Hill professor to discuss art and architecture with a splash of color

by Len Lear
Posted 2/9/23

Many of us are sort of color blind, seeing so many colors every day that they may not even register. Yet color is an essential element of the visual arts.

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Hill professor to discuss art and architecture with a splash of color


One might say that many of us are sort of color blind, seeing so many colors every day that they may not even register. It’s sort of like driving down the same street so often that we fail to notice the street signs or other landmarks that once made an impression on us. 

Yet color is an essential element of the visual arts, and artists and designers have employed it to serve a wide range of aesthetic and symbolic purposes over the centuries. Attitudes toward color have changed through time, so understanding the significance of color in a specific era means understanding its relationship with the larger cultural context.

“Colors are all around us,” says Concetta Martone Dragani, Ph.D., of Chestnut Hill, an art and architectural historian and a co-founder of dMAS, an award-winning design studio in Chestnut Hill that she leads with her husband, architect Alfred Dragani. (The Draganis, parents of three children, live in an eye-catching house designed in 1957 in two glassy pavilions by renowned German-Swiss architect Oskar Stonorov.) 

On Sunday, Feb. 12, at 1:30 p.m., Concetta will give an illustrated talk via Zoom for the Ebenezer Maxwell Mansion in Germantown on “The Victorian Palette: Color in Nineteenth-Century British Art and Design.”

“Colors are inherent to the natural world but also manmade,” Dragani said last week. “They speak to us directly when revealing details about the nature of objects, subliminally when invoking moods and eliciting emotions and aesthetically when delighting us with their beauty. In this talk, I will explore the historical dimension of color as it applies to British art and design at the time of Queen Victoria. 

“The discussion will focus on the innovations and traditions that contributed to the re-evaluation of color as a powerful means of revelation. The works of artists and designers will serve as evidence of the eclectic and multifaceted character of the Victorians’ experience of the power of color.”

Some of the artists and designers who will be discussed are Owen Jones, William Holman Hunt, John Everett Millais, Dante Gabriel Rossetti and Christopher Dresser. The presentation should be of particular interest to interior designers, fashion designers, painters and Victorian history buffs. Some of the innovations Dragani will discuss are the use of iron in architecture, synthetic pigments in painting and changes in building techniques and artistic practices.

Dragani was born in Naples, Italy, where she began her studies, later moving to the U.S. to complete her education. She earned a doctorate in art history from the Tyler School of Art and Architecture at Temple University. She teaches courses in the history and theory of art and architecture at Thomas Jefferson University and Temple University. As a historian, she searches for meaning in art and architecture; as a designer, she aims to create spaces that embody and express the values, ideals and aspirations of the people who occupy them.

“I love teaching,” said Dragani, who has been teaching at Temple for 16 years. “It is extremely satisfying. I think I learn as much from my students as they learn from me. Every semester is an adventure that's interesting and stimulating. I enjoy the exchanges we have. To lecture to students for an hour and 15 minutes and sustain interest is hard nowadays, when students are so used to brief exchanges on their cell phones, which I do not allow in class. Right now, all my classes are in-person, which I prefer because I can see the expressions on students' faces.”

One thing Concetta loves to do when not working is to cook for groups of friends in their home near Valley Green. “I have my mom's old recipes from Naples,” she said, “and I love making them. She passed away some years ago, but this makes me feel close to her.”

Reservations are required for the Feb. 12 presentation. They can be made at ebenezermaxwellmansion.org. More information about dMAS at dmas-architects.com. Len Lear can be reached at lenlear@chestnuthilllocal.com