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January 19-27, 2019

This seminar is designed for “real world” people finding their way in jobs and professions, involved in their local faith communities and towns and neighborhoods, worrying about their children’s education, wondering about their roles in preserving the environment . . . and also interested in the creative arts, but not always finding a place for art in the places of social, religious, and civic life.

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

All guests of the Studio for Art, Faith & History’s seminars and retreats in Orvieto receive a rich experience of artworks still in the places for which they were created — in situ. During a long pre-modern epoch visual art framed the places in which communities large and small 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 an art-for-art’s-sake 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 possible and worth the effort 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): $1,500 per person in shared double rooms (with discounted price of $1,000 for alumni of the Orvieto semester progam).
A non-refundable deposit of $500 is due by October 15th, with the remaining $1,000 paid by November 3oth.
Each seminar-retreat is limited to 18 people (priority given to the first 18 paid-deposits).

January is a fantastic time to be in Italy. No tourist groups in sight. We have the places to ourselves. Sweater and jacket and scarf weather. If it rains, we're never far from a cozy café. Maria the cook’s “comfort food” Italian style (like a steaming bowl of polenta con funghi). My favorite time to travel and study with groups. All the photographs below were taken in winter. (Photograph credits Madeline Linnell, Kimberly Spragg, Daniel Nystedt)


  • 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 so that you can try out one of the fine local restaurants.)

  • Evening Cena every day except Sunday, Friday, and Saturday (when you can go out with friends).

  • A Welcome buffet on the first Saturday at the Studio for Art, Faith & History’s sala in Palazzo Simoncelli.

  • Local excursions in the afternoon (a guided visit to the Duomo with Prof Skillen; a hiking expedition to the Cappuccin monastery, wine-tasting at Le Vellette).

  • Two day-long excursions to Florence and Siena, places rich with art in situ.


Saturday          Arrive, get settled in the Convento dei Servi; get-acquainted tour of the town; evening buffet

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

Monday           Morning discussion and afternoon activity

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 activity

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 activity

Saturday          Free day: head off on your own to Rome (or elsewhere) with friends; or shop for gifts or linger in a café.

Sunday             Departure


Participants will sojourn in 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 Maria 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.

Note: the application is formatted with alumni of Gordon’s semester program in Orvieto in mind, but the form can be used by all applicants.
Please contact Dr. Skillen directly for further information about the seminar:

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