Cradle of the Renaissance, the ancient Italian city of Florence is the perfect place for developing your knowledge of almost any subject.
Over the centuries, it’s been home to some of the most significant scientific and mathematical discoveries. Likewise, painters, sculptors, writers and historians living and working here have expanded the frontiers of culture and society. Indeed, the transdisciplinary practices of artists such as Brunelleschi and Da Vinci involved astounding investigations and collaborations in the realms of physics, biology, chemistry, engineering and architecture.
Since 1974, OCAD University’s Florence Off-Campus Studies program has been drawing students like me across the Atlantic. At the time of this writing and for the three-and-a-half weeks that preceded it, I have been living and learning in this amazing terra-cotta Tuscan city with two fellow Interdisciplinary Master’s in Art, Media and Design (IAMD) students: Annette Mangaard and David Salazar.
David Salazar (and son Bento), Annette Mangaard, Dan Soloman, Martha Ladly and Jill Price
For me, one of the most enriching aspects of my time in Florence has been the opportunity to investigate the interconnectivity of the early Renaissance’s globalized economic and cultural landscape. I have gained a much more comprehensive understanding, for example, about how the guilds, merchants, banks and churches were financially interwoven.
I have also discovered that, despite rudimentary forms of transportation and communication, international trade was already occurring. This led to a dynamic exchange of natural resources, artistic skill sets and design aesthetics.
From life into art
Also check out emerging artist Alex Murphy’s Five best things about studying art in Florence.
For David Salazar, an award-winning sculptor who explores the animalistic behaviours of humans through the abstraction of form and narrative figuration, time in this city has had a direct impact on his art practice:
"Aside from the art that Florence is well known for, my experience is best reflected by the work I'm currently resolving, which involves sculpting maquettes of birds at the moment of impact with a wall. I have been greatly inspired by the pigeons that make their way through the city. Although they are viewed as pests, they also embody a sense of elegance as if posing for tourists cameras taking selfies."
David Salazar working on sculptures of pigeons in the OCAD U studios in Florence (Photo by Jill Price)
Nature and health
Annette Mangaard, a consummate traveller who has shown her work at film festivals and cinematheques around the globe, is researching the benefits of nature on human health. Planning to create an installation that offers audiences a simulated, natural environment, Annette says,
"I've enjoyed being in Florence, where I've been filming microscopic details of images of flora found within Renaissance paintings. I'll be compositing these with botanicals filmed within the surrounding gardens and courtyards to create layered media work."
Annette Mangaard shooting the flora of Florence (Photo by Jill Price)
Why not stay here forever?
Given the treasure trove of art and culture that is Florence, it comes as no surprise that some visitors — including OCAD U students — choose never to leave. One such person with whom we have spent time is OCAD U alumna Allison Wooley. In addition to teaching out of her professional studio, Allison restores frescoes and gilding throughout the region, and procures large commissions designing and painting replicas of antique harpsichords.
I asked Allison what inspired her to stay in Florence after completing a post-graduate year of study here:
"At that time (the 1980s), the artisan community was flourishing. Almost every arch or doorway was an artisan studio making lovely things. I found the courage to start looking for work, and one studio eventually let me in. I learned so much there and continued to learn by inviting master artisans into my studio to teach."
These artisans are fun-loving and generous individuals. They have taught me and many others water gilding, egg tempera painting, true fresco, grisailles and other techniques and traditions unbroken since the Renaissance. Over the years, I have also learned the tenets of harmony, proportion and colour, while appreciating and absorbing both the natural and manmade beauty of Florence and Tuscany.
Jill Price rubbing the nose of the Florence boar (Photo by David Salazar)
It is with a heavy heart that I will leave this magical place. However, I will depart knowing what a rich experience I have had, and with the comfort that I will return. How do I know this? I rubbed the snout of Il Porcellino — the little pig — just to be sure.
Andiamo a Firenze! Jill’s top 10 things to know if you’re heading over to Florence to study:
- Grazie. Prego. Ciao! A little bit of Italian goes a long way.
- It rains everywhere.
- State-of-the-art walking shoes are a must.
- Rent a place with a small kitchenette. No one can afford to eat out in Florence three times a day.
- If you plan on touring a church: women must have their legs and shoulders covered to enter. I haven’t seen any men turned away yet, but I am assuming sleeves are a must.
- Do not exchange your money at the airport in Florence! I repeat, do not exchange your money at the airport in Florence!
- Don’t bring over your studio supplies. The art stores are well stocked, affordable and the staff are super friendly. Be sure to ask for your student discount if they don’t ask you first.
- Wifi is free in parts of the city, so you may be able to skip buying a SIM card by registering for FONGO, a free telephone service, and using Facebook messenger.
- Pack half the clothes you think you will need. The fashion rocks here!
- Never say no to opportunities to tour in or outside the city. The books and studio will always be there when you get back.
Jill Price is the curator and education officer at Quest Art in Midland, Ontario. She is currently a student in OCAD U’s Interdisciplinary Master’s in Art, Media and Design (IAMD) MFA program.