Mercedes Carrara

Mercedes Carrara

Mercedes Carrara
  • B.A., Art History, Manhanttanville College, New York
  • MFA, Villa Schifanoia, Rosary College Graduate School of Fine Arts, Florence 

Biographical Information

Professor Carrara has been teaching at the GIF campus since the mid-1970's. She received a Gonzaga-in-Florence Award, given for Outstanding Achievement in Teaching in 2005. During Fall Semester she currently teaches VART 293 Introduction to Florence with weekly tours of the city and VART 398 Roman Art and Architecture with a weekend trip to Rome. During Spring Semester she teaches VART 294 Florence of the Medici, the Spring continuation of Introduction to Florence, with weekly tours of the city's landmarks and major museums. She also teaches VART 397 Renaissance Art with weekly tours and VART 393 Modern Italian Art with visits to private collections, never seen by tourists. In the Summer session she teaches VART 294 Florence of the Medici with two in class lectures and two on site classes to Florence's major churches and museums.


Course Descriptions

Introduction to Florence (VART 293)

A survey of Florentine art and history, always regarding the contemporary European trends and events of the time, starting with the founding of Roman Florence in 59 BC and ending with the death of Piero de' Medici in 1469.The course introduces students, through two in-class lectures and a weekly two-hour field trip, not only to Florentine history, art and culture but also to their European ounterparts. Students will become literate, not only in Florentine art, history, and culture but also in the most important European artistic and literary movements from the fall of the Roman Empire, to the Carolingian revival, feudalism, the rise of Romanesque and Gothic art, the beginnings of the Renaissance. Students will have a deep understanding of why Florence is regarded as the cradle of the Renaissance after having related the artistic, literary, and political currents taking place in the Italian city states, Germany, France, England, and Spain.

Through in-class lectures and power point presentations students will become competent in European art, history, and culture. Through the weekly tours students will be exposed to the various periods of Florentine art and history: from the Etruscan and Roman archaeological remains to Giotto's frescoes in Santa Croce and Andrea da Firenze's post-plague frescoes in Santa Maria Novella. They will look at the model of Brunelleschi's Early Renaissance dome, Donatello's sculpture, Ghiberti's Gates of Paradise, and Michelangelo's Pietà in the Cathedral Museum among other things.

Roman Art and Architecture (VART  398)

A survey of Roman art and architecture, starting with the Etruscans and ending with Constantine and the beginnings of Early Christian art. It fulfills the Fine Arts Core requirement.The course introduces students, through slide shows and field trips, to the classical heritage that shaped western civilization. Roman apartment houses, amphitheatres, public baths are still present in our global world in the form of condominiums, stadiums, health centres with saunas, swimming pools, and malls.

A weekend trip to Rome will allow students to see all the works studied through on site lectures. A week before the trip, each student will choose to act as presenter of at least three works, both he/she has seen in the classroom or and wants to do extra research on them. He/she will share the newly acquired knowledge with the rest of the class in front of the work. Their topics will include both Ancient, High Renaissance, and Baroque art in Rome ( the Roman Forum, the Colosseum, the Pantheon, St. Peter's, the Sistine Chapel, Raphael's frescoes in the Vatican, the Spanish Steps, Piazza Navona, and the Jesuit church of Sant'Ignazio).Friday and Saturday will be dedicated to Rome. Sunday morning will be spent in Ostia Antica, the ancient port of Rome.

The course will make students literate in Ancient Rome with its Greek legacy and its enormous contributions to architecture, painting, and sculpture. They will see first hand the impact that the Pantheon dome had on Brunelleschi's dome over the Florence Cathedral. They will discover the affinities between Roman architecture and Baroque churches, between Roman sculpture and the works of Michelangelo and Bernini, Roman painting and Raphael's frescoes. This could also be the first step in the Renaissance Track, where the students also get a full immersion into Roman and Medieval History. They also will have literary journeys with Homer's Odyssey, Virgil's Aeneid, Dante's Inferno, Marco Polo's trip to China, Columbus and  Amerigo Vespucci's navigations to America.

The course can be taken singly, without following the Renaissance track.

Florence of the Medici (vart 294)

A study of the social, literary, and artistic developments in Florence, starting with Lorenzo the Magnificent and Savonarola, the Florence of Michelangelo, the Medici Grand Dukes, Galileo, the Austrian Grand Dukes, and ending with  Florence as second capital of the Kingdom of Italy. The material covered not only regards  Florence, but its artistic, historical, scientific, and banking connections with the rest of Europe (France, Spain, England, Austria, Russia, and the Netherlands). It is valid for the Renaissance track, but can be taken singly, without being enrolled in the track.

Course Objectives:

  • To give students a full immersion into Florentine history, culture, and art through two in-class lectures and a two hour guided tour every week. Classroom material, reinforced with power point presentations linking Florence to the rest of Europe, will allow students to experience "living history" through each weekly tour.
  • By the end of the course students will become very competent in Florentine art, history, and culture. They will know as much or more about Florence and its European impact on art, science, philosophy, and banking during its golden age, than they know about their own home town. Each and every one of them will adopt Florence as their own city.

Renaissance Art (VART 397)

The course counts as elective credit for a Major/Minor in Italian Studies.A survey of Italian Renaissance art covering three centuries, from Byzantine and Gothic painting and sculpture to the Early, High and Late Renaissance. Every Wednesday morning the students will experience a full immersion into Renaissance Florence by joining the Florence of the Medici class for a two hour guided tour throughout the city and Florence's major museums. This is one of the courses in the Renaissance track but can be taken singly, without being enrolled in the track.

Course Objectives

  • To understand why Early Renaissance art began in Florence c. 1400 when the humanist Leonardo Bruni  referred to Florence as a new Athens, comparing the public works sponsored by the guilds to those done by Pericles in Athens when he rebuilt the Acropolis. The 1401-1402 competition for a new set of Baptistery doors, sponsored by the Calimala Guild, brought forth the Early Renaissance both in sculpture and architecture. Private funding, provided by merchant families to decorate their funerary chapels in Florentine churches, started Early Renaissance painting.
  • To show how Florentine artists took the Early Renaissance to Venice and Rome.
  • To have students realize how the High Renaissance, started in Florence by Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, and Raphael, moved to Rome when Michelangelo started work on the Tomb of Julius II and the Sistine Chapel ceiling,  Bramante started St. Peter's, and Raphael frescoed the Vatican Rooms for Julius II.
  • To see how Late Renaissance/Mannerism came to the fore in an attempt to imitate Leonardo's "sfumato", Raphael's elegance, and Michelangelo's monumental works. It instead brought forth the emerging artists' virtuosity, originality, and technical skill.  
  • To see how the Renaissance style was adopted by the rest of Europe in the 16th century when Italian artists were called to France by king Francis I and Northern artists, like Albrecht Dürer. came down to Italy.

If taken in the Renaissance track, students will become Renaissance savvy. If taken singly, they will have a lasting love and appreciation for the Renaissance and its enormous impact on world culture.

Modern Italian Art (VART 393)

The course is valid as an elective for a Major/Minor in Italian Studies. A survey of modern and contemporary Italian art and its most significant movements in painting, sculpture, and architecture from the 1860s to the 1980s. The class is capped to eight students. Many of the field trips will be held in private homes. The owners have graciously offered to show their homes with their antique furniture and private painting collections, never visited by tourists, to a maximum of eight students.

Course Objectives:

  • To show students through field trips and in-class lectures, how Italian Impressionism started ten years before the French Impressionists Monet, Renoir, Degas began exhibiting their works as a group in 1874.
  • The close link that exists between the Risorgimento (Italian unification movement) and the choice of  subjects in painting and sculpture, from patriotic paintings to outdoor subjects of the Macchiaioli "painters of  spots", whose open air works anticipate the French Impressionists.
  • Field trips and lectures will illustrate the urban changes when the city walls were removed and Florence became the second capital of the Kingdom of Italy (1865-71).
  • The links between the French (Cézanne, Toulouse-Lautrec, Van Gogh) and Italian Post-Impressionists will be evident when visiting the Pitti Palace Gallery of Modern Art in Florence.
  • To see Liberty architecture in Florence and relate it to the Art Nouveau works of Victor Horta in Brussels, Otto Wagner's and Joseph Ohlbrich's Jugenstil in Vienna, Modernista architecture in Barcelona, with the works of Antonio Gaudí.
  • To analyze the various Italian 20th century movements, beginning with Futurism in 1910 and ending with the Transavanguardia of the 1980s. The trends will always be related to the movements that influenced them in Paris, Munich, Berlin, Vienna, and New York.

Visits to public and private collections in Florence, combined with student's visits to the finest Modern and Contemporary Art Museums throughout Italy and the major European cities, will provide students with a sound and lasting knowledge of all the art trends studied in class. Students will be pleasantly surprised to identify works, not discussed in class, by recognizing the artist's style.