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School of Visual Arts

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Giulia Livi SACI Painting Studio

Penn State students regularly participate in the study abroad programs at Studio Art Centers International (SACI) in Florence, Italy, for a summer program, a semester, or even a year. This year, the Penn State School of Visual Arts (SoVA) will partner with SACI to send Ann Tarantino, assistant professor of art and landscape architecture, to teach in the program’s Late Spring Term. Tarantino will teach a painting course and lead a group of Penn State students who will join her in Florence.

Founded in 1975, SACI sits in the heart of Florence and offers a full range of studio art, design, and art history courses across disciplines, as well as some unique offerings not available at Penn State (or anywhere else at the undergraduate level). These include art and mural conservation and fresco painting. SACI students live in apartments in central Florence, take field trips across Italy, and engage in the cultural and artistic life of the city. This program offers the opportunity for students to earn six credits in six weeks and enjoy the company of some familiar faces from Penn State. Below, two Penn State SoVA students who recently studied for a semester at SACI reflect upon their experiences and how their lives changed during their time in Florence.

Giulia Livi:

Going to Florence was definitely one of the best decisions of my life. The program is amazing, because it lets you explore a lot of courses that you wouldn't necessarily get a chance to take in the United States. For example, I took Fresco and learned techniques that inform my current work. I also took Mural Conservation and got to restore a fresco in La Pergola Theater in Florence. Daniela Murphy, the professor for that class, is one of Italy's leading restorers. We got to go to churches around Florence and study aspects of the frescos that one typically wouldn't notice or learn about. I also took Contemporary Art Theory, which opened my eyes to the current art scene in Florence and included multiple trips to La Strozzina Gallery. I learned about Italian cinema, and had advanced painting with Lorenzo Pezzatini, a class that is, by far, closest to my heart. I learned so much from Lorenzo. Together we did a collaborative mural in Le Cure Underpass, a converted art space run by the kindest homeless man, named Salvatore (also goes by Totto). Giving back to Florence, the city that gave me so much, was an amazing opportunity.

Besides classes, SACI offers great trips to surrounding cities, including Venice, Rome, Vinci, Pisa, Ravenna, and more. It's also a very easy city from which to travel to other places. During my stay, I took trips to Paris, Budapest, Berlin, Barcelona, Tarragona, and Elba. The apartments are adorable and everything is within walking distance. The leather markets lined the walk from my apartment to SACI, which was both flustering and amazing. The whole city is very friendly and perfectly picturesque.

Vicente Ortiz Cortez:

The time I spent studying abroad was invaluable. Every memory I hold from each experience has helped me better understand what it means to be alive today, which informs my creative philosophy. Studying abroad was a surreal, life-changing experience. I lived a minute away from the Duomo, and five minutes from Michelangelo’s David and several museums including the Uffizi Gallery, where the first things I saw as I entered the galleries were the giant glowing Madonna Enthroned paintings I first learned about in Art History 112. From the moment I arrived at the front of the school’s main building, the Palazzo dei Cartelloni, where Lisa del Giocondo is believed to have lived, art history came to life. The dense fog on the first night made walking through Florence’s cobbled streets seem like a dream; I couldn’t believe I was walking the same streets the Old Masters once walked.

In Painting Conservation 1, I learned that the best way to identify an old painting’s varnish was by tasting it, although that method is no longer in practice. However, thanks to my professor’s teaching method of learning by doing, I can say what a 16th-century painting tastes like. The classroom was like a hospital room for art, and we treated each piece as an individual patient with specific needs. The professor would tell us stories, like the one about her colleague who used a glue that was too strong when working on the protective paper of a Picasso, ruining the piece and her career.

One of my favorite parts about the drawing and painting classes was being able to go out to places like Piazza della Signoria to study the figure from sculptures out in the open air. The trips to Pisa, Lucca, Venice (during the carnival!), Mantua, Raphael’s house and hometown of Urbino, as well as Giorgio Vasari’s house in Arezzo, among others, were particularly enriching thanks to having an extraordinarily knowledgeable SACI art history professor as guide.

My advice to those who want to study abroad is to do so with an open mind, without preconceived notions or expectations, and know that you might learn as much about the country where you stay and its culture as you will about your own country and yourself.


The application deadline for the Late Spring Term is February 1. For more information or to apply, contact Ann Tarantino at; attend our info night on Tuesday, January 20, at 5:30 p.m. in 121 Borland; or visit

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