Art History Professor Hans J. Van Miegroet Dies
“He was a powerful force in our department,” Jaskot said. “The Duke Art and Law Markets Initiative, which he founded, was a thriving center of activity for teaching, graduate research, and international collaboration. Hans’ undergraduate course History of Art Markets came from this lab and was one of the most popular (and legendary) offerings in our department.”
Van Miegroet was a popular mentor to graduate students and an accomplished scholar on topics that stretched from the humanities to law and the social sciences, Gary Bennett, dean of Duke’s Trinity College of Arts and Sciences, wrote in a letter to faculty.
“He explored questions of copyright and cultural heritage and the intersection of visual culture and commerce, both in emerging and historical contexts,” Bennett wrote.
Van Miegroet served the AAHVS department in many ways over the years. He was its chair from 2006-2014, directed its visual studies initiative from 2007 to 2011, and was the director of undergraduate studies at the time of his passing. He also directed the Center for French and Francophone Studies for four years in the 2000s.
In 2013, he led the creation of a new Media Arts + Sciences program in Duke’s Smith Warehouse, an attempt to use physical space to help students combine the arts and art history with natural and social sciences.
The eight laboratories created for the program were designed on principles set forth by the Bauhaus, a German design school in the 1920s that mixed architecture with other disciplines. He wanted students and faculty members physically close to each other, able to duck their heads into each other’s offices and bounce ideas around.
“One of his bywords was ‘proximity matters,’” said his colleague Victoria Szabo, a research professor in AAHVS and Gender, Sexuality and Feminist Studies. “He designed our collaborative, interdisciplinary spaces in Smith Warehouse with that in mind and was always pushing us to think bigger about how we expand and connect.”
In his office, Van Miegroet displayed a printout of data on one of his favorite ongoing subjects: the work by painters in Mechelen, a small town in Belgium responsible for many significant 16th century paintings.
“Anyone who entered his office for the first time would get an impassioned introduction to the data, which always had two lamps shining directly on it to show it in all its glory,” said Kaylee Alexander, who worked closely with Van Miegroet for five years while a graduate student in the Duke Arts, Law and Markets Initiative. “As he would talk, he always made sure to mention everyone he worked with on it, down to crediting those responsible for printing it out for him. He always gave credit where credit was due.”
Van Miegroet received an M.A. from Ghent University in his native Belgium and a doctorate from the University of California, Santa Barbara.
The AAHVS department is planning a memorial for Van Miegroet later in the semester. As details are ironed out, they will be posted on the department’s website.