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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!
My second week at MAP witnessed the return of all those who had been out of the office for conferences, travel, or vacation. This was the week in which we interns truly saw the office dynamics; that is, how these various individuals worked together, and where we should place ourselves within the social framework. Everyday, Ashley and Sam invited us to lunch at il Giova, and remarkably, our group lunches quickly became the time for discussion: What was happening in the EU? What did the Greek referendum demonstrate? And Germany’s response? As Americans overseas, how did we find out about the legalization of same-sex marriage? When Italians ask where we are from, do we respond “The States” or with our specific state? What does that say about nationalism and regional identity in America? Often times, Sheila and Hannah (one of MAP’s Research Fellows currently working on her Ph.D. at Oxford) would join us, making the discussions all the more dynamic.
I was very happy when Sheila returned from travel because I wanted to show her what I had done thus far, but more importantly I wanted her advice as to how I should proceed. Sheila taught afternoon classes twice a week (on Tuesdays and Thursdays) and this worked well for us considering the afternoons were when I had Italian classes. Over the weekend, I had emailed her an update on the work I had completed, so when she came into the office we sat down together and looked at the research I had done. Seeing that I had exhausted all secondary sources on Martin Lister and Anne, Sheila showed me how to conduct online research in a more creative way; one that would yield primary source material, e.g. birth records, marriage contracts, and wills. She then took me to the resource center. Ashley had already given Mimi, Jackie and I a demonstration of how to use this area, but because I wanted to cement the process in my mind, I was glad Sheila was showing me once more, this time with a concrete example of what to look for. First, she took me to the room in which all the reference books were shelved. These books were indexes of the various collections of documents and their respective call numbers. For instance, Sheila had found the letter from Martin Lister to Cosimo III de’ Medici in the collection of incoming letters. As I would be looking for a response letter, Sheila suggested that I look in the Archivo Mediceo del Principato, specifically in the Minute di Lettere e Registri. Lister’s letter was written in 1693, so within this collection, I would look at subtitled sections such as correspondence between Firenze (Florence) and Londra (London, because Martin Lister was British) and in all incoming letters specifically from 1693 and in the years following. Later, after Sheila had left the Archive for the day, I went back to these reference books and complied a list of volumes to order. I have copied the list below (annotated with a few notes I made throughout the internship) to give an idea as to how these volumes are cataloged:
In the Archivo Mediceo del Principato
Minute di Lettere e Registri
- Cosimo III e Gian Gastone
- 1690 Apr. 15 – 1699 Mag. 29, v. 315. (page 9 of catalog)
(Letters to and from London were not as frequent in this volume between 1693 and 1695 in particular)
- Cosimo III << Particolari Diversi >>
- 1638 Gen. 21 – 1693 Dic. 14, f. 1133. (p. 26)
- 1694 Gen. 9 – 1699 Dic. 27, f. 1134.
(Lettre and Minute)
- Look not only for Martin Lister’s name but for any reference to Britain (London, John Place, other foreign ministers, etc.).
- Page 53: Barocci document
Relazione con Stati Italiani ed Esteri
- Francesco Terriesi (p. 140)
1688 Gen. 2 – 1691 Apr. 10, f. 4214
- Jacopo Giraldi
1700 Feb. 2 – 1702 Dic. 30, f. 4215
(The volume was extremely large and because it was all minute, I am not sure how to scan it correctly for Lister’s name. I am going to revisit this one later)
- Lettere di Diversi dall’Inghilterra a Cosimo Principe Ereditario Poi Granduca ed al Segretario Apollonio Bassetti, con Minute di Risposta.
- 1688 – 1690, f. 4246. (p. 141)
- 1691 – 1699, f. 4247.
- 1697 Lug. 26 – 1702 Set. 10, f. 4191a. (p. 142)
Carteggi dei Principi e delle Granduchesse
- Ferdinando di Cosimo III, Gran Peincipe
- 1689 – 1691, f. 5877. (p.)
- 1691 – 1693, f. 5878
- 1693 – 1694, f. 5879
- 1695, f. 5880.
- 1697, f. 5882.
Sheila also demonstrated how to order the specific volumes online and suggested that I always place orders a day in advance, or at least before 9:30 in the morning, because after that it takes until 10:30 the following morning for the order to be processed. Sheila and I then returned to MAP’s room, and she began explaining the second project she wanted us to work on together: the guide for researching women artists.
This guide, one that would be published online as a resource for university students, was a project she had been thinking about for a long time. Her previous intern, Gabriela, had already begun writing a list of guidelines, but because they were only in note form, the project was still in a very early stage of development. Looking at it together, Sheila described what she was looking for: this guide needed to address the differences in how to conduct research on women artists. What are the steps that need to be taken? What questions need to be asked, and how do they differ from research questions asked for male artists? I am very sure Sheila could see the spark in my eyes as she discussed this project, and in explaining myself, I told her about the work I do at HWS as a Teaching Fellow for Art History, as a Writing Colleague and as a Study Mentor. In the fall semester, before I went to Rome, I worked as a Writing Colleague for Professor James Capreedy’s FSEM on Law in Ancient Athens. Because many of the students were having difficulty with thesis statement development and with essay organization/structure, I had created and presented ‘writing guidelines’ that Professor Capreedy then posted online. Likewise, as a Teaching Fellow, the professors in the Art History department asked me to create PowerPoint presentations for Art History Terminology as well as for Formal Analysis paper writing. I truly enjoy organizing guides, and Sheila was excited to know that these experiences at HWS would help me in this endeavor.
Throughout the week, we continued working together, whenever she had a moment to spare from her own research. I had also given her a breakdown of the travel I was undertaking in Italy and throughout Europe, and she wished me well on my upcoming trip to Sicily, one I would leave for on Thursday evening.
I knew when I started working for MAP that supplementing my internship with Italian classes would be essential, and because I had such a positive experience working with the Scuola Leonardo da Vinci in Rome, I thought it would be a great idea to continue my lessons through their school based in Florence. Once again, my professor, advisor and mentor in all respects, Liliana Leopardi, helped me establish a connection with the school, and she even arranged for my one-on-one lessons to be with a teacher who had experience with the archives. That is how I met Benedetta, an older Italian woman who was practically everything I could ask for in a teacher at this stage of my skillset. As exhausting as it is to learn another language – especially when beginning in your 20’s – working with Benedetta never failed to inspire my hope of eventually being fluent in this beautiful language.
Towards the end of my semester in Rome, I had become quite sick with a virus that affected my inner ear. As a result, I was most keen to begin with the lessons I was out of commission for during the semester. Thus, on the first day, I brought my book from Rome, and I showed Benedetta the topics that I struggled with the most: futuro semplice, condizionale, pronomi diretti e indiretti, imperfetto and verbi riflessivi al passato prossimo. Oddio! That looks like a lot doesn’t it?!
Well, it was a lot, but luckily I understood these topics in their most general sense. What I needed was guidance as to how to apply them practically in speaking, and how to comprehend them in reading. Before my tests in Rome, some of the other students and I would often ask Liliana for help, and in these meetings I was able to see how each of us differed in our approach to language learning. One of the students I worked with had an intuitive understanding of the language, but he often second-guessed himself. For me, the language was not intuitive at all. I needed to have a concrete definition of the rules, examples of how to apply them, and an understanding of why they worked the way that they did. That is a lot of ask of any language, especially when as a foreigner, there is no way I could ever understand completely. Thus, the inner working of my brain frustrated me immensely during Italian 102!
This time, in Florence, I was taking Italian not as a course or for a grade, but because I genuinely hoped to learn, and that difference greatly affected what I was able to take away from the experience. Benedetta and I spent a few of the sessions strictly speaking aloud in Italian. More often than not I was lost in our conversation, or I could not complete a thought back to her, but the effort I put forth helped me remember forgotten words, or pick up the phrases she often repeated. By the end of the first month I was walking into cafés, restaurants, grocery stores, museums and churches with ease, knowing that my small talk skills had improved tremendously!
Shortly after we began, I started assigning myself homework – not much fun after full days of Italian immersion, but still very important. The more challenging parts of my lessons with Benedetta (the vocabulary, the new concepts and the application of them) I will return to in a later post, but for the moment, I was pleased with the progress of my speaking skills, and I hoped they would continue to improve throughout the summer.
This post is particularly important to me. I hope in writing it, I can accurately describe why my position at MAP was so difficult for me to reflect upon as it happened, and how it began to shape my life in such a personal way. The honor of winning the Salisbury prompted me to question myself in many ways, and although my intention in these blog posts was not originally to narrate the personal growth I underwent throughout the summer, I do believe it is incredibly important for me to explain the presence of this growth as it relates directly to the work I completed at MAP, particularly in the beginning.
How had I been given such an incredible opportunity despite the fact that academic pursuits present such a challenge for me? This was the question I asked myself the most, and it was easy in the first week of the internship – when I was completely inexperienced in the realm of archives and sixteenth century Italian paleography – to chalk my struggles up to dyslexia. I watched how beautifully Jackie read documents aloud, and even when she struggled to decipher a character, she logically concluded its identity by virtue of its position within a word, phrase, or placement on the page. Mimi, sitting next to me, conducted research online, with databases I had never navigated before, and I tried to memorize her line of inquiry as she jumped from an article to an index to a birth record site and back to the archive homepage.
Of course, this internal questioning stemmed from the fact that I hoped to perform my role at MAP to the best of my abilities, and I worried that the pace at which I was learning Italian would not be adequate, nor would the research I was able to conduct. And in all honesty, it took me until the last day of my internship to realize just how significant those worries were. So, please forgive me for jumping ahead, but I hope it will provide a bit of clarity.
Sheila took me to lunch as a thank you on the last full day of our working together, and during out two hour conversation, I told her how grateful I was for the experience because in so many ways, I felt that MAP had given me more than I could give in return. She looked at me a bit puzzled and asked me to elaborate, and ultimately, when I explained my self-assessment of my abilities, she responded with two thought provoking comments: first, that my internship amounted to one of the most successful internships MAP has facilitated (she said this in reference to the versatility of experience which will become clearer as I continue posting); and second, that brilliance and innate genius – though crucial for the pursuit of scholarship – come after passion and determination.
It took me a long time to realize, but what she said about my internship was true: my Italian language skills, my ability to decipher paleography, and my researching practices were not stellar when I began the internship, but they steadily improved. And yet, even more significantly, I made strides in organization, versatility, adaptability, and most of all, reaffirmation of my passion. In those attributes the answers to my self-questioning became clear.
Monday morning, June 8th I woke up early and made a lovely cup of espresso before heading off to work. Florence was getting hotter by the hour – this summer was supposed to be full of record highs temperatures – but I enjoyed the brilliance of the sun nonetheless.
When I got to the office, Mimi was already there, and Jackie not far behind. Maurizio followed, then Ashley, Sam, and a few other research fellows and staff members. I began my work hesitantly, wondering what direction I should pursue first. Sheila had sent me the transcription of the Martin Lister letter, so I began by reading the document (naturally, with Google Translate at my side!). I used all the databases I knew of (ones such as JSTOR, and WorldCat, which I use religiously at HWS) to accumulate information about Martin Lister himself, since prior to Sheila’s introduction I knew nothing about him. When I seemed to have noted all of the most important information, I moved on to a PDF file Sheila had sent me from her previous intern, Gabriela. This extensive file consisted of all Gabriela’s notes on the Lister family, and particularly on Anne Lister, Martin’s second daughter. As a British naturalist and physician, Martin Lister has made many contributions in the natural sciences and his work Historiae Conchyliorum was a great advancement in the study of shells. I could see why this letter to Cosimo III de’ Medici (r. 1670-1723) had caught Sheila’s attention, for Lister has sent the Grand Duke reading materials and drawings from his publication. But what is really fascinating is that these drawings are the work of his daughter Anne. His mention of her is all the more striking because credit is so often lacking when it comes to women artists.
At this point, I was greatly intrigued, and I began looking for information specifically on Anne, which was very frustrating considering the fact that my usual search engines were yielding very little. A more famous Anne Lister from the nineteenth century kept popping up at the top of my results page, and I was quickly running out of more creative forms of academic searches.
I decided that the best direction for my work was to inform myself first, and to exhaust all the resources I knew before Sheila returned so that she could see my thought process accurately reflected in my research. I compiled bibliographies on Martin Lister, read articles about him and his contemporaries, and looked for information on Anne, searching for both her family name and her married name. Sheila emailed me the names of other scholars and scientists in Martin Lister’s circle, and I tried cross-referencing them with one another as well. I was purposefully avoiding use of archival documents as of yet because I had no idea where to begin, but the online navigation I completed took a great deal of time. Additionally, along with getting our membership cards to the BNCF and the Kunst, Sam, asked us to create and complete surveys for the students who participated in the Archival Research Seminar, and as the fellowship coordinator, he wondered if we interns would create a webpage and application form for future internships at MAP. There were so many components of this working environment to learn about, and I tried to juggle each of them as I focused on Anne and her shell drawings.
Although I felt accomplished in the research I had compiled, I was unsure as to whether my work was sufficient, and being in the Archive with scholars, students and two other interns whose Italian skills were either fluent or rapidly advancing, made me extremely nervous. By Friday, I had made the executive decision to start Italian lessons four times a week (and sometimes five) rather than twice a week. I desperately wanted to increase both my vocabulary and my comprehension skills, and I was quickly becoming frustrated with how long my brain took to process this new language and its various, historical forms. Needless to say, I was mentally drained by the end of this week, and I was comforted to find that Jackie and Mimi were as well.