Clara in Italy: Power and Violence in the Cappella dei Principi

November 10, 2016

So this is going to be a fairly short post since it’s just something I’ve been thinking about since my class went our trip to Florence.

Basically, it just boils down to how much I hate this room:


For a little more context, here’s a photo of San Lorenzo, the Medici church in Florence from above.


Taken from wikimedia commons because sadly I don’t have a camera drone for aerial shots, though that would definitely be awesome

That gigantic domed piece right there? That’s this room. The Cappella dei Principi. The Chapel of the Princes. It’s absolutely beautiful inside. Everything is made of inlaid stone. Like!! Man, inlaid wood is amazing enough, but inlaid stone is something else. And it really is pretty much everything in there.


That’s not a painting. Nothing in that is painted, not the shading, the colors, anything. It’s just carefully cut stone merged together seamlessly.

Here are some more detail shots of the inlay work around the place.

It really is incredible. It’s the sort of fine craftsmanship that I’d love to be able to do because fine craftsmanship is my jam. (Speaking of which, bring back respect for craft as art. Or bring back respect for art as craft? …. both??? That’s an argument for another day I suppose, but essentially, tear down the hierarchy of art and respect all forms of it as skilled labor that requires practice as opposed to the magic of talent. I feel like I’ve already had this rant…)

Still, there’s something really viscerally horrible about this room. The pictures really don’t explain it. You can probably look up more photos, but I just. It’s awful. There’s some kind of vague hymnal singing being played over speakers quietly, and it felt like the least sincere sacred space I have ever been in.There’s an altar and there are candles and it’s a chapel in a church, but it’s terribly oppressive despite the massive domed ceiling and sense of space.

You’d think I’d still have liked it–the decorative style is just so lovely. Maybe it was just too much. I don’t know. My book arts professor told me it made her grumpy too, so that was validating. I think, though, that it was really what my art history professor said at dinner: there’s something really violent about that much power.

This is the place that Hitler and Mussolini chose to meet in the 40s. This is the physical manifestation of riches and some serious 16th century conspicuous consumption. We are powerful, and we want you all to know it. To me, that’s vicious.


Do you see those sarcophagi? They’re like 8 feet off the ground and bigger than trucks. To command so much personal space for your dead corpse–that says something too.

I don’t know what about this makes it so different from the massive Gothic churches that I like so much, but maybe it’s the division between the (ostensibly) public and the (explicitly) private that gets to me. At least churches were supposedly meant to be shared with the people at large. This just feels cold and parasitic.

Is that too harsh? The sort of anger and hyperreactivity you’d expect from a far-left women’s studies minor? Maybe. But I’ll hold to it. Visiting all of these grand monuments and churches and beautiful spaces and art havens, it’s still uneasy to me when I think about the price. It happened 600 years ago, sure, but it’s still happening now. I don’t want to lie to myself about what material awesomeness comes from.

Hope that wasn’t too much of a downer, but I want it to be something we reflect on more often. Art is not just art. History is not a vacuum, and we should not forget that. This wasn’t worded as well as I wanted it to be, and nor did it really convey what I felt, but I hope that it has come close enough to be understood.

Stay determined. The sun will still rise tomorrow.

Clara in Italy: Isola Maggiore

October 21, 2016

Soooooo, it’s definitely been a while since I posted anything. I have a super compressed semester (like, half the time or something? Ten weeks??), and the crunch is sort of unbelievable sometimes. So here we are, and I really do want to write about a lot of stuff! But I suppose I will start with my drawing class’ trip to Isola Maggiore, a little island out on a lake not too far from Cortona.

There’s the lake in the distance!


Fair warning, this post might be a bit over-detailed and boring, mostly because I just really, really loved this trip. I had a really lovely time.

Our first stop was a little town called Passignano sul Trasimeno right on the shore. Also a very lovely place, where I found lots of tiny enamel pins of American alternative bands from like the early aughts/90s? what.

(Did I buy them? Yes. Yes, I did. Because I’m trash.)

And then there was a ferry that we had to ride to get to the island itself, which has a permanent population possibly in the single digits.

I just think people are really lovely when they’re looking off of a ferry. Maybe that’s a bit weird. Anyways, here’s a first view of the island itself!


So full of trees and rocks! And there’s a castle (which I’ll get to later, but like seriously, the castle). To be totally honest though, my very first priority was getting myself to the lace museum, which was definitely worth it.

From what I can gather, this is actually a form of Irish crocheted lace, which you can see from the close-ups. Just. Crocheted with extremely thin thread. I totally want to learn how to do it. It’s just so lovely and incredible. I took a bazillion pictures of all the patterns I thought were really cool. To be honest, it doesn’t look particularly difficult in terms of pattern–just… size. And execution. Pretty sure I understand how it works for the most part, but dear lord. Thread thread thread!

There was also a door at the very top of the stairs that led to an empty attic room that I perhaps should not have been in, but it was definitely open, so…?

Back to the lace. Apparently, the woman who brought it to the island wanted to teach the women of the island a viable trade to make a living there in the first half of the 20th century. It’s actually a practice that’s mostly died out by now, but there are still maybe three or four women who still do it. They’re really nice and very skilled. I mean, they’ve been making this lace for longer than my current lifespan several times over, so I suppose that’s not surprising, but damn.


Seriously. How. I bought a piece of her lace since she was selling. It’s a little soft beige piece.

Back to the island. And the great photo opportunities! Just look at the textures of the wood and all this interesting stuff! Is that a fairy ring on the ground? Did the wood grow into a circle that way or is it magic? Or both?? Who knows!


Cool lizards on a burnt tree! Rusty… thing! (feat. lens flare)



And castle. Which was apparently forbidden. But there was a gate that was wide open with no signs on it that just looked like a road, so half the class wandered over apparently. It’s easy to see why it’s forbidden. The whole thing looks like it’s about to come down around your ears.


And there was this abandoned boat just sitting there?


Anyways. Really cool place. Kind of terrifying. Very fun. Glad I went. Also found lots of nice bones on this island that haven’t been cleaned yet, or I would definitely post pictures. Someday! When I’m not being slowly crushed under the weight of academia maybe!!

Also I made this little watercolor of the landscape. It’s all right, I think! I should have definitely done more actual drawing, but man, the island was just too exciting.


I think I’ve talked enough about this island. Basically, I highly recommend it for anyone like me who likes weird and pretty stuff! And spending some time alone. That was nice too. I’ll leave you with a final view from Passignano sul Trasimeno of the lake itself. They said it would rain, but! We had a really wonderful day.


Until the next time I manage to get enough time to sit down and write. 🙂 Stay determined!


Clara in Italy: Settling in??

September 19, 2016

This is probably one of the fastest-paced programs I’ve ever been in, in that every day feels packed and it is in fact almost a month shorter than a typical semester. So here we are cramming a semester of work into about 80 days! Woo! That does make it really hard to keep up with everything that I’m supposed to be doing, I have to admit.

We’re here in Cortona, a hill town in Tuscany, and the view is super killer.


Admittedly, walking up and down the hill multiple times a day is also kind of killer… Oh well, I suppose it might balance out the gigantic Italian meals that we keep eating. Not gonna lie, all I want is a simple, one-course meal with rice and Chinese food. D: Not that everything isn’t delicious or anything, but dang. I feel quite squishy and sleepy every night when we hike back up to our dorm immediately after dinner. It’s honestly one of the weirdest parts of being here. I could definitely stand to have dinner last a little less time. Three hours is very long and exhausting.

Pretty much every Saturday, we head off to a different city in Italy to talk about art history, which is very cool. (Also exhausting.) In the last two weeks, we’ve already been to Siena, Assisi, and Perugia, and seen some really pretty amazing stuff. Especially this 13th century graffiti on the walls of the Palazzo Publico! What!!


If you look closely on the upper red strip in the first picture, there’s a “1464” scratched into the stone. Above it to the left on the white, there’s a “1482”. There’s stuff in Greek in there! And also some stuff from the 19th century–at least one little inscription from 1848. I’m always here for traces of humanity and imperfections. Masterpieces are all well and good, but I’m more interested in scratches on the wall and personalized inscriptions in books. And unfinished paintings, because understanding process is so valuable, you know?

And reliquaries of course! Well, those are a special interest to me too I suppose, since I think bones are super cool. There was a lovely one that had a partial skeleton arranged nicely with a flower crown and a lot of jewels. Bury me like this. Feed my flesh to the plants or whatever, but make me into a nice mantelpiece with flowers.


… that’s kind of weird, isn’t it. But I think he looks pretty good for being dead all these years.

Speaking of bones, I’ve already amassed a nice little collection of natural history stuff since we got here! A lovely starling skeleton, some juvenile pigeon bones, a whole bowl of empty snail shells, and some very interesting insects, including a full grasshopper shed and a cicada shed. Oh, and two snake sheds that were inside a hole in the wall! Plus a convulvulus moth and a fiery hunter beetle. The faculty resource room has some really amazing insects as well, with some seriously giant beetles. Cool as heck!!

At least look at my starling skull. I think it’s quite beautiful.


Classes are going well, but a  little stressfully. I’ve almost filled a whole sketchbook since I got here, and the number of photos I’ve taken is sort of staggering. But hey, I’ve got a flickr now and I think I’m getting a little bit better at taking pictures. Sort of. It’s a little up in the air. Follow me or something. I’m doing my best.

To finish, here’s a picture of darling Squiggle, our newest stray University cat with a bent tail and the guy bringing harmony to the cats.


Seriously, he’s the cutest and the best.

Stay determined!

Clara in Italy: Rome (aka thank god we’re out of there)

September 8, 2016

The last week has been a bit of a whirlwind! I feel like I haven’t stopped walking since I landed in Rome. I sound like an old woman, but seriously, my knees and ankles and hips are all feeling pretty creaky and sore. All that cobblestone is taking its toll.

Before I get to Rome though, look at this poster in the Dublin airport!


One of my top musicals! The first I ever saw on Broadway when I was fifteen and I cried buckets. It was a good time. Wish I could see it again.

To be honest, I don’t really want to talk about Rome that much. It was certainly very cool, but it was also super draining and crowded. Walking through the Vatican museum was honestly awful. Very hot, very crowded etc. etc. I know the highlights there are The School of Athens and the Sistine chapel ceiling, but here are two of my favorite pieces: the Van Gogh Pieta and a bust of Keokuk.



I know these are terrible pictures but then again, what isn’t a terrible picture in a museum?

We also went to the Borghese Gallery, which had some breathtaking Berninis. I’ve been dying to see those in person since I came across images of them. I know there’s other cool stuff there, but you’re only allowed to stay for two hours and it was terribly stressful to try and rush through a museum full of fabulous Berninis. As I’ve said, photos do no justice, but I guess at least look at this angle of The Abduction of Proserpine:


Especially that hand. How does he do it? That’s solid rock, and I’m still very suspiciously ready to poke it to make absolute sure.

Also look at this delicious coffee:


I generally dislike coffee, but this was tasty as heck.

But then! The highlight of Rome (for me, anyways) was definitely this exhibit though:


An ENTIRE EXHIBIT dedicated to Alphonse Mucha??? The most fun I’ve had in a museum in ages!

Look I know liking Mucha is kind of cliche or whatever, but I couldn’t care less. His linework and figures are absolutely breathtaking. All we ever see are his posters and graphic print art, but his paintings and pastels are also just incredible.


If I could do figures as well as he could, I think I’d be happy. I definitely bought the catalogue and it was less than 30 euro so I’m counting it as a really good win.

Time to leave Rome with a parting photo of a 3-wheeled car in our hotel:


Honestly, how do you even drive these around corners? There’s a great video on Top Gear about that. Do yourself a favor and watch it.

And finally, a small picture of the locks on one of the bridges over the Tiber with an ancient Roman structure in the background. I hope the love charm worked for these people.


Enough from me! Have a good week everyone. Stay determined.

Clara in Italy: The Final Semester

September 1, 2016

So I realize that my abroad experiences aren’t the norm. In my time at UR, this will be perhaps the fourth time I’ve gone out of the country through a school-sponsored program. (Don’t worry, I know I’m unbelievably lucky. It’s pretty ridiculous.)  I’ve so far gone to Russia, Japan, and Denmark for an SSIR trip, a summer language program, and the traditional semester-abroad respectively. I don’t suppose Italy will be too frightening after all that! Some rather terrifying things have happened to me in Europe at this point (mostly of my own making), so I’m looking forward to a calmer experience this time around!

Uh. Famous last words or something?

Packing is, of course, stressful as usual, and I’m struggling to decide which art supplies to bring to an art program overseas. All of them?? Perhaps?? If I had the option, I’d only bring a single suitcase because I’ve discovered that the hassle of lugging things around is almost never worth what’s inside them, but I should probably remember things like laundry and medications and the like. Important.

A little bit about me: I’m short. And I’ve recently discovered the hobby of rotting down animal corpses in my backyard to collect and clean the bones! Here’s a selfie!

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Isn’t that all you need to know, really? A new friend just gifted me a lovely mouse skeleton that’s soaking in peroxide as I type. I’m really excited to see how it’ll turn out and if I can articulate it into a free-standing display. Not gonna lie, I’m pretty hype about the prospect of finding different species in Italy, especially birds that are non-native to the US since those would be legal to possess here in the states.

Here’s my first little collection of bones I found in a pile on my neighbor’s lawn:

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Aren’t they pretty? I suspect they are also a mouse, or perhaps a small squirrel or rat. Some rodent in any case! Fun fact that I had to learn: those bones shown in close-up are apparently called bulla and they’re essentially where the ears connect to the skull. They were a mystery for a while before I asked the internet.

I’m from Rochester, NY, up by Lake Ontario where the snow falls fast and deep, and we have surprisingly fabulous sunsets and skies.



Pictures, of course, never do the sky justice.

In all seriousness, I’m not sure what to expect from Cortona, besides lots of art and massive hills. Since I’ve been working on my own interdisciplinary program, I’ve never had a full-on arts-only semester. This will be the first time I’ll be working in the studio for more than two classes at a time, and I’m uh, probably ready? At the very least, I’m looking forward to producing an actual body of work by the end of this semester before I graduate and am thrown to the real world. Motivation has always been a tricky thing for me, and I’ve found that I produce far more when I have consequences chasing me. (Don’t we all in the end? Sigh.)

Sadly, I don’t think I’ll be making it back to Europe for quite a while after this trip. Those expensive plane tickets and all. So I’m hoping to make the most of what time I do have there! I’m going to try and actually walk all over the city I live in this time, as opposed to the mistakes I made while in Denmark, and hopefully do some travelling on the weekends. Since I have no visa, I’ll have to leave the Schengen area four days after classes end (yikes), so it will be a speedy journey to the UK. At least, that’s the plan. Speaking of which! Mudlarking on the Thames!! Definitely looking forward to finding some 1500s equivalent to cigarette butts along the river. And bones.

On a more sober note, heard about the earthquake this morning, which was a generally distressing way to wake up. We’ve been notified that Cortona was unaffected, but the smaller towns near the epicenter sound like they’ve essentially been razed to the ground. So we’re all still going, but I expect the mood will be perhaps a little graver than our initial expectations. The death toll so far has risen almost 300% since 8am this morning, and I’m hoping it doesn’t go up any more.

To end on a happier note, here is a silly photo of my dog. Stay determined! I’ll see you all in Italy.


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