Elaine's knowledge of art and history stretches
beyond the boundaries of Tuscany. From the twilight of the Roman Empire in Ravenna to palaces on the Grand Canal in Venice, to Renaissance courts in Mantua, Ferrara, and Urbino - take a journey through time.
Ancient Rome: A Walk Through History
Itinerary: Coliseum, Imperial Forum, Capitoline and Pantheon
Experience a walk through the history of ancient Rome. The day will begin with a visit to the Coliseum that will afford the visitor both an understanding of how this marvel of engineering was built and a taste for entertainment in ancient Rome. The Imperial Forum, the heart of ancient Rome will come alive as you walk along the same road as Julius Caesar. The visit continues on to the Capitoline with a magnificent overview of the Roman Forum from the top of the most important of the seven hills of Rome. Next, follow the corso, the main street of Rome, to the Pantheon, perhaps of the most perfect building ever constructed. The Pantheon, a centralized, domed building, is a shining example of the genius of Roman engineers.
Siena and San Gimignano
Itinerary: Piazzale Michelangelo, Siena’s Town Hall and Cathedral, lunch in Siena, San Gimignano
Depart in the morning for Siena, pausing on the way at the Piazzale Michelangelo in the hills outside of Florence for a breathtaking overlook of city. Arrive in Siena and explore the steep medieval alleys that surround the famous Piazza del Campo, the main square of the city. The buildings around the Campo symbolize the golden age of the city between 1260-1348. Visit the Campo and the Palazzo Pubblico in order to best understand the political power of the city. Next, visit the religious heart of the city, the Cathedral, which is one of the most spectacular in Italy. The project for the building, the sumptuous materials and lavish interior reflect the fierce civic pride of the Sienese people. After lunch, travel by coach to the hill town of San Gimignano where time seems to have stopped in the 14th century. San Gimignano, a walled city with dozens of its medieval towers still standing, will afford the visitor an excellent example of a 13th century tower town. Return to Florence in the late afternoon.
In the Footsteps of Piero della Francesca
Itinerary: Arezzo, Monterchi, Borgo San Sepolcro
The artist who seems to best fulfill the absolute ideal of the Early Renaissance in every respect is Piero della Francesca (c. 1406-1492). He was not a Florentine; perhaps by choice, perhaps through necessity, he stayed remote from the Tuscan metropolis. Except for the occasional visit to Florence, Piero lived in Borgo San Sepolcro, a Tuscan market town then in the possession of the Papal States. Before the beginning of the 20th century, Piero’s art was thought an oddity, familiar only to a few scholars who found in it little merit and saw the artist as apart from the mainstream of the Renaissance. Only the new appreciation of form, aroused by the art of Cezanne and his immediate successors in painting and sculpture, has raised Piero to his present pinnacle of admiration. Following the footsteps of Piero della Francesca not only allows the student to discover a most important Quattrocento painter but also explores a little-known corner of Tuscany (the Casentino) where he lived and worked.
Venice: La Serenissimma
Itinerary: Grand Canal, Backstreets of Venice, Basilica of San Marco
For the world’s most beautiful city, Venice had an inauspicious start. The site was once merely a collection of mud banks, and the first settlers came as refugees fleeing invading enemies of the Roman Empire. They sought to escape to terrain so inhospitable that no foe would follow. The success of the community which arose on the site would have been beyond the wildest imaginings of the first Venetians and by the opening of the fifteenth century, Venice enjoyed an unprecedented period of wealth and power. This golden period of the Serenissima Republic is reflected in the art generated for its churches, confraternities, and palaces.
Get off the beaten track and explore the neighborhood, Castello where you will visit the church of San Giorgio dei Greci the Confraternity of San Giorgio Schiavoni, with frescoes by Carpaccio, stroll through the campo of Santi Giovanni e Paolo, to the recently restored Santa Maria dei Miracoli, perhaps the most beautiful church in Venice. Finish the day with a visit to San Marco and have the opportunity to wander slowly through this vast treasure chest of Byzantine and Western art. Golden mosaics cover more than 40,000 square feet (4,000 square meters) of the domes, walls and floor. At times overwhelming because of its size and beauty, the Basilica is one of the most important buildings in Italy and serves as a vivid reminder of the glories of the Venetian Republic.
Ravenna: The Twilight of the Roman Empire
Itinerary: San Vitale, Galla Placida, Sant’Apollinare, Dante’s Tomb, Baptistry and Classe
As the capital of the Western Roman Empire in its last days, then of the occidental provinces of the Byzantine Empire, it offered a refuge of luxury and splendor, a return to antique civilization rising above the relentless seas of barbarism.
Art historian Elaine Ruffolo, highlights the history of this city, its important architecture, and the extraordinarily decorative walls of its palaces and churches—masterpieces of an age when artistic achievement was reaching one of its summits in the form of mosaics. UNESCO has recognized the “outstanding universal value” of Ravenna’s early Christian buildings, citing “the supreme artistry of the mosaic art that the monuments contain” and “the crucial evidence that they provide of artistic and religious relationships and contacts at an important period of European cultural history.