Firenze and Me

The luminaries that Christina Mifsud ’93 has guided on tours of Florence, Italy, include Tom Brokaw and U.S. senators Chuck Schumer and the late Ted Kennedy. Living in France and Italy for nearly 25 years has equipped Mifsud with an arsenal of Romance languages. But it is teaching the life of Michelangelo to young explorers that sums up what her bella vita has become.

Christina Mifsud is in love with shedding light on all things Michelangelo, including the biography of this man who lived until almost 90. One side to him that most folks miss: He suffered from bouts of “melancholy,” arthritic issues, and a terrible autoimmune disease affecting his skin. Although his contemporaries dubbed him Il Divino (the Divine One), “living with such talent is not always a blessing,” Mifsud says.

Mifsud’s most beloved tour, “Michelangelo: His Life and Legacy,” looks at both his crowning achievements and the art he created as a teen. “It’s important for today’s young students to see works Michelangelo completed before he was 17,” she says. “They’re considerably more sophisticated than the great David itself.”

Mifsud first bit into the idea of living outside of California thanks in part to gelato. Eric Apfelstadt, who served as an associate dean in SCU’s College of Arts and Sciences and later directed the Rome Center at Loyola University Chicago, had given a lecture on The Eternal City and was expressing his fondness for shops near the Pantheon—including a gelateria. In that moment, Mifsud saw art as a way to study history and culture. “It was my passport to the world,” she says.

After studying abroad in Rome and graduating with a degree in art, she enrolled in Syracuse University’s Florence graduate program in Italian Renaissance art history. That led to work as a lecturer and adjunct professor—and a decade of guiding SCU students on the “Dr. Vari Tour of Florence.” That was in honor of Victor Vari, who taught Italian and other languages for 66 years at Santa Clara. He died in 2014 at age 94.

In 2007, after 800 hours of coursework and written and oral exams, Mifsud qualified for a special license as an authorized tour guide for Florence. Living five miles from major museums, she counts herself lucky to never be far from Michelangelo’s UNESCO World Heritage works. “For me, it is all about how I can experience the grandeur of Renaissance buildings—the art and the history—in minutes,” she says. “It may be a more modest lifestyle, but it is the high quality of that lifestyle that suits me.”

post-image David replica al fresco, in a Florence piazza. Christina Mifsud says creator Michelangelo believed it was “best that he never married”—popes and patrons demanded so much. Photography by Getty Images
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