Graduate Student Spotlight: MA student Claire Sandberg travels to Spain for thesis research



Claire in Madrid.

Second-year art history Master’s student Ms. Claire Sandberg traveled to Madrid, Spain over winter break 2019 to conduct research for her thesis on the 16th-century Italian artist Sofonsiba Anguissola. Sandberg received support for this research trip through the American University College of Arts and Sciences Graduate Student Research fund, and sat down with us to discuss her trip to Spain, her thesis project, and tips for other art history graduate students considering travel for their research projects.

Sandberg’s research is focused on Anguissola’s painting Bernardino Campi Painting Sofonisba Anguissola (c. 1559) and considers the ways in which Anguissola fashioned her identity as an ‘ideal female courtier’ to gain a position in the Spanish court. The painting, currently on view at the Prado through February 2, 2020, has been through substantial restoration efforts over the years. Sandberg notes that seeing the work in person post-restoration allowed her to notice small details such as gems on Sofonisba’s dress and details in the embroidery she was unable to discern through online images alone. Sandberg stated, “being present in front of the work was really important and allowed me to have a personal experience with the work.”

Sandberg encourages students to take advantage of travel and research opportunities offered by the art history department and American University at-large: “When the opportunity presents itself to see your work or do something that will give you a more well-rounded idea for your topic, take the opportunity– pursue it.” The application process consists of submitting a one-page proposal explaining why travel is necessary for the completion of a research project, and a breakdown of expected costs.


Plaza de Cibeles at Epiphany. Photo courtesy of Claire Sandberg.

In addition to working on her thesis project (and studying for comprehensive exams!) Sandberg visited other cultural institutions and locations in Madrid such as the  Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum, as well as the historic city of Toledo, the home of Mannerist painter El Greco. Her visit also coincided with Epiphany, the pinnacle of the Christian holiday season in Spain, commemorating the adoration of the Three Magi. Celebrations included a festive parade through Madrid, which Sandberg was able to watch and enjoy. When asked if she had any tips for students interested in international travel and research, Claire offered this piece of advice: “Don’t be afraid to go with the flow and say ‘yes’ to things. The most memorable experiences are unplanned!”

Congratulations Claire on such a productive research trip! Like many emerging art historians, Claire’s trip would not have been possible without university-level and departmental support and we are appreciative of the Art History Program and AU’s continued investment in our students and their work.

The College of Arts and Sciences at AU offers travel and research grants to graduate and undergraduate students in the fall and spring semesters. For more information, please visit:

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