November 27, 2000
Someone old, someone new
By Eric Rangus firstname.lastname@example.org
The newest member of Emorys art history department is actually
a familiar face.
Walter Melion was a faculty member from 1992 to 1994. Hes now an
art history professor at Johns Hopkins, but until June 1, 2001, hell
be back at Emory serving as the first Lovis Corinth Research Professor
in Northern European Art.
I loved it here. I still miss it a lot, to be perfectly honest,
said Melion, who also taught at Johns Hopkins for six years prior to joining
the Emory faculty.
For his year in residence, Melion has moved not only into the Carlos
Hall office of art history Professor James Meyer, who is on sabbatical,
but is also renting Meyers condominium. Joining Melion is his partner,
John Clum, an English and drama professor at Duke who is spending his
own yearlong sabbatical in Atlanta.
Interestingly, Melion is living in the same complex where he resided
during his original stint at Emory.
Corinth, the namesake of the professorship that brings Melion back to
Emory, was a late-19th, early-20th century German painter. Melion called
him a painters painter because of the way he manipulated
paint as well as his wide range of subjects. The professorship and accompanying
lecture series are funded by Emory College through the bequest of Kay
Corinth, the late artists daughter-in-law.
Melions specific area of expertise is centered several hundred
years before Corinths time and a few hundred miles to the northwest
of Corinths home. The bulk of Melions research involves Netherlandish
artists (those of Dutch, Belgian and Flemish background) of the 16th and
17th centuries. He is currently writing a book, The Meditative Art: Prints
and Prayer in the Nether-lands, 1550-1620, which he hopes to finish by
The field of art history is interdisciplinary in the way that one
has to negotiate from theology and church history to the study of rhetoric
and the history of education, Melion said. Of course, in my
field one has to know print techniques, the history of print publishing
and also a great deal about book publishing because many of the prints
I study are published as illustrations in books.
The lecture series is in its second year, Melion having been one of the
presenters the previous go-round. This year, Melion will give two lectures.
In February he will discuss Love, Judgment and the Trope of Vision
in Benedictus Arias Montanuss Divine Nuptuals and Mirror of the
Life of Christ.
This Thursday, Nov. 30, at 5:30 p.m. in the Carlos Museum reception hall,
Melion will open the 200001 series with a talk on 16th century engraver
Hendrick Goltziuss Circumcision, which depicts the circumcision
The print, Melion said, is part of a six-image collection of engravings
that depict several events in the life of the Virgin Mary and her relationship
to the infant Christ. Goltzius dedicated Circumcision, which he produced
between 1593 and 1594, along with it companion works, to a patron, Wilhelm
V, the Duke of Bavaria. For his efforts, Melion said, Goltzius received
a gold chain from Wilhelm, not only to honor the quality of the engravings
but to acknowledge the service to religion fulfilled by the print. It
is this early type of artistic commercialization that will form the basis
of Melions discussion.
What Im asking in the lecture is, How does the engraving
function as both a display of art and a religious image? Melion
said. There was great anxiety about the relation of artistry, artisanship
and artifice to religious argument at the end of the 16th century.
Melion said he will not only explore the perceptions of the artistic
and religious communities, but also those of the public. Engravings of
the era, Melion said, were much more well known than paintings because
they were reproducible and traded along with books at fairs throughout
Melions work is just half his story. He had a rather eclectic childhood.
Born in Manila in 1952 to an Austrian father and Filipino mother, he was
shipped off to a Scottish boarding school in Hong Kongwhere he acquired
the British accent he still has today.
In the mid-1960s, Melions family emigrated to the United States
and settled in Northern California, a place he considers his home. It
took me several years to adjust, said Melion, whose first language
was German and who essentially lived as a British subject for more than
half a decade.
I liked [California], but initially it was a bit opaque. I didnt
really quite understand what was going on. But I must say, we certainly
moved to the hotbed of cultural revisionSan Francisco in the mid-60s.
It certainly was an exciting place to be, he said.
Just because I didnt know what was going on doesnt
mean I didnt enjoy it, he laughed.
Melions family history has a unique history as well. Melions
father, Hans, was a Viennese Jew who escaped Europe at the relatively
late date of 1940. World War II had already begun and Germany had annexed
Austria several years earlier.
Hans Melion made it to Shanghai, then to Manilajust in time for
the Japanese invasion and occupation, then the Ameri-can re-invasion.
He didnt return to his home country of Austria until 1989. Every
member of his family, save one younger brother and a first cousin had
perished at Auschwitz.
Initially he had nothing but positive things to say, then things
became negative, and then he had a heart attack, Melion said. I
think it just became too much. His father recovered from that heart
attack and lived almost 10 more years, passing away in 1998.
Melion regularly visits Vienna. Its the location of what he called
the greatest drawing and prints collection in the world, the
Central European Hapsburg collection.
In fact, for more than a decade Melion has spent his summers in Europe,
basing himself in London, which grants him easy access to the continent.
The British library is a good place to find all [my] materials, he said. Anything I cant find there, I can always make a quick trip to Amsterdam or Brussels.