On the 6th of September 2011, a group of 18 Coláiste Rís Art Students visited Florence in Central Italy. The visit was organised by their Art teacher, Miss Elaine Byrne, as part of their studies for the Leaving Cert. course. Florence was the birthplace of the Renaissance and, after Rome, is surely the richest centre of Renaissance Art in the world. It was to this wonderland of beauty that the Coláiste Rís students set off expectantly with Ms. Byrne and a former teacher in the school, Éamonn Ó hUallacháin.
They flew into Pisa, transferred by bus to Florence and stayed in a hotel ideally situated in the old Historic Centre, just minutes by foot from all the sights. On the Wednesday morning they visited the Uffizi Gallery, one of the world's great collections of art, housing as it does works by Da Vinci, Michelangelo, Raphael and Botticelli, an artist that the students were studying in particular detail on their course. In the evening they crossed the Old Bridge on the River Arno, the Ponte Vecchio, and went into the Brancacci Chapel to see the early Renaissance work of Masolino and Mosaccio. Afterwards they walked along the Arno to the Church of Sante Croce where, on both sides of the Church aisle, stand the tombs of the greats who changed our world; Michelangelo, Macchiavelli, Galileo and Dante. Although his tomb is there Dante refused to be buried in it because of a disagreement he had with the people of Florence.
Next day, Thursday, the group went to three museums that contained the works of the greatest artist of all; Michelangelo Buonarroti. The Medici Chapel displayed a number of sculptures by him, made to honour the Medici family without whose patronage the Renaissance could not have been the marvel it was. In the Opera del Duomo museum the students saw a Pietá by the great man, full of sympathy for the dead Jesus, but which Michelangelo himself smashed in places because he didn't think it was perfect. In the third gallery was the most iconic of all Michelangelo's works, his majestic David, a magnificent celebration of youth and beauty and courage.
But the visit to Florence wasn't all a serious pursuit of art, lest 'all work and no play' might lead to dullness. There was plenty of slagging and companionship and buzz in the pizzarie and snack bars that had to be visited. There was hardly an ice cream parlour that wasn't stopped at, thus ensuring that at least one new Italian word, "gelato" was learned. And it was very easy to pass a few hours in the late evenings in the Piazze, alive with street theatre, music, and the street sellers with their various gimmicks to entice a euro from a tourist's pockets.
On the final morning the group went to the Duomo or Cathedral, one of the great wonders of Florence with its spectacular facade and even more spectacular dome, built by Brunelleschi. The Dome had to be climbed, of course, all 464 steps of it, until the students emerged at the very top into the glorious sunshine and the marvellous panorama of the city below them.
And then it was back to the hotel, with a lightening visit to a market to let those at home know they weren't forgotten. Another rush for the bus to Pisa and the plane to Ireland. And late on Friday night they were back at the school gates and home. The whole experience seemed to have passed as if in the blink of an eye.