Faculty Feature: Recreating Botticelli’s “Primavera” in Chalk

Faculty Feature –

Our second Faculty Feature comes to us from University of North Carolina Wilmington’s Courtney Johnson. Courtney, along with faculty member Matt Waldschlagel, led UNCW students on a Summer study abroad program to both Florence and Paris. In this guest post, Courtney shares with us a story of her students’ experience recreating art in Florence in the style of local Florentines, past and present.

First take: University of North Carolina Wilmington students recreating a detail of Botticelli’s Primavera, Florence, Italy, Summer 2013

Anyone who has been to Florence has undoubtedly seen the madonnaro/a, street artists who recreate Renaissance masterpieces in chalk on the sidewalks. When planning a University of North Carolina Wilmington studio art study abroad course, I knew I wanted the students to recreate an artwork in chalk on the pavement in Florence.

Due to the commonality of the event, I assumed we would be able to easily find a spot to execute a group chalk drawing, but the more I looked into it, I discovered that madonnaro/a have permits to work for tips from tourists and passersby and the drawing spots throughout the city are assigned on a rotating basis to the artists with a permit. After much effort and creative problem solving, Lacie Raymond and Ludovica Sodo at the ACCENT Study Center in Florence found a location in the courtyard of a nearby foundation where ACCENT students volunteer. The foundation houses a soup kitchen, a school for children, and offers Italian classes for immigrants.

The day before the group chalk drawing, I gave the students several artwork suggestions that seemed feasible and they selected a detail from Botticelli’s Primavera. The eight students chose to divide the work by splitting the painting into a grid of eight.

The forecast the day of the group chalk drawing called for rain. A week earlier, I had read an article in the Florence English newspaper available at ACCENT that people were mad at the weathercasters because they were calling for rain too frequently and tourism was affected, so I hoped that today was one of those days.

As we carried the chalk from ACCENT to the foundation the students were nervous, as they had seen the chalk drawings in the streets for three weeks.

We arrived at the foundation and went to the area of the courtyard designated for the chalk drawing. One of the employees asked us how to clean up the drawing once it was completed. We said it would just clean up with water. The students thought it sounded like they were going to clean up the drawing as soon as it was completed. I told them that the goal was to make the drawing so good that the foundation would want to keep it.

The students unpacked the chalk and started by making a grid. Then students worked on their section. It was sunny and even hot, probably the best weather we had in Florence for the last three weeks.

Halfway through…

As the students worked, we had a few visitors. One of the employees of the foundation’s dog, Chewbacca, came to check out the drawing. There were also a handful of people who came to look at the drawing in progress. They looked at it for a few seconds and then exclaimed, “Primavera!” The students felt very good about the drawing being recognized.

Some of the skin and hair color selections differed by student, but as the drawing neared the end, the students worked very well together to blend the grids and cover up the lines of the grid. The drawing took the students two hours to complete.

When we completed the drawing, we showed it to the foundation employees who were very pleased. We asked if they wanted us to help them clean it up and they said no! And they said if we ever wanted to come back, they would love for us to do another, or to try a fresco on the wall of their building! We brought the chalk over to the children’s school supply area and the teacher told us that she would bring the children to see the drawing in the courtyard and give them the chalk to use.

The students all felt very good about their accomplishment. It was a great bonding experience that not only taught them about the effort and concentration of recreating a Renaissance artwork, but also the value of creating something beautiful to share with others.

~Courtney Johnson, Assistant Professor, Gallery Director, Art & Art History – University of North Carolina Wilmington

Final product – a beautiful piece of art!