Q&A: Kristin Huffman on Exploring the iconic 'View of 1500'

Kristin Huffman discusses a new exhibit exploring de Barbari's famous woodcut of Venice

Kristin Huffman, center, discusses Jacopo de’ Barbari’s View, which depicts Venice around 1500.
Kristin Huffman, center, discusses Jacopo de’ Barbari’s View, which depicts Venice around 1500.

Kristin Huffman is a Lecturing Fellow of Early Modern Art History at Duke and the curator on the current Nasher Museum of Art exhibition: “A Portrait of Venice: Jacopo de’ Barbari’s View of 1500.”

The multimedia exhibition created in Duke’s Wired! Lab is an interactive analysis of de Barbari’s iconic woodcut, which examines the city of Venice from overhead. The Duke exhibit at the Nasher runs through the end of the year.

Here, Huffman discussed the project with Duke Today.

Q: This isn’t just a portrait of Venice. According to you and everyone who worked on the exhibition, de’ Barbari’s View holds cultural, social, and political significance. Can you explain how you and your team drew that out for your exhibition?

A: The View of Venice is an amazing work of art, a portrait of the city as it appeared in 1500. Jacopo de’ Barbari and his team of surveyors not only plotted out the general form of the city, but they also documented, in a remarkably precise way, all its mesmerizing details. It is also true that the woodblock print was conceived at an exciting historical moment, one that was pulsating with new ideas. By the time the View was printed, Venice had become the capital of the printmaking world, with more than 200 printers and shops. By harnessing the power of the press, mass dissemination of knowledge on such a global scale was not again replicated until the advent of the World Wide Web at the end of the twentieth century.

I hope to have communicated this idea, along with many others, via the curation of six interactive digital displays within the exhibition. They show a range of topics—political science, mathematics, social and cultural history, international and cosmopolitan exchange, and the rich artistic world. Each touchscreen is its own carefully curated presentation of visual and written material, information accessed via a visitor’s fingertips. Ultimately, each display is intended to incite curiosity and interest in the original work of art on loan from Minneapolis. And do you know what? Every time I enter the space, I see people doing just that—looking and admiring de’ Barbari’s View. This is deeply satisfying to me as it shows the relevance and visual wonder of a more than 500-year old document.

Q: Why did you decide to invest several years into this project?

A: I have always believed in this project and am incredibly grateful to three (at the time) doctoral students (Iara Dundas, Lis Narkin, and Laura Moure-Cecchini) who had already been a part of Visualizing Venice (VV) when I joined. They asked me to develop our own project, which took me about one year to conceive. While previous VV projects focused on a specific island or zone of the city, I wanted a project that presented the city as a whole in an effort to bring Venice to life. Once I secured a loan agreement between the Minneapolis Institute of Art and the Nasher in 2015, the idea of an exhibition and presentation of our material to a wide and varied public—from scholars to individuals who may have never travelled to Venice— was put into motion.

Q: Do you know how long it took de’ Barbari?

A: I always love to answer that question! It took de’ Barbari and his team the same amount of time it took me to realize the exhibition: a little more than three years.

Q: Have you spent a lot of time in Venice?

A: Yes, but not as much as I would like. I have been going to Venice and studying its art and architectural history for a long time now, almost all my adult life. But as soon as I begin to think I know the city like the back of my hand, I make a new discovery. It’s a city with a rich and long history. I don’t think I’ll ever stop being a student of its treasures. Hence, the exhibition. I hope people might enjoy Venice and its unique and complex history via the exhibition. I have a passion and love for the city that I wanted to express in some way for everyone from all walks of life and with a range of interests.

Kristin Huffman is a Lecturing Fellow of Early Modern Art History at Duke and the curator on the current Nasher Museum of Art exhibition: “A Portrait of Venice: Jacopo de’ Barbari’s View of 1500.”

The multimedia exhibition created in Duke’s Wired! Lab is an interactive analysis of de Barbari’s iconic woodcut, which examines the city of Venice from overhead. The Duke exhibit at the Nasher runs through the end of the year.

Here, Huffman discussed the project with Duke Today.

Q: This isn’t just a portrait of Venice. According to you and everyone who worked on the exhibition, de’ Barbari’s View holds cultural, social, and political significance. Can you explain how you and your team drew that out for your exhibition?

A: The View of Venice is an amazing work of art, a portrait of the city as it appeared in 1500. Jacopo de’ Barbari and his team of surveyors not only plotted out the general form of the city, but they also documented, in a remarkably precise way, all its mesmerizing details. It is also true that the woodblock print was conceived at an exciting historical moment, one that was pulsating with new ideas. By the time the View was printed, Venice had become the capital of the printmaking world, with more than 200 printers and shops. By harnessing the power of the press, mass dissemination of knowledge on such a global scale was not again replicated until the advent of the World Wide Web at the end of the twentieth century.

I hope to have communicated this idea, along with many others, via the curation of six interactive digital displays within the exhibition. They show a range of topics—political science, mathematics, social and cultural history, international and cosmopolitan exchange, and the rich artistic world. Each touchscreen is its own carefully curated presentation of visual and written material, information accessed via a visitor’s fingertips. Ultimately, each display is intended to incite curiosity and interest in the original work of art on loan from Minneapolis. And do you know what? Every time I enter the space, I see people doing just that—looking and admiring de’ Barbari’s View. This is deeply satisfying to me as it shows the relevance and visual wonder of a more than 500-year old document.

Q: Why did you decide to invest several years into this project?

A: I have always believed in this project and am incredibly grateful to three (at the time) doctoral students (Iara Dundas, Lis Narkin, and Laura Moure-Cecchini) who had already been a part of Visualizing Venice (VV) when I joined. They asked me to develop our own project, which took me about one year to conceive. While previous VV projects focused on a specific island or zone of the city, I wanted a project that presented the city as a whole in an effort to bring Venice to life. Once I secured a loan agreement between the Minneapolis Institute of Art and the Nasher in 2015, the idea of an exhibition and presentation of our material to a wide and varied public—from scholars to individuals who may have never travelled to Venice— was put into motion.

Q: Do you know how long it took de’ Barbari?

A: I always love to answer that question! It took de’ Barbari and his team the same amount of time it took me to realize the exhibition: a little more than three years.

Q: Have you spent a lot of time in Venice?

A: Yes, but not as much as I would like. I have been going to Venice and studying its art and architectural history for a long time now, almost all my adult life. But as soon as I begin to think I know the city like the back of my hand, I make a new discovery. It’s a city with a rich and long history. I don’t think I’ll ever stop being a student of its treasures. Hence, the exhibition. I hope people might enjoy Venice and its unique and complex history via the exhibition. I have a passion and love for the city that I wanted to express in some way for everyone from all walks of life and with a range of interests.