Students in my Faculty -Led Study Abroad Program, Connecting Art and Science – The Cultural History of Art and Anatomy in Italy have spent the past four days in Florence, the Cradle of the Renaissance. When we departed Florence yesterday, the students nearly cried as if they were leaving a new love. In fact, that is what they were doing.

During our time in Florence however, the pre-travel curriculum came to life. In perhaps the world’s greatest museum of paintings, The Uffizi Gallery, masterpieces by Giotto, Cimabue, Botticelli, Leonardo, Michelangelo, Raphael, Caravaggio and so much more lined the walls in seemingly endless galleries. It was difficulty for students to not be overwhelmed with a sensory overload, but I’m confident they managed the challenge well.

Our visit to the Accademia to see Michelangelo’s David was equally breathtaking. Students studied his anatomy and contrapposto stance prior to our arrival, and the genius of Michelangelo was fully appreciated when they gazed at his amazing figure.

And of course, Florence is home to one of the most arresting architectural achievements: The Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore, or simply, The Duomo. Prior to visiting Italy, our students discussed the story of Brunelleschi’s masonry dome, which is still the largest of its kind in the world. Their first view of this Gothic wonder was towards the end of an evening walk of the historic center of the city. I watched jaws actually drop as they laid eyes on the cathedral, shining white against the night sky and topped by Brunelleschi’s dome.

Renaissance painting and sculpture however, was not all Florence offered our students. We also visited the La Specola Museum of Anatomical Wax Figures at the University of Florence. Several hundred wax sculptures used for medical education – works of art in their own right – fill 10 rooms. Our students examined their anatomical accuracy, while also appreciating their delicate poses and artistic representations.

Our travel to Florence included a stop in Assisi, perhaps Italy’s most spiritual sanctuary and the home of Saint Francis. This beautiful medieval village provided stark contrast to Rome where we had been, and Florence where we were headed. The Basilica of Saint Francis provided an excellent discussion of the foundations of Italian painting in the works of Giotto, as well as a backdrop for a discussion of the sweet life of Saint Francis.

The final portion of this program travels to Bologna and Padua to visit their historic and still important universities. There we will tour several anatomical museums that uniquely Connect Art and Anatomy (and we will also squeeze in a day trip to Venice!)

Stay tuned for my final post next week!

Arrivederci, e ci vediamo presto!

Kevin Petti is a professor of human anatomy and physiology at Miramar College. He teaches the faculty-led study abroad program “Connecting Art and Anatomy in Italy” for SDSU, and will blog from Italy this summer.


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