The Uffizi Thursday, Sep 5 2013 

With a timed visit, the stress of waiting in line for Italy’s greatest collection of painting was lessened considerably. Instead, we were able to arrive and enter the museum directly.

The Uffizi has gone through a renovation (still ongoing) of the first floor and has a big expansion planned that will increase the gallery space by 60,000 square feet. The ability to display more of the collection (and to bring in additional special exhibitions) will be a direct result.

As it is, the Uffizi (like the Louvre or other major museums) is hard to handle in a single visit. Several students experienced the brain explosion that results from such intense visual stimulation. The Botticelli gallery is enough to push one over the edge!

Several hours later, in small groups, we emerged. Now, the weekend begins. Rome and Cinquterra appear to be the destinations this week.

For those remaining in town today, we offered an optional trip to the Marino Marini museum. Primarily a sculpture, Marini lived near Florence and a deconsecrated church was refurbished as a museum solely focused on his work (which also includes paintings, drawing and prints.)

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Siena Wednesday, Sep 4 2013 

We boarded the 9:10 train to Siena at Santa Maria Novella, a leisurely 90-minute trip that afforded some additional naptime for many. Upon arriving, we debarked and followed the signs to the relatively new “mall” across the street and, for the first time, took the escalator from the train station up the hill to the city gate. This saved about 10 minutes and an uphill climb in the direct sun.

Upon entering the city, it was clear that it was completely filled with tourists such as ourselves. Parts of the streets were nearly impassable between pedestrians and the poor Sienese in vehicles, just trying to get their business done. We made our way to the campo, one of the most beautiful in Italy and an important historical site of civic government (as well as the Palio, the semi-annual horse race that takes place there).

Our first mission: to climb the Torre di Mangia. Despite some confusion with the tickets (which allowed us time to grab a slice of pizza marguerita and a drink), we mad our way up the 300+ steps to the top of this second tallest tower in Italy (it also holds the title of the highest secular tower). Many photo ops of the surrounding city and country hillside.

Once back on the ground, we went to the Duomo (Santa Maria Assunta) and obtained combination tickets for the cathedral, the museo del duomo (including another panoramic view from the terrace of the unfinished nave), the crypt and baptistery.  The students had their individual return train tickets, so could find their way back to Florence at their own leisure. Some waited to meet us back at the campo and to travel back together. Once in Florence, there was a flurry of ticket-buying for those planning a weekend t Several rip to Roma.

Tomorrow morning, la Galleria Uffizi.

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

Why Florence? Here is what the NY Times says… Friday, Jan 6 2012 

A Renaissance city gets a contemporary kick.

Since 2009, Florence’s youthful mayor, Matteo Renzi, has championed efforts to build a livable, living city that celebrates — but is not yoked to — its rich history (and historic riches). The result? An energized arts scene unfolding inside various medieval palazzi, ancient landmarks restored and reopened to the public for the first time in decades and restaurants abandoning traditional Tuscan staples for sophisticated contemporary food.

The grand 15th-century Palazzo Strozzi is now home to the Center for Contemporary Culture Strozzina, a destination for must-see events like the coming “Americans in Florence: Sargent and the American Impressionists,” which opens in March. Spazi Urbani Contemporanei, an arts space occupying a 15th-century former monastery, now features works from emerging Italian artists. Last year, the 148- foot-tall 14th-century San Niccolò tower reopened to the public with one of the best panoramic views of the city. And in September, the flagship Gucci Museum made its debut in the historic Palazzo della Mercanzia.

Next for the Tuscan capital are plans to restore the banks of the Arno River and spruce up the city’s largest park.


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L’ultimo giorno — our last day in Florence Tuesday, Sep 13 2011 

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No trip to Florence would be complete without a visit to the Bargello which houses the majority of important sculpture from the Renaissance. In a building that influenced the fortress-like Palazzo Vecchio and once served as a prison, as the mayor’s office and, until the mid-19th century, the home of the chief of police. We were able to enjoy works by Donatello, Michelangelo, Annamati (including a special exhibition of a sculptural program for one of the Medici villas near Florence). If that wasn’t enough, there is also a wonderful collection of ceramics, coins, metalwork from the Near East, and carved ivories. The students were charged with making a drawing from something they found of interest.

The afternoon was free to run last-minute errands (primarily, shopping for gifts) until we met up again for a group dinner. We returned to Il Gatto e’ la Volpe and topped off the evening with a gelato from the Gelateria La Carraia. Home to pack and prepare for our morning departure to Venice!

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:

A short bus ride = time travel Sunday, Sep 5 2010 

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After a leisurely breakfast, we left our hostel for a short walk to meet our bus outside the gate of San Frediano. Our objective: Scarperia and the Renaissance Village.

Scarperia was founded 703 years ago as a major outpost on the road between Rome and Bologna. Every year, at this time, they celebrate the town’s founding with a Renaissance Village and, on September 8, the Pallio.

Our bus driver, Michele, took us along the scenic route to Scarperia, climbing the hills near Fiesole that provide such a bella vista of the Florence skyline. We arrived in Scarpera less than an hour later.

We passed through the entrance to the historic center of the town to find the streets strewn with hay and every Scarperian sporting authentic costumes of the time. The women were especially beautiful in sumptuous velvets and brocades.  Everyone had a character to play: a friar, a witch, a caveliere, a prostitute —- even the babies were in full dress!

The town was strewn with booths where artisans, using age-old practices, demonstrated everything from candle-making to book-binding to falconry.

We had a guided tour of the gardens surrounding the medieval castle, then headed off for lunch.

Traditional food was served. One needed to purchase renaissance florin to pay. Menu items included crostini, stew, leg-o-beast (pork), spiedone (large skewers of sausage), farro salad, etc.

We spent several more hours in Scarperia before heading home for the evening. Tomorrow is a free day to do as one pleases (“a ciascuno il suo”).

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.

Something old and something new(ish). Thursday, Sep 2 2010 

Typically, we wouldn’t visit two museums in the same day, but today we encountered art that spanned nine centuries!

Out the door early this morning to be first (or nearly first) people in line for the Accademia. The Accademia was created in the late 18th century as a collection to inspire the artists who were studying at the Academy of Fine Arts (Accademia de Belli Arti) as well as to give them a standard by which to measure their work. It is home to Michelagelo’s “Slaves” as well as Il Gigante (“David.”)

Once in the door, we bought guides for all of the students and headed inside to quickly walk into the hallway that leads to “David” in all of his glory. An early entrance to the museum also affords you a view of the statue minus the hoards that will build and circulate around the base of the statue. No matter how many times you have seen the work in reproduction, there is nothing that can truly prepare you for encountering the David.

We spent most of the morning there — sketching and exploring the rest of the collection. We agreed to meet at 12:30 outside San Lorenzo at 12:30, giving everyone time to grab some lunch.

Our next stop was the Museo Marino Marini.  Marini was an early 20th century artist whose foundation is now in a deconsecrated church that holds many of his important sculptures, paintings and prints. As a contemporary of Picasso and Bracque, the influence of cubism is highly evident in his work.

We began student conferences today. This is a chance for everyone to check-in and talk about how the program is going, what they’re excited about, suggestions for change, etc.

Tonight, a group dinner at Casalinga, a neighborhood place. Mixed crostini, two types of pasta (penne al’arrabiata and ravioli with sage and butter), plus a mixed salad. Buono!

A Leonard Cohen concert in the Piazza Santa Croce was a temptation to go out for an evening passegiata, although the streets around the venue were roped off and no Cohen was heard. It was a nice stroll for those who ventured out.

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