Before I begin writing about what we've done over the past few days I would like to take a moment on behalf of the Art 290 class to express our sympathy for Ashley Ann Olsen and her family. Ashley was an American student found murdered in her apartment on Saturday. Because the investigation is ongoing, I won't write anything further about the crime. If you want to read more about Ashely's story, you can find an article from the guardian here. We are keeping her family in our thoughts and prayers.
Since the news of Ashley's death was released, our class has remained cautious and careful, and I would like to assure any concerned parents reading this blog that our group leaders have kept safety as our number one priority. We are in good hands here.
That said, we are all still having a great time in Florence and learning a lot about art along the way. We've been able to see a lot of amazing sites in the past few days, two of which were the Boboli Gardens and the Museo Galileo.
As you might have guessed, the Boboli Gardens had something to do with that bad pun in the title. Our class got to see the gardens in the middle of the day when there was the most light, which made the entire place even more beautiful and, dare I say, magical? I'd like to promise that this will be the last time I reference that pun, but I don't think I can.
I'll attach some pictures of the gardens in all their glory so that you can experience it for yourselves, but until then I'll do my best to offer a brief description. There are almost no flowers at Boboli, but there is a plentiful amount of carefully sculpted greenery that frames some beautiful statutes. A person could wander through the many vine-covered paths for hours and occasionally stumble across a Greek statue or massive pond. Sounds pretty, right? Even prettier, though, are the views that Boboli offers. A visitor can see both the endless sea of red-roofed city houses and a gradually unfolding expanse of hilly countryside from the same place. Views like that have a way of humbling people, and this was no exception.
The Boboli gardens are attached to the Pitti Palace, which was owned by the Pitti family until its construction bankrupted them. Desperate, the Pittis sold their magnificent palace to the Medici family, who chose not to rename it. This choice was not an act of laziness, but rather a power move. If the palace were never renamed, people would have to go around talking about the Pitti Palace...that was owned by the Medicis. The Pitti family would be reminded that the Medicis posessed what was once their crowning glory, and that it would be remembered by the rest of the world that way too. I guess you could say that the Medicis didn't have much pity at all.
If you've been following this blog then you know that the Medici family was wealthy, powerful, and loved art. After this post, you'll also know that they were patrons of the scientific world as well. This one family had a lot of influence.
We spent quite a bit of time in this museum today, so I won't be able to cover everything that we saw. As with the Uffizi, though, I'll offer a few highlights.
Many areas of science interested the Medicis, but among the more intriguing were studies of geography and cartography, particularly while at sea. In the early 1600s, Sir Robert Dudley left England for Florence, and this proved to be incredibly beneficial for the Medicis. They soon hired Dudley, who was experienced in collecting and creating various nautical instruments that ranged from compasses to tide calculators, and these helped the Medici family engage in trade with the East and West Indies.
Other early nautical inventions of note include the astrolabe, which allows one to calculate their latitudinal and longitudinal position, and the armillary sphere, which makes it possible to observe and track celestial spheres. There were also a number of telescopes and microscopes on display, both invented by Galileo and later modified by others. Chemistry, biology, and physics majors would also be pleased to see the collection of glassware, anatomical paraphernalia, and simple machines that the museum houses. It was certainly an enlightening trip!
The Art of War
When today's math, science, and art students ask "But when am I ever going to use this stuff?" they probably wouldn't expect the answer to be, "in battle," but that is exactly how Ferdinando I de' Medici would have replied. In 1599, he moved a collection of mathematical instruments from the Palazzo Vecchio to the Uffizi to be displayed as "The Science of War." According to the Museo, Ferdinando I required his soldiers to have a basic knowledge of arithmetic, surveying, perspective mechanics, military architecture, the ability to calculate the weight and range of cannonballs, and geometry in order to understand and utilize firearms properly. In Ferdinando's day, soldiers needed a lengthy resume before they could enlist.
A letter from Ranuncio I Farnese also makes note of the necessity of "excellent skill at drawing" as a requirement for soldiers, because math, science, and art are so closely related. In the late 16th and early 17th centuries, war was not just about force and strategy, it was also about who had the smartest soldiers.
Our class loves Florence and will be sad to see it go, but Siena, Strasbourg, and Paris will have just as much to offer. This J Term is pretty incredible, it's almost like Professor Merritt is our very own fairy godmother --though I'm not quite sure what he would think of that title. Stay tuned for more!
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