On Thursday, July 9th, Sheila and I met to discuss progress on my article, and to address the following three weeks of my internship since I was leaving the Archive at the end of July. I sent her the updated versions of the Guide for Conducting Research on Women Artists as well as the draft of the Barocci article, and we agreed to resume work on these projects when I returned from northern Italy. On Friday morning I took the train to Milano, and met Liliana (who was staying there with her family) for an exhibition at Palazzo Reale on Leonardo da Vinci. Supposedly, it was to be one of the largest Leonardo exhibitions in recent years, and I was ecstatic to see many of his famous drawings in person.
The exhibition was indeed extremely large, and it encompassed a great many facets of Leonardo’s work: anatomical studies, drapery studies, mechanical designs, war machines, studies for paintings, the work of his teachers and followers, comparisons between his own work and that of his contemporaries…the rooms went on and on! My personal favorite works have always been the anatomical studies, and I so fondly gazed at the majestic faces of young women, the humorous caricatures of old men, and his studies of muscles, bones, veins; similarities between the human body and the bodies of horses and birds. Leonardo never ceases to amaze me!
In the late afternoon, I received word from my parents that they, my brother Tim and my sister Nicole had arrived safely in Milan. I met them for lunch and shortly thereafter we piled into a car and sped off towards Lago di Como! Because I hadn’t seen my parents in 6 months, they were eager for the chance to trek overseas and see me. My dad had always wanted to visit Lake Como, and although there was not an art related reason for me to visit, I thought it would be a great opportunity for me to take two days to see a new aspect of the Italian landscape and to practice my Italian in an area with very few tourists (at least in the town where we were staying).
This weekend was insightful in a variety of ways. First of all, my family was incredibly jet lagged, and I forgot how debilitating it can be when you are both exhausted and culture shocked. Second, my family – my dad especially – was so culture shocked, and it was hilarious! Watching my father drive this tiny car (well, tiny by American standards) alongside Italians who zipped by without signaling a lane change was extraordinarily funny because he couldn’t fathom that people actually drove in such a “reckless” manner. I quietly and eagerly waited to see what his reaction would be to the narrow cobblestone streets of Florence. Parking the car was sure to be an experience!
Lake Como was beautiful to say the least. The roads twisted along, higher and higher up, providing us with a breathtaking view of the lake. The colorful houses were vividly reflected in the water, and the sun shone brightly over the entire scene. When the GSP failed us poor, lost tourists, I had the amazing opportunity of asking for directions – completely in Italian! My parents were absolutely impressed with the kind hearts of the Italians, who got in their own car and led us down the hill we had accidently driven up and towards the Airbnb we had rented.
The weekend was filled with fun and excitement, from an afternoon boat tour of the lake, to long walks along the winding roads of the small town where we stayed. On Sunday, I of course was used to all stores, small restaurants and cafes being closed, and the things that surprised my family (such as this) served as a humbling reminder of how different American and Italian cultures are. I had become so accustomed to this way of life that I truly forgot so many of these minute changes, and I was glad to see them through the eyes of people who came here as visitors rather than as students.
The day we left Como, we took a detour before heading back to Florence. We stopped off for coffee in Parma and we walked around this beautiful little place. I quickly discovered that just as in America, where each region is so different from the next, Italy and its areas that began as separate city-states, each have a distinct identity, and despite unification, the country is a series of individual facets that cannot be appreciated if only viewed as the whole. I thought about this as I stared out the car window and then I saw it: the cityscape of Florence was right in front of me. I felt excitement well up inside of me and spill over, until I realized that I was crying. I was so happy to be home, to be in Florence, and to show my family this incredible place I came to know so intimately.
Following our wondrous trip to Museo Regionale, Liliana and I grabbed a quick lunch and walked towards the train station as the Sicilian sun beat down upon our shoulders. Our plan was to stop in Augusta for the evening so that the majority of the following day could be spent in Syracuse and the evening could be spent in Catania, where I would be flying out from the following day. When we got to our seats on the train, we quickly made friends with a few fellow travelers, one of whom was a teacher living in Italy, and when we realized they were also stopping off for an afternoon in Taormina, we decided to spilt the cab fare up to this beautiful little place with a Greek theatre and a glorious view!
The ride up to this town was incredible: as we climbed higher and higher, the view became truly indescribable. The coastline was comprised of a variety of browns and grays and it starkly contrasted with the bright blue hues that made up the sea. Strong yellows, pinks and greens surrounded us as the car lurched upward – Italian taxi drivers truly give New York City cab drivers a run for their money – and all too soon, we came to a halt and stumbled out into one of the main piazzas of Taormina. This town was very clearly a tourist destination in Sicily, and our first stop, the Teatro Greco di Taormina, was one of the reasons why. This Greek theatre was absolutely breathtaking. It was the first I had ever seen and because we had discussed Roman amphitheaters with Professor Kirin Makker throughout the semester in Rome, the contrasts and similarities between Greek and Roman archetypes became so much clearer during this visit.
Before leaving Taormina, Liliana pointed out the Duomo, Palazzo Corvaja and Palazzo di St. Stefano, briefing me once more on a bit of Sicilian history. I remember thinking, as she spoke (and as I ate the very best Sicilian granita of my life!) about how much I could appreciate the information she gave me in this moment. I think that there are two reasons for this heightened sense of appreciation, one being that I was physically standing in the presence of the history she discussed, which made it all the more tangible. The second reason was because I was hearing this history from an Italian, and specially, from a Sicilian. History, art and culture become so much more alive when you learn about them in moving, living, breathing ways. In this moment, I was so unbelievably happy.
We did not spend much time in Augusta – only one morning. In those few hours, however, the most incredible experience occurred. We walked along one of the busier streets of Augusta (and I use the word ‘busier’ loosely, for much of Sicily is very quiet and under-populated) and we eventually paused in the local church. The space, so quiet and yet so grand, was beautiful. Staring up at one of the many statues in the church, I sat down in a pew, a few rows behind an older man and a small girl. They two were looking up at the statue, one of the Virgin Mary. I quickly realized that this was a grandfather and his granddaughter, and I watched as he tenderly leaned down and whispered to her in fast, smooth Italian, using his hands and pointing up at the statue. Liliana leaned over and told me that he was explaining the faith to her, actively using the statue – the art – as guidance. This interaction we witnessed touched me so deeply, because I saw the very thing I am most passionate about being used in such a loving way. It was truly moving, and that moment has stayed with me ever so vividly.
In the early afternoon, Liliana and I took a train to Syracuse, or as the Italians call it, Siracusa. As a sophomore in Professor James Capreedy’s Roman Empire course (in the Classics Department), we had completed a mapping project on the Roman provinces in the late empire, and I remembered our discussion of Syracuse, a port city and therefore a great asset to the Romans. Liliana first took me to the Duomo di Siracusa, a space that had begun as a Greek temple dedicated to Athena and is now a cathedral dedicated to the birth of the Virgin Mary. The Doric columns stand visibly as the support for the cathedral’s walls, and the side chapels, one of which is devoted to Santa Lucia, serve as a reminder that this ancient Greek structure was later turned into a Baroque space – a contrast that makes it all the more spectacular.
Unfortunately, as with all of Italy, sometimes without warning, churches and museums will be closed simply for the reason that they are, and this happened when we tried to see the Caravaggio painting in the Chiesa di Santa Lucia alla Badia and when we went to see the Teatro Greco (which was under renovation for the entire summer) – I was so upset! But on the bright side, we had more time to spend at the Tempio di Apollo, Museo Archeologico Paolo Orsi, and at the Orecchio di Dionisio, or the “Ear of Dionysius,” which quickly became one of my favorite sites in Syracuse. According to legend, Caravaggio gave it its nickname; “the Ear of Dionysius” in reference to how the King Dionysius I of Syracuse allegedly used the cave. With its excellent acoustics, it is said that Dionysius housed political prisoners here in order to listen to their conversations and potential plans. Whether or not it is based in fact, how interesting!
After the very long day, we took an evening train to Catania, and I watched once more as the small Sicilian towns flew by. We walked around Catania for quite some time, having a late dinner in front of Cattedrale di Sant’Agata. The following morning I watched from the plane as Mount Etna became smaller and smaller. I was sad to leave such a beautiful island when there was a lifetime of exploring to be done, but I was also excited to return home to Firenze – just in time for the city’s celebration of its patron saint, the Feast Day of John the Baptist.
The morning after our arrival in Messina, Liliana and I went to the Museo Regionale very early. We were taking an afternoon train towards Syracuse so we didn’t have much time to spend in Messina. The museum was empty with the exception of Liliana, myself and one other couple, and this made the experience all the more enjoyable considering how close we could get to each work, how much time we could spend analyzing a specific painting, and, when we got to the Caravaggio paintings, how intimate the viewing experience became.
No matter the city, touring museums with Liliana is a fascinating opportunity because the intellectual conversations that arise based on the stimuli around us are so completely enthralling. This time, she so eloquently dove into the topic of Sicilian Renaissance artwork, noting how different these works could be not only from mainland Renaissance Italy, but from region to region and from artist to artist. When we came across concepts or imagery that I was familiar with, I forced Liliana to quiz me on names and titles; so when we came across a painting in which the artist had included a cartillino, or ‘little paper’ with his signature written on it, I repeated the Italian word over and over until I had cemented it in my brain once more. Next time I saw a cartillino, I told myself, I would most definitely remember the name!
The museum was incredibly small and besides having two paintings by the famous (and infamous) Caravaggio, it does not have same influx of tourism that museums in Rome or Florence are accustomed to. I was tremendously excited to see works by Antonello da Messina, for he is the Sicilian artist often credited with spreading the systematic use of oil paint in Italy (there are multiple theories as to how he developed his technique, and it was extraordinarily enjoyable to discuss these with Liliana!). Before I could stop myself, I caught a glimpse of a Caravaggio in the next room and I was immediately drawn to it.
The room itself was small and dimly lit. On the left wall was a timeline of Caravaggio’s life, a map of all his possible travels, and images of various works of art that could have served as inspiration for his own paintings. Looking at the map of his travels, Liliana and I speculated as to whether Caravaggio passed through Venice. It was not listed as one of the cities he visited, but because Venetian painters such as Giorgione, Titan, and Veronese seem to have been significantly influenced by techniques such as chiaroscuro, it would be interesting to know whether they had seen any works by Caravaggio who was a master of this technique. It is well known that Caravaggio lived a chaotic life, (he was notorious for bar fights and scandalous behavior: he even killed someone and lived on the run for a time!) but regardless, this man was extraordinarily talented. The two works on display at this museum, The Raising of Lazarus (c. 1609) and the Adoration of the Shepherds (c. 1609) are examples of commissions he undertook in Sicily, and their presence was mesmerizing!
The Raising of Lazarus was placed on the central wall (the wall straight across from the entrance into the room) and the Adoration was located on the wall directly to the right. There was a small bench located in the center of the room and the guard on duty continuously paced between the entrance and exit doorways of the room. Lazarus was the first painting to grab my attention, and I spent most of my time gazing up at this work. The sense of light caught my attention first: in Rome, Liliana had taken us to numerous churches that held Caravaggio paintings, and she explained how he would use the natural light (e.g. the light coming in from the church windows) as the sources of light in his works. Thus, the light usually fell on the painted figures in a sharp diagonal from one of the painting’s top corners, and the way in which it touched each plane of the figures’ skin made it seem as though the light was just beginning to flood the scene. It was as if you, the viewer, were stumbling upon a dramatic stage full of individuals participating in some significant event.
The intensity of Caravaggio’s play on light is heightened by the dramatic positioning of the bodies in his narratives. Furthermore, the facial expressions on the figures who are supposed to represent saints, disciples, and even Jesus Christ himself, actually appear to be members of the lower classes in Italian society (Caravaggio was known to use the everyday people he met in pubs, taverns, and on the streets as his models…something many of his religious patrons were not fond of). The positioning of Lazarus’s body struck me in a familiar way, and I mentioned to Liliana that although the subject matter and composition of this painting were entirely different, Lazarus’s body seemed to be an inverted version of Caravaggio’s Entombment of Christ (located at the Vatican Museums in Rome). I was glad to see in consequence that the museum curators had included the Entombment of Christ among the images they cited as possible inspirations of this work.
The Adoration of the Shepherds, in contrast with the high drama of Lazarus, was immensely touching. Mary and the Christ child are in an intimate embrace, and the light is focused solely on this moment between mother and child, just barely grazing the faces of the shepherds who have come to pay homage to the newborn. After walking between these two paintings for quite some time, Liliana and I sat down on the bench in the middle of the room. Gazing at these paintings, feeling the emotions that overwhelmed me, I was struck by the power of the painted image. In a stream of consciousness I began telling Liliana how important it was for me to partake in the execution of art, rather than just the study of it.
For almost four years now I have been in the pursuit of art history above all else. It is my primary major, with Studio Art as my secondary field of study, and I would never want to change that. But as I gazed upon these glorious pieces of art, I realized that I do indeed need to make my own artwork a priority. It is an incredibly beneficial form of self-expression, but more importantly it is a means through which I connect to the Old Masters (and mentors) who I devote my life to studying. During the Archival Research and Paleography Seminar, we visited the private archives of the Capponi family, and in looking at one of the paintings in this palazzo, I made an observation, an insight I only perceived because of my background in studying and copying Old Master paintings for practice. Here, in front of these Caravaggio’s, I began to see how this background could set me apart from the art historians I worked with. The act of creation and the study of it could no longer be separated, at least not for me, and I needed to become more aware of the relationship between the two.
Palermo, being the first city in which I was exposed to Sicilian life, afforded me the opportunity to make initial observations about southern culture and the differences between here and mainland Italia. In terms of lifestyle, things were much slower here (though even on the mainland there is no sense of chaotic ‘living in the fast lane’ business). The people were even more relaxed and because tourism is not huge in comparison with places like Rome or Florence, I was a novelty, and the Italians were not ashamed of watching with open curiosity. Food is fried and greasier in Sicily, and the ideal body type of a woman changes drastically from the long, lean Italian women I would see on billboards or in high-end clothing stores on the mainland. Still, affability and hospitality seem ingrained traits in the average Italian, which made my interactions with strangers very enjoyable.
Liliana and I woke up early to get a head start on the day. Our first stop was the Cattedrale di Palermo, but on the way we did some ‘church hopping’ which was incredible because I got to go inside not only vast, glorious baroque spaces like the ones I saw in Rome, but I got to see smaller churches constructed out of the local stone, and therefore with a more rusticated, simplistic style. There is a multitude of layers to Sicilian history, and without Liliana, I would not have been able to discern the influence of the Greeks, Phoenicians, Romans, Vanadals, Ostrogoths, Byzantines, Arabs, and Normans. The combination of these cultures over time has left an indelible mark on Sicilian culture, something its eclectic architectural styles attest to. In our day of haste, we spent a good amount of time at the Cathedral (we even climbed to the top!) and Liliana gave me a history lesson on the Sicilian rulers. We then walked towards the Catacombe dei Cappuccini, a nineteenth century burial place where the dead were embalmed and hung on walls so that the living could still visit them and offer prayer – a very morbid place in some respects but extraordinarily fascinating from an anthropological lens. On our way, we visited the palace of William II, La Cuba, and Liliana pointed out the Arab influences of its architecture. The woman at the ticket office offered to give us a tour of an archeological site nearby, possibly a necropolis! Seeing our excitement, she even allowed me to go down into one of the tombs!
Along with Monreale, La Zisa, La Martorana and Palazzo dei Normanni and the Cappella Palatina (also inside the palace there was an exhibition of drawings and paintings by Fernando Botero entitled Via Crucis!), Liliana and I were quite busy. That evening, we took a train to Messina. The regional trains in Sicily were slower than the high-speed trains I became accustomed to taking on the mainland. The speed, however, quickly became irrelevant because the landscape was so breathtakingly beautiful that by the time we arrived in Messina I was not ready to get off the train. One of my favorite pastimes in Italy has become listening to music as I watch the towns fly by, and this time it was so easy to get lost in the waves that lapped against the rocky coast, or to watch buildings become flashes of color – pink, yellow, red – as the train sped up. I did not have much previous exposure to Sicilian medieval and Renaissance art, but I did remember seeing an exhibition at the Pitti Palace in Florence a few years ago and noticing the recurrence of the color pink in most of the painted cityscapes. How beautifully Italian art from centuries past still reflects the towns of its present!
When we arrived in Messina it was late and our kind hosts picked us up from the train station. The next morning would be spent at Museo Regionale where I would see works by one of my favorites, Antonello da Messina, and two extraordinary works by Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio. Unfortunately delay in my flight had put us behind schedule and we did not have time for the Duomo di Messina, Chiesa Annunziata dei Catalani or Tempio Votivo di Cristo re. Next time, I told myself.
One of the more extensive trips I had planned for this summer was to Sicily, a place I had never been before and one I was extremely excited about. Italians are very conscious of regional differences and much like the stereotypes we have in The States, for example, those regarding people from the south, New Yorkers, Mid-Westerners, etc., the Italians have very distinct views on northerners and southerners. During the semester, I had traveled extensively in northern Italy, going to places such as Venice, Milan, Padua, Verona, Bologna, Siena and Florence, and it quickly became clear that there are stark divides not only between north and south but between each city (which makes sense considering Italia has only been a united entity since 1861). Rome was as far south as I had ever been, and so I looked forward to my trip to Sicily as a means of understanding the difference in culture.
Liliana, who grew up in the small town of Augusta in Sicily, was staying there for the summer, and she graciously consented to be my ‘tour guide’ as I came to see the art, architecture, and history of the island. On another note, Sicily is famous for its almonds and for its granita so I was very much excited to try both of these foods while traveling!
The plan was for me to fly in to Palermo on Thursday evening from Rome, as I was heading there for the afternoon to sketch and to see one of my Italian teachers. Thursday through Saturday would be spent there, Messina for one night, a day trip to Taormina if there was time, one night in Augusta, a day trip to Siracusa, and then one night in Catania, where I would fly back to Florence. That is a lot of traveling to do in six days, but I was ready for it, and I was thrilled to have Liliana guide me through much of the trip.
Unfortunately for me, I was flying via Vueling Airlines, a company I had never flown with before but one that Liliana had trouble with in the past. When I got to Rome, I found out that my flight had been canceled, and there was only one flight that I could switch to without having to pay for an entirely new flight! This new flight was on Friday, which meant I had to spend the night in Rome. Not bad, right? And it all worked out rather well, for one of my classmates from Rome, Adriana, who had also gotten a stipend through HWS to work in Rome for the summer, was absolutely wonderful in allowing me to stay at her apartment for the night. We had dinner, caught up with each other’s respective internships, and reminisced about the Roman way of life and how Italy had changed us so wonderfully.
The next morning I arrived at the airport to find that my flight had been delayed yet again and I was extremely frustrated. Finally, two hours late, I arrived at Palermo airport where Liliana was waiting for me. Catching her up on my internship, especially because she played such an integral part in introducing me to Sheila and the Project, was immensely helpful, because she reassured me that although I was nervous about so many aspects of my work, Sheila had been in touch with her, and she was very excited about the work we were doing together.
By the time we got to the city center, all we could do was sightsee because the churches and museums had closed for the day. This meant that tomorrow, Saturday, we had a very full day ahead of us, and from what I was seeing of the streets, the people, and the beauty of the town, I couldn’t wait for it to be morning so we could explore!
Let be begin by saying that I am currently on a plane, undertaking some much needed travel and reflecting on the last few months. It is now the beginning of August, my internship is over, and I desperately need to write about all that I have experienced these past few months!
But there is something I realized during my time at the Medici Archive Project. I experienced so much; I gained so much insight as to the career path I have chosen, how I function as a learner within the world of scholarship, and how my interactions with other academics directly affect my personal and professional growth. Because of this, I think it has been too difficult for me to reflect on my experiences in Italy in the immediate aftermath: hindsight has afforded me the opportunity to be more thorough in my interpretations of events, observations, and in the relationships I have formed. This being said, I apologize for the delay in continuing to post my reflections. Now, as I fly over Europe on my way to Berlin, London and Amsterdam, I am picking up right where I left off. There is an Italian saying: piano piano. Meaning step by step, these words have helped me to fully embrace the Italian way of life, to live in the moment, to truly experience and to fully appreciate every opportunity I live within, step by step.
So, ultimately, I will continue revisiting, rethinking, revising my Vancanze Florentine, and posting as I go. This summer has been one of the most amazing, difficult, and wondrous experiences of my life and although it is difficult for me to reflect on it with ease (as I said in my second post, sprezzatura does not come easily to me) I am enjoying the process of reflection immensely.
The flight from Rome to Paris is not a long one – roughly an hour and a half – and this was the perfect amount of time for me to sit back, relax, and reflect (as I very much like to do) on all the activities I had planned for my six-day stay in France:
I would be staying with a Parisian woman and her four year old son in a residential area near Rèpublique (I had found her apartment listed on Airbnb) and each day, I would take the metro into the city-center, use my Paris Museum Pass and visit as many museums as I could. Most of all, I wanted to see the Louvre, Museèe d’Orsay, Musèe de l’Orangerie, Musèe Picasso, and the Cathedral of Notre Dame.
I had many reasons for wanting to begin my travels in Paris. Being that it was the first city I had truly seen in Europe on my high school humanities trip, I always had a penchant for it. I thought, perhaps, I might even like it more than Rome (I was wrong of course!). Describing in detail all that I saw and did in Paris would be too much for the purposes of this post, but it will suffice to say that I had an amazing time interacting with all of the works of art that I saw, taking notes and sketching as I went around the city, and observing others – tourists and native Parisians alike – as I walked about. My HWS connections did not end in Rome, for I was able to visit the top of the Eiffel Tower at dusk with one of my classmates and her parents, and for the last three days of my trip I explored, sketched and discussed the architectonic features of the city with two more of my classmates from Rome (both architecture majors) who had just arrived from their own travels to Lake Como and Amsterdam. All of these experiences were truly incredible, but I would like to devote the rest of my time here to describing one specific moment in Paris: the beginning of a project.
From Renaissance fresco technique to the art looting of Napoleon and Hitler, I have had a multitude of potential topics for my Honor’s Project (or senior thesis) and each of them has interested me greatly. Ultimately, however, there is only one subject that peaks my interest in a completely overpowering manner, and that is the work of Michelangelo. Because researching an artist who is so well established in art history is not ideal, I have long hoped to write about an aspect of his art that is underdeveloped in comparison. For those who do not know much about the life and work of Michelangelo, don’t worry! We will revisit my intense passion for all things Michelangelo-esque in a later post. Ultimately, with the help of my advisor Liliana, I decided that my research would involve Michelangelo’s design for the tomb of Pope Julius II (the pope who commissioned the Sistine Chapel). What does this have to do with Paris? The Louvre holds the two most finished sculptures Michelangelo executed for the tomb. Additionally, these were the first of his works I had ever seen in person, making them all the more spectacular for me to see again.
During my six-days in Paris, I spent two afternoons and one full day at the Louvre. I devoted the first day to the Greek and Roman collections; the second entirely to the two Michelangelo sculptures (known as the Rebellious Slave and the Dying Slave); and the third to seeing all the museum’s highlights with my two classmates who had just arrived. I spent the afternoon with Michelangelo’s Slaves absolutely engrossed in the study of their formal qualities. Approaching them from behind, I circled them again and again, zigzagging through the hordes of tour groups more interested in capturing the Slaves’ images on their smartphones than on looking at them with their own eyes. I took a few notes here and there in my sketchbook, and then one at a time I drew quickly: first I tried to capture the Slaves in their entirety, and I then zoomed in on the details of their faces and upper bodies. I wanted to understand where the ideal viewpoint of each work would be had these sculptures ever been incorporated into the mausoleum-like structure Michelangelo had envisioned for Julius’s tomb. I was also interested in the unfinished aspects of each sculpture, particularly in the Dying Slave, for there seems to be another much smaller figure near the Slave’s left leg and whose identity I could not discern. This type of experiential study is not only imperative for the art historian, but it is also immensely invigorating for the work of an artist, and my afternoon in front of the Slaves allowed my critical thinking, reading, writing, and sketching skills to culminate in a beautiful way.
The last day at the Louvre was a comical experience to say the least, for I spent the day with my friends, sketching Winged Victory, meandering through the great halls and discussing the unusual hype of Mona Lisa. We were largely unaware of how quickly the time was passing until the entire staff at the Louvre was behind us, escorting stragglers – ourselves included – out of the museum and into the rain! Overall, my trip to Paris was tremendously rewarding and as I fell in and out of sleep at the airport while waiting for my delayed flight back to Rome, I dreamed in a mix of Cubism, Impressionism, Neoclassicism, and Renaissance…of all the works I had seen in France. But now, I was going back to Italy and I was happy to be returning to a place that had become my home.