Graduate Student Experience, 2013

Diana Bowers, Graduate Art History and Library Science Student

From the moment we arrived in Venice, we never had a dull moment. Just walking or taking the vaporetto around the city felt like an adventure in itself, and I found my head swiveling eagerly in every direction on the vaporetto ride from the train station. Our first few days were a whirlwind as we began to try to get to know the inimitable city of bridges. We crossed one campo after another, turned down a new calle every day, and slowly began to feel like we were home. By the end of our six weeks of study, we were navigating our own little corners of Venice like pros—while still being astonished at the sheer number of nooks and crannies in the city with which it would take a lifetime to become familiar.


Photo: Diana Bowers


It felt like a dream to attend class in a stone palazzo, overlooking the lagoon and feeling sea breezes drift through our Art History lectures and Italian classes at the Università Internazionale dell’Arte. Equally surreal was conducting research at the Cini Library in the monastery at San Giorgio Maggiore, a soaring, clean and modern space that still incorporates its original seventeenth-century reading room. Inevitably, tourists would try to follow us through the wrought-iron gates, only to be turned away without the requisite library card. A similar situation would occur at the Biblioteca Nazionale Marciana, directly across from the Doge’s Palace. Experiences like these helped us to feel like locals.

In the same vein, I loved ducking down a small side alley away from the bustling traffic of Strada Nova, a large thoroughfare in the Cannaregio district, to find the peaceful Scuola Grafica where Pratt in Venice holds its printmaking course. After studying fifteenth-century illustrated books in the Marciana’s Rare Book Room, I could go to printmaking class and use an antique press similar to the ones that had made those beautiful volumes. The studio coursework provided an invaluable layer of understanding to my art historical studies, and working with my hands after long hours in the library brought immense satisfaction.


Pratt in Venice 2013, Palladio's bridge, Bassano del Grappa (photo: Diana Gisolfi).


Much of our courses were held on-site at locations all around Venice and the Veneto. Climbing up under the conservation scaffolding at San Sebastiano, visiting the San Marco mosaic workshop, standing just a few feet from the blazing hot furnace at the Orsoni mosaic factory—these are experiences we never could have had without the Pratt in Venice program. The mosaics at San Vitale in Ravenna, the Veronese frescoes at Villa Barbaro, and Giotto’s Arena chapel in Padua are some examples of the wonderful things we saw outside of Venice as well. In addition, being in Venice during the Biennale was exciting and stimulating. We capped our experience with the annual Feast of the Redeemer, following in the footsteps of centuries of Venetians as we crossed the Giudecca canal on its massive temporary bridge.

Every day during the Pratt in Venice program brought both new challenges and new pleasures. It is an experience I am sure will influence all of our lives indelibly for years to come.


Photo: Lilian Thorpe