The Fantastic Four

After the completion of just two weeks, I have already been on four fantastic field trips with the all-knowledgeable Helen. Two have been required class trips, outside of the designated class time, for my Early Renaissance Art History class: Baptistery/San Miniato and Ravenna. One trip occurred during the second time our Early Renaissance class met: a tour of the interior of the Duomo. And yesterday I went on a trip to Vinci and to visit some of the Medici Villas in the greater-Florence area. The trip yesterday was required for students in the High Renaissance Art History class but just as every other field trip for any of the classes, it is open to anyone who wants to go, provided there is still room on the bus. This will be the longest post about field trips because I am going to cover four in this one post. Hopefully I can keep up with every trip from now on and I will be able to post posts about individual trips, as to not bore you to death.

The first trip of the year came on the day before my birthday, September 7th, and on the first friday of the semester as well as the second overall day of class. I don’t have class on fridays, so the only thing I needed to worry about was making it to the Baptistery by 2:45 sharp. I had walked by the Duomo and the Baptistery many times since I had first arrived in Florence but this was the first time that I would be getting to go inside. We had learned in class the day before, that the Baptistery was one of the most significant buildings in Florence. It was built for Florence’s Patron Saint, John the Baptist, and it was constructed in such a way that it reflected the glory of Florence. Many Florentines, including Brunelleschi, the man who constructed the dome of the Duomo, had thought the Baptistery to be an Ancient Roman Temple, modelled after the Temple of Mars. It also is very similar in design to the famous Pantheon in Rome. The architect of the Baptistery is unknown but whoever they were, they were able to put together a very impressive building.

The Baptistery itself is a conglomerate mass of many different styles and ideas. It shows a revival of ancient Roman style hence why people believed it was in fact an Ancient Roman Structure. The Baptistery was built during the Romanesque period, where there was a revival of art across Europe, and many styles were combined forming a sort of “melting pot.”   It was built in the shape of an octagon because the number eight has a very significant in Christianity. The number eight is associated with the eight days between Christ’s death and his resurrection. This makes sense because the actual act of Baptism symbolizes renewal and rebirth. Some of the styles that are visible in the Baptistery are: Ancient Roman (structural),  Classicism (color scheme and decoration), Islamic (floor patterns and corner stripes, similar to Mosques), Pagan (zodiac calendar on the floor), and Byzantine East (in the mosaic roof). I am considering writing my term paper for Helen and my Early Renaissance Art History class on the Baptistery.

The second half of the trip was spent at San Miniato, a Early Christian church situated on a hill top looking over all of Florence. The Church was beautifully decorated both inside and out but what really captivated me was the view. It also had a beautiful cemetery. This portion of the trip can be explained better in pictures…

The next day, my birthday, was our trip to Ravenna. You have already read about my long night entering my birthday, but to reiterate, I had to wake up at 6 am to meet the bus for departure at 7am after only sleeping roughly three hours because I was out celebrating my departure from teenage years. I got on the bus and was out like a light. After my breakfast of champions, chocolate donuts, coke and a mountain dew energy drink thing, I was wired enough to be ready for whatever Helen had to throw at me. Again, as you already know, we arrived at our first stop and I make the depressing discovery that I did not have the battery in my camera, that I had left it in the charger, next to my bed, fully charged. Later in the trip it hit me that I would be coming back here next semester so that not having my camera was not the end of the world. So for a complete trip explanation accompanied by pictures, unfortunately, you will have to wait until next semester. For now you will just have to deal with me highlighting some of the cool things we saw and coming up with your own images in your head. Like I said previously, Ravenna was an incredible birthday present, from the extravagant churches to the city itself to the fantastic gelato, I could not have asked for much more.

In the Museo Arcivescovile, we got to see the throne of Bishop Maximen, which was constructed out of 100% Ivory. It was amazing to see all of the small intricate detail work in the irony. I couldn’t help but think that I would not have been able to fit on the seat of the throne. It just looked too small. The throne was given as a gift to Bishop Maximen by Emperor Justinian in the early sixth century, and it still remains almost as it was then, today. Perhaps the biggest, in size and impressiveness, highlight of the Ravenna trip was San Vitale. Similar in design to the famous Hagia Sophia, San Vitale was filled with some of the most beautiful mosaics that I have ever seen. I recommend looking up San Vitale on google images in order to get an idea of what I am talking about (Unless you’d like to wait and see my pictures in a few months). Next to San Vitale stands the Mausoleum of Galla Placidia. We entered through the draped off doors and it was very dark. However, once my eyes began to adjust to the light I realized that what I was looking at were not just dull mosaics but in fact incredibly detailed and beautifully preserved mosaics that had to be protected from the light in order to keep them as pristine as possible. The mosaics that I was casually observing have remained on the ceiling of the mausoleum since they were constructed there in the mid fifth century. After we left the mausoleum, we walked back through Ravenna to see DANTE’S TOMB! We got to see the place where, beneath all that stone, DANTE’S BODY IS ACTUALLY LOCATED!! A born Florentine, Dante was exilled and spent the end of his life in Ravenna. It was very cool! Once we paid our respects to Dante, (Ben kissed his tomb, can someone say devotion!) we went into the church of San Francesco, where there is a crypt “perpetually invaded” by water that has goldfish swimming around in it. After that we were nearing the end of our Ravenna trip but Helen had one more stop for us: Sant’Apollinare in Classe. Everyone was exhausted when we entered te church and there were even a few people who fell asleep while sitting in the pews listening to her explain the, again fantastic and awe inspiring, mosaics that were located all along the interior of the basilica. I recommend looking this up as well. As we left we were glad that we had survived such a long day with helen and were ready to sleep on the bus back to Florence which I was able to do very successfully.

On the second day of class, monday the 10th, we took a class field trip into the interior of the Duomo. My first reaction to the inside was one of slight confusion. I figured that because the outside of the Duomo was so unfathomably beautiful, that the interior must be much the same right? Well, I was wrong. Yes, the interior as far as size goes (The Duomo is the third longest church in the world), was very impressive, but the whitewashed walls and the lack of splendor inside threw me for a loop. The Duomo was built to again show off the glory of Florence and to compete with nearby cities such as Pisa, who Florence was very competitive with. One interesting thing that I learned about the construction of the Duomo was that it was started on my birthday, because it is dedicated to the Virgin Mary and she and I happen to share a birthday! How cool is that! The bubonic plague occurred during the building process of the Duomo and even though that caused most cities to cut back on projects, Florence actually enlarged the project. The arches in the interior if the Duomo are so large that during construction, metal tie rods were put in for support. The Duomo is actually the third church to be built on the site and we were able to go underneath the floor to view the ruins of the other churches that were there prior to the Duomo. We saw ruins from the two previous churches dedicated to Saint Reparata and then even some ruins from old Ancient Roman houses that predated the churches! There was a beautiful layout that showed very clearly the locations and the designs of previous churches and I was really able to get a feel of what had been on the site before the Duomo.

Yesterday we travelled to Vinci to visit a museum dedicated to Leonardo Da Vinci’s inventions. There were models of many of his inventions and it was really incredible to think about how far ahead of his time he really was. Models that looked very similar to the cars, boats, tanks and even airplanes that we know so well in today’s world. After the museum we got back on the bus to drive the two kilometers to the house where Leonardo was born. No big deal right? When we got to Leonardo’s house, there was a wedding/vow renewal thing going on in his front yard so we had to wait until that was over before we could walk around the site and actually visit his house. His house, as many were during that time was very plain and simple. We paid our respects and were soon on our way to visit a couple of the Villas owned by the Medici family. Those were not very plain and simple. We visited Poggio a Caiano, the famous Medici Villa built for Lorenzo the Magnificent in the 1480’s. The only comparison I have to these Villas was that it was similar to walking around the mansions in Newport, Rohde Island. Even that comparison though is a longshot. The building was so impressive with its wall covering frescoes and fancy schmancy everything that it was wild to think that this was just a “summer home.” This specific villa was also the first villa to have a terrace but around the outside so that Lorenzo could have a view of the surrounding countryside. Inside the Villa there was the family tree of the Medici family and I was blown away by the number of people there were on it, especially those with little crowns or symbols above their names noting their royalty/political klaut, Popes, Dukes, Grand Dukes, they seemed to have so many of each. I wished I was a Medici family member, but only for a little bit. We arrived at our next Medici Villa, Castello, and there we walked around in the lavish garden, the oldest surviving Medici formal garden. The garden set the president for other gardens including the famous Boboli gardens in Florence. The villa itself belongs to a private institution so therefore we were not able to visit the inside. We then made the walk up a seemingly endless hill, where Helen just motored along leaving us all to eat her dust (I am beginning to think that she is a robot), to the final villa that we would be seeing on the trip, Petraia. From the front garden we were able to get a beautiful overlook of the city of Florence. That Dome stands out above everything! Inside the front door is a huge open area with a glass ceiling that was used as a ballroom. The walls are covered with floor to ceiling frescoes and because the villa was used as a hunting lodge for the Medici’s, there were plenty of heads of animals, mainly deer, on plaques on the walls. We toured the lavish rooms and again all I could think about was the interior of the Newport mansions. We returned back to Florence around seven, but not before we took a group shot of everyone with rolled up pants.


About thehpubandana

I am currently a Junior in college at High Point University in High Point, North Carolina. However, this year I am studying abroad in Florence, Italy with the SACI school. I am a studio art major, with a passion for photography, skateboarding, and yelling Title Fight with my friends. CHUH!!
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One Response to The Fantastic Four

  1. Wow. I learned a lot in that blog! I think it’s very cool that you are seeing and experiencing places in Italy that I never saw. Great.

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