Those visits were so powerful and influential to me as a rising art historian and museum professional. I was learning about things in a way that I couldn’t in a classroom.Julia K. McHugh, Ph.D., Trent A. Carmichael Curator of Academic Initiatives at the Nasher Museum
Nasher Museum Scholar and Curator Julia McHugh Authors Collection Catalogue
By Dani Yan, Duke Class of 2022
As a Fulbright scholar in Lima, Peru, Julia McHugh frequented the Barbosa-Stern Collection. Silvia and Aldo Barbosa-Stern, the mother and son duo in charge of the collection, encouraged Julia to study their artworks.
Even on Julia’s first visit, Aldo took artworks from their cases and gave them to her to hold and examine.
“Those visits were so powerful and influential to me as a rising art historian and museum professional,” Julia said. “I was learning about things in a way that I couldn’t in a classroom.”
A few years later, Silvia and Aldo asked Julia to write the first bilingual catalogue of their collection, titled Colección Barbosa-Stern: Ars Vitae. The pandemic prevented Julia from returning to Peru before the book’s publication in July 2020, but she was able to lean on years of experience with the collection.
“I had had so much face-to-face experience with the works, which majorly infused my writing,” said Julia. “If my time with the artworks hadn’t been so hands-on and intimate in the beginning, writing about the collection from afar would have been a lot harder.”
As a student, Julia spent countless hours looking closely at specific works in the collection. Two eighteenth-century oil paintings, Saint Joseph and the Christ Child and Mary Magdalene in Ecstasy, remain among her favorites. Writing the catalogue gave her the chance to reflect on the collection as a whole.
“I had to look at a collection from a bird’s eye view, which was a really good exercise,” said Julia. “It reminded me of so many incredible pieces that they have. It’s not just painting, it’s also silverware and sculpture.”
Julia’s bilingual catalogue serves as a succinct overview of a broad collection. She hopes the book can serve as a meaningful souvenir for international visitors of the collection, as well as an accessible resource for students. The full experience of the Barbosa-Stern collection, however, is still only found in Lima.
Walking through their home is literally a journey through the history of Peruvian art. It’s everywhere. It’s in the dining room, it’s in the hallway, it’s in every room. It just takes your breath away.Julia K. McHugh, Ph.D., Trent A. Carmichael Curator of Academic Initiatives at the Nasher Museum