Junior Year Abroad
When Laura Itzkowitz ’09
recently ventured abroad to soothe her wanderlust, she discovered
a rich cultural resource that perfectly combined her interests.
She wrote about her experience for the Gate.
Multiple views of the author amid an installation by
an artist in residence at the Villa Medici.
By Laura Itzkowitz ’09
Some of us are never satisfied.
Our restless spirit of adventure takes over and we just
have to pack our bags and head off toward the unknown. Sometimes,
however, it’s nice to find something a little familiar amid
all the excitement.
It was in Rome, at the Villa
Medici, that I found, among my latest wanderings, the perfect
synthesis of my old French—I’m a veteran of JYA Paris (2007-08)—and
more recent Italian studies. The Villa Medici is the home
of the Académie
de France in Rome, founded in 1666 under Louis XIV and moved
to its current location overlooking the city by Napoleon
Bonaparte in 1803.
The académie’s original mission was to
host French artists in Rome so they could copy the great
sculptures and reliefs of Antiquity and the Renaissance.
Nicolas Poussin was to have been the first director, but
he died before he could fill the position. His portrait still
hangs in one of the suites of the villa.
The Villa Medici in
I had the opportunity
to visit the Villa Medici this year as a guest of one of
the directors of art history and restoration, thanks to Hélène
Visentin, associate professor of French studies at Smith.
Her colleague and my host, M. Bayard, told me about the history
of the villa and the art it contains as he led me through
the director’s apartments, the grand salon where they hold
concerts and events, and even into the attic—which is off-limits
to the public—to see the very structure of the building.
He informed me that the Académie regularly holds concerts
and other events, which I will certainly be attending in
During the 19th century the
Académie was opened
to musicians, and in fact welcomed some of France’s greatest
composers, including Debussy and Berlioz. Even the renowned
architect of the Paris Opera House, Charles Garnier, lived
and worked at the Villa Medici.
Today the Académie welcomes
francophone artists of any nationality to live at the villa
and create original works of art in any medium.
The lavishly adorned dining room of the director's quarters
in the French Academy.
spent my senior year back at Smith continuing my studies
in French and beginning my studies in Italian, my recent
discovery of the Villa Medici and the Académie of France
serves as an excellent synthesis of my passion for the two
cultures. It provides a perfect example of the rich cultural
exchange between the two great centers of artistic production
that I have called home—Paris and Rome.
As I walk through
the spacious terra-cotta tiled rooms of the Villa Medici,
I keep thinking back to my art history course with John Moore,
professor of art at Smith. Though it was entitled “The Age
of Louis XIV,” we spent about half the class discussing Italian
artists in France and French artists in Italy.
at the Villa Medici, I understand the influence that each
had over the other. As a member of neither culture but a
scholar of both, I have a certain vantage point that is not
obscured by the nationalistic pride the French and the Italians
are sometimes prone to.
I plan to use this neutrality
to my advantage as I continue to explore all that these two
great cultures have to offer.