Bill Travis, “Rome, Gianicolo,” photo on kozoshi paper, 10 X 15 3/4 in., 2011
Life is full of missed opportunities, where you wish you had only said something at the right time, but one opportunity I’m glad I missed occurred when I started at the Institute of Fine Arts, a graduate school of art history on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. Before matriculating, I had spent a year studying academic German, including a four-month stint in Munich, which gave me just enough of the language to read texts on High Gothic architecture but not enough to order Wiener schnitzel. Returning to New York City from Germany and feeling proud of this dubious linguistic achievement, I remember walking down the halls of the Institute, when I overheard two elderly people speaking the language of Goethe. “Ach,” I thought, two Teutonic visitors who will need my expert assistance, and I would have gladly offered it if only I’d remembered how to say “May I help you.” It was a lucky thing to forget, for in point of fact I knew absolutely nothing about the school, not even that the two Germans were distinguished professors there. A week later, I was taking a course with one of them.
Bill Travis, “Rome, Aventino,” photo on mitsumata paper, 9 X 13 3/4 in., 2011
I will never forget Wolfgang Lotz. Though I revered almost all of my professors, he was my favorite and, as he was constantly flying back to Rome, where he was Director of the prestigious Bibliotheca Hertziana, I was unfortunately able to take only two classes with him. One was on the architecture of sixteenth-century Rome and the other, on Roman urbanism of the late Renaissance and early Baroque. He literally wrote the book on the subject, several books in fact, and he wore his knowledge on his sleeve, never getting bogged down in pedantry but, rather, communicating ideas with the utmost grace and ease. Other professors were brilliant, but only Lotz made you feel you were actually there, in Rome, with Bramante and Michelangelo and Vignola and Raphael, witnessing them in the act of creation. When Professor Lotz talked about the Villa d’Este, he brought you face to face, not only with the building, but with the gardens and the play of light and air, and the gurgling of the fountains. And when class let out, you thirsted for more.
Bill Travis, “Rome, View from the Gianicolo,” photo on mitsumata paper, 8 X 14 7/8 in., 2011
One evening, enthused with some readings he’d assigned, I lectured a friend for two hours on the history of four palaces. (I don’t remember if I saw her again.) When I visited Rome the whole city came alive for me and thanks to the professor’s expert guidance, I knew something about what was there, what had been there before, and what was planned but never built. I might have followed up and become a student of Roman architecture, but then the good professor died, and my future in the field died with him.
Bill Travis, “Hadrian’s Villa, Tivoli,” photo on white silk, 10 X 15 in., 2011
I wonder what he would have made of my images of Rome now that I have long since transitioned from art historian to artist. These pictures go out in tribute to an inspiring teacher. I would like you to think, as you look at them, of the things he trained us not to miss: the sight, to be sure, but also the sounds, the fragrance, and the life.