Fortuny, Venice, and Eastern Inspiration

One of our stops today in Venice was the Museo Fortuny, which displayed the fabric and textile creations of Mariano Fortuny y Madrazo. Based in Venice, Madrazo’s life goal was to “achieve total union of music, drama and visual presentation” through his works of art. Originally a painter, Madrazo shifted to stage and theater design before once again re-inventing himself as a master fabric and textile designer. His fabrics and textiles were notable for their incorporation of traditional Venetian artistic and cultural characteristics normally found in architecture and paintings.

When walking through the gallery, my eye was drawn to a dress (the image of the gown next to the armor and weapons) made by Madrazo that was inspired by Venetian Renaissance war themes. The dress’ shape as well it’s primary dark yellowish hue with blue features reminded me immediately of the imperial robes (second image with black background) worn by the emperors of the Chinese Qing Dynasty (1636-1912). The Venetian dress evoked a memory of me and my Mom touring the Qing dynasty exhibit of the National Museum of Beijing with my Chinese side of the family when I was younger. After making sure that my comparison of clothes was indeed accurate, I asked Mr. Sheppard why a war dress, made by a 20th century European and inspired by Renaissance Venetian styles, so closely resembled the imperial Qing robes I had once seen.

Mr. Sheppard responded by doing what he so often does best: re-directing a narrow question back to a broader theme that allows for more insightful analysis. Mr. Sheppard reminded me that Venice’s enriching trade with the East led to heavy Eastern influence on all aspects of Venetian culture during Venice’s apex during the Renaissance and Enlightenment era periods. Mr. Sheppard even connected my current question to an older question of mine that asked why the same style of Venetian-clover-clusters (third image of the Doge’s palace facade) appeared in almost all stone facades throughout the city. The answer to that question was also the Eastern, in this case Middle Eastern, influence on Venetian culture. It was quite possible that Madrazo was not only inspired by, but closely followed, the long Venetian legacy and tradition of culture assimilation.

Throughout this trip, I’ve enjoyed learning about how societies can transform through the layering of history and culture. I think this idea spoke to many of my classmates and I when viewing the San Clemente Church in Rome. Beneath the contemporary (although still very old) church lies two distinct layers of previous religious sites that each predate the one above it. Although for different purposes, that same exact spot has held some religious significance for two millennia. Culture may seem the same for a long time, but over the course of history, its slow evolution culminates in the emergence of a new society. This idea of cultural layering is very relevant to me, someone who is a mix of various backgrounds; half Chinese, half Eastern European, Jewish, but all the while my own distinct and full person.

I think this trip, among many other classes and isolated lessons at Hackley, has taught me that no society or individual stands as a completely self-made entity. Everyone and everything is a merge of ideas and qualities that can be found from across the world. Madrazo’s Venetian war dress is analogous to myself: a physical blend of the East and West. With globalization accelerating due to better technology and increased cultural awareness, I can only imagine how diverse and intersectional our society will be in only a few decades. Just like how Madrazo explored the history of Venetian society through the creation of fabrics, we can better understand where society is and where it is headed through the unraveling of our own fabrics.

Drawing Italy

I decided before I came on this trip that I would try to draw A LOT here, and also do something outside of portraits (my comfort zone). Here’s some of the things I’ve drawn, and there will be more to come!

The overall spread

The drawing on the top left is one of me holding a flower I picked in Ostia Antica. The thing that struck me most about it was the mixture of ruins and nature, and them coexisting in this beautiful way, so that was what I wanted to emphasize (a drawing of actual buildings in Ostia is in the works!)

Hand drawing (pencil and pen)

I drew Medusa because that was the piece of art that really stood out to me in the capitoline hill museum (besides the frescos but those would be harder to capture in a smaller area). The way she is anguished and tortured instead of her usual menacing look really drew me in.

Drawing of Medusa bust (pencil and pen)

I chose to draw the archway in the Roman forum because the main thing that struck me was that so many structures remained intact from all those years ago, and this one was particularly beautiful.

Drawing of archway (pencil and pen)


As an avid lego builder growing up, I’ve always loved miniatures and models of larger structures. Looking at a smaller version of buildings broadens my view, as it is easy to get caught up in the details of looking at the beautiful ornate buildings such as those in Rome. The pictures below are from the Capitoline Museum! I included some of my favorites so far.

The real building is 40 times bigger!
A model of the Capitoline Museum
Plastico del Campidoglio by Antonio Munoz

Touching Grass: Rome

Just before break, I heard a student tell a classmate, “You need to touch grass during break.  Get in touch with reality.” As a person with Italian ancestry on my mother’s side, I discovered that visiting Rome was my own touching grass during break.  So now I am exploring the many ways of getting in touch with reality that Rome and Italy offer.  I’m not just touching grass, I’m grounding myself in my heritage.

In the Capitoline Museum, I realized that Romans—however magnificent Rome became—clung to their authenticity and roots.  In numerous displays the Capitoline reminds us that a humble village once stood there.  We gazed at marble portrait busts and statues of deities, so many of which did not idealize their subjects, but revealed them in all their irregular and soulful selfhood, beautiful not despite the truth but because of it.  All were people you could know and love. The artists kept their vision of their fellow Romans real. 

At the Capitoline and at the Vatican, we also saw human-sized dog statues, the scale of which underscores the huge role these attentive friends played and play in ancient Roman and modern human lives.  Canines distract us from our stresses, and they ground us with long walks and joyful play.  In addition, it’s humbling to try to live up to canine standards of devotion.  Both Roman sculptors then and Roman dog owners now stay grounded because of their dogs.









Romans, in fact, have valued canine grounding since at least the second or third century, when they began to tell their city’s origin story–one that features brothers Romulus and Remus, who were saved and nursed by a wolf.


Of course, the work of all these ancient artists is on display in a surprisingly modern city.  In fact, look anywhere and you will see technology coexisting with ancient architecture both ruined and and still in service.  The other evening, several of us realized that on streets many hundreds of years old, many of the cabs that passed us were silent and utterly odor-free because they were electric.  Rome has technology, but it remains in touch with its heritage as a village on a hill.

One night, we dined at a restaurant honoring its Roman roots with plain stoneware plates and cups and simple recipes that let the ingredients shine through—such as grilled eggplant layered with arugula, mozzarella, and parmesan–graced with a touch of garlic and olive oil.  Roman restauranteurs use the adjective “rustico” to describe such recipes.  Interestingly, our waiter warned us that Milan is not like Rome.  A Roman by choice, not birth, he regards Milan as too quick to tear down the very past that Rome preserves.  I guess we’ll have to see whether Milan touches grass or not!

On the second day of this trip, we wandered out of an ancient Mithraic temple below the church of San Clemente and into an ancient Roman residence with its own spring.   That evening, we saw an elaborate fountain designed by Bernini.  As the days have rolled by, we have remarked on numerous modest fountains suitable for filling water-bottles.  And we have repeatedly marveled at the urban parklands and the elegant umbrella pines and cypresses. 

Typing right now in Florence, I find myself thinking that since the time of the aqueducts, much of Rome’s greatness has stood and stands on the attention of Romans to basic things . . .  things that ground us: good food, clean water, connection to nature, dogs, an empathetic appreciation of what it means to be human, an abiding connection with the past, and most of all, keeping it real.

On this trip, I awaken each day to the reality that for years I have not adequately appreciated either my own roots in this wonderful country or what Italy has to offer.  Hereafter, I commit myself to connecting with the legacy I am experiencing and to touching grass every day . . . which is why I am ending this blog post!

Art at the capitoline museum

I thought it was super cool that Medusa was depicted in less of a monstrous light, but more sympathetic! Overall the expression was beautifully done and aspirational to me as an artist.


Roman Theatre
Roman Insula block with roofing arches intact
Intact Roman Tavern
Surviving Roman Bartenders
Intact paintings and frescos from the bar

By Travis

Day 3: Ostia Antica


Hi everyone! Our first stop today was Ostia Antica. We took the metro for a couple stops, and then transferred to a local train line that would take us to Ostia Antica. Mr Sheppard managed to make a friend on the train in the meantime!

Ostia is a nice place on the coast but we were more interested in the ancient parts. Ostia Antica used to be on the water, but the landscape has changed a lot over hundreds of years. It was a huge trade and commercial center and was a crucial port city. In Rome, they sent the deceased to be buried on the outskirts of Ostia, for both superstition and disease control. We navigated seemingly unending and complex insulae, or apartment complexes.

Malaria devastated the ancient city, which is ultimately why it was abandoned for good; that’s why so many of the structures are almost perfectly intact. The ancient city is absolutely huge, you could easily spend an entire day trip exploring the ruins alone.

Ostia Day!!


Charlotte and Charlotte post-translating this inscription

Hello! Ostia was beautiful. We especially enjoyed this plaque which allowed us to show off our translating skills we’ve been working on in the classroom. We learned Caesar himself, along with a few others, were the ones to dedicated this theatre to the people of Ostia. The weather was also a 10/10, super pretty and warm out.

Travis in an ancient crevice

Unlike the forum, we were actually able to walk through the places these people lived. A super cool experience.

Ostian Amphitheater

Amphitheater in Ostia Antica

This morning’s trip to Ostia Antica included a visit to this amphitheater as well as walking the streets of the Ostian Ruins. We took a stop at this amphitheater for a rest and were delighted when one of our trip mates, Arushi Chandra ‘23, gave a beautiful performance of Ave Maria. There were other tourist groups sitting around the massive amphitheater to enjoy Arushi’s performance. This performance allowed us to experience the acoustics of this ancient space and recall the moments that may have been shared here over 2100 years ago.

Roman Ruins

I think my imagination’s picture of Ancient Rome failed to capture the grandiose beauty of what the city once was. To see the size of the structures, and then to think that these were all faced with marble is incredible. I’m still struggling to wrap my mind around what this all once looked like, but seeing what remains blows me away.