An ancient Greek sarcophagus bearing images from the life of Achilles. Two original Raphael paintings. Notes written in Sir Isaac Newton’s own hand and personal letters from Albert Einstein. These are just a few of the historical and cultural treasures that some 40 Thomas Aquinas College students and tutors were able to see over the course of the 2010-11 academic year as participants in a four-Saturday tour of major Southern California museums, sponsored and led by Member of the Board of Governors Maria O. Grant.
“I have wanted to do an art tour for years, as we have access to some of the best museums in the world and do not cover art in the curriculum,” says Mrs. Grant. “We had a terrific time.”
The tour began in October 2010 in the Pacific Palisades at the Getty Villa, which is dedicated to the study of the art and cultures of ancient Greece, Rome, and Etruria. Joined by a curator, the group focused on forms from classical antiquity that have remained constant in art and architecture ever since. “At the College we read the great Greek and Roman works of literature, and at the Villa we got to see how those people lived,” says sophomore Maxmilian Nightingale. “It’s not just words on a page, but it was actually lived out, and it influenced a whole culture.”
In November the group paid a visit to the main J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles, where it focused on Renaissance and Baroque art. “We were all enthralled by the complementarity Mrs. Grant brought out between the appreciation of great art and the intellectual formation students receive at the College,” says Dr. Christopher Decaen (’93), a member of the teaching faculty. “We would see elements of the curriculum come alive each time we would see, say, Achilles or St. Mary Magdalene in a work of art.”
In January 2011 Mrs. Grant hosted the group at the Norton Simon Museum, where she is a lecturer. She led her fascinated audience through an examination of art from the Baroque period up through the 1960s. The group viewed numerous great works, such as Rubens’ portrait of St. Ignatius of Loyola. “It was fantastic to get to be there with Mrs. Grant, who knows so much about each piece,” says junior Kelly Bulger. “You would stand there looking at a painting, and she would just come up and point out some detail you had missed, bringing the work into a whole new light.”
Finally in March Mrs. Grant brought the College contingent to the Huntington Library in San Marino, where she serves as an Overseer. There they saw the largest traditional Chinese garden outside of China, crafted and installed by Chinese workmen. The group then split into two sections. Mrs. Grant led one through the American Art Galleries, where they studied the influence of European art on American artists; the other toured a History of Science exhibit led by the exhibit’s curator, Dan Lewis. “The History of Science exhibit displays in physical forms, books and illustrations, many of the ideas and authors that the students read at the College,” says Mrs. Grant. Adds Mr. Nightingale, “They had a medieval edition of Aristotle’s Metaphysics. You could read the text in Latin, and it was the same text we read here!”
In addition to covering all admissions and transportation expenses, the Grants provided meals for the group at three locations and hosted a luncheon at their home after the trip to the Huntington. “We are so grateful for the Grants’ generosity, and it was wonderful to get to know them personally,” says Miss Bulger. Mrs. Grant likewise appreciated her time with the students. “I particularly enjoyed relating to them as a tour guide, and not as a Board member. Their questions and comments were intelligent and insightful,” she notes. “All in all, a delightful way to spend four Saturdays!”