When our class walked into the Basilica of San Lorenzo, the first thing that struck me was how massive the nave was. I had studied this building in several art history courses before coming to Florence, but the PowerPoint slides projected in front of a lecture hall could not match the beauty of the building or convey the awe it inspired. While we walked through the aisles and transepts, we were able to observe the architecture and art from several perspectives, something that would have been impossible in a classroom. This ability to see, in person, the works we discuss at school is the most advantageous part of studying in Florence. We are able to stroll through the city and visit the Brancacci Chapel after studying it in class, learn about Brunelleschi’s self-sustaining dome while standing underneath it, and study Michelangelo’s career in the shadow of the David. This is beneficial not only in the memorization of facts, but also in the amassing of an appreciation for the art and history of the city.
As an art history major, there is nothing quite like living in the same city as Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Masaccio, and Botticelli. I have the unparalleled opportunity to walk the same streets, sketch the same sights [and buildings], and visit their artwork in the same city where it was created. I have been studying 15th and 16th century Italian art for a few years now, and it has always interested me, but never have I absorbed as much knowledge as I have during my first few weeks in Florence. My passion for the subject has also grown, and my curiosity has increased. In just a few classes, I have already found numerous new favorite paintings and sculptures. In a course focused on Michelangelo, Caravaggio, and Bernini, I am able to focus on a few of my favorite artists, something which would have been impossible in any class which had to span the entire Renaissance. In another art history course, which instead spans from the beginnings of the Renaissance to Mannerism, I can follow the professor into the city and find hidden gems that might otherwise be overlooked during a shorter stay in Florence. Our professors also provide us with indispensable facts about the city and the art, providing us with anecdotes and trivia which give the city a memorable character and depth. In Feminism in Art, I am finally able to focus on women artists. Although the class is centered around contemporary art, the theories and lessons I have learned can apply to the women artists of the 1400s and 1500s, a subject which has always fascinated me. Lastly, in a course about 14th Century Italian Literature, I am checking off an item from my bucket list: I am finally reading the Divine Comedy. I have longed to read it for years, but have always been too scared to take on the gargantuan task. How could I fathom to understand a work that, after 700-odd years of existence, is still being discussed and studied? Fortunately, I have a wonderful professor who makes the experience enjoyable and is able to convey a true love and appreciation for Dante and his timeless poem.
Coming to Florence has felt, in a way, as if I were coming home. In part, I am finally in the same country as my family for the first time in 12 years. Being able to visit them on weekends is a privilege I do not take for granted. Moving away from Italy taught me to see how much I had discounted the luck I had as a child, growing up in a UNESCO World Heritage Site with a Renaissance castle in my backyard. Now that I am back, I hope to take full advantage of the availability of art and culture in Italy. Finally, having loved and studied Renaissance art, a field which I plan to continue immersing myself in long after graduating, studying in Florence has introduced me to some of my favorite works. As many pictures as I saw of David, or as many papers as I wrote on this world-famous statue, nothing could ever compare to walking into the Accademia and seeing it looming at the end of the hall.
Francesca Bisi is studying Art History and Italian at the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee and is a study abroad student with SRISA for the Spring 2018 semester. Francesca blogs at firstladyoftherenaissance.tumblr.com and you can find her on Istagram at @francescadaferrara