Courtney Roberts, a junior journalism and public relations major from Keller, Texas, took part in the Baylor in Florence study abroad program this past summer. In this post, Courtney talks about how Baylor classes and professors helped her to appreciate more deeply some of the treasures of Italy.
Historical Perspective: Seeing Art History Come to Life
By Courtney Roberts
When I started taking an art history class at Baylor last fall, I had no idea what I was getting myself into. This is not an easy subject for most students. My nights quickly filled up with cram study sessions before quizzes and exams. I learned complicated memorization tricks so I could retain 300 years of history for my tests. I’ll admit I was hoping for an easy A to fill a fine arts credit, but instead I gained a genuine appreciation of European art and its significance in history.
The Italian Renaissance started just before spreading to the rest of Europe. The word “renaissance” literally means rebirth, and this time period is best known for its renewed interest in the classics. Though they defined the culture, the changes in dress, thinking and literature were mostly limited to the elite. The most elite were the Medici family of Florence. An accumulated wealth and a long lineage of popes, rulers and important patrons ensured that the family had as much influence and power as anyone could imagine. They collected and commissioned hundreds of works of art through the years, most of which are on public display in Florence.
When I started my study abroad trip in Rome, I knew I would see ancient paintings, sculptures and architecture I had learned about in my art history class. Part of me felt nerdy for secretly looking forward to it as much as I did. Whenever I saw something I recognized I felt giddy inside, despite my calm outward demeanor. I could recite the location, date, period, artist and title for a lot of Renaissance art, especially anything done by Michelangelo. You can imagine my anticipation for seeing David.
I could have stood there for hours. In the four weeks I’ve spent viewing art in Italy, this was a moment I wanted to cherish. There is something remarkable about looking up at Michelangelo’s David, fully knowing the history behind the sculpture and appreciating this was once, and still is, a magnificent piece of art. Unlike other sculptures I have seen here, David is incredibly lifelike. Prominent veins in his neck run down his right arm. The muscles of his body are just as they would be in real life, tensed and ready to fight.
Of course, I knew beforehand that Michelangelo had studied anatomy and mathematics, thanks to Dr. Heidi Hornik, my knowledgeable art history professor at Baylor. David was revolutionary because previous artists had sculpted figures draped in heavy fabrics, concentrating on the folds of the clothing rather than the human form underneath. Simply achieving balance through only the legs for this five-meter tall statue was an impressive feat. Mathematical proportion helped Michelangelo to create an unusual balance in this statue that other sculptors had not yet realized. Not to mention those insanely real muscles.
Seeing Michelangelo’s works in Florence has been the icing on the cake. Forget standing in the Sistine Chapel looking at the ceiling, moseying through the Vatican, or standing below the Arch of Constantine. Seeing Michelangelo’s David was the ultimate learning experience for me. Sitting in an air-conditioned classroom at Baylor and learning about this famous statue does not compare to the awe I felt at seeing it in person. Studying abroad is what I believe to be the ultimate learning and cultural experience.
Courtney discusses her photos from Italy pictured above:
PHOTO NO.1 — at top: “The Pantheon in Rome is surrounded by many cafes and shops, effectively mixing the past with the present. Plus, how fun is it to eat lunch next to one of the oldest domes in the world?”
PHOTO NO. 2: “Most of our class got separated in St. Peter’s Basilica, so we all ended up exploring different wings of the church and taking our own pictures of the intricate architectural details.”
PHOTO NO. 3: “Our tour guide and art historian, Giovanna Sarno, points out the small details on Raphael’s ‘The School of Athens,’ located in the Vatican.”
PHOTO NO. 4 –– at bottom: “Michelangelo’s ‘David’ stands tall as the center point of the Accademia dell’Arte in Florence. No photos of this famous statue are allowed, yet somehow everyone manages to sneak a quick picture.”