We traveled 4,280 miles across the Atlantic to the beautiful cities of Orvieto, Florence, Siena, and Rome, where we sketched as we stood in front of famous paintings and sculptures by Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, and Caravaggio, and explored the ancient Forum and Colosseum and Vatican City.
Before the flight to Italy, the professors—Professor of Art History Adrienne Baxter Bell and Adjunct Professor of Art Jo Wood-Brown—brought students to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, where they visited the exhibition “Leonardo to Matisse: Master Drawings from the Lehman Collection” as an introduction to the course. Fortunately, there was an amazing Michelangelo exhibition with many of his unfinished works on display at the same time. The following day, the group met in MMC’s art studio and practiced their skill and knowledge of drawing; as beginners and more advanced artists made up the group, we advised, critiqued, and learned from one another.
Once a baseline of artistic ability was set, the students and professors departed New York and flew to Italy, where, right off the plane, the studying, drawing and sightseeing commenced. Upon arriving, we met our guide, Jon Bouillot (he’s British, speaks Italian, and has a great sense of humor), and drove to Orvieto to see Signorelli frescoes, which depict the end of the world and Anti-Christ, in the Capella San Brizio of Orvieto Cathedral. The ancient city of Orvieto dates to the Etruscan era (around 800 BCE) and sits on top of a cliff that soars over the its surroundings with an elevation of a little over 1,000 feet.
After spending the first day exploring this nearly 2,000-year-old city, we left via private coach for Florence. We spent four days in Florence, studying and sketching inside historical locations. Each day, we were given an assignment or particular artistic form to implement in our drawings. On the first day, we visited the Duomo (cathedral), Campanile (bell tower), and the Church of San Lorenzo; the latter encompasses the Medici tombs and Michelangelo’s Mannerist staircase. We spent the afternoon in the Bargello Museum, drawing its extraordinary Renaissance sculpture collection. The next three days consisted of visiting museums, including the Uffizi (a group favorite that we ended up visiting twice), the Brancacci Chapel, the Convent of San Marco, the Accademia, and the Boboli Gardens. That night, as well as every night henceforth, we would meet as a group and discuss what the day had held, along with everyone’s art.
We left Florence, artistically awakened and amazed by the treasures Italy contains, and headed for the day to Siena, another ancient city from the Etruscan era. I believe everyone fell in love with this city immediately—even after driving around the city’s steep hills on narrow roads. The Piazza del Campo, the Museo dell’Opera Metropolitana del Duomo, and Siena Cathedral were the gorgeous places we explored and sketched. Once we had filled our sketchbooks with images of Sienese art, we got back on the bus and traveled to Rome, the most anticipated city of the entire trip.
The first day of Rome brought us to the Pantheon, the ancient ruins of the Roman Forum, and then the Colosseum. These locations and famous slivers of primeval Roman history did not disappoint. Being able to walk in the same places as did the ancient Romans thousands of years earlier was astounding. The Colosseum towered higher than any of us expected; once we were inside, we were exposed to the site of the astounding events that had taken place so long ago. The amazement-filled day ended with viewing Bernini’s sculptures and Caravaggio’s paintings at the Villa Borghese. The following day, we went to Vatican City, where we viewed works by Raphael, Michelangelo’s Pieta, and the Sistine Chapel. Our first two days in Rome left all of us awestruck, completely dazed by the art and glorious buildings in which we walked. The trip ended on a greatly anticipated visit to the Catacombs of Priscilla, which were located outside of the city of Rome. The catacombs date to the second century CE and consist of over 40,000 tombs of persecuted Christians. Once inside, we viewed frescoes of the earliest Christians, including what is probably the oldest depiction of the Virgin Mary. To end the day, we visited the MAXXI, Italy’s modern art museum, which was a welcomed contrast to all of the awe-inspiring ancient, Medieval, Renaissance, and Baroque art that we saw over the ten-day period.
The course in Italy was packed with unforgettable works of art and experiences that invigorated all of us, no matter our level of artistic ability. We couldn’t have had a better experience—our professors that led the course and mentored us, and the alumnae that provided invaluable advice were all obligingly wonderful. I can speak for the entire group: we all had an amazing adventure and we are so thankful for everything we were able to see and do in Italy.