Art History Everywhere

This week I started classes, and wow. I love this place. From the studio to the lecture hall, I am engaged. At the end of the day, I am exhausted, but ready to work the next day. As I get more tired as the semester goes on, I hope I will continue to stay focused.

While at SACI, I am taking only one art history class. I made this decision because I often feel overwhelmed by history. I am always so filled with ideas of how history can influence my artwork, that I want to read as much as I can. I also get discouraged in history classes because there is always so much more knowledge than my brain can soak up. My art history professor here does not have this issue. I am continually astonished by the quantity of knowledge in that woman’s head. Like holy cow, wow.
The art history class I’m taking here is called Women and the Arts in Italy. There were several reasons I chose this class. One, was simply my interest in feminine influence and success in history. The other reason was that it covers so much time. There is so much to be covered in this class that I know that it will only be skimming the surface, but I’m so excited for all the different directions my mind will be taken. I didn’t want to have to choose between High Renaissance or Baroque art history, so instead I’m learning specifically about the presence of women in both historical times.

This week, our first lecture talked about the artwork on wedding chests (cassoni) and birth salvers (Deschi da Parto). In renaissance times, these were both very common parts of marriages and child birth. A wedding chest was what a woman put her belongings in when she was married. After her wedding, it would be ceremoniously transported to her new husband’s home. The outside of the box would be painted with a story, often a tragic romance from the Old Testament or mythology. On the inside of the chest, there was often an image of a nude woman or Mary with baby Jesus to encourage baby-making activities and hopes of prosperity. Birth salvers were ceremonious plates given when I child was born. One side would have a painting similar to the stories on the outside of wedding chests, but the back of the salver would be more specific to well-wishing for the new child. Often these paintings illustrated chubby babies to express hope for a healthy child.

 
Today during my art history class, we ventured to Palazzo Davanzati, the Museum of the Florentine House. Here, we got to see a little bit of what it would be like to be a wealthier woman in late medieval and renaissance times. Women spent the majority of their time at home because they could only go outside when escorted by a man. Often, Sunday church outings were the only time a wife got to venture out of the home. In the palazzo, we got to see a couple examples of wedding chests and birth salvers.

After today’s class, I was finished with classes for the day, so I went to the Galleria dell’Accademia and saw Michelangelo’s David. Let me tell you, David is one tall dude. I’ve heard over and over of how amazing the David sculpture is, and I always wondered what was so great about just another statue of another dude. Well, it turns out, it’s a pretty big statue. In the 21 century, large sculptures are normal, but for a piece done at the beginning of the 16th century, hot damn! The rest of the galleria was also enjoyable. I found that all the old artwork I would have found boring just a few years ago is quite comical now. From Mary’s expression looking at baby Jesus in her arms to odd accents of gold leaf in unexpected places on a painting. There was a special exhibit of work by Giovanni dal Ponte where every rendering of John the Baptist looked an awful lot like a werewolf. I have to wonder how seriously these artists took themselves and their commissioners. Obviously, they were very serious about their work, but surely they giggled at each others oddly rendered faces and feet sometimes, right?

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