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Art professor appreciation
A tribute to Professor John R. Martin *47

By Susan Schwartz '88

"You have to take Art 309 - Baroque art - with Professor Martin." These were the first words my brother said when he heard I had been accepted to Princeton.

My brother was an art history major, and Professor Martin was his thesis professor. Then my Dad piped in, "I took his course too - he was the hot new young professor on campus in 1955."

Truthfully, I didn't even know what Baroque art was; I was going to be a literature major. What did I need to know about art anyway? Also wasn't Art 309 for juniors, not freshman? Didn't I want to take only 101 classes? Still, I took their advice and signed up for his class.

When I stepped into McCosh for the first lecture, I realized my Dad and brother were not the only fans of John R. Martin. The hall was packed with all sorts of students: engineers, football players, artsy types, and, like me, bewildered freshmen. That was a good sign, I thought. Still, I really couldn't understand the appeal of the subject matter. Why did so many people want to know about artists who worked in the 1600s?

I know I would have never have taken the class if my brother hadn't twisted my arm. Needless to say, when Professor Martin, with his Rubens-esque mustache, stood at the podium and began to speak, I knew this was going to be no ordinary class.

As soon as the lights went down, the whole lecture hall was immediately transported from Princeton to Italy to France to the Netherlands and then back, all in one hour, and this was just the beginning. With Professor Martin at the helm, the journey continued each week.

Every painting came to life; every artist became a friend. The precepts were even more incredible. Here was this world-renowned scholar teaching me, a lowly freshman who had never even heard of Caravaggio.

By the second week, I'm sure he knew the names of every person taking his class. He made you feel as if he had known you all his life. Before the mid-term, he literally took me by the hand to the photo-study room, just to make sure that I knew where it was. While there, he sat down and spent an hour answering everyone's questions. It was fun for him!

His office door was always open, and he loved for his students to come by just to say hello and have a chat about art or life in general. This love for his students is what made him such a fantastic professor. In my third year, I took the final course of his Princeton career, Rembrandt; after the last lecture he was given a 10-minute standing ovation. I felt sorry for the future of art history at Princeton; there could never be anyone to replace such a wonderful man and giving teacher.

When I read in PAW that Professor Martin died this summer, I was heartbroken. Even though he had retired in 1987, Princeton just wouldn't be the same place without him. While visiting Caravaggio's Supper at Emmaus at the National Gallery in London or reading Anthony Powell's a Dance to the Music of Time, I think of Art 309. Professor Martin opened my eyes to worlds more beautiful than I had ever known. We shall all miss him!

Susan Schwartz, who majored in Italian at Princeton, is an actress; her latest role was on an Italian soap opera. She can be reached at venezia566@hotmail.com.