Montpellier experience – Johanna Bos

The experience here in Montpellier has been varied and rich.  Visits to different cities, taking part in lectures at the Seminary, experiences of the warm welcome we received here; it has all been overwhelming. Also, we are in the only part of Western Europe that is not suffering from extreme cold and snow. It is not warm but manageable.  Tonight we take the bus back to Rome where we still have two days before we head back home.

We saw beautiful paintings in Avignon and will post pictures as soon as we have the opportunity.

Au revoir Montpellier! Here are some photos of our last evening in MontpellierMontpellier 1-18-13- soirée


Montpellier - 1-18-13 With Marc Boss and our group of brave travelers



Debriefing Days 4-7

Artemisia Gentileschi (1609) - Madonna and baby JesusArtemisia Gentileschi-Judith fleeing with servant and head of Holofernes

Artemisia Gentileschi -Judith beheading Holofernes

Artemisia Gentileschi: Madonna and Baby Jesus; Judith with her servant fleeing with the head of Holofernes; below, Judith Beheading Holofernes

Debriefing of Days 4-7. Conversation recap.

Day 4: (Thursday Jan.10, 2013) Pitti Palace:  the overwhelming presence of the building struck all of us.  The painting of Judith and her servant, pausing in their flight with the head of Holofernes in a basket, by Artemisia Gentileschi (1593-1656), one of the works we had planned to see, was a powerful experience for all of us.  The tension in Judith’s face, as she turns her head because she has evidently heard something that may indicate discovery and pursuit, is remarkable. Some observed how much this was an action shot versus a portrait.  There was also a Bathsheba painting by Gentileschi which a few found less powerful, with the figure of Bathsheba more passive and seductive, and some of us think her heart may not have been in it.  On the other hand, this is one of the few paintings we saw with a person of color as part of the main action.

  We all loved Gentileschi’s nursing Madonna (c.1609), and many of us were sketching her. The eye contact between mother and child is striking, with Mary holding the child and the two looking at each other. Other paintings of the nursing Madonna we saw do not always display an intimate knowledge of painting. 

Day 5 (Friday January 11, 2013) – Visits to the Uffizi Museum and the Brancacci Chapel.

We saw many of the paintings we studied in the fall semester, among them the Maestà by Duccio (c.1285), a fairly typical painting for the period: Mary enthroned with Jesus on her lap, surrounded by angels. We recognized also the Ognissanti Madonna by Giotto (c.1510), a later painting with the Madonna a more realistic female figure, also enthroned with both Jesus and Mary looking out.  Masolino’s painting of St.Anne, Mary and Jesus (c.1424) registered a powerful female presence.

Unfortunately we felt we had to chase down Artemisia Gentileschi’s painting of the  beheading of Holofernes. Once arrived at the painting we found it powerful, larger than we had expected,  with Judith obviously really engaged in her action. Knowing her history of being raped by her father’s assistant Tassi helped us to appreciate the painting.  Gentileschi was one of the artists who was able to communicate from both a cultural and aesthetic point of view.  Our Artist-in Residence points to the way she views the painting as both women’s victimization and empowerment.  The Judith story was a favorite theme of the period of the late Renaissance and we discuss again the convincing power of paintings at the time.

In the Brancacci chapel, almost next to our lodgings in Florence, we are somewhat taken aback by the ubiquitous presence of St.Peter in the frescoes. Many of us admired the freshness of the colors.  We had already studied the Masaccio fresco of Adam and Eve expelled from the Garden of Eden                       

We wonder how this story is connected with the frescoes that feature St. Peter.  One of us observed the theatricality of the St. Peter frescoes, making the scenes look like set designs. People would have been able to recognize themselves in the narratives.

Day 6 (Saturday Jan.12, 2013) We went our separate ways. Some went to Siena.  Others visited the Duomo in Florence; three viewed the Descent Into Hell from close up and found it a terrifying communication. Two were captivated by the architecture of the building outside and were not as impressed by the inside. 

The visitors to Siena were also impressed by the architecture of the Duomo and the way it dominates the plaza. Inside we were especially impressed by the medieval song books, manuscripts illuminated with biblical stories.  In Siena we visited also the Cathedral museum and viewed the Duccio Maestà, beautifully displayed.

 In the Pinacotheca we  viewed the self-portrait by Sofonisba Anguissola, a painting we studied during the fall course, as well as many paintings of the Virgin Mary, either as Queen of Heaven or as loving mother, caressing or nursing Jesus. We noted that the veneration of Mary at the time was an extension of the veneration of Christ and that the two were intertwined.

Artemisia Gentileschi-Judith fleeing with servant and head of Holofernes

Artemisia Gentileschi (1620): Judith fleeing with her servant and the head of HolofernGiotto - Ognissanti Madonnaes

Giotto (1310): Ognissanti Madonna





Travel seminar Days 4-7, January 2013

Reading the Bible through the Art of the Early Renaissance – travel seminar

Personal reflection on Days 4-7 by Johanna

On day 4, Thursday Jan.10, we traveled by train from Rome to Florence. Our lodgings there Casa di Santo Nome di Gesu, a part of convent, were once again perfect. Thursday afternoon we visited the Palazzo Pitti, to view specifically to see the paintings of Judith and her servant with the head of Holofernes and that of Mary Magdalen by Artemisia Gentileschi, one of the many women painters of the Renaissance.  We had a great dinner, all the food in Italy was splendid, and slept the sleep of the just.  On day 5, Friday, Jan. 11, we visited the Uffizi in the morning, with a goal of viewing a number of early and later Renaissance madonna’s, noting the main two ways Mary is depicted, as queen of heaven or heavenly mother, especially the Ognissanti Madonna by Giotto, as well as others.  We especially took note of the few paintings that show Mary nursing Jesus.  We also saw the painting of Judith’s actual heheading of Holofernes by Artemisia Gentileschi, a work of great power by an artist who was raped by her father’s assistant, Agostino Tassi. Anyone who is interested in her paintings can find them online.

The Uffizi is vast and our feet were sore on leaving the place. The afternoon saw us viewing the frescoes by Masaccio and Masolino (added to by Lippi) in the Brancacci chapel.  Marrow-freezing cold, but very impressive all the same.  An advantage of being here at this time of the year is the relative lack of crowds.  Masaccio painted the expulsion of Adam and Eve from the garden on the chapel wall.  This too is easy to find online and you will get an idea how striking this depiction is.

We dined at I quatro leoni with sore feet but in great spirits.

Day 6, Saturday Jan.12, a group went to Siena, specifically to view Duccio’s Maesta and Sofonisba Anguissola’s self-portrait, one in the Duomo Museum and the other in the National Pinacoteca.  We also visitied the Duomo and were once again overwhelmed with the power of the paintings that attempted to teach biblical story and legends of saints through the visual arts.  Siena as a city has also kept much of its medieval character and we were enchanted.  We were not allowed to take pictures in any of the venues, but I posted a street of the city on my facebook page.

At night, 9:30, we headed out of Florence and out of Italy on the bus to Montpellier where we arrived at 8:30 this morning. Our colleague and friend Marc Boss met us at the bus station and saw all safely settled in their lodgings.

This is now day 7 and a day for resting up and taking it easy.

What an adventure!


Day 3: Catacomb of Priscilla (Rome, Italy)

Bon giorno di Roma!

On Wednesday morning, our group attended a guided tour of the Priscilla Catacomb in Rome, which was a Roman rock quarry before it was used as a burial site from the 2nd to 4th century, C.E. Of the sixty catacombs in Rome, only five of them are open to the public. We saw a Fractio Panis (Breaking of the Bread, or Last Supper) painting (2nd century, C.E.), as well as the oldest known painting of the Madonna and Child (2nd or 3rd century, C.E.).

In the afternoon, some members of our group went to the Colosseum and the Forum.

Below are some reflections on our experience of the Priscilla Catacomb.

Joanie: I was very humbled and connected as a human being, going thru the catacombs. Discovering that their rituals are the same as what we have today; e.g., putting artifacts (dolls, coins, items of comfort) with their deceased loved ones. I loved the colors that I saw in the frescoes, they were phenomenal . . . and that they held up; you could feel the humidity, but everything was so well preserved.

Erin: Our tour guide seemed shy in the lobby, but was so passionate about the catacombs during the tour. I was amazed by how ancient the artwork was. I felt more connected to the people of the catacomb than I did of the people at the Sistine chapel yesterday. I was fascinated that the only crosses [in the catacomb] were added later.

Marietta: The room for the family with scenes of a woman’s life: it had all these other things surrounding her and her loved ones, symbols that were important to them. Pictures were hovering over the bodies, like heaven, on ceilings, not [on the] walls.

Joanie: Having gone through the pain of losing loved ones . . . in Judaism, you say (a prayer) for seven days to help you get through it. Maybe hiring an artist to “freeze” a picture of your loved ones was helpful.

Jieun: Dealing with death in Korea is different… the cemetery is far from the city. We grieve a death, feel so sad for our families and friends. We go once a year to remember them; not part of our daily lives. Seeing a cemetery in the middle of the city was scary; dealing with it every day. Today was very peaceful and calm. I could imagine the love and relationships of the people. We usually bury people in the mountains [in Korea], or cremate people. The pictures really connects me, transcends the ages and cultures. It was very comfortable.

Sara: I was a little uncomfortable. It was odd to me; I felt really odd. Maybe that was a good thing, to be able to go down and visit and to be so close to that person. In my experience, you bury people and they are further down in the ground. It was odd to have so many people around you. I liked the art because it wasn’t high art. It was a little bit more humble. It was an everyday artisan. Maybe the artist wasn’t highly skilled (not like Michelangelo). Being able to be so close to death like that was so odd to me.

Marietta: The way they were able to use images from non-Christian traditions…. this Marcionite stuff that showed up. There was a Hebrew phrase, and I thought that was very comforting. It was obviously a community of people from different backgrounds: rich, poor, different traditions from all over the world. In the Sistine Chapel, there were people from all over the world, speaking different languages.

Linda: “You can’t think in today’s terms when you’re reading the Bible” – Tyler Mayfield. One thing that transcends cultures and times is love for one’s families. That was a very busy place [when it was in use]. I picked up aliveness instead of the death. For me, it wasn’t a place of morning and unhappiness. It was a place of life, of gathering. It was a busy place!–artists, families, etc.

Marietta: Seeing the infant tombs…. the dead are still there, which makes the art and the history so much more real. We can still walk where all of those people were and where some of them still are.

Linda: I took a ghost tour in Boston, and they had moved early settlers from Boston to another site, because they wanted to use the site for something else. The catacombs felt very alive and secure in comparison.

Joanie: Of course, I wouldn’t take a picture there! I felt very respectful of the place.

Johanna: This was not hokey. No music, nobody telling you to be quiet. Went there to see the breaking of the bread painting. It was a very unique experience.

Kathy: I had not been in a catacomb. I’ve seen pics of catacombs with skulls and stuff. I was really expecting that, but it was such a different experience than that. The pictures of Mary and the Child at the catacomb showed the intimacy between mother and child: breastfeeding, looking into each other’s faces.

Johanna: I love the earthy colors. Those fiery kinds of colors, like terra cotta . . . beautiful!

Don: It was really different from my experience, and it’s multi-layered for me. I remember my mother dragging me around different cemeteries, talking about ancestors. I never understood it. Going to the catacombs connected a lot of things for me. When you love somebody, and they die, you always carry their memory and experiences with you for the rest of your life.

Marietta: It was kinda creepy and odd, but not in a bad way. It was peaceful too. In another catacomb I’ve been to, there were skulls stacked on top of each other, for lack of space, so many people dying. This felt very different.

Joanie: I love that the nuns took over [the care of the catacombs].

Linda: That adds a lot to our experience today; there is a lot of love there.

Marietta: They seem to have had a healthier relationship with the dead; they didn’t forget them.

Johanna: They believed in the resurrection; loved ones were with Christ. There was so much color, paintings, oils.

Amy: What really struck me was hearing about how there used to be bones in the open tombs that we saw, and that the nuns had moved the bones about forty years ago because tourists had taken some of them! I cannot imagine taking a human bone from a grave site. That just strikes me as being so disrespectful. I also wonder what my own experien   ce would have been like today if there were still human remains in the sections that we saw. I’ve never seen a human skeleton, and I imagine it would not have felt as peaceful.

Erin: I appreciate that the moving of the bones were for the sake of the bones, the memories.

Kathy: I was expecting more bones and it was more respectful and comfortable than I expected.

Johanna: I didn’t know it was such a normal way to bury people (not a hiding place).

A presto!


Fractio Panis - The breaking of the bread

The Breaking of the Bread: Priscilla Catacomb

Days 1 and 2 travel and the Vatican Museum

Bon giorno di Roma!  Our group of fearless students has arrived safe and sound in this great city of Italy!  After 24 hours of waiting, planes, and subway travel, we collapsed into our cozy rooms at Casa Valdense to rest and relax.  Some explorations of our first day included purchasing subway tickets, finding the hotel, and then finding suitable food and drink for our tired bodies and souls.  By good fortune we were successful in all ventures, 

The food has been wonderful, and the wine better. We enjoy breakfast and dinner at our hotel (breakfast includes a selection of cereals, croissants, breads, cheeses, jellies, fruit, and hardboiled eggs, along with coffee, espresso, milk, and juice; dinner is a pasta appetizer a meat/vegetable main course, and a delectable dessert), and we get to explore for lunch.

Day 2 had us up bright and early to break our fasts before heading off for the Vatican Museum and Sistine Chapel. A subway ride and short walk away, we found ourselves at the entrance to the impressive (and somewhat foreboding) stone structure. The museum included frescoes, paintings, and sculptures spanning centuries, as well as beautiful rooms and courtyards. We were focused on the Sistine Chapel, and were not disappointed upon reaching it. After taking our fill of the beautiful works of Michaelangelo and others, we ate a quick lunch in the cafeteria before moving on the Pinacoteca art galleries to view altar pieces from the 14th century up to the works of Raphael and later artists on up to the 17th century.

In the afternoon, upon finishing our time at the Pinacoteca, we split up into smaller groups, some of whom chose to head back to the hotel and rest and some who continued to explore the St. Peter Basilica and the streets of Rome. Dinner found us sharing our experiences and telling stories of our past trips, over wine, pasta, chicken and peas. Below are some (almost) word for word answers and discussion to the question:

What is one thing you took back from the Vatican Museum, Sistine Chapel, and Pinacoteca?

Linda: I did not really realize the vastness of the art. I thought it was a regular museum (with only art pieces) but did not realize that they had the collections from antiquity. I was overwhelmed with the amount of the artwork. In the Sistine chapel, I was trying to sketch two women, but could not make the arms muscular the way they looked in the painting. My left brain kicked in and tried to make the arms smaller, less muscular, the way a woman’s arms would be.

Manassess: You really see a past where the church was so powerful and magnificent where they were like kings, like the feudal times when the kingdoms were fragmented, no state as we understand it, the pope had the kind of glamour and wealth as a head of state. One thing surprising from reading in the 20th century was the homoerotic nature of the art, and the artist. The men were all idealized, with muscular arms, women are even like men with breasts, and the paintings weren’t treating them (women) very nicely. Particularly striking for me was that all of the prophets were very muscular and one of the paintings even exposed God’s rear end.

Joanie: I was surprised to learn that they (the popes/the church) held the artists to contract, and if they didn’t finish in a certain time, they didn’t get paid. It was kind of like, rather than pure artistic enjoyment, it was a real job, part of the infrastructure. Seeing the work makes you appreciate more the real work that this took, that a man on his back, can do that, with all these different figures and postions.

Kathy: I was put off by the wall around the Vatican. To me it was not an inclusive, welcoming environment. Even in the St. Peter basilica, the Swiss guard were not helpful, you really had to make an effort to get there. I was not expecting to not feel welcomed.

Jieun: I loved the Sistine Chapel, but was surprised that we could not take pictures. It was fun to see all the details and make the questions, reading the information about the book. Many of the pictures I was able to recognize, like the big pictures, telling stories from Jesus life, and the Old Testament (Moses). I was trying to match up the symmetrical meanings, but they are all from different painters with different motifs, different figures, postures, etc. The story makes me think.

Johanna: I was grateful to be sketching and not taking pictures. I had not realized that the paintings of Moses and Jesus are the original paintings from the chapel, and Michaelangelos ceiling was a later addition to, covering up the original ceiling of stars and night sky. They are older, and I found it fascinating. I looked better at those side paintings because it was unclear what some of the scenes were, like the temptation of Christ was in the background of a painting, but the foreground of that painting was more unclear, a general healing of a leper maybe. (from sketching) Really looking at the detail was fabulous. Sketching was really great, and made me look differently at the stuff I saw. Another interesting thing was that he mixed in the sybils (people (women) from antiquity) with people from the bible.

Sarah: I was intrigued in the Sistine Chapel, that I wanted to know the stories of everything, and I wondered why did I want to know everything. It may be that how dramatic it was or the theatrics of some of the images. Usually when I look at art I look at the beauty of it or the artistry, so it was interesting that I wanted to know the stories on this time.

Amy: My senses were overwhelmed by everything we saw. The context for all of these pieces and the people who saw them while they were worshiping every week and how they affected their understanding. I would guess that a person would worship in the same couple of churches in heir lifetime, so they might have encountered the same magnificent picture for a great part of their life. We were there for six hours and saw pieces across centuries, but what would it be like to experience worship with just one or two of these images for your whole life and how that would impact you. I had some emotional reactions today that I was not expecting, in the Sistine Chapel especially. It was not a pleasant reaction. I felt unwelcomed, out of place, and small in a way that was very uncomfortable for me. It wasn’t inspiring, like I am so small in a picture of god and all of creatinn. It felt very patriarchal, which it was; being in that space, in the Vatican, was overwhelming emotionally, which I was not expecting.

Don: certainly a lot of what I have experience has been shared. I was really perplexed by the Mary and baby Jesus paintings. In that, in almost all of them, Baby Jesus is tending to look away from Mary, and he is a small adult, mini adult. Kathy and I talked about this; the artist new what babies looked like, and they could have done that, but they didn’t, and that must have been a theological choice. So there is almost a theology of separating Jesus from Mary at work in which in my mind its almost a discounting Mary’s role in the birth of Jesus and the male theology of the church, discouraging the role of women in creating Christ that saves humanity. We saw one painting of Mary and Baby Jesus in which Mary was attractive and Jesus was paying attention to her, and there were other infants also in the room. (from one of the later century rooms)

(johanna) Yeah, there seemed to be two forms, two icons, either Mary as Queen Mother of God or Mary Holy Mother. All the models are idealized, may have used models, but all idealized women, for good or for ill. It does put women into the picture as a believer, but in a very idealized way. I thought the impact of the paintings was bigger outside the Sistine Chapel.

Erin: I did not feel the sense of awe and wonder that I was expecting to have (in the Sistine Chapel). before we got to the Chapel, I almost didn’t see anything, because I was so focused on getting there, also many of the paintings in the earlier rooms looked the same to me. But when I got in there, it was pretty, etc, but I wasn’t as overwhelmed with awe that I expected. The wall mural of the last judgment I could appreciate intellectually, but emotionally I was repelled by. To me, the Jesus pulling away from and being repulsed by the humans circling around him (from death into heaven and then being cast into hell) is not the same Jesus portrayed in other paintings of the Sermon on the Mount and the blessing of children. In the later rooms, I was captured by the early paintings of nursing and pregnant Mary, as well as the painting, part of a set with other scenes from the passion, of Mary and others laying the adult, crucified Jesus in the tomb. Mary looked truly sad and mourning as she cradled Jesus’ head and laid him on the stone slab. (Amy) It is interesting, in the baby Jesus paintings there is often little to no emotion between Mary and Jesus, but in the crucifixion paintings, the emotional connection between them is much more prominent.

Our discussion continued into the evening, talking about symbols we encountered in some of the paintings, our later explorations, and the delectable food desert was sugar sweetened fruit, (grapes, kiwi, pineapple, and apples). And now, it is time for bed, as tomorrow we explore the Priscilla catacombs and see what more Roma has to offer!

A presto!

View of the dome from the first courtyard in the Vatican Museum

View of the dome from the first courtyard in the Vatican Museum

Altarpiece from the 13 or 14th century

Altarpiece from the 13 or 14th century