“Triumph” of Collaboration

Graduate Students Bring 400-year-old Artwork to Life
By Lauren Brown| Photos by John T. Consoli


A little-known fact: The 17th-century Dutch could throw street parties of historic proportions.

Their annual ommegang, or walking festival, mashed up elements of a parade, carnival, civic rally, religious procession and social event; the one honoring the Archduchess Isabella in 1615 in Brussels was a spectacle of colorful costumes and banners, musicians, marching craft guilds, live horses and camels, and lavish puppets and floats—1,400 processioners in all.

The artist Denys Van Alsloot captured this scene in his six panoramic, extraordinarily detailed oil paintings called “The Triumph of Isabella,” now the focus of a unique yearlong exploration in research, art and performance at the University of Maryland.

Three European museums with panels of the artwork have provided high-resolution digital scans to the university—the centerpiece of an exhibition opening June 6—and students in the School of Theatre, Dance, and Performance Studies and School of Music and beyond are studying them in order to recreate the sounds, sights and sense of the pageant, 400 years later.

“The whole idea is to showcase the unbelievable work our students are doing, give them the training to be leaders in this work and open up new approaches and new ways of thinking,” says Franklin Hildy, theatre history professor and director of the new International Program for Creative Collaboration and Research.

This program, funded through a recent 10-year, $10 million anonymous gift to the performing arts, includes allowing graduate students to travel abroad to study medieval and Renaissance clothing construction, for example, and to consult with experts from the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.

“Our students are really getting to understand historical performance techniques from the design perspective, and that’s really exciting,” says Heather Jackson m.f.a. ’17, a umd costume designer and adviser in the program.

Master’s student Paul Deziel, who specializes in theater projection and multimedia design, is bringing to life the different marching groups for a 360-degree immersive space. “This is the largest animation project I’ve ever done.”

Performances in September will feature his projections, a float wagon recreated by set design students, 12- to 15-foot-tall puppets, dancing, and singing and other music, circa 1615.

Doctoral student Allison Hedges, who’s assisting Performing Arts Librarian Andrew Barker in curating the exhibit, says that since little iconography exists on medieval performances, the paintings are a bonanza of information.

“This painting gives so many research opportunities to so many students in different aspects of theater and performance studies.”



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