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January 19-27, 2019

The 700 alumni of the Gordon in Orvieto semester program--now in their twenties and thirties with the protective enclaves of Christian college campuses behind them--are socially engaged in real world jobs and professions, involved in faith communities and local neighborhoods, perhaps facing the responsibilities of child-rearing . . . or are still trying to figure out all these elements of adult life!

The topic of this discussion-oriented seminar is whether, and how, the arts can be a forum for engagement in the social settings that frame our lives.

Please be assured: your eight days back in Orvieto will allow plenty of time for some nostalgia. Explore old haunts, reminisce with friends over a cappuccino, compare notes with new friends. But we celebrate our first 20 years in Orvieto because of its fruit in the next 20 years of our lives.

All alumni of the Orvieto program received a rich experience of artworks – still in situ – created during a long pre-modern epoch when visual art framed the places in which people gathered and did their work. Pretty much all art operated as part of both the social fabric and the encompassing architectural fabric of towns and cities.  Art existed as a “socially engaged” enterprise.

During this period, everyone wanted art. Not only churches and the palazzi of the ruling classes, but town halls, hospitals, orphanages, confraternity clubhouses and guild halls, baptisteries and bell towers, dining halls and chapter houses and cloisters in monasteries, civic fountains and public squares, were all zones of serious decoration and design.  No sphere of civic and religious life was alien to the desire for imagery able to instruct, to prompt memory, and to inspire the community to action (the three terms most commonly used to identify the social as well as personal value of art).

Still under the influence of two centuries of Romantic modernism, most folk in contemporary society associate artworks first of all with the artists who made them, and, trained by the gallery experience, typically appreciate artworks with a decontextualized aesthetic eye.

A growing number of thoughtful Christians are calling for a renewal of a socially-engaged art as (in Adrienne Chaplin's phrase) “a welcome response and refreshing counterpart to the rarified world of contemporary art and its market driven, celebrity hungry culture. It aims to connect art with ordinary people and addresses issue that are relevant for today.”

And that will be our question: is it worthwhile or even possible to try to put art back in the places where communities gather nowadays and work together? Can the work of art can still assist the work of the communities?

COST (not including airfare): $1,000 per person in shared double rooms. A non-refundable deposit of $300 is due by September 15th, with the remaining $700 paid by October 31st. Each seminar-retreat is limited to 18 people (priority given to the first 18 paid-deposits).


  • Mid-day Pranzo prepared by the program chef, Maria Battistini, on Monday, Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday, with picnic lunches on excursion days Tuesday and Thursday.  (Sunday lunch is on your own with friends.)
  • Evening Cena every day except Sunday, Friday, and Saturday (when you can go out with friends to old favorites or new restaurants in town).
  • A Welcome buffet on the first Saturday at the Studio for Art, Faith & History’s sala in Palazzo Simoncelli.
  • Several afternoon local events (perhaps a hiking expedition to the Cappuccin monastery, or a book-making workshop, or wine-tasting at Le Vellette, and certainly a guided visit to the Duomo with Prof Skillen). 
  • Two day-long excursions to places rich with art in situ.
  • No one will stop you from arranging your own trips to Rome on the final Saturday with friends!


Saturday          Arrive, get settled in the Convento dei Servi, revisit your old haunts; evening buffet

Sunday            Morning pastries at Café Montanucci; church; afternoon discussion; evening free

Monday           Morning discussion and afternoon fun

Tuesday           Excursion to Florence: Monastery San Marco, the Duomo complex with its refurbished Museum of the Works of the Cathedral

Wednesday     Morning discussion and afternoon fun

Thursday         Excursion to Siena with a long stop at the Benedictine monastery of Monte Oliveto Maggiore tucked away in the southern Tuscan landscape

Friday              Morning discussion and afternoon fun

Saturday          Free day: head off with friends on your own

Sunday             Departure


Alumni from years before 2014 will experience the thirteenth-century (fully renovated) monastery of the Servite order, home of the Gordon in Orvieto program. The nine double rooms in the residential wing come with private baths. The library-classroom is bright and airy. The sitting room is a comfy area for late-night chats. Our private chef takes pride in presenting the best of Umbrian cuisine. Student and faculty artworks everywhere establish the ambiance. The refectory has its own student-created Last Supper. WiFi internet access is available (when necessary).

To apply for this Seminar-Retreat,CLICK HERE.

LEADER OF THE SEMINAR-RETREAT: Prof. John Skillen, director of the Studio for Art, Faith & History
(Learn more about Dr. Skillen and his recent book Putting Art (back) in its Place by clicking on the "ABOUT THE DIRECTOR" tab at the top of this page)

Photography credits to Gianna Scavo, Dan Nystedt, Kimberly Spragg, Madeline Linnell, John Skillen