes the decisions about what we buy or what things to recommend, so he’s our expert. I unfortunately don’t have any garden sculpture in my care. Very briefly Irving Lavin had his Bernini fountain-sculpture on loan to us, but now it’s been bought by the Getty, so I don’t have that anymore.
JNSL: We have one last question. One thing we’ve noticed, in all three of the fields but particularly in garden and landscape studies, is how the direction or the tone set by your director of studies really took things in very different directions, from Betty MacDougall to John Dixon Hunt to Joachim Wolschke to Michel Conan, who added the oriental flair into it: the theoretical, more practical, and so on and so forth. I wonder if you might comment on that issue itself, let’s say the fluidity of the field of garden and landscape, and Dumbarton Oaks, what that represents for your field in general, and maybe where you would like to see Dumbarton Oaks’s Garden and Landscape Studies programs develop, future symposia and things like that.
BR: What I was doing was really very close to the way garden history had been defined by Betty MacDougall and David Coffin and these pioneers, working on the iconographic programs, primarily, and for me that was great to have all that expertise right here. I think there are probably a lot of things in the way of horticultural studies or botanical studies that are yet to be charted, and I don’t know whether people are going into that in other universities, whether that’s really being taught much, a sort of scientific approach, the spread of different species and charting exactly when some of them were discovered and brought to different countries and became popular. I know one of David Coffin’s graduate students at Princeton was actually a landscape architect who decided that she needed to learn the history of landscape architecture, and wrote a thesis about some Irish gardens – well, she was working last on Irish gardens; I think the ones she wrote her thesis on were English gardens – gardens that have disappeared – trying to reconstruct those. But they were private, so it was very difficult. Some of the little fabriques in the gardens, I think she found watercolors of those. I think there are probably some countries that even Michel Conan maybe hasn’t found, although he had African gardens and every continent. I’m leaving big gaping gaps on your tape. I hadn’t really thought about it in the abstract; I’m usually thinking about what sources can I find to enlighten me more about my gardens, thinking in a different vein, because I’ve never taught garden history so I haven’t had to do an overview of all the different bibliographies for different fields. John Pinto teaches garden history at Princeton; he’s carrying that on. I’ve never audited his course; I wish I could. There’s also somebody new in the architecture department. I heard about his course from one of the graduate students. She was reconstructing a garden in a painting and trying to figure out how accurate it was – one of our paintings as a matter of fact.
AS: I wonder, on the subject of broader change at Dumbarton Oaks, if you could comment a little bit as somebody who was here at the very beginning of the Constable era; I know you didn’t have much direct interaction with him, but from being a resident here, did you get a sense of people’s reception of his administration?
BR: All I can say is what I told you a minute ago, that some of the Byzantinists were worried about what Harvard’s intentions were, because they thought, if it’s a Western medievalist, does this mean that it’s going to become a general medieval studies program, or is it going to stay Byzantine? He was such a nice person, really lovely; that probably disarmed them. I think they were suspicious when they arrived and by the end of the year their fears were allayed. I think people always worry that something that is in an area that to some people is esoteric, that the university won’t appreciate it enough and will think it’s a kind of luxury or something. Personally I’m very interested in how American medievalists turned to Byzantine studies, from working on the history of Princeton a bit; Albert Friend was one of the first directors of study, and the way he got interested was realizing that so much that isn’t preserved in the West is preserved in the East, because the Orthodox church was especially traditionalist. And so you had to go there to see some of the oldest material and to get a sense of the early Christian traditions and that’s what – when I was an undergraduate I had a professor who was a student of Kurt Weitzmann, and everything had to be early. If it got too late – you took a Romanesque course and you just barely got to Moissac, because you did the earliest things you could, and I’d always wondered about that, and I began to realize that it had to do with the whole reform movement and the Calvinist desire to get back to the earliest traditions, and that so much of Princeton’s outlook is based on that; even though it’s a secular university and it always has been non-sectarian, so much of this Presbyterian tradition is still operative. So, it makes perfect sense that the senior position in medieval is a Byzantinist and the junior position is a Western medievalist, because it’s where you get all the traditions intact. I don’t know what’s going to happen next, but so far it’s always been Byzantine studies, since Professor Friend. I also have in my care two of his bequests, so I feel a little close to him.
AS: Was there talk at that time of Harvard taking Dumbarton Oaks, or taking its collections or library or anything like that back to Cambridge?
BR: I remember somebody mentioning that everyone was really scared that they would ship all the books to Cambridge, but then of course what would they do with Dumbarton Oaks? I think there was a certain paranoia but – well, I guess it was a time of transition because Kitzinger was getting older, he wasn’t going to be teaching forever, and I guess they wondered whether Byzantine studies was going to continue at Harvard. At Princeton there was a big gap between Professor Weitzmann and then Danny Curcic being appointed. I think they had tried in various ways to fill that gap, unsuccessfully. I think the commitment was always there to Byzantine studies but I guess maybe some of these Harvard students of Kitzinger were worried about what would happen after him.
EG: Could you maybe talk briefly about what you see as Dumbarton Oaks’s role in the field of garden and landscape studies? And maybe what its role was back when you first came here, and if you think that that’s changed over time.
BR: I think because of Betty MacDougall’s interest in Renaissance gardens, it was a real magnet for anyone interested in Renaissance gardens, as I was, as Mirka was, as George Gorse was – David Schuyler of course was in American gardens, so he broke the pattern a little bit – Naomi Miller. There was a lot of activity in those days in garden Renaissance history. I think the successive directors had their own interests. As I was saying about John Dixon Hunt – the English garden, which is such an important part of garden history, we made some real breakthroughs in his years. Then it became even more diverse under the following directors. I think you have two choices really; it’s like the College Art conventions or the Burlington Magazine, people who decide, okay, we’re going to have a theme year. I think the Institute for Advanced Study used to do that; they had a nineteenth-century group, then they had a seventeenth-century group the next year, and you do get a lot of good discussion and interaction. On the other hand, I found that one of the big valuable things of being at Dumbarton Oaks was meeting the Byzantinists and meeting the pre-Columbian scholars. You also learn really fascinating things from other fields that unexpectedly shed light on your own field, ways of thinking or just some little piece of information that suddenly makes sense of something that you’ve been thinking about. I think both kinds of set-ups are valuable. Maybe alternating or something would work. But I think part of it is the willingness of people to talk. One thing that I found very disappointing when I went to graduate school at the Institute of Fine Arts was it was a professional school where people were so geared towards getting a job and beating out the competition, and they didn’t want to talk because they were afraid they would give away their ideas and other people would publish their ideas, and I even heard rumors at the Institute of Fine Arts that there were lawsuits going on among faculty members over stolen ideas, intellectual property, you know, really a bad atmosphere. So, I think I was just primed to come here and just soak up all of this wonderful discussion and people being so generous with their ideas, and not even always about art history, but just interesting things. I remember once we were sitting at lunch and Gerhart Ladner was saying, “Well, as I get older, I find that from time to time I’ll have this one little memory that comes for a brief second and goes away, like neuroscience, you now,” and he was just such an interesting person. I think just being around somebody like that is such a privilege. And there were times when everyone’s working on the same thing, Oystein Hjort’s Church of San Clemente in Rome and Elaine de Benedictis was working on a problem that part of it had to do with San Clemente, and of course Gerhart Ladner had written a great article on the mosaic in the Panofsky Festschrift, so there they all were, three of them, three generations and they all had something to say to each other, and something really vital for them to communicate about. It was just real happenstance.
AS: I think that’s all we had; you’ve answered our questions and more. Is there anything we left out?
BR: If I think of anything I’ll write you.
JNSL: Thank you so much!
BR: Anything I can do for Dumbarton Oaks; I wish I could get on a bandstand and say how great it is.