It’s almost impossible to imagine Leonardo da Vinci‘s legacy without the notebooks he left behind, but his is just the most famous example of the importance that journaling has had for artists going back centuries. Connecting with this tradition in da Vinci’s native Italy was one of the goals of The Artist’s Journal, a new Arts Abroad program set in two world-renowned cultural capitals: Istanbul and Florence. The Briefs caught up with faculty member Peter Hristoff and his students as they were just beginning to discover the Italian city’s cultural riches.
The Museo di San Marco is a 15th-century monastery where the monk’s cells were decorated with masterful frescoes by Fra Angelico and his assistants. As captured in the students’ notebooks, the paintings dominate their austere surroundings with vivid color and engrossing compositions. If ever confinement seemed enlightened, it is here. As no photography of the interiors is permitted, the students’ drawings were the only tangible record of their visit.
The next day the group headed to the Specola, the natural history museum of the University of Florence that was established in the 18th century to house the wealth of scientific collections of the Medici, long Florence’s “first family.” In addition to taxidermy specimens from seemingly every corner of the world, the museum holds a world-renowned collection of wax anatomical models from the period when research on cadavers was punishable by death.
Explaining the appeal of drawing on location in a place like this, one student said, “Drawing every day puts you in the realm of history. You’re really experiencing the city because you’re visually recording it.” History is everywhere in Florence, but for Hristoff’s students, no camera is needed to capture it.
Images: (top) Cassandra Levine, untitled drawing, 2011; (middle) the Museo di San Marco in Florence; (bottom) drawing at the Specola.