Going #2 in Pompeii (and other things you never knew you wanted to know about)

pompeiiWhen I first travelled to Pompeii as an undergrad, I had read all about it in my art history textbook and thought I had a handle on what to see and where to go (I had been elected official guide by my group of friends who I had dragged there with the pretext that it was near the Amalfi coast). Instead I was completely overwhelmed and admittedly, a little disappointed. Ok…I was a lot disappointed. I had imagined it full of artifacts, art, plaster casts of various things, with, of course, educational signage and helpful personnel. I couldn’t have been more wrong. I was so struck by how much was not there (based on what I had imagined in my head) that I couldn’t see the many things that were there.
 
So in this post, I want to take the opportunity for those of you who haven’t been or for those of you who have, but perhaps didn’t have an outstanding guide, no guide at all, or else just one of those generic guidebooks, to try and show you a glimmer of the magnificence of this incomparable site. Because the truth is that to the untrained eye (and under the blazing southern Italian sun), this magnificence can sometimes be a little hidden.
 
What I have learned now, however, thanks to these last few visits and some research of my own, is that not only are there many, many things of significance to see at Pompeii, but that the best things are not what you would necessarily expect and perhaps a little harder to see. These tend to be the things that really help our understanding and appreciation of the Roman World circa 79 AD and once you realize they’re there, they have the potential to change your entire experience.

So, without further ado, here are just a few of those wonderful details you don’t learn about in your average Art History survey course and that are not necessarily the easiest to see but are definitely easy to appreciate (warning: there will be discussion of toilets and materials that go into toilets so if you’re squeamish…well…get over it):
Continue reading…

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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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Florence doesn’t heart Valentine’s Day. That’s Amore!

Buon San Valentino!

For those love birds out there, don’t worry. This is not going to be an anti-consumerist rant on why Valentine’s Day is a vapid holiday that propels our already heightened commercialism. I am not going to write about the nauseating feeling I get when I see red and white Christmas decorations immediately replaced by other red and white decorations. I could devote some serious time to the matter, but I will leave that to the countless other advocates of anti-valentinism (it is a word, look it up). Instead, I would like to take a moment and reflect on Valentine’s Day in Italy.

See. Everyone thinks of romance when they think of Itlay.

From the country that inspired Romeo and Juliet and is known for conjuring up romantic images of Tuscan sunsets, vineyards, and couples embraced in gondolas gliding down the canals of Venice, you may find it surprising that Valentine’s Day in Italy is handled rather mildly. Italians treat this sweetheart’s holiday with a light-hearted playfulness and, in some cases, a goofy naughtiness. This may also come as a surprise if you stop to consider the origins of the day itself. Valentine’s Day is named after one or more early Christian saints – either Saint Valentine of Rome or Valentine of Terni. Both saints were martyred and subsequently buried in Rome. Valentines’s Day has been celebrated since 496 A.D. when it was established by Pope Gelasius I. 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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Florence, The Basics.

Any time I travel I like to get some basic information on my chosen destination. Florence’s history is so rich it can sometimes seem daunting to even begin learning the ins and outs of its past. Here is a simple fact sheet and some really basic historical info that will help you feel a bit more oriented when you arrive. Continue reading…

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