Princeton and the Gothic Revival: 1870–1930 Charts the Collegiate Love Affair with Gothic Style

On View at the Princeton University Art Museum
February 25–June 24, 2012
PRINCETON, NJ – The Princeton University Art Museum presentsPrinceton and the Gothic Revival: 1870-1930, on view from February 25 through June 24, 2012. This exhibition of forty works explores America’s changing attitudes toward the art and architecture of the Middle Ages around the turn of the twentieth century. Organized by Dr. Johanna G. Seasonwein, the Museum's Andrew W. Mellon Curatorial Fellow for Academic Programs, Princeton and the Gothic Revival investigates, the adoption of the Gothic Revival as a style appropriate for American universities, as seen through the lens of Princeton University’s campus and collections. 

Princeton and the Gothic Revival covers the years between the dedication of the first High Victorian Gothic building on the Princeton campus, Chancellor Green Library, and the completion of the extraordinary University Chapel. The exhibition draws from the Art Museum's collections and resources of Princeton's Firestone Library and the University Archives, along with those of the Metropolitan Museum of Art and other institutions, to highlight Princeton University's role as a major patron of Gothic Revival art and architecture and the role of this style— of England's “ancient universities”—in shaping the identity of modern-day Princeton.

“Princeton’s campus and collections provide a unique opportunity to explore the transformation of the Gothic Revival into a symbol of the American academy. Princeton moved forward into the twentieth century by essentially looking back—at the architectural style of Oxford and Cambridge,” says Dr. Seasonwein, a historian of the art of the Middle Ages. “Ultimately, Princeton and the Gothic Revival examines how the language of medieval forms was used to articulate a new model of American higher education, both in campus design and in the classroom.” 

 Princeton and the Gothic Revival: 1870–1930 is organized into four sections:
  • The Gothic Revival prior to 1870 introduces the Gothic Revival movement in America and its English roots. Wealthy Americans visiting medieval sites or modern “Gothick” estates such as Fonthill Abbey often were inspired to design their own Gothic Revival homes that were a mix of the authentic and the fantastic. This section features a design for a stained-glass window for Fonthill Abbey by painter Benjamin West and a design for the first American Gothic Revival estate by noted architect Alexander Jackson Davis (on loan from the Metropolitan Museum of Art).
  • The Gothic Revival in the Gilded Age presents the first High Victorian Gothic buildings constructed on the Princeton campus with a mix of medieval and other styles that reflected the donors’ interest in the Aesthetic movement, and its eclectic approach to design. This section highlights the former Marquand Chapel, designed by renowned architect Richard Morris Hunt. The chapel was later lost to fire. Featured works include Hunt’s original architectural plans and artist Francis Lathrop’s models for one of the stained-glass windows.
  • The Middle Ages and the Modern University investigates the connection between architectural style and academic identity and use. This section presents works relating to the first Biological Laboratory and Art Museum buildings, both of which were constructed in the Romanesque Revival style. Also on view are some of the earliest works of medieval art purchased by the Museum (one of the great repositories for medieval art in the United States), including one of the first English medieval alabaster reliefs to enter an American collection.
  • The Collegiate Gothic Campus explores the development of Princeton’s campus in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The new buildings, which simulated those of Oxford and Cambridge, conferred an instant pedigree on the University and communicated the school’s desired stature to the student body (at that time all male and almost exclusively white and Christian). This section includes images related to many of the Gothic Revival buildings on campus, most notably a set of never-before exhibited watercolors of the original designs for the University Chapel.

Princeton and the Gothic Revival continues the Museum’s interest in understanding the ways in which Princeton University’s buildings and its design choices have shaped its identity as one of the world’s great research universities and vice versa, while offering a lens through which we can reconsider one of the nineteenth century’s most significant design movements.” said James Steward, director of the Princeton University Art Museum. 

In conjunction with Princeton and the Gothic Revival, a mobile web application will take the exhibition out of the Museum and onto the campus for visitors. The tour will provide a rich multimedia exploration of nine campus buildings that are featured in the exhibition and related catalogue. Drawing from the special collections of the Firestone Library and Archives and the Museum Collections, the experience will emphasize existing and historic sites presented in the exhibition, highlighting the recently digitized Historical Photograph Collection, Grounds and Buildings Series from the University Archives, as well as historic photographs and audio that features experts from across the campus. 

Opening Event
A reception for Princeton and the Gothic Revival: 1870–1930 begins at 5:30 p.m. on Sunday, February 26, 2012, in the Art Museum, followed by a concert in the University Chapel at 7 p.m. The Princeton Singers take a look back at music of the Victorian age, from sacred to sentimental, and at the British traditions that took root in America. Tim Harrell, guest organist, plays the Chapel’s 1928 Aeolian-Skinner organ. Both events are free and open to the public.

Exhibition Catalogue
Princeton and the Gothic Revival is accompanied by a fully illustrated catalogue published by the Princeton University Art Museum and distributed by Princeton University Press. The catalogue essays written by Dr. Seasonwein provide an overview of Princeton’s Gothic Revival architecture and examine three stained-glass commissions on campus. The catalogue, which also includes an illustrated checklist of the exhibition, is available for purchase in the Princeton University Art Museum Store for $35.00 ($31.50 for Friends of the Art Museum).

Princeton and the Gothic Revival: 1870–1930 has been made possible by the generous support of Christy Eitner Neidig and William Neidig, Class of 1970, in memory of Lorenz E. A. Eitner, Graduate School Class of 1952; Christopher E. Olofson, Class of 1992; the Kathleen C. Sherrerd Program Fund for American Art; the Allen R. Adler, Class of 1967, Exhibitions Fund; the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and the Barr Ferree Foundation Fund for Publications, Princeton University. Additional funding has been provided by Herbert L. Lucas Jr., Class of 1950; Exxon-Mobil Corporation and the Partners and Friends of the Princeton University Art Museum.About the Princeton University Art Museum Founded in 1882, the Princeton University Art Museum is one of the nation’s leading art museums. Its collections feature more than 72,000 works of art ranging from ancient to contemporary, and concentrating geographically on the Mediterranean regions, Western Europe, Asia, and the Americas. The Museum’s collections are particularly strong in Chinese painting and calligraphy, art of the ancient Americas, and pictorial photography.

Committed to advancing Princeton’s teaching and research missions, the Art Museum serves as a gateway to the University for visitors from around the world. The Museum is intimate in scale yet expansive in scope, offering a respite from the rush of daily life, a revitalizing experience of extraordinary works of art, and an opportunity to delve deeply into the study of art and culture.

The Princeton University Art Museum is located at the heart of the Princeton campus, a short walk from the shops and restaurants of Nassau Street. Admission is free. Museum hours are Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Thursday, 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.; and Sunday, 1 to 5 p.m. Free highlight tours of the collections are given every Saturday and Sunday at 2 p.m. The Museum is closed Mondays and major holidays. 

For more information please contact Kristina Giasi at (609) 258-5662 or 
Lynnette Werning at (877) 832-1077 or visit the Museum’s Web site.