Journey to Italy: Renaissance Transitions

The transition towards representing human emotions in artwork that occurred during the Renaissance, such as that seen in forms of Madonna and David, displays the crucial importance of the individual in this art period, not only that of individualized artistic styles but also that of the idea that individuals could personally relate to a piece of art.

The differences between Gothic and Renaissance representations of human emotion in depictions of the Madonna are juxtaposed in a single room of the Uffizi Gallery, apparent in the Maesta of Cimabue and Giotto. Cimabue’s Maesta highlights prominent aspects of a Gothic style, emphasizing gold detailing and surface patterns, while remaining dimensionally flat. The Madonna herself seems very rigid, unhappy, and unwelcoming for such a motherly figure. Her facial structure and expression is nearly replicated in the six identical angels surrounding her. This Gothic Maesta was religiously commissioned and, thus, not intended to communicate personally with the viewer, but to enshrine the image of the Madonna, elevating the spiritual world to a level unreachable by a commoner. Giotto’s Maesta of 1311 depicts a drastically different, more human side to the Madonna. This Renaissance figure possesses a much softer, more feminine facial expression, as well as swollen breasts, realistic traits for a character meant to convey maternalism. Madonna’s sweet, archaic smile reveals buck teeth, exposing her flawed, human nature underneath a high spiritual level.

In addition to seeming overall welcoming, Giotto’s Madonna is further brought down to a relatable level through the style of naturalism. The perspective of her chair is 3-dimensional and the cloth over her knees seems to fall naturally, while the older Maesta is flat, unlike the natural world. The many figures around the Madonna look at her with varying expressions, just as individuals in a true setting would not have identical faces. The use of naturalism sets the individual style of Giotto apart from that of Cimabue, while also presenting the Madonna in a more life-like, and thus, more relatable setting, allowing a commoner to find more than just symbolic meaning in the artwork.

Although Donatello is of the Renaissance period, the progressions throughout the era of individualized artistic style and human connection to art are distinguishable in the comparison between the Davids by Donatello and Michelangelo. Donatello’s David of 1440 is seen in the moments after the battle with Goliath, as represented by David‘s confident foot resting atop the giant’s severed head. David looks young, with a supple, nearly feminine, S-curve figure, suggesting that God played the largest role in orchestrating his victory. He is in the nude, but wearing fancy sandals and flamboyant helmet, portraying a sense of vanity and boastful triumph, rather than the expected relief at the conclusion of such a difficult battle. Conversely, Michelangelo’s David depicts the warrior before the battle commences and, consequently, a starkly different, more relatable image. Finished in 1504, this David, though classically-inspired, reveals his human side through visible emotions. His furrowed brow, clenched buttock, and turning away in his contrapposto position, suggest a self-consciousness and apprehension about his undetermined fate. The commoners of Florence, identifying themselves as underdogs, would have related to this David‘s messages of perseverance, wariness, and hard-earned victory. Michelangelo’s cognizance of human anatomy, accurately represented in detail and altered only to emphasize a specific quality or emotion, effectively revealed his figures’ souls within, making his art both unique and also relatable.

The period of the Renaissance shifted art from the world of symbolism to naturalism, in which figures and scenery were depicted realistically. Perspective was shown 3-dimensionally, vulnerable human emotions were emphasized, and the human body was shown more accurately. Depicting scenes from the spiritual world on a more basic level, on which the characters revealed flaws and souls, art throughout this period progressed the notion of the individual. Not only did artists have more freedom to develop individual artistic styles, but the commoner could relate to art on a personal level.

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Journey to Italy: Michelangelo’s Moses

Art is a physical representation of the values, vices, and lifestyles of its corresponding time period. Consequently, the Church reform of the 1200s, in which religious leaders modeled holy lifestyles and pushed to make God more accessible to all, provided religious foundation for Renaissance act. Michelangelo’s Moses, though sculpted at the end of the same era, presents a starkly different image of life than originally intended for by the Church reform. Michelangelo’s Moses is important in contrasting the goal of making God more accessible that initiated the Renaissance period with the attitude of teribilita that concluded the artistic era.

At the end of the 12th century, the Church was very stagnant and orthodox, having remained in power since the fall of the Roman Empire. As people began moving to cities, the rurally-based religious foundation weakened, and a need for a modernized Church system arose. Practices and beliefs of Christianity became a public affair and religious leaders took advantage of this shift, wearing oaths of humility, chastity, and obedience to encourage a growing middle class to abandon a reckless lifestyle. This movement, headed by St. Francis of Assisi and formally recognized by the archbishop of Florence, required the simplification of religious ideals and portrayal in art that would make God accessible personally to Christians.
By the end of the Renaissance period, both the lifestyles of the commissioner and sculptor represented an ironic position in relief of the founding Renaissance ideals. Viewing Michelangelo’s Moses in situ at San Pietro in Vincoli, as well as further understanding the process and individuals associated with its production, exposes teribilita, or terribleness, at conflict with Renaissance ideals. In 1503, Pope Julius II commissioned Michelangelo to sculpt his tomb monument, ridiculously proposed to include forty marble figures and to be erected above the grave of St. Francis in his basilica. This unbridled egotism, demonstrated through wealthy demands, is unexpected and undesirable in any Christian leader, but especially the Pope. Fortunately, the wishes of Pope Julius II did not come to fruition, but only due to a teribilita of Michelangelo’s own. Throughout the creation process of the monument, Michelangelo revised the specific with his patron and the Pope’s relatives five different times, reducing the number of figures in each contract. The Moses seen above the Pope’s tomb today was finished in 1513. However, Michelangelo put off the project repeatedly until sued by the family for his stalling in 1526. He agreed to finally complete the monument in exchange for advance payment. Moses did not rest above the tomb until 1547, twenty-one years after being sued and thirty-four years after it was sculpted; again, Michelangelo received payment. In the end, his stalling and revisions earned him $50 million for a single figure.

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Russian Club 2017

My international involvement on campus continues to be with the Russian Club, as I am working towards my major in Russian Language and Literature. I highly recommend this club to all, even those (and maybe ESPECIALLY those) that don’t have any Russian language or culture experience. Russian language and culture is very unique and Russian Club is a fantastic way to dip your toes in the water of something very different. There are frequent Russian Club get-togethers for dinner, sometimes on campus and sometimes off campus, to get to know one another. My favorite events (besides the fundraising Bake Sale) are the monthly movies, which allow me to experience authentic Russian media while practicing my listening comprehension (the movies are subtitled, of course, for those who don’t know the language). This past Sunday, the Russian Club held a picnic at the park for one last hoorah – I can’t wait to see what the next year will hold for Russian Club!

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GEF Day 2017

This year’s Global Engagement Day was really enjoyable for me, not only because the only way I could attend was to skip my whole morning’s busy schedule of classes (which I gladly did), but also because I was introduced to many new fellow travelers and the sessions were full of useful information and laughs. I attended the first two sessions of the day: the STEM-students abroad and the useful info for first-time study abroad goers. Both groups were small, making for easy-going, round-table type conversation. For me, the STEM session offered more practically helpful information, with tips for pre-equating science classes abroad and about how to make rigid degree plans more flexible to allow for a semester overseas. I will definitely seek out the panel of experienced students I met when it comes closer time to finalize my semester abroad options. On the other hand, I found the session for new travelers extremely entertaining, as it was filled with hilarious stories and “what-not-to-dos” of previous Global Engagement Fellows’ first experiences (and struggles) abroad. I couldn’t have pictured a better way to spend my morning than meeting and laughing with others who love to travel, and with such a great first two sessions I can imagine the rest of GEF Day was a huge success!

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Italy’s Fashion Culture

Italy has always been known to be a fashion center. Traditional Italian costumes include bright, embroidered skirts, airy blouses, and fruit-decorated hats for the women and embroidered costumes with metal button-detailing for the men. While Italian peasants wore simple shirts and pants/skirts, generally out of darkly and plainly colored wool, wealthier clothing was of the same style but with much richer materials, like velvet and silk. The clothing of the rich were much more colorful, as these dyes were more expensive. The women also decorated themselves with jewelry. The fruit ornamentation came about because festive wear was generally put to use at celebrations centered around food and harvest.

Today’s Italian fashion culture can be credited to a fashion show held in 1951 in Florence, as well as the appearance of Italian fashion in movies. As clothing was more mass-produced and the economy increased, common people became better dressed. The already present art and culture of Italy fused with the new style and quality of people’s dress, naming it as a fashion center. Italian fashion became to be about showing off one’s best features and striving for “la bella figura.” Generally, women wear slimmer-fitting clothing that is flattering, but subtle and simple. Lazier outfits, including baggy jeans, sweatpants, and big tennis shoes, are not often seen in the streets of Italy. Men also dress more sharply, featuring leather, dress pants, or nautical sweaters.

Sources:

http://people.howstuffworks.com/culture-traditions/national-traditions/italian-tradition5.htm

http://traveltips.usatoday.com/italy-fashion-13086.html

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Russian Hipsters

The Russian Club hosted a Russian film showing Tuesday, March 6 in Kaufman Hall with small attendance but a great feature film. Stilyagi, the word for Hipsters in Russian, was released in 2008 and is a funny musical drama, sort of the equivalent of a “Russian Hairspray.” The setting is 1950s Moscow in an era of Soviet repression, a time in which the young, main characters of the film, boldly dressing teenagers, struggled to publicly express themselves as they wanted. The score features many hits from 1980s and 1990s Russian rock bands. The film was well received and has even been remade into a concert that has toured Europe.

The movie opens with a young Communist group, known as Komsomol, raiding a club of partying Stilyagi and cutting up their brightly-colored skirts and ties. To the Komsomol, the Stilyagi are considered “enemies of society,” since they stray from the orderly, drab, and predictable styles and behavior. The main Stilyaga girl, Polly, lures away a Komsomol guy, Mels, to push him into a pond, then promptly invite him to hang with her raucous group. Mels is convinced he is love and decides to change himself into a Stilyaga so that she will love him in return. He finds a textile dealer that secretly makes hipster clothing to update his wardrobe, gels up his hair, and makes a pair of platform shoes. His change makes his brother angry while those in his apartment complex speechlessly ignore him or shout at him that they don’t want to be seen with such a character.

Mels finds Bob, another Stilyaga, cornering him and pressuring Bob to teach him to dance properly. Wary that it’s a trap, Bob finally shows him the boogie, until Bob’s parents come home and scold Bob for associating with someone that could be tricking him. Mels is finding his way into the crowd and dances that night at a VIP rock and roll concert.  After several embarrassments with trying to talk with Polly, and a clash with his old group of friends, astonished at his betrayal, he is advised to take up saxophone to impress his love. This earns him his first real kiss from Polly.

The leader of the Stilyagi, who is leaving to work in the USA, gives new leadership to Mels. Mels accepts this position and gives up membership of the Komsomol by officially resigning his badge. Mels’ attention grows, but the Stilyagi realize that as they are growing up, they need to conform somewhat in order to be successful in society. Polly admits that she has become pregnant from a one-night stand with an African American, but Mels is hopeful that he can raise the child as his own. The Stilyagi settle down and act less rambunctiously and the new baby, John, is accepted into the family. The Stilyagi all move on with their own lives, but still uphold Stilyagi values of self-expression and fun. The final song brings back memories of other Soviet nonconformist subcultures, such as punks and rockers, but says that it is important to stand up for personal values.

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Italy’s Coffee Culture

I love coffee. So much so, that one of my younger sisters bought me Christmas gifts this last year entirely themed around the beverage – she even made an espresso scarf. Yet, I am ashamed to say that, until recently, I was oblivious to the serious coffee culture associated with Italy, a country I have been intrigued by since I was a little girl and will have the opportunity to visit this summer. Thankfully, I have been made aware of this connection before I travel and did a little research on my favorite drink.

Although coffee did not originate in Italy, its introduction presented the country with a new culture it closely follows today. Therefore, the menu in Italian cafes is much simpler than the highly modified – and sugary – selection at Starbucks. The CEO of Starbucks was, in fact, inspired to create the chain on a trip to Milan, but completely Americanized the product for a sweeter palette. Apparently, tourists are the ones to sit and linger at cafe tables, sipping coffee while reading or working. Italians tend to drink their coffee at the bar, fast and on-the-go and, therefore, not as hot. Also, because coffee is a fast happening, the drink sizes tend to not be as large as they are in America. Espresso shots of only a few sips, followed by a cleansing glass of water, are the most common way to caffeinate. Cappuccinos, espresso shots with warm milk, are never ordered after noon (so glad I learned that custom now). Americanos aren’t a thing (unless you lose a bet) and caffe correttos have a shot of liquor.

Further, family-centric situations, such as mealtimes, are a well-known association with Italy. This is why Italians typically have a primary, local cafe that they go to regularly. The customers, baristas, and fellow coffee-drinkers become familiar with each others’ faces and, thus, the surrounding neighborhood becomes like an extended family and a type a familiarity is attached with a specific cafe. I can’t wait to experience this coffee culture for myself!

Sources: https://www.thelocal.it/20160817/why-coffee-in-italy-is-a-culture-you-must-taste-to-understand
http://www.italymagazine.com/featured-story/italian-coffee-culture

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Estonians for Trump

After the disintegration of the Soviet Union, many ties remain, both in culture and location, between Russia and the Baltic States: Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia. Namely, the language is still very prevalent in these small countries that remain wary of Russia’s power. Because of Russia’s great influence on border countries such as Estonia, citizens there are aware of the effects that Russian and American relations have upon them. Because it is election year in the United States, Estonians have opinions on the American candidates; ultimately, who we elect affects the entire world.

Social studies students in a high school in Narva, Estonia, a Russian border city, are pro-Trump and anti-Hillary. To them, Trump is looking to create a friendship between the U.S. and Russia, while Hillary is only looking for a war, in which Estonia “would be in the way” for. In a contrasting light, Baltic politicians feel as though Putin is someone to be “resisted, not appeased,” as Trump says he is looking to do.

Overall, the European reaction to Trump’s election is as mixed there as it is in our own country. Many see an imminent change coming that is potentially for the better, especially in the case of Russian relations. Others are worried about Trump’s sometimes rash and blunt comments and characteristics. The biggest overall concern from this social studies class and the teacher is Trump’s unpredictability.

Source: http://www.nytimes.com/2016/11/18/world/europe/estonia-trump-baltics-putin.html?_r=0

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Right-Wing Rise in Europe

After the 8-year presidential term of Democrat Barack Obama, America has elected a Republican as the upcoming leader. In light of this and increasing globalization, it is interesting to consider the political trends of other parts of the world. In many parts of Europe, Republican political affiliation is similarly on the rise. According to a New York Times post, this may be attributed to a slow economy, sentiments toward the migrant crisis, and disillusionment with the EU.

In Germany in 2013, the first right-wing party since WWII appeared but narrowly missed earning seats in Parliament. Throughout the European migrant crisis, Germany has been known to be one of the most open and welcoming country to immigrants. However, association with the party shot up to 12% earlier this year, after the New Year’s Eve assaults in Cologne. Now, the party’s leader is calling for an armed border, reduction of mosques, and prohibition to Islam in the country.

Although only 21% of Austria’s National Council seats are held by members of the Freedom Party, the party’s campaign leader narrowly lost majority vote in the May election. The party centers on limiting rights for immigrants and putting “Austria first,” especially on the job market.

In Hungary, the third largest party is far-right, known as Jobbik, and led by Gabor Vona. Its goals are to talk more openly about controversial topics, spend more money to support Hungarians abroad, reduce immigration, and criminalize homosexuality. Graphs of these various countries’ increasing right-wing affiliation trends can be seen in the original article.

Source: http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2016/05/22/world/europe/europe-right-wing-austria-hungary.html?src=me

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Russian Club

Russian Club is all about learning about the culture of Russia and not limited to those taking Russian. This semester, we held a War and Peace event in which all 10 hours of the film were shown. There were several in attendance that did not have any experience with the language and appreciated the subtitles. As someone who does have experience with the language and culture, I find it really interesting to talk with those without it so I can see through both an experienced lens, as well as an inexperienced one. Looking forward, I think Russian Club needs to look into hosting one or two more events per semester so that we can boost participation and attendance. Although I think that those in Russian language classes are aware of Russian Club, I believe its existence on campus needs to be more prominent so new members can become involved and educated.

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