Siena, Italy: Living the Past in the Present

January 8–23, 2018

Banner Study Trip Siena

NOTE: Only students in SAIC's First-Year Scholars Program may register for this class.

Siena is a hill town in Tuscany that was first settled by the Etruscans in 900–400 BC. It reached its peak as a political, economic and artistic center in the Medieval period from 1150–1350 AD. During those years it prospered, enjoying a "golden" era as an independent republic with a representative government, where enlightened trade and economic philosophies fostered modern banking practices and distinctive styles of painting, sculpture, and architecture developed in the service of aesthetic pleasure and civic pride. Today, Siena's historic center is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the city's art, medieval architecture, museums, archives, university and cuisine are internationally renowned.

This study trip takes students to Siena for 16 days. Living the Past in the Present will use the archival and cultural resources there to give young artists greater insight into how historical interests and study can serve as a catalyst for their own growth and work as contemporary artists and thinkers. We will be interacting with artists, historians, archivists, art and architecture conservators, scientists and ordinary Sienese to understand how the experience of growing up, living, working and creating in a place with hundreds of years of vibrant historical and cultural traditions affects contemporary identity and expression.

Our time on the study trip will primarily be used for visiting and learning about sites, collections, and the people who study and live amongst them. We will also be gathering reference information to document what we are looking at and learning about: sketches, drawings, lists, diagrams, photographs, research notes, and reflective writing. There will be two assignments (one studio, one academic) that we will work on in Siena.

FYSP students will have unusual access to Siena's resources through our partnership with the staff and faculty at the Siena Art Institute (Sart). The class will be physically based at Sart and they will provide classroom facilities with Wi-Fi, obtain accommodations for our students, facilitate access to Siena resources, furnish (as needed) guest lecturers who are appropriate to the themes and content of specific classes and provide logistical support and referral services to SAIC faculty as needed. Students will have a common workspace (mostly for digital and drawing work) at Sart, but they will spend most of their time in Siena investigating archives, visiting public and private collections, artists' studios and/or researchers' labs. Through these contacts they will learn about the ways in which the history and cultural traditions of Siena inform daily life and identity today.

These activities will be augmented by day trips: to Florence to learn about achievements in Renaissance art, architecture and science; to San Gimignano to see the extant medieval towers there and visit Galleria Continua, a well-known contemporary art space; to the abandoned Abbey of San Galgano in the Tuscan countryside; and to visit the Giardino di Tarocchi (a sculpture garden on the theme of Tarot cards by Nikki St. Phalle) in Capalbio, Tuscany.

This course will require a level of student engagement and rigor that is higher than the already high standards of CP curriculum. Students enrolled in Living the Past in the Present will attend 3 class meetings in the fall semester: one as a pre-departure orientation, one to develop students' background knowledge on Sienese art/architectural history, contemporary Siena and Italian culture in general and one for faculty and student presentations on their work.

Credits: 3 credits Contemporary Practices, Research Studio II

Instructors: Susan Giles, Contemporary Practices Amy Yoes, Contemporary Practices

From last study trip's course evaluations:

  • Absolutely fantastic, well thought out, instructors were friendly and insightful, and the class environment felt like a family.
  • The entire trip was an incredibly rewarding experience.
  • Amy is super nice and fun and connects well with students.
  • It expanded my horizons as far as what I can do with my life or where I could go. Part of me wants to move to Italy.
  • It's not just about the art and the museums, it's also about the experience so take advantage of being on your own in a beautiful foreign city. Be safe though, and watch out for pick pockets they're very crafty. Pack a lot of layers, and hit up the local thrift stores because they're not picked over. Eat a lot of yummy food but stay out of the touristy areas where the prices are hiked up.
  • Plan early for the trip, and bring more money to study trips than you might think you need.