Siena, Italy: Living the Past in the Present

CP 1020 Research Studio

Black and White Duomo in Siena, Italy

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

January 6—21, 2020 (depart Jan 5 if flying directly from the US )*  

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 who 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;  the Bosco della Ragnaia meditation garden; and l’Abbazia di Monte Oliveto Maggiore in 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 mandatory 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 of their work.  

Credits: 3 credits Contemporary Practices, Research Studio II

Instructors Group 1:
Brian Sikes, Contemporary Practices
Amy Yoes, Contemporary Practices

Instructors Group 2:
Susan Giles, Contemporary Practices
Benji Pearson, Contemporary Practices 

Online registration begins: October 9, 2019

Deposit due at registration: $525

From previous trip's course evaluations:

  • This trip has been the experience of a lifetime! I have learned so much and have gotten to see so many incredible highlights of Tuscany!!
  • I thought this was overall a fantastic experience and am very glad I got to experience this, I've learned a great deal more about renaissance, byzantine, and medieval art during this trip than I have from any art history classes I've taken because being here allowed that information to come alive and let me look at it in a more sincere perspective.
  • This program was really well organized. I think that every place we went and every speaker we met was valuable.
  • Very challenging but SO rewarding
  • Brian is always very informative and thought provoking, also he laughs at everything which makes jokes funnier when you hear them with him
  • This class had so much care and kindness always.
  • Even though I had these kids as my classmates every week last semester, it was only during this trip that I actually got to know them.
  • Going to restaurants for every meal quickly added up. Probably spent most of my money on food
  • 100% worth it. Pay attention to everything, never get tired of tours/lectures/etc - YOU'RE IN ITALY! Bring money for food
  • 110% do it.
  • GO!!!!• Learn some Italian before you go. It will be very helpful. 
  • I feel like I have a much better sense about where certain ideas in western culture came from so that’s cool . 
  • I feel more connected to art history and am much more interested in this subject, and also feel that global opportunities (ie living abroad) are more accessible to me. 
  • Forming deep bonds with other students, and respect 
  • This experience has made me a more confident person and it has expanded my connections. I was able to interact with the locals and learned basic Italian. Also, It has brought me a lot closer to my FYS group mates. 
  • I have never kept a field notes journal before this class but now I can see that it will become very important to my practice and I am going to keep doing it