Undergraduate Experience, 2017


Marietta Burdick
Undergraduate Student - Art History

Pratt in Venice 2017

For an artist or student of art history, Venice is like no other city.

The city is unique in terms of its cultural and art historical richness, due largely to the fact that Venice played a key role in world trade between the 13th and 15th centuries, and became a major patron of the arts leading up to and during the Italian Renaissance. It is for this reason (as well as for the city’s sheer beauty and accessible size), that Diana Gisolfi, director of the Pratt in Venice program and scholar of the Italian Renaissance, chose Venice as the site for Pratt’s study abroad program over thirty years ago.

While Pratt students are privileged with the opportunity to study in a place that is made up of a collection of islands built on top of the sea--full of seemingly endless museums and beautiful churches, historical passageways and bridges that enable one to traverse the entire city by foot--it is truly the faculty that make the Pratt in Venice program unique. Diana Gisolfi, professor of the Materials and Techniques class, is an expert in 16th century Venetian art. Travelling around the city with her allowed students access to information and ideas that made the city’s history come to life. Diana’s class was very hands-on. She brought us to many sites around the city that provided students with a rich understanding of Venice’s historical role as patron of the arts and home to many great painters (Titian, Veronese, Bellini and Giorgione, just to name a few!). For instance, we visited the famous Orsoni Mosaic lab to understand how glass for mosaics is manufactured. We went on private tours of the Benedictine monastery at San Giorgio Maggiore and the Ca’ d’Oro museum. Most exciting of all was our visit to San Marco’s Basilica, the iconic symbol of Venice, where we were granted a behind-the-scenes tour of the construction and reparations that were going on in the church at time, as well as a visit to the church’s mosaic restoration lab. For students of art and history, experiences like these are unbeatable.

The privilege of having Joseph Kopta, (a Pratt in Venice alum himself) as our professor of Art History made our experience all the more engaging and invaluable. Professor Kopta teaches Venetian Art History. All but three of his classes took place on site. Because of his knowledge of Byzantine and Italian art history, as well as his extremely organized and engaging lectures and class plans, Joe is the perfect professor to complete the Pratt in Venice experience. His lectures and tours allowed us to develop an intimate understanding of the city. He is an engaging and caring professor who makes sure that every student is doing his or her best in terms of learning the necessary material. Joe is dedicated to his subject and to his students. Our class trips took us all over Venice and into the larger Veneto region (to Ravenna, Padua and Bassano del Grappa!). With his knowledge of Venetian art history, Joe is able to cultivate within his students an understanding and appreciation for the city that would not be possible without him.

Although I did not take the studio classes (painting and printmaking), I often visited the studios to see the work of other students. I got to know professors Grayson Cox and Mario Naves due to the intimate size of the program and our class trips together. Pratt in Venice is special because everyone very quickly grows to feel a sense of togetherness, of friendship, comfortability, and intimacy. Grayson and Mario worked closely with their students, both encouraging and challenging them to develop their individual styles and an understanding of their materials. Not only are Grayson and Mario extremely kind and caring professors who make the Pratt in Venice experience fun and engaging, but they are practicing professionals who bring enthusiasm and hands-on knowledge of the contemporary art world directly to their students. (Together they organized a trip to the Venice Biennale. Their lessons and guidance while we were there offered us different perspectives of the contemporary art scene that made the Biennale a far more rewarding and meaningful experience.)  

In addition to our classes all around Venice, we were also had class trips to Ravenna (to see the Basilica di Sant’Apollinare Nuovo), Padua (where we had a private viewing of Giotto’s frescoes at the Scrovegni Chapel!), and Bassano del Grappa (to see Palladio’s villas and then climb to the top of a hill overlooking the Swiss alps to have the most memorable feast together at the home gracious Italian friends of the program). The intimacy of the Pratt in Venice program and the dedication of its professors allows for the most stimulating and gratifying summer adventure I have been on. I recommend it to all students, but especially to those who are excited by art history, Italian culture, and the chance to pursue their creativity in a city that has inspired artists for centuries. I think back on my experience in Venice with nothing but fondness for the connections I made with my professors and fellow students, as well as for the thrilling experience of studying art history in a place so perfectly suited for it.