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HSem Students Experience Rome

by Hannah Bremer » April 6, 2018

While many students were celebrating the midpoint of the semester by packing swimsuits and flip flops for a tropical vacation, 11 University of Minnesota students prepared to depart for a once-in-a-lifetime trip to Rome. The 10-day Learning Abroad experience is an exciting component of "Caravaggio: Bad Boy of the Baroque," an Honors Seminar taught by Professor Steven Ostrow. Professor Ostrow (Department of Art History) spent the first half of the spring 2018 semester introducing his small class to Italian painter Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio (1571–1610), whom he affectionately refers to as a "gangbanger."

"He was a violent, narcissistic, difficult person," Ostrow explained, "but at the same time the most revolutionary and radical painter of his time and beyond." Caravaggio spent the formative years of his career in Rome but fled after a brawl ended in his stabbing and killing a young man in 1606. Ostrow encouraged his students to take an in-depth look at Caravaggio's tempestuous life and innovative work in the context of the Renaissance and Baroque periods.

The small class comprised students of all years from a variety of academic backgrounds, from economics to neuroscience. In fact, only one of the 11 students in the class was an Art History major. "I wanted to get myself outside of my comfort zone," explained UHP sophomore Charlie Massie, an Economics student who had never taken an art history course before.

But studying paintings in a classroom in Minnesota is an entirely different experience from standing in front of the original works in Italy. "We got to Rome and their eyes opened up," Ostrow recalled. "It was astonishing."

"It's hard to articulate the difference between seeing an image of a painting or reading about it and actually seeing the real thing," said Massie. "Words and images seem inadequate because they will never replicate the experience of seeing it with your own eyes."

"Seeing all the Baroque works in situ really helped me learn about the history of the period and realize the significance and uniqueness of some of the works we have seen," added junior Art History student Martyna Stopyra.

The opportunity to stand in front of original works studied in class is one that very few students get, and Ostrow's students took advantage by viewing all 21 of Caravaggio's paintings that survive in Rome. Over the course of 10 days, the group racked up between 18,000 and 20,000 steps each day visiting palaces, churches, museums and even the private villa of Prince and Princess Boncampagni-Ludovisi, where the students saw Caravaggio's only ceiling painting. "It was the most exhausting and exhilarating experience I've had in my teaching career," concluded Ostrow.

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