What My Summer Art Classes Are Like in Florence

Jun 28, 2018 1:30:00 PM / by Hannah Hardenbergh

Hannah Hardenbergh

Hannah Hardenbergh is an official CAPA blogger for summer 2018, sharing her story in weekly posts on CAPA World. An American History and Literature major at Harvard College, she is studying abroad in Florence this semester.

In this week's post, Hannah shares about her art classes in Florence and the wonder of learning and seeing the city's artwork and architecture in the flesh.


While it seems to me that I have been spending copious amounts of time pleasure reading, journaling, and traveling, I sometimes remind myself that I am also in Florence to…study! The classes I enrolled in—drawing and renaissance art history—started the week after I arrived, and I have class 3 days per week, per class. The learning environment is quite unique for each class, and I have enjoyed studying with the expat professors at CAPA, who decided the grass was greener across the pond, and who enthusiastically share their passion for Florentine culture and art with students each semester.

CAPAStudyAbroad_Florence_Summer2018_From Hannah Hardenbergh - Looking Up into the Dome from BelowLooking up into the Duomo from below.

At first, I was surprised to hear that my teachers were not in fact of Italian descent, or grew up in the country. Their perspectives of the city are part of what makes the learning environment so unique. Our drawing professor prefers whimsical assignment changes that best fit the group’s interests, and our art history professor is a walking encyclopedia, who I’m sure would know when and where each Medici family member lived and breathed his or her last breath if you were to ask her. Both of my classes have been extraordinarily unique.

CAPAStudyAbroad_Florence_Summer2018_From Hannah Hardenbergh - Copy of Michelangelo's David in front of Palazzo VecchioA replica of Michelangelo's David in front of Palazzo Vecchio.

For 3 days per week, for either 2 or 3 hours, I work with a small class in the art studio just a couple doors down from the CAPA classrooms on Via Pandolfini, pretty close to the historical center, on the north side of the river. The studio is home to many artists and students, not just our class, which is exciting because there are a ton of projects in the works all around the space. It’s the way I like to see the studio—a mess. It’s always a good feeling when I start a project on paper or canvas when my area gets a little strewn, paint shows up in places it’s not really supposed to, and sketched ideas turn into larger concepts easily (both developed and unworthy). It feels more intuitive when I have my own space to make messy. The studio at CAPA feels like that; though it is a shared space, we have the freedom to find ways in which we work best.

CAPAStudyAbroad_Florence_Summer2018_From Hannah Hardenbergh - Ponte Vecchio During Golden HourThe Ponte Vecchio.

So far, we have covered self-portrait projects, still-life exercises, and drawing Ponte Vecchio—a large bridge connecting the historic center with the Oltrarno and Santo Spirito areas to the south of the river. Between class, we spend a couple hours per week on average sketching on our own, finding mythological statues, describing the value within the ubiquitous number of arches on building façades, and practicing with still life drawings.

CAPAStudyAbroad_Florence_Summer2018_From Hannah Hardenbergh - An Example of Our Studio WorkAn example of our studio work.

Another 3 times per week I meet with my Renaissance art history class, more often at a museum or church than in the classroom. I love this class because I get to use my extremely analytical brain to challenge one of my art history skills: deep observation. Our professor, as I said in my last post, feels like our private tour guide as she feeds us information about the fresco paintings in each family chapel and in the side aisles of many churches we have visited, and how to identify late-Gothic artwork as opposed to Romanesque-style sculpture and architecture.

CAPAStudyAbroad_Florence_Summer2018_From Hannah Hardenbergh - Inside San Miniato al MonteInside San Miniato al Monte, a mosaic in the apse completed at the end of the 13th century.

I love old things. Antiques, art, buildings, watches that don’t work and pennies that don’t shine. To my delight, we get to see age-old architecture and artwork almost every class in person. Being able to study art history in Florence is the most exciting because I step out the door and get to experience the works of art we discuss in person, which, if you study art, you will know is so much better than looking at images on a screen. Experiencing works of art from the 13th and 14th centuries and observing them in their current state, whether restored or not, is kind of awesome. So far in class, we have studied different styles that evolved from artist to artist leading into the Renaissance period. Though it’s impossible to cover everything in a 6-week course, we are packing our class times full of artworks and architectural designs that covers the city.

CAPAStudyAbroad_Florence_Summer2018_From Hannah Hardenbergh - The Facade of Cattedrale di Santa Maria del FioreThe Facade of Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore.

My favorite places have been feeling completely shrunken by the massive scale of La Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore (the Duomo) from the inside, and climbing to the top of the dome for an incredible view of the city, and the crypt of San Moniato al Monte, a church that sits on the top of a hill outside the medieval city walls, where I heard the friars harmonize in an incredible Gregorian Chant in Latin. Unfortunately, pictures or video weren’t allowed inside the crypt, but hearing it felt otherworldly.

CAPAStudyAbroad_Florence_Summer2018_From Hannah Hardenbergh - On Top of the DuomoOn top of the world!

With a little bit of detail from some of my days during class, you can understand that there always seems to be a new work of art to observe in this city. The list is endless, and the museums are plentiful. My kind of city!

Thanks Hannah!

Hannah's journey continues every Thursday so stay tuned.

Learn More about the CAPA Florence Program

Topics: International Education, Florence, Italy