Leonardo Lost: Seek and Ye Shall Find

This is hands-down one of my favorite stories. I mean it has it all: mystery, Renaissance celebrities, top-secret government sting operations, and a little Dan Brown-esque art history (that is actually FACTUAL). Also, for us at Select Study Abroad, it is particularly close to home. Not only is Leonardo da Vinci our BFF and not only do we personally take students to the scene of the “crime,” but our very own professor, Rab Hatfield, was involved, wrote a book on the subject, and gave us the opportunity of meeting (on several occasions) the man behind the mystery (No, not Leonardo! Read on!).

So the story goes like this:

There was this little thing called the Florentine Republic. It had a tough time over the years (those darn Medici are so troublesome), but at the very end of the 15th century it had been reinstated and things were looking good. Now, if you are a little republic in the Renaissance looking to flex your new governmental muscles there a couple things you can do. One of them just happens to be harnessing the artistic power of some of the most coveted and respected artists of the day to do your bidding. Lucky, for this little republic, they just happened to have access to two of the most significant artists available: Leonardo da Vinci (technically he is from Vinci, but whatevs) and Michelangelo. You know…no big deal.

So, you take these two BIG names and you give them a BIG project: decorate the massive walls of the Sala del Gran Consiglio (also known as the Sala dei Cinquecento) in the Palazzo Vecchio (the government building in Florence). In 1503, Leonardo was commissioned to fresco the “Battle of Anghiari” (a battle famously won by the Florentines) on one of the long walls of the rectangular Sala. He had finished his preliminary drawing (called a cartoon) and had begun painting it by 1505. In typical Leo fashion, however, he used a very experimental technique and before the brushes were dry the wall was already having problems. Continue reading…

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Michelangelo’s David: More Than Meets The Eye

As someone who lived in Florence for a number of years and lead countless students, tours, friends, and family to see Michelangelo’s David, I have been asked a variety of questions regarding this famous statue. Did Michelangelo model him after the real David? What was David’s last name? Why is his…ahem, you-know-what, so small? Why does he have a mullet? And, finally, the question that forever changed how I thought about the David…What makes him so important and special? The context surrounding this question, posed to me by a 16 year-old student on a study abroad program I was working for, may help set the scene.
It was a scorching day in the middle of July and it was my first time visiting the Accademia with a group of students…60 or so. Between the blazing heat, suffocating humidity, disgruntled teenagers, throngs of anxious tourists, and a “reservation line” that wrapped around the building, the experience was less than ideal to say the least.

The line at the Accademia can be scary.


As we were making our way through the entrance, Olivia – the sweet 16 year-old girl with a heart of gold and zero interest in art history – came to me with her question…What makes the David so special, so important? She quickly told me that she meant no disrespect and genuinely wanted to know why. I took a moment to look around and take in the hundreds and hundreds of people – tired and sweaty, yet eagerly waiting their turn to finally see Michelangelo’s famed David and knew it was a fair question to ask. So, I did my best to explain to her why I thought the David was special enough and important enough for countless visitors from around the world to include “him” on their must-see list while in Italy. I mean…the David is arguably the most famous statue by the most famous artist in the world and many people do not even know why. Well, without further adieu, here are just few of the countless reasons why… Continue reading…

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Travelers rank Florence #1!

Florence has lured lovers of art, wine, food, and fashion for centuries. We can all imagine the artist and the art aficionado, the vintner and the reveler, the chef and the foodie, the designer and the shopaholic wandering the streets of Florence, but what about families? You may not immediately think of a family (parents, 2.5 kids) when you think of the average visitor to Florence, but think again. Trip Advisor recently ranked Florence as the 2011 Traveler’s Choice #1 Family Friendly City in Europe! (See article here.)

Fellow travelers voted on this one, so I think we should all take note. Now, I know some you may not be planning on traveling with a family (now or ever) and believe that this ranking is not relevant to you or your travel plans. Some of you may even be thinking that family friendly more clearly translates as “boring.” Well, let me set you straight. Locations, like Florence, that are praised for being ideal for visiting families are in actuality ideal for all travelers. Such locations rise to the top of the family friendly list when high standards of safety, transportation, and sightseeing are met. For example, last year Florence closed its center off from traffic. So, no more buses or motorini racing around streets crowded with tourists. I imagine that this major change contributed to the general enjoyment of visitors and Florence’s climb to the top of the family friendly list. Travelers young and old, in a group or flying solo, the jetsetter and the backpacker can all appreciate visiting a place that makes them feel safe, that is easy to get around, and that offers a wide variety of activities. As the thousands of insightful reviewers on Trip Advisor determined, Florence does just that. It manages to be a destination that is comfortable without being boring and dynamic without being overwhelming. Florence strikes a beautiful balance that makes a trip there just right.

In honor of Florence’s big win (that is, in the traveler reviewing world), here is a list of favorite family activities chock-full of fun for everyone. Toddlers to teenagers will get a kick out of these. In fact, travelers of nearly every age can enjoy these things to do and see in Florence. Continue reading…

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The Other Side of Rome

Been to Rome before? Seen this, done that? Well…maybe you have and maybe you haven’t. Here are some of my favorite off-the-beaten-path things to see/do that are not always an easy walk down one of Rome’s breathtaking cobble-stone streets. That doesn’t mean they aren’t worth every ounce of effort to see. Maybe you need to go back. Hopefully, it will be with Select Study Abroad. Continue reading…

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The Bust of Cosimo I and Ben Affleck

Cellini's Bust of Cosimo I

Above all, Florence is a city of sculpture. Although certain works get more press than others (*cough*…*cough*…the David), the city houses some of the finest Renaissance marble and bronze works around. One of the greatest pieces (in this writer’s humble opinion) is a three foot tall bronze bust of Duke Cosimo I de’ Medici, created by the sculptor Benvenuto Cellini between 1545-1547. Now I know what you’re thinking: busts sound boring. But this thing is really something to behold. It sits in the bottom floor of the Bargello, tucked in a corner where few even notice it. For those who do, something particular captures their attention: a presence seen in few Renaissance works. Continue reading…

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