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Studying Art History's 'Secrets' Up Close

  Before coming to study in Florence, I knew that a large part of my studies here as a history major would focus on the art, architecture, and the history of Florence.  What came as an exciting surprise to me is how these topics are introduced to us in our everyday classes. In my art history class, Iconography: The Secret Language of Italian Renaissance Art, taught by Dr. Angela Oberer, we take weekly trips outside of the classroom to on site locations, where we  see and experience firsthand the artworks we are studying. One particular visit to the Battistero di San Giovanni, or Florence Baptistery, reinforced what an amazing experience studying in Florence is.

The Baptistery is located directly in front of the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore (more commonly known as the Duomo) and is one of the oldest and most important monuments in Florence. Built around 1059, this Romanesque style structure was where, up until the 19th century, all Catholic Florentines were baptized, including members of the Medici family and Dante Alighieri. It is famous not only for its beautiful exterior, including Lorenzo Ghiberti's bronze doors, but for its breathtaking interior as well.

During our class we sat on benches inside the Baptistery and listened to our professor explain the history of the building and the significance of the mosaic ceiling, which portrays several scenes from the Bible in vivid detail. As we listened to our lecture, we could look up to the ceiling and see exactly what we were learning about (which, as you can imagine, is so much more fulfilling than reading and viewing images in a text book). These experiences are what make studying abroad in Florence so special and rewarding to me. Not only are we living in a beautiful city; we are living among beautiful art and fascinating history, among buildings and monuments that many can only dream of seeing. Being able to take advantage of these opportunities is what will make my experience here so memorable.

By Melissa L. Smith, Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania

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