Day 7: My Personal Renaissance

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Destinations: Museo Galileo, Bargello

Florence Street Musicians in Piazza della Repubblica

Florence Street Musicians in Piazza della Repubblica

I have learned a great deal over the past few months studying about the Renaissance and Italian culture. Wonderful things can happen when you broaden your perspective and observe the world around you, ask questions, and seek to explore new knowledge and new customs. The Renaissance is evidence of this phenomenon, and my experience in Italy has demonstrated this as well. Often, at home, I am rushing to accomplish my daily tasks and attempting to be as productive and efficient as possible. However, in attempting to navigate Florence without a cell phone, reliable WiFi, or command of the Italian language, I have learned that being “lost” can be an adventure and lead you to unexpectedly wonderful experiences (such as the delicious food of Trattoria Bondi or the spectacular view of the rainbow above Palazzo Vecchio).

Rainbow over Palazzo Vecchio! View from the bank of the River Arno

Rainbow over Palazzo Vecchio! View from the bank of the River Arno

There can be beauty around every corner, especially in Florence, but one must be attending to the present to experience it. Being in Italy reminded me that in focusing on the present moment instead of reflecting on the past or speculating about the future, I can achieve a sense of tranquility.

The Renaissance texts I have studied also influenced my perspective. Many authors experienced turmoil in their lifetime, but they continued to bravely march forward to fulfill their purpose. In many cases, experiencing adversity did not weaken them but rather strengthened their motivation and inspired them to create great works of literature.  Boccaccio endured the the Plague to write the Decameron, Machiavelli survived torture and exile before composing The Prince, and Dante wrote the Divine Comedy in exile from Florence. These authors were driven to express their ideas and make the most of their lives regardless of the obstacles they faced. Being in Florence, the home of these authors, I feel inspired to pursue knowledge regardless of any adverse circumstances.

Scuba Dante Graffiti...Only in Florence!

Scuba Dante Graffiti…Only in Florence!

In Italy, I have also become more aware of the multitude of humans throughout history and the relatively brief time they spent on Earth. Being in Florence reminded me to make the most of my time, and I sought to fully appreciate my experience, whether through learning something new by taking in an additional museum during my lunch break or spending time enjoying the moment by devouring a delicious cup of Biscotti gelato on a bridge over the Arno. When I go home, I plan to spend more time savoring the beauty of the present! Studying abroad in Florence has ignited my sense of adventure and fueled my desire to learn and enjoy my surrounding world.

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Day 6: A Renaissance Immersion

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Destinations: Florence Archives, Duomo

Medieval Gate of Florence

Medieval Gate of Florence

This morning, we had the amazing experience of visiting the Florence Archives, where we met Dr. Lisa Kaborycha, the author of our textbook, A Short History of Renaissance Italy. The archives are held in a modern, stalwart building in stark contrast with the rest of the city, built to protect its precious contents from any natural disaster. The archives are the workplace of many renowned scholars, including Dr. Kaborycha, who introduced us to the subject of her research, records from the first graduated income tax of 1427.

Following the catasto law, all citizens of Florence were required to submit an account of possessions and dependents and were accordingly taxed due to their wealth! This was a revolutionary progressive tax, but it is especially interesting in terms of what it tells us about the people of Florence.

Not only do we see written accounts from the wealthy with confessions of their illegitimate children, but we also see submissions from those usually forgotten by history. The most heart-wrenching account to me was the submission from a sixty-year-old man, claiming no possessions and living by the charity of others. This visit provided an amazing connection to the past, especially because most accounts were written by the individual actually making the claim!

Reading the particular writing style of the individual truly adds personality to their account, but moreover, researchers are now able to discover a more complete picture about literacy rates during the early Renaissance. From these documents, it seems that literacy rates, especially for women, were much higher than previously assumed, as women, often widows, wrote claims for their households!

Visiting the Archives, I felt that I was a part of this amazing research. Rooms were filled with scholars examining ancient documents, including those leading the Medici Archive Project! These researchers are working through the correspondence of the Medici family, transcribing and translating it onto their on-line database. We were able to see some of the actual documents, some written in cipher! In the archives, I grew a stronger connection with the people of the Renaissance and felt immersed in the progressive culture of the era.

Medici Tiles at Palazzo Vecchio

Medici Tiles at Palazzo Vecchio

Day 5: Museum Marathon!

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Destinations: San Marco, Florence Library: Boccaccio Exhibit, Capella Medici, Accademia, Church of San Miniato

Today was an action-packed and exhilarating day! I realized that my trip would soon be coming to a close, so I decided to seize the day! I saw so many amazing sights and works of Renaissance intellectuals.

Notable Moments:

  • After the morning trip to the monastery of San Marco, I decided to catch the Boccaccio exhibit at the Florence Library celebrating 700 years since the author’s birth.
An early publication of Boccaccio's Decameron

An early publication of Boccaccio’s Decameron

A poem written by Boccaccio that the author sent to Petrarch with a copy of Dante's Divine Comedy

A poem written by Boccaccio that the author sent to Petrarch with a copy of Dante’s Divine Comedy

A book belonging to Boccaccio. His notes are included in the margin. Can you see the pointing finger?

A book belonging to Boccaccio. His notes are included in the margin. Can you see the pointing finger? This symbol is included throughout his notes!

  • From Michelangelo’s David to his sculptures at Capella Medici, I realized the depth of the artist’s talent. The Prisoners and unfinished face of Day in the Medici Chapel conveyed powerful depictions of human struggles. Wow!
A copy of Michelangelo's David in Piazzale Michelangelo. Photographs of the actual David are not permitted!

A copy of Michelangelo’s David in Piazzale Michelangelo. Photographs of the actual David are not permitted!

  • The Gregorian Chant at San Miniato was great, but the view of Florence from the Church was even better!
Church of San Miniato. We went to Evening Mass on Ash Wednesday.

Church of San Miniato. We went to evening Mass on Ash Wednesday.

View of Florence from the hill of San Miniato. The hike was intense but totally worth it!

View of Florence from the hill of San Miniato. The hike was intense but totally worth it!

Day 4: Art Scavenger Hunt

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Destination: Uffizi Gallery

Prior to visiting the Uffizi Gallery, our professors asked us to research a piece featured there, and then attempt to find it. It was a great suggestion, because the Uffizi is magnificent and slightly overwhelming! There are so many great masterpieces: someone on our trip remarked that an obscure painting at the Uffizi may be a central attraction at most other museums. So, I went to the gallery with a purpose, to find a somewhat obscure painting of Federico da Montefeltro, Duke of Urbino, by Piero della Francesco. Intrestingly enough, it was located in one of the first rooms we entered!

Portrait of Federico da Montefeltro, Duke of Urbino

Portrait of Federico da Montefeltro, Duke of Urbino

I was initially attracted to this portrait because of the strange appearance of the subject—his nose! Among the paintings of the Madonna and Child and nude Roman goddesses, there was this, and I was immediately interested. Upon learning more about Federico de Montefeltro, I realized why this portrait merited inclusion.

The life of Federico de Montefeltro is a testament to the true determination and resilience that propelled the Renaissance. Montefeltro, a condottieri (leader of mercenaries), had already earned a fierce reputation as a commander when he lost his eye at a tournament (the joust, perhaps?). After surviving this injury, Montefeltro’s impaired vision was an occupational hazard, and his vulnerability led to loss of his position as condottieri for Florence.

Filled with determination to regain his career, Montefeltro had the bridge of his nose surgically removed to improve his field of vision, which also resulted in his unconventional appearance. In triumph of his regained tactical abilities and in likely vengeance against his previous employers, Montefeltro resumed his successful military career as a commander of mercenaries for Naples, who battled against Florence.

I admired Montefeltro’s determination, and appreciated his depicted appearance. His portrait was featured with a companion portrait of his wife, Battista Sforza, who presided over the Renaissance court that inspired composition of Castiglione’s Book of the Courtier.

Duchess of Urbino

Duchess of Urbino

Battista Sforza was also the grandmother of a renowned female poet of the Renaissance, Vittoria Colonna. Federico Montefeltro survived what could have been a mortal blow and went on to embody an essential Renaissance character.

Otherwise, I enjoyed the other pieces at the Uffizi. I was amazed by Botticelli’s Birth of Venus, but I particularly lingered with the Primavera painting to recall the lines of Lucretius…

Botticelli's Primavera

Botticelli’s Primavera

“Mother Flora, sprinkling the ways beforeth them, filleth all with colors and odors excellent…” (Lucretius, De Rerum Natura)

Overall, I found the juxtaposition between nude depictions and sacred paintings very interesting. It seems that the Renaissance demonstrated a large shift from depicting the sacred to the profane, sometimes in one painting (I’m referring to you, Doni Tondo!).

Michelangelo's Holy Family. See the nude figures in the background?

Michelangelo’s Holy Family. See the nude figures in the background?

Renaissance artists and writers alike attempted to integrate their Roman intellectual heritage with their Christian identity. In viewing the work of Renaissance artists, I began to better understand the movement of the Renaissance from a multi-disciplinary perspective.

*Note: In complying with the photography guidelines at the Uffizi Gallery, none of the images in this post are original photographs.

Day 3: Perception of Time

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Destinations: Santa Maria Novella, Mercato Centrale, Fiesole

The following entry was written within the Ancient Roman amphitheater in Fiesole, a small town on a hill overlooking Florence.

Amphitheater in Fiesole

Amphitheater in Fiesole

Faced with the vast span of time that has passed from when this amphitheater in Fiesole was built, I feel peace with the continuum of time. I come to recall the poetry of Lucretius, De Rerum Natura, how life continually cycles:

…Thus naught of what so seems perishes utterly, since Nature ever upbuilds one thing from other, suffering naught to come to birth but through some other’s death. (265-268)

From the rise and fall of the Roman Civilization, whose citizens created this hillside amphitheater, to Boccaccio from the Renaissance era whose characters may have travelled up this hill and looked at the beautiful but plague-ridden Florence in the valley below, to the present moment, this land has seen an amazing span of humanity.

View of Florence from Fiesole. During Boccaccio's time, the Duomo stood unfinished.

View of Florence from Fiesole. During Boccaccio’s time, the Duomo stood unfinished.

In some ways, the world is a very different place, but in other ways, things have remained the same. I smell the crisp March air, hear the chirping of birds, and see the green rolling hills of the Italian landscape as the Ancient Romans and Renaissance Florentines once did. Our societies have changed, and this amphitheater has seen people from various civilizations and amplified voices in several different languages.  I am sitting in solidarity with those who may have rested on this cool stone and felt the beauty of the world around them. At the core, we share our humanity, which has been shown to be similar throughout the continual rises and falls of societies.

Caroline in Fiesole. In Ancient Roman times, the amphitheater was used for plays, and I am standing in front of one of the actor's entrances.

Caroline in Fiesole. In Ancient Roman times, the amphitheater was used for plays, and I am standing in front of one of the actors’ entrances.

Earlier today, when visiting Santa Maria Novella, I was struck by the paintings of Ancient Roman and Renaissance figures amidst scenes of Creation and Rapture.  It seems, as humans, we want to be remembered. We want to create a legacy. However, it seems that very few of us do, at least one that lasts thousands of years and throughout the span of time.

Church of Santa Maria Novella. In the Decameron, the characters decide to begin their journey inside this church.

Church of Santa Maria Novella. In the Decameron, the characters decide to begin their journey inside this church.

Mural within Santa Maria Novella. Petrarch is the figure in the white hood, and Boccaccio is the figure holding the book.

Mural within Santa Maria Novella. Petrarch is the figure in the white hood, and Boccaccio is the figure holding the book.

Although we can experience this Ancient Roman amphitheater, we do not know the name of the individual who oversaw its construction or planned its striking acoustics. However, the product of his actions lives on, even after more than 1000 years. Humans past and present share the desire to be heard whether in speaking to our friends and countrymen in a stadium such as this or leaving a written legacy for future generations. Boccaccio left society a vivid history of the horrific plague that struck Florence in 1348, and although his words endured the span of time, his particular circumstances did not. Modernizing medicine eradicated traces of the plague, and life went on. Generations have endured through multiple hardships, from the Gallic invasion of Rome, the Plague of Renaissance Florence, and the two World Wars. Civilizations have survived hardships of a different nature, as Italy has continued to thrive from the financial hardship following the Hundred Years’ War to the current economic crisis. We, as humans, are a resilient group, and life continues to endure. Six hundred years from today, I hope that another individual sits on this stone and remembers the profound continuity of life.

Day 2: Intensifying My Academic Knowledge: The Medici Influence

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Sites Visited: Palazzo Vecchio and Palazzo Medici Riccardi

Visiting Italy has been very similar but also strikingly different from what I was expecting. A particular place that impacted my previous understanding was the courtyard in the Palazzo Medici. In the pictures I had seen through in-class presentations, the Medici courtyard seemed ornate, and I could imagine Donatello’s David statue visible to a passerby who may glance in to see the forbidden beauty and perfection within.

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Courtyard of Palazzo Medici Ricardi, Previous location of Donatello’s bronze David statue

Even today, without the statue, the courtyard atrium felt truly amazing, and I felt privileged merely standing there. Because of the open-air design of the Palazzo’s courtyard, I could feel the fresh Tuscan air indoors and actually view the cloudy sky. It seemed, in some ways, that the Medici status had elevated to a point where they had literal ownership of the outdoors and could experience it within the privacy of their own home.

Palazzo Medici Courtyard

Palazzo Medici Courtyard

Furthermore, in visiting the garden, enclosed within the walls of the Palazzo, I reflected that the Medici family had created an entire environment where they could enjoy the fragrant orange blossoms and hear the trickling of the fountain in exclusivity. The Medici and later Riccardi families could enjoy the outdoors without encountering the public masses or smelling the stench of the streets of Renaissance Florence. Within only the courtyard of the Palazzo, I could experience the extreme power of the Medici family that had ruled Florence, patronized artists and scientists, and struck fear in their enemies.

Palazzo Medici Garden

Palazzo Medici Garden

The Medici power seemed even more evident with the Medici crest appearing on the ceiling, within paintings, and several other places within the ornately decorated Palazzo Medici and Palazzo Vecchio. The family was proud and mighty and ensured that their vast influence was known by distributing their crest throughout Florence.

Medici Crest at Palazzo Vecchio

Medici Crest at Palazzo Vecchio

I also noticed how the Medici family ensured their status. In viewing the tower on Palazzo Vecchio, I remembered my readings about how at the time of its construction, the ruling party had ordered all other towers in Florence be chopped off so that its height would tower mightily above the rest. Although the Medici family did not reside at Palazzo Vecchio at the time of its construction, it later became their home.

Palazzo Vecchio

Palazzo Vecchio

In Eleonora’s apartments in the Palazzo Vecchio, I was able to see how the Medici power translated into patronage of artists and intellectuals. Images of Petrarch and Dante were carved into the wooden doors, and Dante’s death mask was displayed. A bust of Machiavelli was also featured at the Palazzo Vecchio to commemorate the brief time that he worked there, before the Medici family regained power.

Machiavelli Bust at Palazzo Vecchio

Machiavelli Bust at Palazzo Vecchio

I had learned that the House of Medici was a consistent influence throughout the Renaissance period, but visiting Florence truly emphasized their importance. The Medici family may offer support to an artist or scientist, but the family may also contribute to his destruction if politics do not align with the Medici interests. I noticed their pervasive influence and realized why Michelangelo feared them in his final days in Florence and understood why Machiavelli spent the remainder of his life in exile trying to get back into their good graces. An intellectual may be enchanted by the luxury and power that the House of Medici offered, but the family’s support may inevitably lead to risk and compromise. Renaissance Florence was full of danger and intrigue!

Day 1: Expectations for My Italian Adventure

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In the midst of our journey to Italy, my fellow students and I were asked to reflect on our thoughts and expectations for our study abroad experience in Florence. At the time I received this prompt, all I could do was continually repeat, “I will not get sick, I will not get sick.” I am very adventurous and I love to explore new places, but I dislike the actual traveling part because I have problems with motion sickness. Unfortunately, I did not succeed in willing myself away from illness on the 8-hour flight from Chicago to Amsterdam, but I was fortunate to experience the kindness of the KLM flight attendants!

When I arrived in Florence, Italy, I quickly forgot about the difficult journey and became exhilarated with my beautiful destination! Now, in my hotel with a breathtaking view of Brunelleschi’s Duomo, I decided to reflect upon my intentions for my travels.

ImageAina and I on the terrace of Hotel Medici. Can you see the Dome?  🙂

 First, I plan to connect my trip with what I have learned from my studies of Renaissance literature and culture. I want to connect the places in Florence with the instrumental writers, intellectuals, and artists that once walked these streets. I want to experience Florence, the source of their inspiration and center for their intellectual development. I intend to gain a unique insight on pivotal works of literature by walking the streets of the once plague-stricken Florence of the Decameron and visiting Palazzo Medici and Palazzo Vecchio, home of the family that patronized Galileo and other intellectuals and artists. In Florence, I also plan to encounter unexpected experiences and situations that enrich my understanding of Renaissance culture.

 Of course, I also want to experience the present-day culture of Florence and become immersed in it. (The phrase:“When in Rome, do as the Romans do!” is somewhat appropriate). I cannot wait to learn more about the Florentine way of life, and I hope to try some of my limited Italian. In conclusion, during this trip, I want to learn not only through my scholarly ventures, but also through my daily experiences. I want to absorb as much as possible and fully enjoy my time abroad!