SMU Distinguished Professor Emerita of Art History Alessandra Comini gained acclaim early in her career with her on-the-ground investigation into an art world mystery. Now, through a $2 million planned gift to SMU’s Meadows School of the Arts, she’s setting the stage for a new generation of the bold, curious and creative to make their own discoveries.
Comini’s gift will be split between two endowments:
- The newly created Alessandra Comini Endowed Professorship in the Division of Music to teach and study 19th-century composers, a period she identifies as critical to our understanding of music.
- The existing Alessandra Comini Endowed Fellowship Fund, which was launched in her honor with early support from former student Joanne Leonhardt Cassullo ’83 and Charlotte Whaley ’70, ’76, former editor of SMU’s Southwest Review.
“SMU has been my home for so long,” says Comini, who retired in 2005. “It’s an honor to give back to this University and support scholarship and research where my lifelong passions intersect. Art and music are so harmoniously intertwined. Art can’t be art without music by its side.”
The fellowship that bears her name supports the type of research that made her own breakthrough discovery possible. The fund awards $25,000 annually to an outstanding Meadows doctoral or postdoctoral art history student pursuing landmark research abroad that embraces multiple perspectives and cultural influences.
As a young professor, Comini traveled to Vienna in 1963 to study a series of self-portraits by Egon Schiele, an Expressionist painter and protégé of Gustav Klimt. Schiele’s controversial work and lifestyle eventually landed him in jail.
When she learned that no scholar had ever located the place where he was imprisoned, she had to find it. She drove to the nearby village of Neulengbach and quickly identified the local courthouse as the likely site. Initially turned away, she eventually sneaked in and made her way down a dark staircase into the basement. She found and photographed “cell No. 2,” the interior door of which Schiele had faithfully sketched, showing a former prisoner’s carved initials, M H.
Comini later published her research and photographs in Schiele in Prison, which garnered international accolades.
“It was the most exciting moment of my life,” she says.
Joining SMU’s faculty represented a sort of homecoming. Comini’s ties to SMU run deep. Her mother founded SMU’s Italian language program, her father worked as a commercial photographer near campus, and her younger sister attended SMU.
Now 87, Comini has published eight scholarly books, including The Changing Image of Beethoven: A Study in Mythmaking, a German edition of which appeared for the 250th anniversary of the composer’s birth, as well as numerous articles, reviews and chapters in exhibition catalogs and opera booklets.
She was awarded the Grand Cross of Honor by the Republic of Austria for her work on art and music. Comini was honored by the Egon Schiele Museum in 2018.
After retiring, she turned to fiction. She now writes the Megan Crespi mystery series, in which her alter ego investigates crimes in the art and music world. Comini will soon publish her 10th book in the series, and all in the series are being translated into German.
“There is such join in giving to and believing in an institution like SMU. ”
– ALESSANDRA COMINI