Learning Tuscany: Art and Culture in Central Italy

group photo of people  in piazzo in Italy

Learning Tuscany: Art and Culture in Central Italy

In Italian culture, life and art are inseparable. Countless examples illustrate this: the still-life quality of window displays in Florence, the artisanal care taken by a Sienese stoneworker replacing part of a medieval byway, the sculpted harmony of the Tuscan countryside. We cannot experience these essential qualities of Italian life in a classroom. Only with time and careful observation can we begin to absorb the richness and rhythm of life and art in Italy.

This summer program focuses on the art and architecture of Tuscany and central Italy. Students live and work in the beautiful Tuscan town of Siena, one of Europe’s most important cities in the middle ages and Renaissance. Contemporary Siena is home to a major university and is rich in cultural traditions, including Siena’s famous Palio horserace. From Siena, students can travel by train or bus to Florence, Rome, and other scenic sites in Tuscany.

students in cathedral in Italy
group of students sitting at long table
students in tower overlooking Siena Italy

Students enroll in an art history course and a studio art course taught by faculty from the Department of Art and Art History at The University of Texas at Austin. These courses focus on art and experience. How do we as contemporary viewers experience art of the past? How can daily observations, whether through drawing, print, painting, photography or sculpture, help inform and enrich this experience? Group discussions and visits to other cities, such as Florence and Rome, serve to frame student experiences within a broader view of Italy. The integrated approach of the program balances carefully designed trips with individual and small-group projects in order to explore the forces that shaped Italian cities and landscapes.

Students explore myriad ways of seeing the significance of Tuscany through careful collaborations by two University of Texas at Austin faculty members who focus on the art and art history of the region of Tuscany.

Program Faculty and Courses


  • Dr. Ann Collins Johns

    Distinguished Senior Lecturer, Art History (Late Medieval and Early Renaissance Italian Art)

Holy Ground: Art and Pilgrimage in Medieval and Renaissance Italy

ARH 331J
(VAPA, GC flag)

Why did people travel in the Middle Ages and Renaissance Italy? How were these journeys reflected in art and architecture, whether as portable objects (small altarpieces), illustrated books and manuscripts, narratives of journeys, pilgrimage churches (such as San Domenico and the Ospedale of Santa Maria della Scala in Siena), or large-scale paintings of experienced or spiritual travel, such as Ambrogio Lorenzetti’s Good Government frescoes in Siena? And how different was the medieval pilgrim, collecting her religious tokens along a pilgrimage route, from today’s cultural “pilgrim”, who might collect T-shirts, post-cards, or even countries themselves? Italy has long been a destination for travelers of every ilk: foreign merchants, religious pilgrims, travelers in seek of adventure, and cultural enthusiasts. In the Middle Ages and Renaissance, the economies of Siena, Florence, and Rome were greatly enriched by both religious pilgrims and lay travelers, resulting in the spectacular development of art and architecture that we know today. In this course, we will explore the notion of pilgrimage in the art and architecture of central Italy, through reading, discussion, site visits, presentations, and post-field trip analyses. While we will study and visit the great, canonical works of central Italy, we will also explore smaller and more personal elements of material culture, including relics, small paintings, and modest churches and hospitals. Throughout, we will use the issue of travel and pilgrimage as a prism with which we can focus our explorations.


  • Eli Durst

    Assistant Professor of Practice, Studio Art (Photography & Media)
    Department Assistant Chair for Studio Art

Photography and Tourism: Observing Travel and Culture in Italy

ART 319T / 352J * / 379T *

The concept of pilgrimage has been central to photography since the medium's invention. In the mid-nineteenth century, demand exploded for daguerreotypes (an early type of photograph) depicting the most important wonders of the world, from the pyramids of Egypt to the Pantheon in Rome. Suddenly, anyone could see treasures of antiquity that few people would ever be able to see in person. This marked the beginning of the photographic pilgrimage. With the advancement of technology and the democratization of travel, people all over the world were traveling to society's most cherished monuments not only see them for themselves, but to photograph them and share them—to use photographic representation to transform that place into a commodity.

In this course, we will learn and use the fundamentals of digital photography to explore the modern pilgrimage in contemporary Italy. Instead of simply reproducing the same images that we've seen countless times, students will be encouraged to think critically about how today's global world thinks about and interacts with historical western spaces.

* Studio Art and Art Education majors will register for ART 379T. Art History and all other majors will register for ART 352J. Studio Art and Art Education majors should be aware that ART 379T counts towards upper-division ART requirements, but does not provide the pre-requisite for any in-residence ART courses.

Department Scholarships

Are you a student in the Department of Art and Art History (major/minor in Art Education, Art History, or Studio Art) and considering Learning Tuscany? Department scholarships are available for participation in the summer 2024 program. See below for scholarship details and how to apply.

Scholarship Info

December 1, 2023

Next Steps

Learn More at an Info Session

Wed, Oct 4, 2023
ART 1.110
Pizza included!

Wed, Oct 18, 2023
ART 3.210

Wed, Nov 8, 2023
ART 3.210

Wed, Nov 29, 2023

Apply Now

December 1, 2023



Dr. Ann Johns — Art History professor / Program Director

Will answer these kinds of questions: specifics and suggestions about travel, specific information about Rome and Siena, anything about the art, history and culture of Italy, packing suggestions, general questions about most aspects of the program, deadlines, departmental scholarships

Eli Durst — Studio Art (Photography) professor

Will answer these kinds of questions: all questions about supplies and classes, general questions about travel and travel in Italy, Studio Art scholarships, anything photography related

Cat McGovern — Program Coordinator, Texas Global 

Will answer these kinds of questions: all questions about non-departmental scholarships, forms (medical and otherwise), deadlines, other program details