The monthly ArtSmart Roundtable brings together some of the best art-focused travel blogs to post on a common theme. This month we are looking at architecture. Check out all the stories below!
If you know Florence, Italy, then you know Filippo Brunelleschi. He was the architect who designed and constructed the soaring dome of the Florence Cathedral. While still impressive today, this engineering feat was revolutionary in the 15th century. But what many people don’t realize is that Brunelleschi completed several other equally influential buildings in Florence. Brunelleschi’s chapels and churches set the standard for Renaissance architecture by re-introducing and expanding on Roman architectural concepts. The harmonious and proportioned designs of Brunelleschi’s buildings makes them a must-see, even in a city overflowing with fantastic art.
Michelangelo’s David-Apollo on display at the National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC on loan from the Museo Nazionale del Bargello, Florence (Photo: adapted from NGA publicity materials)
I personally love artworks with a little mystery and what could be better than an unfinished sculpture by Michelangelo? His David-Apollo is currently on display at the National Gallery of Art in DC until March 3rd, on loan from the Museo del Bargello in Florence. The sculpture is so named because there is no real consensus on whom it depicts. In 1530, Michelangelo started a small marble of David. It has been speculated that he abandoned this symbol of Florence and tried to adapt it to a classical Apollo but ultimately left the piece unfinished. To me, there is no evidence to suggest that this figure was ever meant to be an Apollo. More likely, it was a victim of Michelangelo’s legendary perfectionism. The beauty of unfinished pieces is that one can walk around them, examine the carvings and try to understand the master’s thought process up close.
Procession around the Florence Cathedral and Baptistry during the 18th century
Apparently circling the Duomo in Florence as part of the Feast of Corpus Christi procession earns you a plenary indulgence. I didn’t so much choose to participate as I was swept up into the crowd. If anything, our triumphant entrance underneath the gleaming mosaics of the Baptistry was reward enough. But the nuns at the convent where I was renting a room insisted I had earned some spiritual extra credit by taking this walk, so it must be true. Looks like travel really is good for the soul! Here’s how it happened.
"Bonjour suora, comment allez-vous?" (Photo: Ed Yourdon)
There was a great column by Daisann McLane in National Georgraphic Traveler this month about the value of speaking a second language. No matter where you are, it gives you another option for communication. She argues that when people must communicate in neutral language (in her case, an American and Japanese woman speaking Spanish together), they are more conscientious of their pronounciation and use more standard, less slangy vocabulary. This made me think of my own experience communicating in a third language.
The summer I spent in Florence, I lived in a convent which rented half of its rooms to travelers and students like me. It was gorgeous place with cool stone floors and a peaceful inner garden, all hidden just down the street from the Duomo. My room even had a 19th century fresco of angels on the ceiling! The sisters were very kind and would join the guests for breakfast. The only problem was that I barely spoke Italian so I limited to “Sì, grazie suora”. Unless the sisters wanted to sell me a train ticket, I didn’t really know what to say. But I was in luck; this was a French religious order so they all knew some French! My four years of high school French came in pretty handy.
What a difference a little communication makes. It was so much more fun to chat with the sisters, ask them what they were working on and answer their questions about what I had done each day. As much as I love seeing art and scenery when I travel, it makes for a much richer experience if you can actually talk with locals.
(On a side note, my French is still way better than my Italian.)