During my stay, I had the chance to visit Rome and Venice. It was very helpful that Dony was along because he knew where to find the hidden gems of each city.
I spent four days in Rome, and it began with an invite for Dony and I to join a private tour of the Vatican Museum, where I saw the Sistine chapel and other great master works. We also spent much time around the different churches and piazzas studying Bernini and the like. I, of course, spent time in St Peters Basilica.
The last weekend in Italy I spent in Venice. I took the opportunity there to do studies of many of the great oil paintings by such artists as Tintoretto and Titian, and to attend mass at Saint Marco.
During my stay, I had the great opportunity to develop my spiritual life. Before each day of work, Dony and I would go to morning mass, with half an hour either before or after of prayer. We would often reflect on the words of St. Josemaria Escriva from his book The Way. After this we would go and have a rapid breakfast and begin work on the commission. In the afternoon, we would go and pray the rosary on Piazza SS. Annunziata or inside the Duomo.
This time also gave me a greater understanding of spirituality in art. As we prayed the art in the churches became a vehicle for devotion and helped to increase my sensitivity in prayer and my understanding of my faith. It also helped me understand the importance of the emotional and human aspect in our faith. This is key to understanding the humanity of Christ.
While I was there, Dony taught me anatomy and drawing as part of the apprenticeship. There were also many opportunities in Florence to draw directly from the Old Masters and gain knowledge from them.
The anatomy Dony teaches gives a three dimensional understanding while having the students familiarize themselves with the name and action of each muscle. I constructed an ecorche (a flayed human figure) to learn the forms and relationships of the body.
The first step was to construct a skeleton and discover the rhythms and beauty of the bone structure. Then, gradually, I layered onto the skeleton each muscle that is important to the artist. The photos show my ecorche in the process of modeling the forms.
This is the best way to study anatomy because not only do you gain a three dimensional understanding of the musculature but you also have a very intimate understanding of how the muscles relate to each other and wrap around the figure.
Of course I also studied drawing with Dony. He taught me his approach of contemplation, or “thinking” of the form and discovering it with line. This was a liberating experience for me as now drawing has become, in a sense, a way of life. Drawing is not about making something look fancy and pretty but is a way to see and experience the world.
This “contemplation” allowed for frequent studying of the great masters and the local landscape and architecture. Dony and I would often go out and do studies of Michelangelo, Pontormo, Ribera and many others. Doing this regularly was a great
learning experience for me.
I also had the opportunity to do some figure and portrait drawing while there:
I arrived in Florence in late April and we quickly began work on the commission. Our studio was located in the Convent of San Marco, in the same studio space of Fra Angelico. We began the process by building a wooden wall structure to support the clay and this gave us the ability to have it standing as we worked. After we got the clay up we gridded it out so we could transfer the overall design from the small version. Dony and I then blocked the figures in, focusing only on basic shapes and locations in the composition. Next, Dony contemplated the figures, working on them and discovering how they worked together and how they would appear in the composition. Gradually, over weeks, the figures developed together in unison, slowly coming into focus.
I had the opportunity to sculpt in some of the figures and model the general form.
Halfway through my stay the commissioning body visited and decided to move the Virgin to the center, and make her part of the Tabernacle. It was interesting to see how much a work of art changes within the process.
I unfortunately could not stay to complete the commission, due to visa restrictions. When I left the work was really coming together, but the figures still didn’t have individual features.
Here are some pictures of the commission at the time of my departure:
After I left, Dony continued with the sculpture,adding individual portraits and hand gestures. When he was satisfied with the sculpture he made a cast of it in wax, which he then shipped to the foundry where it awaits the finished tabernacle to be cast together in bronze.
I discovered Dony through a friend who had met him on a study abroad trip. We got in contact and I told him of my desire to learn like the Old Masters. At that time, Dony had a commission that he was just starting. It was an altarpiece for a new hospital chapel in Rome. This was the perfect time to go over and study with him, and apprentice on a real commission like the great masters of the past.
It was also an opportunity to develop my spiritual life, and find a community of Catholic artists serious about their faith. Dony and the other artists there believe in the importance of developing ones faith through their art, very much in the tradition of the Old Masters. Finding Mass in Italy is very easy, due to the large number of churches there. It also gives for a large exposure to sacred art and the power that it can have.