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The Sixty-Sixth A. W. Mellon Lectures in the Fine Arts: The Forest: America in the 1830s, Part 5: Emerson, Raphael, and Light Filtering through Trees

Alexander Nemerov, department chair and Carl and Marilynn Thoma Provostial Professor in the Arts and Humanities, Stanford University. In the six-part lecture series The Forest: America in the 1830s, Nemerov explores the Hudson River School painters and their contemporaries, focusing on what their art did and did not show of the teeming world around them. The forest serves as a metaphor for the unruly and wooded realms of lived experience to which art can only gesture. The lectures present a fundamentally new account of Thomas Cole (1801–1848), John Quidor (1801–1881), James Fenimore Cooper (1789–1851), and other artists and writers of that time.  The fifth lecture, held April 30, is entitled “Emerson, Raphael, and Light Filtering through Trees.” On March 28, 1833, in Rome, Ralph Waldo Emerson first saw Raphael’s Transfiguration. “What tenderness & holiness beams from the face of the Christ in that Work,” he wrote later that year, avowing that Raphael’s picture was the greatest he had ever seen. Transposed to the American woods, Raphael’s Jesus suggested the transfiguring glories of nature. Yet on the dark forest floor, in the woods of Hawthorne and Cooper, what Pan-like god lurked, idling in isolated pools, sullenly reflecting only on itself?