Retired LaGrange College Professor to discuss origins of Italian Renaissance

Published 1:30 pm Saturday, February 25, 2023

Getting your Trinity Audio player ready...

Tuscany is renowned for its grandiose architecture and majestic landscapes, but the central Italian region is also the mecca of Renaissance art.

Retired LaGrange College Art Professor John Lawrence, the next presenter in the 13th season of the institution’s 3D Journeys lecture series, will highlight the conceptual changes in artistic expression that led to a period of rebirth during the 14th and 15th centuries in Italy.

“It was not just a group of artists that said I am going to do things differently,” he said. “It was a revolution. They don’t happen often in the history of art.”

Email newsletter signup

This specific time in history gave us famous works that include Leonardo da Vinci’s “Mona Lisa,” Michelangelo’s “Sistine Chapel” and Raphael’s “Sistine Madonna.”

Lawrence will present “Tuscany: The Birth of the Italian Renaissance-A visual journey in the footsteps of St Francis of Assisi, and the Tuscan painters, Giotto di Bondone of Florence, Luca Signorelli of Cortona, and Piero Della Francesca of Sansepolcro” on Monday, Feb. 27, at 10 a.m., at Callaway Auditorium.

He said Saint Francis of Assisi was included in the lecture because he influenced humanism, a characteristic feature of the early Renaissance.

“St. Francis was the first one who supposedly received the wounds of Christ,” he said. “He was an amazing man in that he humanized Christ. St. Francis was born wealthy and could have had anything he wanted, but he gave it all up.”

Lawrence, a global traveler who has made multiple visits to Italy, said Cortona is one of his favorite places.

“I fell in love with the area,” he said. “It’s a beautiful hill town. Cortona is a great place to get a feel for what Tuscany is like.”

Lawrence began working at LaGrange College in 1970, after earning a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from the Atlanta College of Art and a Master of Fine Arts degree from Tulane University. His wife, Merri ’77, is a retired designer from Miliken who currently creates photograms. He has three daughters and four grandchildren.

He said he wanted to pursue a career in art after taking some courses at Millsaps College in Jackson, Mississippi.

“Because Millsaps only had a two-year program, I had to look for an institution that focused primarily on art,” Lawrence said. “After I left the Mississippi college, I convinced my parents to let me go to art school in Atlanta, where I received a scholarship.”

When he first joined the faculty at LaGrange, he said he was part of a two-person department.

“I was teaching drawing, painting, photography, sculpture and art history,” Lawrence said. “My specialty was photography. I was an Assistant Professor, then the Callaway Professor of Art and Design and eventually Director of the Lamar Dodd Art Center.”

During his time as Director, Lawrence established one of the largest college museum collections of 20th century photography in the Southeast. He said he would consider himself to be a documentary photographer.

“Photography is an art form,” Lawrence said. “It’s the concepts and what are you trying to say that are more important than just describing the way some-
thing looks.”

Even after retiring from the college in 2019, he has not stopped working. Lawrence continues to take on photography projects throughout the United
States and the world.

“I’m always looking for new subject matter,” he said.

Images from Lawrence’s over 40 years of travel to Italy and Greece have been featured in exhibitions and book illustrations. His most recent exhibition in Siena, Italy, included photographs from sites related to St Francis of Assisi and Padre Pio of San Giovanni Rotondo.

Lawrence’s current project is a portfolio of images for a book to be published this year on sites related to Irish writers. This will be his third appearance at LaGrange College’s 3D Journeys lecture series. Lawrence previously gave presentations on Sicily and Coastal Georgia.

“John has a gift for bringing faraway places to life,” said Ann Beason HA’14, who co-chairs the 3D leadership committee with auranne Buchanan. “He  speaks from a deep love and respect for this part of the world. We are grateful to him for taking a break from his own creative work to share his insight with the 3D audience.”

The lecture will be available to view on the college’s YouTube channel by the Friday following the event.