Burke ’69 is paintings curator at the Hispanic Society
of America in New York. (courtesy Hispanic Society of America)
power of a painting
Marcus Burke ’69 revitalizes Spanish art museum
English major, Marcus Burke ’69 read the great masters of
literature, but it was a painting that gave his life direction.
One day during college he visited New York’s Metropolitan
Museum of Art where he saw a depiction of the Madonna and Child
by the 17th-century Spanish master Bartolomé Esteban Murillo.
He was awestruck. “I realized how much power was pouring out
of that canvas on me,” Burke says.
That experience helped push Burke to become a scholar focusing
on Spanish art. Since earning a Ph.D. from New York University Institute
for the Fine Arts, he has taught art history, religion, and art,
and a hybrid studio/art-history course at colleges and universities,
and been a curator at several museums. Since 1995, he’s been
the curator of paintings at the Hispanic Society of America, which
is a museum, library, and study center in New York. The Hispanic
Society, celebrating its 100th anniversary this year, is considered
the best center outside Spain for research on Spanich art, literature,
and culture. Its collection includes paintings by El Greco, Velázquez,
Burke has “brought the Hispanic Society to the attention
of a much wider audience,” says Jonathan Brown *64, who taught
Burke about Spanish art in the art and archaeology department at
Princeton and later supervised his doctoral dissertation at NYU.
Burke and his fellow curators have mounted monthly exhibitions,
reached out to disadvantaged schools, and exhibited the Hispanic
Society’s works at other museums.
What Burke likes most about his job, he says, is “literally
getting your hands on great works of art and knowing them very well.”
Burke, who is also a Baptist minister, served as campus chaplain
at NYU and was on the faculty at Yale Divinity School; today he
preaches in New York-area churches. There is some overlap between
religion and art in his work at the Hispanic Society. Because much
Spanish art depicts religious scenes, he writes about visual symbolism
in the works and about the role of art in the life of faith. The
work of a curator is similar to that of a minister, he says: “Both
require a certain evangelical attitude, and an ability to get people
to take their minds off the daily world and focus on higher things.”
By David Marcus ’92
David Marcus ’92 is a frequent contributor to PAW.