Mallika Kavadi
Gallatin Travel Course: “Italian Renaissance, Art, and Literature: The Culture Explosion
Florence, Summer 2017

Studying at NYU Florence this past summer was an inimitable experience. I spent a few weeks at NYU’s La Pietra campus studying Renaissance art and literature for Gallatin’s travel course, Italian Renaissance, Art, and Literature: The Culture Explosion.

Apart from the delight in reading Dante and Machiavelli in the city where they lived and were exiled from, and experiencing the immediacy of art I had previously only studied in books, my summer was special because of our stay at La Pietra.

garden with fountain and statues

The Renaissance Gardens of La Pietra

Florence is saturated with so many artistic and architectural marvels that it can get overwhelming at times, but NYU’s quaint hilltop campus provided contemplation and quiet inspiration.

A cypress-lined avenue climbs up the hill towards the Villa La Pietra, so named because of a Roman stone marker that used to be nearby. The Tuscan yellow Baroque building overlooks an expansive olive garden, distant umbrella pines, and glimpses of Santa Maria del Fiore, the cathedral better known for its iconic dome by Brunelleschi.

garden with villa

La Pietra

landscape of greenery and mountains

View near Villa Natalia

parasol pines with cathedral roof in background

Il Duomo peeks from behind the parasol pines

garden with trees and benches

Garden

During the summer months, La Pietra hosts the Season, evenings of book readings, music concerts, and performances. We were able to catch a riveting performance of the Odyssey at the amphitheater situated in the middle of the olive garden, and attend readings and concerts in the Limonaia (equivalent of the English Orangeries, an enclosed space in the garden meant for growing citrus trees during the winter months) followed by receptions in the gardens adjoining the villa.

And all this happened in our free time after having exciting course visits to the city’s churches and museums.

Garden pathway at dusk with villa

clouds looming over the gardens

Summer storm looms over the gardens

The greatest benefit of studying art history in the city was being able to see the evolution of art from the early to late Renaissance and to see different artists’ takes on the same subjects. The best way to explore Florence was to enter any church that was open. You were bound to come across interesting art.

For an extracurricular activity, we were able to see an opera at the Florence Opera House. On the weekends, we were free to go find our own adventures. I visited Urbino, a Renaissance duchy that was the birthplace of the artist Raphael and the setting for Castiglione’s The Book of the Courtier as well as a text we read for the travel course.

We concluded the course with a traditional Tuscan meal. The immersive experience complimented the interdisciplinary nature of the course.

historic buildings in a valley with mountains behind, at sunset

Florence, view from Piazza Michelangelo

bridge over river at night

Lights of the Ponte Vecchio reflected in the Arno

people looking into shop window

Francesco’s shoe shop

vintage red bike

Vintage bike race

dog howling from vintage bike with man in background

A bike race companion barks as a vintage bike aficionado looks on

woman standing outside shops

Shops on Ponte Vecchio

rooftops of historic buildings

Slope of Il Duomo, overlooking Florentine rooftops