Graduate Student Experience, 2015

Art History/Library & Information Science Graduate Student Art History of Venice Course Assistant

The six-week Pratt in Venice program was my first experience as a graduate student in the History of Art and Design program, and it was an incredible introduction. From the on-site class sessions throughout Venice and study trips to nearby towns and villas, to the excitement of studying a real Venetian manuscript in person for my own research, to the ebb and flow of daily Venetian life – it was a life-changing experience.

The courses I took – Art History and Materials and Techniques – offered unparalleled opportunities to experience firsthand art and architecture I had only seen in textbooks and slides. Most classes were held on site, in such places as the famous Basilica di San Marco, with its rich marbled exterior and glittering mosaicked interior, and the Basilica dei Frari – the massive Gothic church that filled the view from my bedroom window.

For me the Frari was the most serene, meditative space in the city that, like much of Venice, transported me to a different time. Not to mention its massive altarpiece painting of the Assumption by Titian, who is also buried in the church – and this was literally steps from my apartment!

The on-site visits weren’t only in Venice. One of the day trips I was most excited about was to Ravenna, where we got to see the magical Byzantine mosaics of the Basilica di San Vitale – a rather surreal experience, since I had hoped but never really thought I would get to see the mosaics in person.

Equally surreal was the trip to Padua, where we were granted exclusive early and extended access to Giotto’s fresco cycle in the Scrovegni Chapel.

Art History went hand-in-hand with Materials and Techniques. Whether learning firsthand about restoration methods in an exclusive visit to the mosaic conservation lab of the Basilica di San Marco, or observing how the tesserae - individual glass pieces of mosaics – were made at the Orsoni mosaic factory, or studying fresco fragments under raking light at Ca’ D’Oro, or climbing the scaffolding in San Sebastiano to observe an active restoration of its organ and to more closely study the cycle of paintings by Veronese that cover its walls and ceiling, the experiences facilitated by this class were once-in-a-lifetime.

As a self-identifying library nerd, my favorite place for doing work outside of class was the Giorgio Cini Foundation Library, a former Benedictine monastery of the neighboring San Giorgio Maggiore church, and not just because it was air-conditioned (although that was definitely a bonus).  Not only do you enter the library through two beautiful cloisters, but the main workspace also used to be the monks’ dormitory, so most of the study rooms were their cells!

But the most exciting and rewarding part of working at the Cini was getting the chance to privately handle and study one of their manuscripts – in fact, my research ended up focusing on this tiny early fifteenth-century book of hours that was illuminated by a Venetian artist and was likely used by a Venetian religious woman.

In the end, some of the best parts of living (and getting lost) in Venice were the everyday sights, sounds, and flavors – hearing Venetians greet each other from windows, their voices echoing in the streets in the early-morning hours; pausing to listen to the daily bells of the next-door Basilica dei Frari; savoring the breeze on the vaporetto; sampling the various cicchetti (the Venetian seafood version of tapas) with a glass of prosecco; shopping for the freshest local produce at the nearby market in Campo Santa Margherita; or simply sitting on one of the many canal steps with a scoop (or three) of gelato, taking it all in.