Tag Archives: inspirations

Florence, Day 12: David Really is All He’s Cracked Up to Be (And Other Tales from the Accademia)



It is a curse at times to understand English while in a foreign country. I know, I know, it’s a blessing, BUT … in Florence, at times, you hear things that make you want to interrupt and give your opinion. No, my mom always said, only if you’re asked — and not always even then.

The other day before class, I went to the Piazza della Signoria, to the Loggia dei Lanzi (the sculpture gallery), to sketch. It’s kinda like a town square, and VERY crowded. Much English is spoken. A few runaways from a tour group sporting their white tennies (a dead giveaway of their status as Americans, not that anyone’s hiding it) sitting next me is discussing where they will go on their tour.

“Will you go see the David tomorrow?”

The woman replies with total authority: “No, he’s right here in front of me; it’s the same thing.” As if to stress her point she adds, “It’s the exact same thing!”

Meanwhile, nearby, me: NO, NO IT IS NOT! (Yes, I know I’m shouting, but the situation calls for it.)

Michelangelo’s David was originally situated on this Plazza, it is true. Commissioned for the famed Church of Santa Maria del Fiore, the Florentines so loved this work they sat it right in front of their town hall, the Piazzo Vecchio. Today, the work that remains there (by the opinion of the Florentine people) is a bad copy.

Indeed, I can state, “Ain’t nothing like the real thing, baby.” and to assume you have checked him of your list because you saw this replica is missing the entire point of Florence — in fact, the whole point of the Renaissance itself.

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From the Biblical story of David and Goliath, Michelangelo’s version is said to have collided with Hercules. Like David, the Florentine people had conquered neighboring cities — the victorious underdog, now the capital of Tuscany. The Florentine people could relate to this strong, determined David.

In every way, the Renaissance is about humanism. Man as a reflection of God, created in his image, to be honored as a creation of God and each individual with his/her own feelings and emotions to be honored. In this way, David is a supreme example of humanism and, therefore, the Renaissance.

Still, I did not share this with the American tourists, knowing they would go home with a grand experience of Italy and never second guess their decision. Still, from me to you: Go and see him. He does not disappoint.

Today, after a morning spent blissfully painting. I meet Benedetta for our class and the Accademia was our classroom. I think sweet Benedetta sensed my exhaustion after the long visit at the Accademia. It’s all so much. Indeed, all wonderful, all my passion, all I want to learn, but my head is like boiling water by this point, spilling over the pot. It’s just so much grand, glorious information.

So she asked, “You want to be more outside?” Um, yes, yes, I think I need more sunlight and less of the inside of a building, no matter how much light radiates from those glorious works of art.

So she took me across the city and up, up, to the precious little church of San Miniato above the Piazza Michelangelo. I discovered it my first morning here on a half run, half exploration of the city.

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Benedetta confides she’d like to be married here (no doubt she’ll make a stunning bride when it happens), and as if on cue, a wedding was in fact happening as we arrived. On a Thursday? “Yes,” she says with a shrug, “it’s September.”

The church shines like a jewel above the city, a precious little jewel right from the 11th Century, with a facade from the 12th Century, a glittering gold mosaic from the 13th Century, a nave and tabernacle inside that’s a tribute to all things Renaissance. It was a true treat, and the wedding was, well, icing on the cake. (I warned Benedetta that if she gets her wedding in this prized location to think of me as tourist, quietly mingling about during the ceremony.) And the view from here — sigh, just spectacular. A good call by those men who built this when nothing else was there.

A quick view over this exquisite city from the Piazza Michelangelo and we parted ways: me off to my favorite food spot, the Pizzicheria Antonio Porrati, for an after school snack and reflection on the day. But it’s really early evening, and so it becomes dinner. Afterward, I retire to my apartment to put my feet up and relax. All this learning is hard work!

May the sun always shine on the curious, and night fall heavy for that much-needed rest.


Painting of the Week: A Journey through Ethiopia



“Have you ever been to South Omo, Ethiopia? If you have, you’d remember. As the Lonely Planet guide book says: ‘Testing, awe-inspiring & heartbreaking – a journey you’ll never forget. You don’t explore Ethiopia for a relaxing getaway, you venture here to be moved. And moved you shall be.’

“Perhaps nowhere in Ethiopia is this more true than the tribal region of South Omo, the region that inspired this painting. It’s here that many tribes still live in the same way they have lived for centuries. Change has come slowly to this region — if at all.

“What fascinated me — I mean, really took hold and gripped me — was this lack of modernization, the adhering to a traditional nomadic way of life. I’ m not glamorizing, glorifying or judging this way of life; I’m simply an observer. There is much that is good, and much that is very challenging for me.

“Women of the region’s Merci tribe cut their lower lips, right where the lip meets the skin beneath, and insert a lip plate, the size of which indicates wealth. This is done just before marriage, around age 15. This stirs within me questions of humanity. It is said the practice originally started as a way to avoid the slave trade, as slave traders found these lip plates so distasteful. Again, my ideas of how things should be are challenged.

“Female genital mutilation is also still commonly practiced in this region, and interviews with local women indicate support for continuation of this practice. It’s here that I can no longer set aside my personal feelings in favor of impartial observation. I find the brainwashing of young girls into believing mutilating their genitals is a honor — in fact, a good thing — just plain deplorable, and again I am stirred inside.

“To look at this painting, you do not see this controversy; you only see my adoration for a way of life that still, for at least a short time longer, remains untouched by the modern world. No iPhones, no Internet, no social media, just a simpler way of life, all bringing about more questions than answers.

“Why have I chosen to honor this way of life, as opposed to using my art to bring attention to such horrifying acts as female genital mutilation? Because the nature of my art is not, nor ever will be, about political statements or controversy. My art is about the good in life, the joy, the positive things worth honoring. It is in my personal life and my writings that I explore the bigger questions, and by founding Art Aid International, I gave myself a platform for giving back.

“My painting remains an escape for me, an outlet of joy. It is my intent that through seeing what is fascinating about Africa— as in this painting: a nomadic way of life, yet untouched by modernization — you might be inclined to learn more, to ask the serious questions, and come to your own conclusions about things. To begin your own journey into humanity, or further a journey you are already on. Either way, I believe the tribes of South Omo, Ethiopia, if explored, will bring about a stirring in you, as happened to me. It is virtually impossible not to be moved, and you will likely find more questions than answers. And that just may inspire a personal revolution.”

“A Journey Through Ethiopia”

Size: 24 x 24
Medium: Mixed media
Price: SOLD

To purchase prints of Stephanie’s Ethiopia collection, click here.