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‘I may seem prim and proper...'

True to tradition, during the opening of the academic year the LUS Teaching Prize will be awarded to the University's best lecturer. Get to know the nominees. This week: Marion Boers.

‘I never win anything,' was the reaction of Marion Boers, university lecturer in Dutch Art History. 'I don't even have a swimming certificate because I can't manage to swim five metres under water. I am just so surprised to be nominated for the LUS Teaching Prize.'

Why do you think you've been nominated?

‘I try to be more of a mentor than a lecturer. What I mean by that is that I prefer to put myself beside my students rather than above them. We discover things together, by discussing them. That means I have to involve my students in the lectures and that I need to be able to sense when they are losing interest. Lecturers really have to be good listeners, and we also have to be able to immerse ourselves in the world of our audience. I don't need to go playing Pokémon Go myself, but I do need to know what it is.’

How do you keep your students interested?

‘I try to connect art history to the present day, for example during the lectures on iconography. Take the painting by Hans Memling showing the heavenly gates. It's an image that still often appears on television or in films, even though we're not always aware of it. I use the Nespresso advert where John Malkovich plays Peter, the gatekeeper, to illustrate the reference. And the Lord Of The Rings films are full of the same symbolism.' 

Your students say you make it possible to discuss controversial issues

‘During my lectures I show how closely connected art and commerce are. It's something that a lot of art lovers find hard to accept. Whether it's a modern artist like Anton Heyboer or an artist from the Golden Age like Jan van Goyen, they all use similar techniques for promoting their work. Both these artists wove a myth around themselves. Van Goyen, for example, never finished anything, so people had to work really hard to actually get hold of one of his paintings. Not surprisingly, that drove the price up. But can you blame him for that? Like everyone else, artists have to earn their keep.'

What's different about your teaching style?

‘I look rather prim and proper and at first students tend to think I'm straitlaced, but in fact I enjoy talking about sex, drugs and rock-‘n-roll. Take the works of Hendrick Goltzius: that's pure 17th-century porn. When he painted a woman's stomach, there was so much tenderness in his brushstrokes you could almost touch the texture of her skin. You can see that in the painting of Lot and his daughters (see the main image, Ed.). We're not shocked by it today because we're used to a lot more, but a fine, upstanding merchant of the time? It'd probably make him as horny as hell.'

About the LUS Teaching Prize

The LUS Teaching Prize is an initiative of the Leiden University Student Platform. Every year they honour a lecturer who has made an exceptional contribution with his or her teaching. All the nominees are put forward by their own students. Members of LUS attend a number of lectures and then draw up a shortlist of three finalists. The focus is on innovative teaching, interaction with students and the lecturer's ability to continuously improve his or her teaching. This year the nominees are Kim Beerden (Humanities),  Jan van Lith (LUMC) and Marion Boers (Humanities).

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