What are your biggest problems when it comes to the TOEFL listening section? If you’re like a lot of the students I work with, you might find that the topics bore you; that the sections can be long; or that it’s hard to write as quickly as the speakers talk. Not to worry! We’re here to help with some targeted practice.
One task that can really be difficult for new TOEFL-takers is the lecture. In this task, a “professor” speaks for several minutes on an academic topic. It can be really easy to tune out the professor, but it’s important to stay alert throughout the entire recording so that you get maximum points in this section.
With that in mind, here’s a sample recording. We’re not going to post the questions at this point—that’ll be in the next post. Nope, for the moment, just focus on staying alert and taking the best possible notes.
What does it mean to take the best possible notes? The best notes are the notes that will help you answer questions correctly. In other words, you don’t want to write down every little detail. Instead, think about the passage like a series of paragraphs, and just jot down the most important concepts that you hear.
After you’ve listened to the recording, check your work by comparing it to the transcript below (no peeking!) What did you miss? Are there any important details you didn’t write down? On the other hand, did you take down too many details and forget to emphasize the main points?
If you’re not sure how to evaluate your note-taking skills, don’t worry! Just set aside the notes you did take and come back for the next post, in which we’ll have you put your notes to the test with some actual TOEFL listening practice problems.
Listen to the lecture here:
Botticelli Lecture Transcript
How many of you have heard of Alessandro di Mariano di Vanni Filipepi? No? Nobody? Well, let me put it this way: how many of you are familiar with the work of an artist called Sandro Botticelli, or just Boticelli? (Laughs). Yeah, that’s what I thought. It’s definitely an easier name to remember. But a lot of you might also be surprised to learn that his work fell out of favor from shortly after the Renaissance until the late 19th century? That’s right; it’s really only within the past 150 years that Boticelli’s work has returned to popularity—and yet, within that time, his name (well, his “alias”) has become synonymous with the kind of grace and beauty that characterizes the best of Renaissance painting.
Patronized by the famous Medici family, Boticelli’s work was celebrated during his lifetime for some of these same qualities. While his earliest works often used religious subject matter—well, we’ve seen this throughout the course, haven’t we, how common this was—these are not the works that are most celebrated today. In fact—let me ask you. What are the paintings that you most associate with Boticelli?
Well, The Birth of Venus is definitely one of Boticelli’s better-known works. His masterpiece Primavera, which was painted three years earlier, was done in the same vein. “Primavera” means “spring” in Italian—and here’s a slide of the painting just here. These are works that didn’t rely entirely on the iconography of the Catholic church. While we do see some holdovers from Boticelli’s earlier works, the main subjects of these paintings go back to earlier traditions of gods and goddesses. Note the extensive use of nature as a metaphor, in addition to the nudity of some of the figures—or the skimpy clothes used to “cover” them. Actually, however, Botticelli was extremely religious, and would end up painting work for churches and cathedrals, using Catholic iconography, for the rest of his life. The Madonna and Child, for example, were a popular subject.
Because of that, it’s kind of strange that he fell out of favor, at least—his paintings were in churches, chapels, and villas all over Italy. But in 1502, almost a decade before he died in 1510, he was already disappearing from the public eye. Even though he had painted frescoes in the Sistine Chapel, Botticelli’s work was commonly overlooked in favor of that by his neighboring artist—Michelangelo.
It took almost three centuries before an English collector, William Young Ottley, bought a Botticelli in Italy and brought it back to England in 1799. Even then, the painting wasn’t exhibited in public for almost another sixty years, when its next owner, William Fuller Maitland, lent it to an “Art Treasures Exhibition” in 1856. There, it was seen by more than a million viewers, and art historians began to take note. Some of these historians had already taken an interest in Botticelli’s Sistine Chapel frescoes, and his reputation again began to blossom. By the end of the century, Botticelli’s works had been extensively admired: the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood found inspiration in them; the first monograph, or book of paintings, by the artist was published in 1893. Botticelli had the last laugh, though: in the first twenty years of the twentieth century, more books were written about his art than about the art of any other painter, dead or alive.
It just goes to show you—the art world is ruled by trends. Just because a particular artist isn’t popular at a given moment, doesn’t mean that there’s no value in his or her work – or that it won’t be popular once more. Even if it does take three centuries!