Monica Barletta: Italia as Text 2022 

Roma as Text

The Goddess of Femininity

During our stay in Rome, from the hundreds of art pieces we were able to see, what truly caught my eye was the Capitoline Venus on display at the Capitoline Museum. People would come from all around just to gaze at the statue of the Capitoline Venus so much so that the museum dedicated an entire room to her, covered in mirrors so you can get a 360° view of her nude body. Venus is known as the goddess of love, beauty, and pleasure. She represents femininity and the acceptance of feminine sexuality among other things. She was even deemed among Romans as the “Mother of Rome.”

One of the most important key concepts I have been reflecting on as it seems to be a recurring motif regarding roman culture would be the cultural openness. Roman culture was most notable for its contributions to art and architecture. Unlike most other developing empires Rome was inclusive of many different aspects of cultural and religious influence from surrounding populations of Italy. One of the biggest influences to the Roman Empire was Greece. Although Greece and Rome had quarreled throughout the later part of the Hellenistic Period, many aspects of Greek culture became assimilated into Roman Culture. This included language, art, literature, etc.

    One of the clearest depictions of this receptivity to the cultures of others by the Roman Empire was the Capitoline Venus. The idea behind Capitoline Venus was a famous sculpture made by Greek sculptor, Praxiteles, of the goddess of love, Aphrodite (or Venus in Roman culture). This rather large, nude female sculpture was considered to be one of the greatest works of art in the world at the time between 360 BC and 475 AD. 

What made this statue stand out to me so much was the fact that Venus was praised for accepting her sexuality, and this statue featuring her nude was and is still held in such high regard. A statue this risqué would not be able to be featured this way in the public in United States. Despite the many art pieces across FIU and having an extensive art program, a statue even close to being this revealing being displayed would cause an uproar, even though it is just that… art representing a woman’s body. It made me think about the prudeness of our society now compared to that of ancient Rome. Romans, who were known for being openly gay, having multiple partners, and being anything but prude, had such a great influence on our culture but for some reason we did not retain their opinions on sexuality. Reflecting on our culture, it seems as if we took a step back in the wrong direction as we try to shame women for embracing their sexuality as opposed to celebrating it, in the same way Venus was praised in this piece.

Pompeii as Text

The Area Punished by The Gods

    Located in the Campania region of Southern Italy, the ancient city of Pompeii is known around the world as a window into the past. The eruption in 79 AD of the nearby volcano, Mount Vesuvius, completely covered Pompeii in 30 feet of ash which preserved the city for centuries as it hardened. With signs of impending doom, most of Pompeii’s 20,000 citizens fled the city, but the 2,000-3,000 that remained were forever immortalized under that ash, and with the reputation of the cursed city, it had been forgotten until the 16th century.

    The history of Pompeii’s tragic ending is a story known throughout the world, and personally, something I even remember learning about in elementary school as a young kid. What I was surprised to learn on this walking lecture was how modern this city really was and how many modern inventions/norms we have today had origins in Pompeii. From things as small as saying such as the term “red light district” used to describe urban neighborhoods that have high concentration of sex workers was once used to describe neighborhoods where prostitutes would stand outside holding lamps. To bigger things used in everyday life, such as reflective pavement markers on roads, car (or, in this case, carriage) size restriction entrances, and intersections of roads. The terms cardio maximo (as in cardio referring to the main artery) is used for roads that go North and South, while decumanus was an East-West road, and together they form an intersection of roads. Perhaps the most shocking to me was the origin of paying for public toilets, which turns out to be a great source of income and is now extremely common throughout Europe.

Before visiting, I had assumed those from Pompeii were simple or underdeveloped, so it was really quite a shock when I found out how many things we use today that we got from them. 

Pompeii as Text

The Beginning of Environmentalism” by Monica Barletta of FIU

    Located in central Italy’s Umbria region is a hill town that looks like it was pulled straight out of a fairytale. Even though this town has beautiful scenery and architecture, it is best known for being the birthplace of Saint Francis, the patron saint of ecology and animals.

    Saint Francis was a soldier and had lived a wealthy life before he decided he would no longer spend his time as a soldier for man, but instead for God. After choosing to devote his life to God, he gained attention from the pope because of a dream he had in which God showed him an image of a broken church commanding him to rebuild it, while the pope later had a similar vision showing Francis holding the church up.

    What I found so interesting about Francis is the change he inspired in the religion. His time signifies the birth of new christianity to a shift in focusing on what one is doing on their time on Earth and not just consider it a means to enter heaven in the afterlife. 

    One of his main ideals is to care for the environment and Earth’s creatures. He loved all animals, believing them to be our equals, and was even known to preach to the birds. He believed that we should love the Earth as it is a part of God’s creation and we should focus on taking care of it. As a biology major and someone who thinks it’s important to take care of the environment, I found it extremely interesting that Francis’ preachings sparked the movement that started western environmentalism. This lecture captivated my attention because I had not known about Saint Francis prior to this lecture despite the influence he has had on ecology and animal conservation, something I am so passionate about. Even to this day, the current pope has taken on the name Francis because his ideals are still held in such high regard.

Firenze as Text

Michelangelo: The Divine One” by Monica Barletta of FIU

    The Renaissance was a time in which there was a cultural rebirth that began in Florence and spread rapidly throughout Europe. As the increased interaction between different cultures allowed the exchange of ideas and techniques, it gave rise to this rebirth of science and culture that still has relevance today. The competition in 1401 for the baptistery doors between Ghiberti and Brunelleschi marked the beginning of the Renaissance. The art of this movement was given realistic, natural, and humanistic characteristics, one of the artists that did it the best was Michelangelo.

    One of the most influential artists of this period was the sculptor, painter, architect, and poet, Michelangelo. Walking throughout Florence, it seems as if there is a work done by Michelangelo in every place you look. He was commissioned so often for private and public work throughout the city, particularly by Florence’s ruling family: the Medicis. Known for being lovers of Renaissance art and the biggest sponsors of the time period, various members of the Medici family commissioned him throughout his life from the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel to the unfinished tombs in the Cappelle Medici. Even as a young aspiring artist, they saw Michelangelo’s potential and offered him to move from his traditional apprenticeship to work and live under their patronage. Growing up under the Medici’s around so much art and intellect definitely attributed to his success, and is what shaped him into the artist he built himself up to be. 

    Although not commissioned by the Medicis, perhaps what he was most known for was his 19-foot statue of the biblical hero, David. The statue of David which used to stand in front of the Florentine Civic Center depicting Florence staring off threateningly to the “Goliath” Rome. When one thinks of Renaissance sculptures, David is most likely the first thing that comes to mind. It is no doubt that much of the Renaissance’s fame can be attributed to the works of Michelangelo, and he even later served as a major inspiration and influence on art styles that followed after the Renaissance. Even to this day, some of Florence’s most well known art is of Michelangelo’s work: the Sistine Chapel and David are among Italy’s biggest tourist attractions.

Pisa as Text

“All World” by Monica Barletta of FIU

Photo taken by John Bailly

    When one thinks of Pisa, the first thing they think about is one of the world’s biggest tourist attractions: The Leaning Tower of Pisa. Although being able to see and climb the tower was definitely a highlight of the Italy trip for me, what stood out to me the most was just a mural on the side of a building. Before coming to Pisa, I had no idea this mural was here or that it even existed, but just turning a random corner I was met with a 180-meter tall mural made by the famous New York street artist, Keith Harring.

    The story of how Harring ended up in Pisa to create this beautiful piece of art was simply that a resident of Pisa, Piergiorgio Castellani, asked him to create something in Italy when he ran into him in the 80s, and in the Keith Harring style, he impulsively said yes and made it happen. The mural was completed in 1989 named Tuttimondo. Harring enjoyed this project so much, he began on plans for another project in Pisa but sadly passed away of AIDS months after completing Tuttimondo, making this his last great work.

    What made this piece so amazing to me is not just the message, but that it caught me so off guard running into it. In a place that is just filled with Renaissance and Gothic art on every street corner, this giant modern art mural stood out even more. 

    Even while being outcasted and shamed by so many for his sexuality, Harrings pieces are all about love and peace among humans. Tuttimondo depicts many of his famous outlined figures in different positions and styles, but they each represent different aspects of peace. Despite not usually naming his pieces, Harring titled this mural “Tuttomondo” which translates to “All World”. This piece was just as creative as he was, even as he neared his end, and I think it is still such a great tribute to life, representing peace and harmony among the people of the world.

Cinque Terre as Text

A Reflection of our Grand Tour” by Monica Barletta

Photo taken by Monica Barletta

    During the Italian Grand Tour, Cinque Terre was the stop on the tour that was dedicated to reflect on all that had been seen and learned on the time away from home, which is exactly what our class did on our stop here. While Rome was a city full of chaos and brutal history, and Florence being known for its art and culture revolving around each artist trying to outcompete the other, Cinque Terre was the perfect break in our itinerary as it finally takes you away from all the madness of other Italian cities. 

    Cinque Terre is composed of the five “cinque” seaside towns that line the shore next to each other: Monterosso, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, and Riomaggiore. From hiking the mountains across each village to cliff jumping, there is much to do in order to destress in these towns that look like they came straight out of a movie.

Photo taken by Monica Barletta

    Each of the small villages feel as if you are being transported back in history because the locals refuse to make it commercialized, a huge contribution to the natural beauty of each of the villages. The beauty of the entirety of the city is what makes it such a perfect place for those on their “pilgrimage” to reflect. Feeling like a vacation from our vacation, we did just that with our minimal lectures and class work at this point in the trip. Looking out over the top of each mountain we climbed with each spot as beautiful as the last, I felt as if it was a great reflection of our time abroad. Making our way through each city just to finally look back and realize how much we had accomplished felt just the same as making it past each mountain. As Cinque Terre has been known as a place to relax and reflect on all that has been seen during the Grand Tour across Italy, I couldn’t think of a better place to be able to think back about all we’ve learned than sitting on the beach and tanning as we enter the final week of our tour.

Photo taken by Monica Barletta

Venezia as Text

“Masters of Glass” by Monica Barletta

    The Venetian Lagoon contains many islands with each one being just as unique and different as the last. The actual city of Venice was incomparable to any other city I have ever seen. The techniques used by early Venetian settlers of putting pine tree trunks into the lagoon and placing the white Istrian stone over the hardened wood had never been done to this extent. The idea of a city floating right on the water not only makes it picturesque and beautiful for tourists, but it is one of the contributors to what made Venice so powerful, at one point even being the biggest European power in the Mediterranean. 

    As beautiful and unique as Venice is, the other islands that are on the Venetian Lagoon are just as special. The islands of Murano and Burano are located North of Venice, each one with a specialty in certain products with techniques that have been passed on through generations for hundreds of years. While Burano was beautiful with its colorful buildings and the intricate lacework displayed in every shop, I found Murano to be the most interesting with its history and its glassblowing specialty.

Photo taken by Monica Barletta

    From salt production to fishing port, prior to 1291 Murano was not very prosperous until Venice sent all its glassblowing masters to the island. While Venetians had a history of perfecting the art, the ovens used to mold the glass had to be kept on extremely high temperatures constantly, causing a great fire during the peak of the Serenissima Republic. The government outlawed the use of these furnaces and exiled the glassblowers to the island of Murano. While the glassblowers were held in high regard, they were not allowed to leave the city for the fear of their crafting secrets getting out. 

    I found the history of the island to be the most interesting of all of the islands of the lagoon because you can see the effects of the forced living of these “masters”. Venetians mastered the art of the glassblowing art, passing their knowledge from generation to generation. With the fear of assassins being sent to kill them before they spilled the secrets, the people of Murano perfected this art so much so that it is still a prosperous industry to this day hundreds of years later.

Photo taken by Monica Barletta

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