Florence is without a doubt, the place to study Renaissance art.
It is considered the birthplace of the Renaissance, a city that multiple Old Masters have walked and worked in. That’s why I chose Florence to fulfill some of my art history credits.
I’m taking a class specifically designed to trace the artistic life of Michelangelo, one of Western art’s most pivotal artists. Nearly everyone with access to art education has heard of Michelangelo. His name is one that resides in most introductory art history classes. He was a master of sculpture and painting, most notably with the David and the Sistine Chapel Ceiling.
My art history professor is a clear Michelangelo nerd. In fact, one of our site visits were to Pietrasanta and Carrara. If those names don’t sound familiar to you, don’t worry. I’ll explain.
Here’s some crash course art history:
Michelangelo’s David was sculpted from a massive block of marble quarried from the Carrara mountains. This block of marble was moved around for about 30 years in different artist’s hands until Michelangelo happened upon it. Similarly, the Pietà, also by Michelangelo and currently located in the Vatican, was carved of a softer, whiter Carrara marble. Michelangelo also spent eight months in the mountains in 1503 to pick out the perfect sections of marble for Pope Julius II’s tomb. These mountains were extremely important to the artist’s life and career.
Pietrasanta is just at the foot of the Apuan Alps. In Pietrasanta, we were actually introduced to her sculptor friend John Taylor, who directed us inside a sculpting studio. We were all given the opportunity to chisel through a piece of Carrara marble, the same type of Carrara marble that the David was carved out of. This marble is generally more hard, less white but more withstanding to wear. It was an amazing experience to be able to physically perform as Michelangelo had 500 years ago. In fact, I have so much more respect for him after that, because using a hammer and chisel for even thirty seconds was a whole workout.
After the sculpting lesson, we traveled into the Carrara mountains. Our professor even booked us a Jeep ride up one mountain. We zigged and zagged our way through the dusty, marbled roads to an active quarry site. Carrara marble is still in high demand for households and artists alike.
I am appreciative that our professor made the effort to take us out of the classroom to actively engage in the life that Michelangelo himself experienced daily. It really emphasizes the importance of taking the learning out of the classroom and into real life.