Saints in the Museum Context
As part of my introduction to Museum Education course, we put together gallery tours using the collections available at the Georgia Museum of Art. For my tour, I decided to look at the religious art in the galleries and pose questions about how those pieces arrived in the museum and how their meaning changes when removed from their original devotional context. This included activities that encouraged visitors to think about the history of a piece of art and how much art is not designed for a museum and activities that reintroduce visitors to the original contexts of religious art using the pieces available.
Theme and Main Ideas
This tour is designed for a UGA Religion course, likely one addressing Christian history that could include a section on Christianity and art. The main theme is to explore the way that Christian art depicting the saints shows up in museums, and to use that as an opportunity to explore the ways that this art may have originally been used, and how that has changed now that it has entered a museum space. As such, several spots focus on resituating each piece in its original context, and I use a variety of mediums and forms of religious art that would have been utilized in different contexts. The museum becomes a space to unite all of these forms and meanings together so that the class has a chance to compare those ideas through material culture. I also attempt to incorporate art that represents a few Christian traditions and time periods, further complicating the ways the selected art may have functioned in its original context before entering the collection.
Welcome to the Georgia Museum of Art. My name is Nathan, and I am going to be your guide for this tour today. We are going to spend about forty-five minutes, and look at five pieces of art in the collections, all of which depict a Christian saint in a variety of mediums. Some of what we are going to consider is how these works have come into the collection and how we might reimagine them outside their original context. As part of this, we will spend some time in dialogue together, and take part in a few short written activities. I encourage you to take part and share as you feel comfortable. To begin, I want to point out the restrooms and water fountains here on the first floor, before we walk upstairs or take the elevator if you prefer to access the collection on the second floor.
Louis Comfort Tiffany and Studio, Window Depicting St. George and the Dragon (ca. 1880s-1920s)
To start thinking about the Tiffany window, I would open the floor for people to take a look at the piece and reflect on it for a few minutes before voicing some of their ideas. Because this is very early in the tour, the goal is to maintain a “conversation” approach to our early interactions, helping people get comfortable with one another and voicing their opinions about the art in a more casual environment, as suggested by Burnham and Kai-Kee.1 Things that participants might notice are the flag George carries, the dragon in the corner, the way the glass is shaped or the amount of color coming through. These become opportunities to share information about the story of St. George’s fight with the dragon, the symbolic connection to the flag of Great Britain, or Tiffany’s innovative processes, depending on what direction the conversation moves. At this point, there are no major goals for the ways the conversation will develop, and the guide is primarily providing further insight into the details that are interesting participants.