Bowie ’04 Summarizes Monday in Florence

Jerry Bowie ’04, June 4 – One of our main focuses for this trip to has been the evolution of Italian, primarily Florentine and Sienese art, culminating in the Florentine Renaissance.  So far we have examined how religious, political and social factors helped shape and mold artistic techniques and mediums such as altar paintings, frescoes, and sculptures comprised of both metal and non-metal materials. These primarily, but not always religious pieces, have meaning and uses that reach their aesthetic values. We’ve discovered that there is an intricate web of aesthetics, technique, meaning and use with each piece that we have seen.  Some pieces, although religious in nature, have more of political appeal while others have may have more of a personal appeal.  As we’ve moved through the centuries we have been able to see how the artists, who may often be the only neutral parties in the process, have slowly refined their techniques to resemble pieces that are more and more pleasing and realistic to the eye.

Today’s first top was the Oganissanti Monastery which was founded by the order of the Umiliati in 1249. We examined a fantastic fresco of the last supper. Fortunately, in this case we were able to see the sinopia of this particular fresco to look at the artists work before the finished product. For those of you who are unfamiliar with that term, the sinopia is an artist’s underlying sketch that is later covered with plaster in parts as the artists also paint to seal the bond of the image and paint. Every opportunity we’ve had to see this we see how the artists’ intentions for the final drawing change in the process. In this case, there were elements that were changed because the frescoes’ commissioners made changes to the original plan for the fresco after the sketch was made and the artists had to accommodate those change. Some changes are so subtle, like hand positioning or facial expression, while others can be dramatic like complete figure removal. One additional piece that we also saw at this location, was the fresco of a one Amerigo Vespucci, whom America was named after. This fresco was done by the famous fresco painter Domenico Ghirlandaio who also painted a very famous fresco of St. Augustine.

Our second stop of the morning was to the Uffizi Museum. One of the great things about this museum is that we are able to see all different types and phases of Florentine Art all in one place. There you get to really see up close the processes of art development. Realism was by far one of major themes of the Florentine Renaissance accompanied by the underling themes of depth perception, angles, color pallet, and content.

Our final stop of the day was the Bargello Museum. Here, we were able to the technique of sculpting that really developed and flourished during the Renaissance. For instance, the roman sculpture of St. George really put Rome on the map of sculpting. The naturalism, tension, and technique that Donatello was able to capture, really helped set the standard for sculpting and bronze work. We completed our day be visiting the local Florentine show room of Antonio Frilli. His family business, established in 1860, still maintains the technique of the lost wax method in bronze castings and his show room was filled with primarily bronze replicas of famous pieces.  We were able to understand all that is involved in creating these works of art and effective understanding the difference between replicas and copies. His gallery specializes in using original molds of famous pieces, combines with the skill and craftsmanship of artists to create replicas of each piece.

We topped off the day by not only reflecting on the magnificent art we had seen through out the day but also spending time remembering a very special and awesome woman, Mrs. Pru Philips.  Pru is the late wife of Professor David Phillips, and we honored her on the third anniversary of her death.  She was a woman of elegance, intelligence, and courage.  Whether it was teaching high school chemistry at Crawfordsville High or creating wonderful memories through her photography or living with cancer in a way that taught everyone about dignity, Pru touched the lives of all who knew her.  So we joined David in toasting the life of a woman we are happy to recall as Some Little Giant!

Ezell ’11 Compares Trip to Immersion

Jake Ezell ’11 – Saturday morning we arrived in Florence following a 2-hour bus ride from Assisi through the beautiful Italian countryside. It’s truly amazing, as it seems every turn heads way to a picture perfect Kodak moment. Following the distribution of rooms and dispersal of luggage, we made our way to San Marco, home of some beautiful frescoes. Unique to this monastery are individual frescoes painted specifically for each monk’s cell.

The Arno Riiver and the famed Ponte Vecchio bridge

Around 2:00, the group traveled to Palazzo Antinori for a delicious and large, no monstrous feast of Italian food. The 4-course meal was delicious and perfectly prepared. The steaks we were served were, as a guess, around 1 pound each and grilled to perfection.

As we pulled ourselves away from our gigantic meal and slowly walked through the streets of Florence, we found ourselves face to face with a monster: the David. No picture, remake, mold, virtual program, or other type of media can do true justice to the brilliance of the David. It literally is the type of artwork that stops you where you stand when you first see it and leaves you deep in thought long after you’ve left. It was the second time I had seen Michelangelo’s masterpiece, and regardless of what the Florentines say, I could not get tired of it even if I had to see it everyday.

This trip has been a good reflection on my time abroad with Dr. Cook 3 years ago (I was a sophomore) on his immersion course on Saint Francis of Assisi. For me, it was my first time on an airplane and my first time leaving the United States. Since then, I have studied abroad and visited several other European and Central American countries. Traveling is always adventurous, but there is something special about traveling with Dr. Bill Cook. He is one of those people who found what he was supposed to do in life and has never looked back. The passion that follows truly lights up a room and brings all the details that would otherwise be overlooked to the forefront. It’s been a real pleasure traveling with him.

Vogel ’72 Talks About Alumni Travel

Howard Hewitt – The alumni travel group is in the middle of its stay in Florence,Italy, after an extended stay last week in Siena and then Assisi.

The Group was scheduled to visit the fabulous Uffizi Museum and Santa Croce church yesterday. Tuesday’s agenda called for trips to San Marco, Sant’ Apollonia, Santa maria Novella and dinner tonight. Wednesday’s highlight will be a trip out to Machiavelli’s villa and a fabulous lunch.

So why alumni travel? There are many reasons to consider a Wabash Alumni Travel trip. Last Tuesday we visited the hilltop town of Montalcino. I took out a video cam and asked several of the alums why visit Europe on a Wabash trip instead of just going on your own.

Gordon Vogel ’72, from Mount Vernon, In., talks about Wabash travel.

Only Student on Trip Shares Experience

Rudy Altergott ’13 – When I talked to Dr. Cook about the possibility of coming on this alumni trip to Italy, I wasn’t sure what he’d say. Firstly, I’m the only current Wabash student in the group. Secondly, while I look up to Dr. Cook a great deal, having taken his freshmen tutorial on Alexis de Tocqueville, I never ended up taking any of his mainstream Christianity classes during his time as a visiting professor at Wabash, and I’ve never felt like one of his star pupils. But, not surprisingly, Dr. Cook responded to my query with open arms, and I am very thankful for that. I have met some wonderful alums, faculty or friends of the college. These people especially have made this an unforgettable trip.

On the way to the Church of San Damiano

In many ways, I’ve come along for this ride because I’ve never been to Italy previously. But in many other ways, I’m here because of the irresistible opportunity to see Dr. Cook in his element. And that is so true when being with him in Assisi, the birthplace of St. Francis. For those who may not know, Dr. Cook is arguably one of the world’s foremost Franciscan authorities. While I loved being in Siena, being in Assisi helped me become reacquainted with things I learned in Catholic grammar school. I could never imagine then that I would end up in Assisi where St. Francis lived and preached . The same is true when thinking about St. Clare, a contemporary of Francis’.

We have visited churches upon churches on this trip, and have analyzed the iconography of medieval frescos therein. On our last day in Assisi, we visited some very special churches connected to Franciscan history. When a young St. Francis received a vision from God telling him to help “rebuild the Church”, he took it to quite literally mean the physical repairing of churches. One of the many he rehabilitated was San Damiano, which later included the very cloister in which St. Clare lived out most of her religious life. We then made our way to the church and museum of Santa Maria degli Angeli. What I enjoyed to discover was that, in actuality, this church is the namesake of the city of Los Angeles, California (where my sister is enrolled at USC). And the stories related to these places are nothing short of fascinating.

If you ask me, though, the best part of Assisi stay was our last night there. We started in a usually deserted (but that night crowded) museum in the mountain town of Montefalco. I somewhat enjoyed the museum’s rare frescos, but was more interested the exotic sports cars being auctioned off in the town square. Classic models of some of my favorite cars were well-represented, including a few Porsche 911s, Ferraris and Rolls Royces, among others.

We then made our way to Le Casaline a family-owned restaurant in the nearby countryside. I have to confess that I am picky eater, but I made a conscious effort to eat everything that was offered there, and I absolutely did not regret it. We had delicious hors d’ouveres while watching a beautiful sunset, and then made our way inside for more delicious food. When we left for the bus outside, we saw an incredible moon, and got back to the hotel in time for a good night’s sleep to end a wonderful section of the trip.

It has been great to be able to be here and to get to know the members of our group. I have discovered a lot, both about history, Christianity, and myself, among other things. But the trip is not yet over, and there is still much to be said and done. God (and Dr. Cook) only knows what will happen next. Ciao!

Alumni Group Arrives in Assisi

Howard Hewitt, Assisi, Italy – The alumni travel group has changed locations and started the third leg of a two week stay in Italy. After a quick walk this morning through the Siena weekly market, we boarded a travel coach and enjoyed a two-hour bus ride through Tuscany to Perugia then up to Assisi.

Assisi, of course, is mostly known for Saint Francis of Assisi and the center of Professor Bill Cook’s lifelong scholarship. We arrived in bight Tuscan sunshine amidst a cool beeze and bright skies. A quick walk from our bus to the hotel was enough to get some feel for city. We checked into our hotel and grabbed a bite of lunch before it was off to the church.

It’s actually two churches one built upon another. We spent a good deal of time in the lower church studying the many frescos depicting the life and times of Francis.

One of the most moving moments was going below the chruch the tomb of Sain Francis.

After a brief tour of the old Roman ruins, below grounds, at the center of the city we took a break before dinner.

Dinner was fabulous with local umbria wines, ravioli with truffle, penne pasta with veal, roasted guinea fowl, and panocatta for desert. The group was in high spirits giving their scribe a big send off.

The group was back to the church today and will spend Friday and part of Saturday in Assisi. They will coach to Florence Friday and return to the US Thursday.

I’m finishing this post in the Rome airport about an hour before takeoff for New York and then Indianapolis. A few of the young guys on the trip promise to send some photos and a few blog updates to finish out the trip.



Enjoyable Day in Countryside

Howard Hewitt, Montalcino, Italy – After four straight days in the city, our travel group was ready to get out and see Tuscany.

Tuesday morning we headed for the Montalcino region by tour bus, a little more than an hour drive.

See photos from Wednesday’s activities here.

Our first stop was at the ancient, 12th-century Monastery of Sant’ Antimo about 10km outside Montalcino. The monastery dates back hundreds of years, fell into disrespair then brought back to live about 20 years ago.

We heard four monks sing the traditional Latin Gregorian Chant Mass at 9 a.m. There aren’t many places left in the world where you can witness such a moving and unique experience – regardless of your religious beliefs. It was moving, beautiful, and interesting.

The church itself has such a unique history as shared by Professor Bill Cook. It’s physical beauty is in its simplicity, history, and some art dating back 1,000 years.

We then headed to the famed walled city of Montalcino. We walked the charming village, briefly visited its museum, then headed to the Montalcino Castle.

At the Castle, we enjoyed a Tuscan wine tasting. The group learned about two Rosso Montalcino wines and two of the big-tasting Brunello wines – the best of Tuscany.

Lunch was a fabulous picnic of Italian meats, cheese, desserts, and even a bit more Brunello. It was fascinating to see most of the group talk about the day. Eating great prosciutto, Brunello wine, Wabash men and wives and some staff soaked in the stunning views and comraderie.

Then we headed to the Castle and climbed up to the walls to enjoy the panoramic views. A few brave souls even climed up one of the towers for an even better look.

Our day ended in the charming and small village of Pienza.The perfectly maintained Renaissance town was a great spot for some group shots, buying cheese and olive oil, and and afternoon cup of coffee.

Wednesday morning we’ll visit the Siena weekly market then head to Assisi for the next leg of the trip.

I’ll blog Wednesday but then be on my way home Thursday in time for Big Bash. We hope to get a couple of updates next week as the group explores Florence.

Cuisine A Highlight of Alumni Travel

Howard Hewitt, Siena, Italy – Anyone who has ever traveled beyond our boarders knows half the fun of visiting foreign countries is exploring food and restaurants.

Of course, Italy is known for it’s food. Here is an example – last night’s incredible dinner menu at one of Siena’s better Ristorantes – La Taverna di San Giuseppe.

Appetizer:Salted tart with tomatoes perfumed with pesto, Tuscan prosciutto aged 20 months, spinach and truffle triangle.

First plate: Risotto with Chianti Classico, pork sausage and grana cheese, Home made pasta with chicken sauce and saffron.

Second plate: Wild boar cooked in milk, roasted potatoes and onions.

Dessert: Chocolate Tart with vanilla cream.

Today we’re again off for a big change of pace. We’re off to a 12th-century Monastery, including a Latin Gregorian chant mass; visit the classic hill town of Montalcino, museum and with a picnic at the castle, then visit the Renaissance town of Pienza.


Cooking School a Hit with Alums

Howard Hewitt, Siena, Italy – After two full days of art, museums, and cathedrals, it’s fair to say the Wabash traveling group of alums, faculty, and staff were ready for a change of pace.

Steve Baker and Stan Vogel show how a Wabash man rolls pasta!

This morning most all of the the group spent four hours at the Scuola di Cucina di Lella Cooking School. Lella Cesari Ciampoli started the school 12 years ago – Siena’s first. Today her popular sessions are rated among the 100 best in Italy.

For 45 euro, members watch, learn — and certainly participate — before enjoying the creations for lunch.

Today’s menu was Pappa col Pommodoro, or traditional Tuscan Bread Soup; Pici with mushrooms and sausage (think really thick spaghetti); Arista di Cinta Senese in Porchetta Con patatine Arrosta (or roasted pork); and Cantuccini bisquits dipped in Vin Santo dessert wine.

The group had a ball. But the photos and video do a better job describing it.

See a photo album from Monday’s cooking school here.