On July 25, Florida State University’s Florence Program in via dei Neri hosted the unveiling of a new mural in the study center’s courtyard. The special event, organized in the library of the newly renovated Palazzo Bagnesi, was attended by esteemed guests as well as 110 students, faculty and staff.
Distinguished invitees included the U.S. Consul General Ragini Gupta; the Councilor for University Relations and Research, Elisabetta Meucci; Municipality of Florence Councilor and Special Advisor to the city mayor, Mirco Dinamo Rufilli; and FSU’s International Programs Director, Dr. James Pitts.
The mural was created by acclaimed artist Michael Rosato, an alumnus of the university who studied in Florence in 1981. Rosato’s monumental mural of Harriet Tubman painted in May 2019 for the Harriet Tubman Museum and Educational Center in Cambridge, Maryland garnered accolades from across the globe and went viral on social media.
“At FSU Florence, I wanted to create a story that had a lot of symbolism,” said Michael Rosato, “not necessarily a story about the people, but about two places and about the bridging of these two places and the shared experiences people have. Each one of these places—Florence, Italy and Tallahassee, Florida—have a story to tell.”
Dr. James Pitts, Director of FSU International Programs in Tallahassee, flew to Florence from Florida specifically for the event. He expressed his delight with Rosato’s execution of the project. “It is so important to have the mural in our study center as a symbol of our University’s identity in Florence and as a love letter to the city and Florentines who have so graciously hosted us for more than a half-century. I think Michael did a wonderful job of depicting the sentiment our students feel after having studied abroad in Florence,” he said.
Florida State University established a study-abroad campus in Florence in the fall semester of 1966. A bond of love and dedication between the university and city flourished since the program’s first year: when the Arno River flooded Florence, FSU’s students rather than disbanding the program voted unanimously to stay in the Tuscan capital to aid the citizens of their host country during this time of crisis. Along with students from all over the world, they became celebrated as the “Mud Angels”.
To commemorate this long-lasting partnership, FSU International Programs and FSU Florence Director Frank Nero invited Rosato back to his Florence alma mater to illustrate the relationship between Florence and FSU and, just as importantly, teach students the processes of mural painting.
“It’s my sincere hope that the renovation of the 16th-century Palazzo Bagnesi in via dei Neri as the permanent home of our study center and the works of art contained therein, created by both our faculty and students, hit a sympathetic nerve with the Florentine community,” said Frank Nero. “I’d like all Florentines to know our front door is always open, that our study center is dedicated to intellectual pursuits and artistic endeavor grounded in Florentine history and cultural achievement.
This sentiment was shared by Councilor Elisabetta Meucci. “This is a very unique event happening here in the palace, which belongs to Florentine history, a palace which had been abandoned, but now restored thanks to the university,” she said. “Florida State University has brought new life to the palazzo, and this is exactly what this moment is. This is a sign of new cultural life in the city of Florence and FSU.”
The mural is approximately 16 feet in length and 18 feet in height. Within an illusionistic loggia it depicts significant buildings and objects, along with flora and fauna specific to Tallahassee and Florence.
“If you go to Florence as a student, you cross over a metaphorical bridge tying these two cities, and cultures together through education. For 56 years, Florida State students have come to the city, engaging and growing thanks to their experience of a very special culture. So, we see the Ponte Vecchio in the background as a symbol of this,” Rosato said.