When a deal is not a deal… but we ended on a great note! Wednesday, Aug 28 2013 

Another quick breakfast and a dash out the door to make it to the final stop on our combined ticket, the Museo del’Opera. This museum holds the original sculptural works from both inside and outside the baptistery, the campanile and the basilica. Highlights include many major works by Donatello, the della Robbia workshop, Arnolfo di Cambio , Ghiberti’s Gates of Paradise , and Michelangelo’s Pieta’, created for his own tomb.

Imagine our dismay to learn, upon entry, that 3/4 of the museum is now closed and inaccessible to visitors as the structure is now undergoing a major, multi-year renovation (to reopen sometime in 2015). The one consolation was that the Gates of Paradise were there in their entirety — all eight panels, displayed as they were when they decorated the baptistery. Jenille, who had researched Ghibert, gave us a great presentation on the doors and how the narrative in each panel is structured.

Not to be daunted, we made a quick decision to head to the Bargello to satisfy our sculpture craving and to carry out a drawing assignment. After a brief introduction to the history of the Bargello, we dispersed to enjoy the collection and to find a work from which to create a drawing (our benchmark drawing — to give each of us a baseline  to assess our progress over the next four weeks.) The Bargello is an excellent place for students to draw — benches and chairs are available in every room, allowing one to spend extended time on a drawing. We will bring these back to the studio this afternoon to share.

Lunch break and some down time before returning to our studio, the aula magna (ballroom) of the Foresteria.

Book-making: the history of paper, binding techniques — a whole lot of information to get everyone started on designing and making our own sketchbooks. These will be used for individual purposes — journaling, drawing, watercolors, scrapbooking. First decisions to be made: how big? What do I want to use it for?

We use the rest of the afternoon to begin working. Tomorrow morning, there will be additional time before heading out to Florence’s most quirky museum, La Specola.

Why Florence? Monday, Jan 7 2013 

Florence (Firenze):

  • is a compact, metropolitan city of 500,000 people
  • is the birthplace of the Renaissance
  • is one of the most walkable cities in Italy (most important sites are within 1/2-hour walking distance of the Duomo)
  • draws visitors from all over the world
  • has a history rich with intrigue, adventure, and centuries of incredible patronage of the arts (can we say “Medici”?)
  • has an equally rich “present,” — with cafes, clubs, shops and cinemas
  • is centrally located for day trips to other Tuscan hill towns and city centers
  • is home to Michelangelo’s David, Botticelli’s Birth of Venus, Leonardo’s Adoration of the Magi as well as works by Caravaggio, Giotto, Rembrandt and Raphael
  • has a cuisine characterized by simple preparations of abundant produce, mellow cheeses, grilled meats and a fascination for beans

Maps, vocabulary and getting your bearings. Monday, Aug 6 2012 

Getting around major cities in Italy requires a map — there is nothing intuitive about it. Streets change names multiple times within what seems to be the equivalent of a block.

To get the most of your map, it’s helpful to understand some of the vocabulary used in urban settings to describe the topography of the city.

Neighborhood: quartiere

Street: strada or via 

City square: piazza

Small square: piazetta

Courtyard: cortile

Shiny. Sparkly. Glass! Saturday, Sep 17 2011 

No trip to Venice would be complete without a journey to the island of Murano and the heart of Venetian glassmaking.

While glass was certainly known in Italy before it was developed to a fine art in Venice (the Romans used glass in their bathhouses, for example), it was Venice’s position as a trade partner to the Orient (Syria, Egypt and Palestine, all with significant glass-making histories) that brought the industry to Venice.

Some say that the island of Murano was chosen to prevent fires from breaking out in the more populated areas, but others believe that secluding glass-making to Murano was a way to regulate the trade and protect the secrets of the designs and processes.

Murano is a relatively short vaporetto ride — we arrived in just a few minutes and then dispersed to walk around the quaint little town, lined with shop after shop of glass vessels, lighting fixtures, jewelry, and brik-a-brak. No surprise to any of you reading this blog, but purchases were made!

Scarperia! Sunday, Sep 4 2011 

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A short bus ride to the area known as the Mugello and a visit to Scarperia and the celebration of the city’s founding more than 700 years ago.

We arrived at 11:00, just as the gates opened and time-traveled back to the Renaissance. Lords and ladies in incredibly beautiful garments, artisans demonstrating age-old practices, and a color guard shooting off their muscats.

We had lunch just as they skies opened and a pouring rain ensued. Because we have been here in years past, the town folk took us under their protection and guided us to a covered area where we could eat, safe from the torrential rain.

We saw birds of prey, shot some arrows, purchased some knives, and then boarded the bus for our trip home. A short stop at the Parco Demidoff to see Gianbologna’s gigantic sculpture was somewhat dampened by 30 feet of scaffolding.

Back to Florence and a peaceful evening.

Il Primo Giorno Monday, Aug 22 2011 

Today saw the arrival of the 2011 Tuscany Travel Team. Weather problems on the east coast caused delays for some and the resulting lost luggage. We are confident that everything will arrive in the morning.

After a brief orientation in our classroom (the gorgeous Aula Magna, former ballroom of the palazzo) and the distribution of maps, the calendar for the week, and emergency contact cards, we walked to Il Gatto e’ La Volpe for dinner. The weather continues to be on the warm side, so we took a leisurely pace and stopped at several points to discuss the art and architecture of the city. The Piazza della Signoria provided opportunities to talk about Savanarola and multiple sculptures (both originals and copies) that decorate the square.

Dinner began with mixed antipasti (and the kind of tomatoes you can only find here) followed by a choice of pasta, pizza or a entrée-sized salad.  On our way back toward the Oltrarno and Carraia Gelateria, we became participants in a street peformance.

Jet-lagged, sleep deprived but excited to be here and to begin our month together in Italy.

Museums in Florence — here’s just a sample Friday, Dec 10 2010 

Over four million visitors view the art and architecture of Florence annually — here’s some of the reasons why:

Santa Croce Thursday, Sep 2 2010 

Another day, another great Florentine church.

After breakfast, we went to the Franciscan church of Santa Croce. Designed by Arnolfo di Cambio, this structure holds the tombs (and cenotaph) of some of Florence’s great hits: Michelangelo, Dante, Machiavelli, and Galileo. The nave, originally separated so the monks of Santa Croce could worship separately from the people, ends in a beautiful apse that has been under restoration for the past three years.

Outside the church you will find Brunelleschi’s Pazzi Chapel and the Museo di Santa Croce (the former convent that has been converted into a museum to hold the works of the church). Two cloisters provide a quiet sanctuary and several students used the shaded spaces to draw.

We continued student conferences today. Those who weren’t conferencing yesterday and today were encouraged to go to the Pitti Palace to see the rest of the Caravaggio show that we first encountered at the Uffizi. It is the 500th anniversary of the artist’s death.

Tomorrow, we are off to Siena.

Fra Angelico, Savanarola and the Monks’ “studioli” Friday, Aug 27 2010 

Our destination today was the religious complex of San Marco, including the church designed for Cosimo de’ Medici by Michelozzo and the attendant monastery that is now a museum. The hand of Beato Angelo (Fra Angelico) is everywhere.

The monks’ cells (“studioli”) each contain an individual fresco intended to inspire their prayers and reflections. Prominent themes were scenes from the Passion of Christ, predominantly the Crucifixion. While Fra Angelico designed all of the paintings, the work was carried out by assistants. The Library is a beautiful room, also designed by Michelozzo, that contains several display cases containing exquisite illumination manuscripts and the materials used to create them.

Our weekend begins at noon on Friday. There are numerous groups making plans to travel to the Cinque Terre over the weekend. For those remaining, the is a mini-day-trip planned for Fiesole on Saturday and a trip to the Ciompe Antique Market near Santa Croce on Sunday.

Could it get any better? Yes, it can — we’re adding Rome to the itinerary! Wednesday, Feb 17 2010 

Five days in Rome, in fact.

Our Exploration Seminar will culminate in Rome. We are excited to bring the group to La Citta Eterna: Saint Peter’s, the Vatican Museum, marvelous churches, and the excitement of a major metropolitan city.

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