Art and Design Trip to Florence, Italy


Departs: 25 March 2018
Returns: 31 March 2018

Year group

Form V & VI


Florence, Italy

Staff member in charge

Mr Fraser Muirhead
Mrs Catherine Kelly

Florence, Italy

There is a real excitement in the Art and Design department as eight of our senior pupils in Forms V and VI embark on the first artistic and cultural exchange programme that the department have undertaken.

The pupils will be travelling to Florence, Italy to experience this incredible city; the birthplace of Renaissance art and architecture. They will be wandering the very same streets as Michelangelo, da Vinci, Brunelleschi and Botticelli and will be surrounded by the buildings and civic art that was the result of the incredible wealth and power of the famous Medici family.  

Visits to Siena, San Gimignano and Venice will allow the group to explore further afield through the gorgeous landscape of Tuscany and see more of this stunning country.

In addition, the group will experience first-hand authentic Italian hospitality and culture through staying with their exchange hosts and gain an insight into the Italian education system.

We hope this will be the first of many such visits and there is a real excitement amongst the group as our early morning departure date draws near.

More to follow when we land...



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Bienvenuto a Firenze

So, we're here! Glorious Florence in springtime with a wonderful welcome awaiting us as our mini-buses from Bologna Airport arrived through the gates of the ITT Marco Polo School. Waiting excitedly for us were our Italian host students and their families, and we could not have asked for a warmer welcome, both from the families and the weather; a balmy 18-19°C which was just perfect for exploring the city.

No sooner had we arrived, than our pupils were off to their residence for the week. Each Dollar pupil had been in regular contact prior to our arrival and the staff were impressed at the familiarity and friendship shown straight away. A busy day awaits tomorrow so it was home for some authentic Italian cooking, a chance to further acquaint themselves with their hosts and then some sleep after a long day's travelling.

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Porta Romana, Palazzo Pitti, Boboli Gardens, Ponte Vecchio, Bardini Gardens

This morning we were treated to a fantastic breakfast reception at the school and a chance to tour the building and briefly sample the Italian education system. Then, it was straight to Porto Romana, a 'liceo artistico' - or art school - for secondary pupils. In terms of impressiveness, this state school - located to the south of the Arno River - is off the chart. The level of specialism on display was quite incredible and a true eye-opener in terms of a very different learning experience. The tutors took time to show examples of student work which ranged from fashion portfolios to professional commercial advertising campaigns; very insightful and fascinating to see. At Porta Romana, pupils have access to university-level workshops that contain an incredible array of equipment in jewellery design, multimedia, marble and chalk sculpture, fashion designing and construction, as well as drawing, painting and printmaking studios. All set in a mid-19th century building that used to be the emperor's stables!

Then it was on to one of the Medici strongholds – Palazzo Pitti – which now houses a world class collection of Renaissance masterpieces by Raphael, Titian, Botticelli, Canaletto and Caravaggio. The volume and level of painting on display is, at times, overpowering but thankfully we had the help of our superb Italian guide, Julia, who directed us to key works, and explained in a very relatable manner the fascinating history behind Palazzo Pitti and its staggering collection of paintings, fashion and medieval armoury.

Our group also managed to get started on their sketchbook work and powered through the pages in producing drawings of the palace interior. An inspiring location if ever there was one! Back out in the sunshine, we then toured the incredible Boboli Gardens, for several centuries the countryside residence of the Medici family. These beautifully designed gardens contain tree-lined paths of cypress trees as well as ornate marble fountains, grottoes and ornamental terraces before heading to the world-famous Ponte Vecchio and some authentic Italian ‘gelato’; some pupils taking as their 'reward' four scoops of ice cream. A very good end to a very good day.

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Fast, smooth, uber-comfortable; the high-speed train that was our mode of transport this morning got us to Venice within two hours and allowed the group to undertake relaxed sketching in their books while we journeyed and a full day to explore this incredible city. First stop was the must-dos: the Doges’ Palace, St. Mark’s Square, and the Basilica, and we were expertly shown through each by our guide Andrea whose level of knowledge and ability to engage his audience whilst communicating in-depth artistic, architectural and historical subject matter was highly impressive. Our pupils were superb in listening to Andrea bring to life the detailed and fascinating history of this city; its rise to become the medieval superpower of the age and its incredible merchant history, state governance, and patronage of the arts. In addition, they have really embraced the sheer volume and scale of the art and architecture they have seen. It is vast. The tour of the city allowed us to view masterpieces by three of the Venetian greats: Titian, Bassano, and Tintoretto – the latter laying claim to the largest canvas in the world which adorns the Venetian Council Hall inside the Doges’ Palace. With his enthusiasm and style, Andrea was brilliant in bringing to life how Venice became what it is. As a Venetian himself he was able to take us off the beaten track and show us some of the hidden sights and secrets of the city as well as give us an understanding of the engineering and architecture that allowed this city to rise from the water. And talking of water, our day could only conclude one way – on the water, by gondola, along The Grand Canal. Another very good end to another very good day.

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The Uffizi Gallery, Palazzo Vecchio...and some Florentine shopping

9.00am and we were assembled early in The Palazzo della Signoria to await our guide Giulia, who had shown us round Florence so well on Tuesday. Today we would be visiting one of the art meccas of the world: The Uffizi Gallery. A regular in the world’s 10 most visited galleries with around 3.5 million visitors per year, The Uffizi contains the priceless Medici collection of Renaissance art, with the greatest names in art history all featuring: Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Botticelli, Donatello, Caravaggio, del Verrocchio, Titian, della Francesca, Giorgione, the list just keeps going. It is an incredible gallery for our students to have visited and is simply impossible to do justice fully in just a few hours but Giulia, our guide, took us to key works that are hallmarks of the Renaissance movement. Key works included Botticelli’s The Birth of Venus and Primavera, del Verrocchio’s The Baptism of Christ and The Anunciation by Leonardo da Vinci and Andrea del Verrocchio. We were also shown a fascinating video detailing the restoration of da Vinci’s unfinished work The Adoration of the Magi; a six-year project highlighting the use of cutting edge technology such as air-tight chambers, high strength X-ray photographic techniques and a vast array of specialist treatments to ensure no harm came to such a valuable artwork.  

It was only a short walk next door to the historic Palazzo Vecchio (Old Palace) which is the traditional civic and governmental heart of Florence and, once, the stronghold of the all-powerful Medici family. Our host school, ITT Marco Polo, had very kindly arranged a reception with the deputy mayor who warmly welcomed us to the city and gave us some insight into both the history and current function of this iconic building. We were then guided through some of the magnificent rooms and halls whose walls and ceilings gave a glimpse of the wealth which the Medici commanded.

After the heavy stuff came a chance to relax over lunch in the city centre followed by an afternoon of retail therapy around the bustling designer shops of Via de’ Tornabuoni and Via della Vigna Nuova before heading back, bags in hand, to our respective hosts.

I may have said it before…but a very good end to another very good day.  

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Galeria dell'Accademia, Piazza del Duomo, Museo dell'Opera del Duomo...and a little bit more shopping

A full itinerary awaited us today as we travelled to our first destination, the Galleria dell'Accademia di Firenze, or "Gallery of the Academy of Florence". This was yet another art gallery that ranks as one of the world’s most famous; home to a large collection of sculptures by Michelangelo, in addition to his renowned Statue of David, and masterworks by Giambologna. Our expert guide, once again, was Giulia and she was able to inform the students of the history and techniques behind these iconic works. The stunning gallery setting provide ample inspiration for our pupils as they continued their fine sketchbook work, with staff impressed with the standard and volume of work they were able to produce in such a short time.
Our tour then took us to the Piazza del Duomo and the complex of three buildings that make up Florence Cathedral: the magnificent domed Basilica of Santa Maria del Fiore, the Baptistry of St. John, and the Campanile (bell tower). These buildings are credited with heralding the beginning of Renaissance architecture and are masterpieces by master artist-architects Brunelleschi, Giotto, Pisano and Di Cambio amongst others. Through touring the newly opened Museo dell'Opera del Duomo (Museum of the Works of the Cathedral) pupils were shown videos, models and incredible exhibits that underlined the genius of these pioneering craftsmen and their legacy. Finally it was to the Campanile and its 414 narrow steps. The reward; fantastic clear views across the city to the surrounding hills of Fiesole, Careggio, and Poggio Imperiale.

With our afternoon drawing to a close, before we headed to a farewell meal organised by our host school, the pupils were able to get a final chance to once more sample the Florentine shops and grab a coffee in the regal palazzos. The evening meal was a final opportunity to meet the host parents and pupils as a group and to thank them warmly for their welcome and hospitality, as tomorrow we venture out of Florence once again to explore the scenic Tuscan towns of Siena and San Gimignano.

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Touring Tuscany: A day-trip to Siena & San Gimignano

It was back on the road today as we once again ventured out of Florence to the medieval Tuscan towns of Siena and San Gimignano. As our last day in Italy, pupils looked forward to a full, but relaxed, tour out into the country; the hour-long drive allowing the group to see more of the famous Tuscan countryside with its picturesque villas, rolling hills and avenues of cypress trees en route, firstly, to Siena – Florence’s ‘old rival’ for many centuries. Our guide for today, Viola, explained the historical and religious significance of this beautiful Etruscan town. Like its rival, Siena is home to a stunning cathedral, bell tower and baptistry, and we were shown the complex Gothic, Classical and Romanesque mix of architecture that forms these impressive buildings. We were also shown what is reckoned to be one of the most beautiful medieval squares in Europe - the Piazza Del Campo – which bi-annually hosts a dramatic horse-race round the square.

After lunch, and some gift buying, it was on to the picture-postcard hillside town of San Gimignano with its striking fortified towers that dominate the skyline. This is a tiny little town but its rustic beauty is impressive and the group learned more from our guide about the significance of certain architectural details, be it for defensive reasons, wealth, or practicality. Even 500 years ago the craftsmanship and architectural inventiveness displayed by these artists is impressive. San Gimignano is also home to a highly regarded ‘gelato’ and the group all felt it would be rude not to try some whilst purchasing some final mementos of their time away.

Another good end to a…well you get the idea by now.

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Arrivederci Firenze, torneremo presto

They say time flies when you’re having fun. They’re right.
We cannot believe that nearly a week has passed since we arrived in Florence on a balmy spring evening. That must be a good thing. We have managed to cram a fantastic amount into six days but all good things must come to an end. For us it was in the form of the 3.00am coach departure from our host school to Bologna Airport.

Such was the goodwill amongst both groups that our host pupils were up too, and there to wave us off. And so it was that we said goodbye to our Italian host families who have been terrific in making us feel so welcome during our time in Italy. There have been genuine friendships made and our pupils have benefited from an artisitc and cultural exchange that has more than justified our decision to enter into partnership with Italian exchange partners.
We warmly thank the staff, parents and pupils of ITT Marco Polo for all that they have done, in this first Dollar Academy Art & Design exchange programme between Scotland and Italy.

Goodbye Florence, we’ll be back soon!

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