Hilary Thompson, graduate student in History of Art/Library Science
Studying abroad in Venice last summer was truly a unique experience, one that could not be achieved in another city or with another foreign program. Though enrolled in two art history courses, I rarely spent time in the classroom. Instead, my classmates and I explored the churches, palazzi, and scuole that not only house the city’s art, but are architectural themselves. When not studying these monuments firsthand, we were in the conservation studios, observing and questioning the individuals responsible for protecting the city’s heritage from the ravages of time, pollution, pests and water, the latter problem being particularly Venetian. One of my most memorable classes involved watching conservators restore, tessera by tessera, mosaics from the Basilica of San Marco, which was followed by a visit to the Orsoni Smalti factory to learn how the glass tesserae are produced. These two visits, along with the full hour spent examining Giotto’s frescos inside the Scrovegni Chapel in Padua with Antonio Stevan (the architect who designed its new entrance and climate control system), were the highlights of my six weeks abroad, opportunities made possible by the contacts which the Pratt in Venice faculty have cultivated over the past 25 years.
The research opportunities in Venice were also spectacular. We had access to the Biblioteca Marciana as well as the libraries of the Fondazione Cini, Museo Correr, and Fondazione Querini-Stampaglia. For the Materials & Techniques class, I was able to take advantage of the Marciana’s collection of rare books, examining firsthand the illumination decorating three incunabula printed in Venice in 1470 and comparing them to illuminations done in manuscripts in the years leading up to the printing press’s arrival in Venice, in order to better understand how the introduction of printing affected local practices of book decoration. I was also able to unite my interests in art history and library science in my research for the Art History of Venice course, in which I studied the seventeenth-century library at the Benedictine monastery of San Giorgio Maggiore. The ability to return and reexamine the Library as my research progressed, as well as the access I had to restoration photographs in the archive, greatly aided my understanding of its role in the monastic complex and its place in the history of library architecture.
Beyond these educational opportunities, I also enjoyed the pleasant change of scene and pace that Venice provided. Taking boats, known as vaporettos, instead of subways and buses; getting lost amid the winding streets, which would lead to discovering something new; seizing the chance to practice my Italian during the mid-afternoon espresso break; trying every flavor of gelato at the nearby gelateria… these were all aspects of my daily routine that have been sorely missed upon by return, and ones that I look forward to repeating when I return as part of the Pratt in Venice program in 2010.