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A Day in the Life: Sonia Brozak ’17 Day in the Life, Johnson Opportunity Grant Winner, Art History in Florence, Italy

“I have been working on reimagining the historic city as it was when much of its art was in situ, originally placed in churches and homes rather than in museums.”

Throughout my time here in Italy, I have endeavored to understand Florence as both a modern city and as a product of the Renaissance. Florence is brimming with culture and Renaissance art, so it’s ideal for an art history student but can at times seem overwhelming given how much is here.

For my project, I have been working on reimagining the historic city as it was when much of its art was in situ, originally placed in churches and homes rather than in museums. A typical day for me starts off by heading to a gallery or church — I have a long list of places that I frequent — and taking notes on what art is there, who created it, where it might have been once, who might have commissioned it, and any particularly defining features. These sites can be difficult to navigate sometimes, as there can be long lines and Florence is packed with tourists in the summer, but it is absolutely always worth the wait and the crowds. By the time I get out, it’s usually lunch time, so I grab a panino at All’Antico Vinaio or Gusto Panino.

After lunch, I try to get to a library. I’ve been using the Syracuse University in Florence campus library as a resource to read up on works by some of the great art historians who have catalogued and written about art as it was before it was destroyed or moved. I usually read and research for about three hours before I head to my Italian language class, where I am slowly but surely learning to speak, read and write in Italian.

After my class, I’ll meet friends for appetitivi at Piazza Santo Spirito or somewhere in the city center, then we’ll sometimes find a place to go shopping or walk around. I have been living with a host family, so I eat dinner with them promptly at 7:30pm when my host mother makes the most incredible pasta, salad, fish or steak (and sometimes all four). Over dinner we talk about Italian politics, art, music or whatever has gone on that day — all in Italian. After dinner, I’ll meet friends and we will find a café or bar where we’ll relax for the evening and meet new people.

On the weekends, I have been traveling to new parts of Europe to see the world and to contextualize what I have been seeing in Florence. Thus far, I’ve visited Amsterdam, Brussels, Paris, Munich, Prague, Rome, Milan, the Amalfi Coast, Venice, Padua, Bologna, Pompeii and Pisa. Along the way, I have been meeting up with many other W&L students who are abroad right now. It has been incredible to see how the network of W&L extends many thousands of miles beyond campus.

When I return to campus in the fall, I intend to use this summer’s research to create a digital humanities-based resource that will allow students of history or art to see Florence as it once was. Studying Renaissance Florence without being able to visualize the network of relationships, of which the city is composed, has been a challenge for me as a student. I hope to bring the perspective I have gained from seeing those networks in person back with me through cataloguing, researching, and sharing my work with others.

Hometown: New York, N.Y.

Majors: Art History and Medieval and Renaissance Studies

Extracurricular Involvement:

  • Executive Committee Secretary
  • Pi Beta Phi Sorority

Off-Campus Experiences:

  • Florence, Italy (summer 2016)
  • Münster, Germany (summer 2015)

Why did you apply for the Johnson Opportunity Grant? I came up with an idea for research that required me to go to Italy in order to see artworks in person, and I wanted to learn Italian. I realized that the Johnson Opportunity Grant would be the perfect resource to support my interests and to allow me to travel. There are very few undergraduate research grants for students of art history, so this was truly a unique opportunity.

How does your work under the grant apply to your studies at W&L? At W&L I study Medieval and Renaissance art history, so being in Florence where the legacy of the Italian Renaissance permeates the city is a dream unto itself. My work researching the city’s churches allows me to see many pieces of art in person that I have studied at W&L through photographs. It has incredible to see the connections between what I learned in the classroom and what I see walking around the city.

What was the most unexpected aspect of your grant experience? I never thought the W&L network would extend as far as it does! I’ve been able to visit W&L friends who are studying, working, or traveling all over the continent. That has made for some excellent weekend excursions outside of Florence.

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Favorite W&L Activity: Monday night EC business meetings. 7:30pm every Monday in Early Fielding. 10 out of 10, would recommend.

What professor has inspired you? Professor Bent is a major inspiration. His enthusiasm for and incredible knowledge of art history are astounding.

Advice for prospective or first-year students? Learn a new language. Language classes at W&L aren’t easy, but they’re a great experience. You have to accept making a fool of yourself in front of a group of people, but you come out of it able to communicate with a whole new part of the world. It’s important to open yourself up to learning about different world views. Those courses have been the most humbling and rewarding.

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