on the move

It’s been a busy few days! Our first day together, the students took a guided tour through the historic center of Florence, followed by a welcome dinner, hosted by AIFS Florence, and their affable Ged McAteer. The next day we visited the church of Santa Maria Novella, and then John Passmore gave us an introduction to Andrea del Castagno’s painting of the Last Supper, at the convent of San Apollonia; a fitting intro, as well, to the emergence of Renaissance perspective drawing. That afternoon we held our first classroom session, reviewing some basic principles of drawing, including fundamentals of geometric proportion — squares! — that are evident in Brunelleschi’s  facade design of the SM Novella church. Our third day began with a visit to the Bargello museum, followed by the Basilica of Santa Croce. I couldn’t resist spending some extended drawing time in the Pazzi Chapel, where it was quiet, and a ledge around the perimeter of the chapel provided a nice place to sit while doing some sketch studies of the altar and dome overhead. A chance to put some of the lessons on fundamental geometric structure to practice!

We don’t meet in the classroom again until Tuesday 29 August, and I’ll have a chance to take pictures of the sketches students have been doing for the first few days. Looking forward to seeing and sharing those with you.

Today we visited Oltrarno. Oltre Arno, or over the Arno river, where you can get away from the sea of humanity in tourist central and experience a slower, more relaxed pace with the local residents and university students. Our focus for the morning was the Santo Spirito basilica and piazza, a charming place to hang out in the cool of the morning.

Did I mention it’s been in the 90s since we arrived? But we’re coping fine. Mornings are cool and breezy 60s, but it heats up fast. Still, it’s wonderful to be able to sit at a sidewalk cafe in the heat of a summer night and enjoy the people coming out to play. Piazza Santo Spirito is one of the best places to experience the social life in Florence. Very chill. Sidewalk cafes line both sides of the piazza, kids play in the center, folks sit around the fountain talking or playing guitar.


Our student activity today involved two drawing challenges. Each student was given a card with an A and B side, challenging them to create two drawings in two hours, using the prompts on the cards. Two students were always guaranteed to be doing the same view and subject, so they had a good time comparing notes as they worked side-by-side. It was also a good chance to get around and meet with each of them, giving a bit of advice or demonstrating a technique. As we finished up, students had a chance to compare drawings and talk about how they responded to the challenges.

After finishing the drawing challenges, we had an hour between masses to visit the interior of Santo Spirito. Again, seeing how multiple squares created the proportions of the main nave and aisles.


We finished the afternoon by visiting the Brancacci Chapel at Chiesa di Santa Maria del Carmine, viewing amazing frescos painted by Masolino, Masaccio, and Filipino Lippi, whose handling of spatial settings with an interior courtyard surrounding the characters gave the scenes an added intimacy and drama that Masolino’s and Masaccio’s more exterior views lacked, in my opinion. But the color, the use of perspective to present characters in the foreground, with middle- and background compositional elements, was the first students had seen of Renaissance perspective in the paintings we’d viewed thus far. The Bargello and Santa Croce predominately featured sculpture and paintings with a more Gothic flatness.


A shout out to John for his lectures on art and architectural history at each of the sites we visit. He’s prepared notes for all the students to review, based on his research and previous experience in Italy. Students enter the sites with a list of highlights to find and study, and we’ve gained far more from our experience as a result of his knowledge and preparation.


That’s all for now. Ciao!




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