Graduate Student Spotlight, Summer Travel Series: MA student Sarah Froonjian explores Vatican Library and the Castiglione Chapel of San Clemente

Over the summer of 2019 Sarah Froonjian, a second-year Master’s student in Art History, traveled to Rome for research her thesis on the art and history of the Italian Renaissance. Like many emerging art historians, Froonjian’s trip would not have been possible without university-level and departmental support.

Froonjian’s receipt of the Carol Bird Ravenal Art Award Fund as well as a CAS Graduate Student Research Award for travel allowed her to spend one week in Italy visiting the Castiglione Chapel of San Clemente and the Vatican Library for vital insight on her project. Froonjian’s investigation explores artist Masolino da Panicale’s fresco of St. Catherine of Alexandria in the Castiglione Chapel of San Clemente. The fresco cycle, dated to the 1420s, depicts St. Catherine as a scholar. This portrayal of St. Catherine differs from earlier representations that describe her as a model for female virtue. Froonjian connects this iconography to patron Cardinal Branda da Castiglione, an early humanist and papal diplomat.


Masolino da Panicale, St. Catherine of Alexandria Fresco Cycle, Castiglione Chapel of San Clemente. Photo credit: Web Gallery of Art

Froonjian noted the importance–and awkwardness–of conducting research abroad: “Being able to take notes in front of my chapel was super helpful for my thesis, although I think the security guard thought I was a weirdo because I was there for hours and would do things like squat in front of it at different angles. But I also learned a lot about navigating professional/scholarly spaces like archives and libraries, and the importance of having confidence in myself as an art historian!”

The travel awards gave Froonjian additional time to engage with archival materials at the Vatican Library, which can often be difficult for tenured scholars to access: “Applying was a complicated process but the collection–and even the building–is amazing, and now I have a Vatican library card!” During her time exploring the library’s collection, Froojian gained further insight about the chapel and patron that financed it—insight she would not have otherwise had.

Froonjian’s trip happened to coincide with the grand Italian national holiday known as Republic Day, which took place on June 2nd. Similar to the American 4th of July, Republic Day celebrates the birth of the Italian Republic with many public festivities such as parades and street parties, which Sarah watched from her perch near the Colosseum. Congratulations Sarah on an exciting and productive research trip, and many thanks to AU’s College of Arts and Sciences and the many individual donors and patrons of the program for supporting student research!


“Here’s a pic of me having coffee in Piazza Barberini!”          Photo Courtesy of Sarah Froonjian

Carol Bird Ravenal, Professor Emerita and founding member of the AU Arts Council, funds the Carol Bird Ravenal Travel Award to give “AU students the same chance to learn about art firsthand… in the hope that exploring great works may inspire their own artistic sensibilities.” Travel is paramount for Professor Ravenal. “If you are creating art, or studying the many facets of art history, you need to explore, savor, and digest the wider world. A student’s world can expand exponentially with the first views of a strange and unknown place, whether it’s Paris, Berlin, New York, or California. Perhaps this experience will change lives. It surely has enriched and changed mine.” The awards are distributed yearly to studio art and art history students, both graduate and undergraduate, who display talent and academic excellence.

CAS offers travel and research grants to graduate and undergraduate students in the fall and spring semesters. For more information, please visit:




Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s