Scholar Says 'Yes' To Research Opportunity

November 10, 2002

David Leiva

To hear Richard Tuttle speak of Italy is almost to experience it. His tongue rolls with each properly pronounced name and locale. And there's hardly a blink, as his eyes becoming fixed once he begins conveying his knowledge of the country's rich cultural history and its architectural geniuses. Last year, when the small town of Vignola, about two hours north of Florence, invited the art history professor to join a team of scholars on aneminent, groundbreaking exhibition it was simply an offer Tuttle couldn't refuse.

Especially since Tuttle is the only American authority on the focus of the exhibit: the town's favorite son and namesake, 16th-century architect and theorist Jacopo Barozzi da Vignola.

"I couldn't say no," says Tuttle. "I've been working on Vignola for years." Thirty years, to be precise. Last September, Tuttle packed his bags and took a yearlong leave without pay--he exhausted his sabbatical in 1995--to be the Rudolf Wittkower Guest Professor at the Bibliotheca Hertziana, a Max-Planck-Institute in Rome and, a world-renowned center for the study of Italian art.

Named after the 1918 Nobel Prize-winning German physicist, the Max Planck Society mainly promotes basic and theoretical research in the natural sciences. The Hertziana is notable for its orientation in the humanities. For Tuttle, it was the culmination of decades' worth of research, travel and extensive phone calls and e-mails.

The Italian aficionado says being able to work side-by-side with leading experts on the exhibition, catalog and conference was highly rewarding.

"I am grateful for the experience and collaboration with the best scholars in the world in my field," he says. "I hate to be a booster, but I am. The Italians are unequalled when it comes to studying and exhibiting their art and culture."

Yet the intense focus on the day-to-day operations of the Vignola show and overseeing its publications was a challenge. "It wasn't a vacation," he says. Besides working with more than 28 Italian and German scholars, Tuttle handled the editing, translation and design of the exhibition catalog and its publicity. And now Tuttle is motivated to write it down in English.

"While Vignola is still hot in my head, a short book on him is due here. He deserves it," he says. Erik Neil, director of the Newcomb Art Gallery, agrees. "This could be a real contribution to the architectural history field," Neil says.

So much so, that plans are in the works for a future gallery show on Italian Renaissance architecture. "It's wonderful when the gallery can present aspects of scholarship being pursued at Tulane," says Neil. Neil had an opportunity to visit the Vignola exhibition, along with 21,000 others.

"This exhibition on Vignola will be the reference point for at least the next generation," he says. Just how did Tuttle become interested in art history? The answer dates back to the '60s during his junior year at the University of California Berkeley. That's when he sold his stereo, car and everything else he owned and purchased a one-way ticket from Los Angeles to Paris. Leaving alone, he hitchhiked all over Europe looking at art. Now he has a chance to teach Vignola to other young scholars.

"I hope that [my students] come to appreciate the thoughtfulness and beauty of Vignola's palaces and churches," he says. "Because the buildings are worth revisiting." And apparently so is Italy. "More trips there are already in the works," he says.

David Leiva may be reached at

Tulane University, New Orleans, LA 70118 504-865-5000