Finding Florence in London

In a week we will be taking a much-awaited trip to London. I have been looking forward to it for months and, of course, getting slowly overwhelmed by how many things I want to see. If it wasn’t obvious already, I have a bit of an obsession with Italy and Italian Renaissance art. So of course, I am going to England, but everything I want to see is Italian. I know, I know. But it’s just one of those ridiculous things (I blame 19th century art dealers) that in going to London, I will get to see some of the most important works of art from Renaissance Florence. So, instead of fighting it, I thought it would be fun to try and recreate Florence in London: what to see, where to eat, and where to sleep to make me feel at home, away from home.
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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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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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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