Honors Students Discover Beauty in Florence

By Emily Mathe on August 12, 2014

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Honors students pose with Sylvia Rasi-Gregorutti and Alexander Carpenter on top of Florence's Duomo.

Where better to view the work of the masters than in the hub of European artistic ingenuity itself? That’s exactly what 15 students in Pacific Union College’s Honors Program did this summer when spending four intensive weeks studying art in Florence, Italy. The summer seminar abroad was a combination of lectures, artistic assignments, and tours aiming to provide the students with a comprehensive and contextual idea of “Beauty” (the course’s title) from the medieval age to Modernism. With a huge amount of material to cover, the students worked hard to digest the most information possible in each three-hour class session.

“The trip was a once in a lifetime experience to actively learn about art and the pursuit of beauty,” said senior Spanish and music student Rachel Veszpeller. “I learned first-hand how to see ordinary objects how an artist might see them. And to get to know art in Italy was incredible. Especially in Florence, you could almost feel the creativity in the air. It was a challenging trip that opened my eyes to a lot of concepts that I had never encountered before.”

Villa Aurora, an Adventist school in Florence, hosted the PUC travelers for the duration of the trip. “Once again, the Honors seminar students proved to be a resilient and gracious group,” stated Professor of Modern Languages Sylvia Rasi-Gregorutti. Rasi-Gregorutti organized the museum tours and day trips outside Florence while also serving as a much-needed translator, and Alexander Carpenter taught the academic element. (The course was Carpenter’s last as an instructor of art history at PUC.) The group toured the Accademia, housing Michelangelo’s breathtaking David; the Uffizi, which contains work by Leonardo da Vinci, Sandro Botticelli, and Caravaggio, and more; the Bargello; Palazzo Pitti; and other cultural attractions. One of the tours included a steep climb to the top of the Duomo, or Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore, the breathtaking dome designed by Filippo Brunelleschi that dominates the Florentine skyline.

“Studying abroad in Italy has been one of the most incredible academic experiences,” said freshman biochemistry major Katherine Shin. “I don’t know which I am going to miss more: my daily gelato or exploring different cities and learning about their cultures. I am thankful that I had the opportunity to go to Italy this summer because it made me see the importance of different perspectives, and I am looking forward to going back one day.”

On bus trips outside Florence, the Honors students visited the towns of Siena, Vinci, and Assisi, as well as the bustling canals and glass shops of Venice. On the overnight trip to Rome, the Vatican Museum, Coliseum, and Pantheon were also notable stops.

The trip concluded with a ceremony during which all the students presented the artistic projects they had created to showcase their perspectives on Beauty. The presentations were remarkably varied, including paintings in different mediums, two musical performances, a children’s book, wire sculpture, theater of the absurd, and more. “I enjoyed seeing what each member of this variously talented group brought to this summer’s seminar,” said Rasi-Gregorutti. “As always, it was great fun to provide orientation to the language, culture, and physical space. Assisting with searching out local connections in areas of students’ and colleagues’ personal interest is always an exciting, ever-changing scavenger hunt for me.”

Although the Beauty class has been a course in the Honors curriculum, this was most likely the last time it takes place solely in Florence. With the new Honors program debuting in Fall 2014, the nature of the summer art course will be changing as well. Though the trip is typically reserved for the sophomore class, those in charge of the 2014 seminar accepted several determined freshmen who had set their sights on the Italy trip. Going forward, there may be a Beauty “look-alike” class hosted somewhere else to fulfill the same requirements.