The passing of Peter Porcal

He called me professore, which I wasn’t. I called him dottore, which he was. Peter Porcal died last Friday, March 28, 2014. I’m guessing he was somewhere in his late 60s. Even when Sandy and I first met him in Florence in 2004, he wasn’t in the best of health. Too many years of walking Tuscany with his “children,” as he liked to call his students, had taken a terrible toll on his knees. I wasn’t the only one with a nickname. There was a young man who could have been a putto, he was so pretty. To his discredit, he didn’t pay attention. I couldn’t believe what he was missing. Neither could Peter, who called the boy Blondie, a gently derisive name that captured his insolence.

Peter was a resident art history professor for several schools in Florence including the Ontario College of Art and Design, as it was then called, as well as Vanderbilt and the American School in Richmond. I was the only spouse among the two dozen OCAD students attending in 2004-5 and was lucky enough to be included in his Wednesday classes and weekend trips. Wednesday was usually spent in Florence visiting such wonders as Benozzo Gozzoli’s magnificent fresco cycle, Michelangelo’s sculpture at the Bargello, Pontormo’s strange deposition at Santa Felicita, or Fra Angelico at San Marco.

Most weeks he also led us on day trips or weekend tours outside Florence to Venice, Ravenna, Rome, Padua, Lucca, Assisi or Siena, anywhere there was beauty to behold. He not only knew every venue, he knew where the washroom key was hidden in the local pizza place. Even now, a decade later, I can close my eyes, see the works and hear his mellifluous voice.

Last Wednesday, I’m told Peter gave his usual class to this year’s 23 OCAD students, then went to hospital with chest pains. They operated on Thursday; he died Friday. He’d been in and out of hospital these last few months.┬áThe service on Saturday was held at the church of Santissima Annunziata which contains a thirteenth-century painting begun by a monk and completed by an angel, or so the legend goes.

If you visited on your own, the painting was usually covered, but Peter always seemed to know instinctively when it could be viewed. I hope the venerable work was on display during his last rites. He would have been admiring it and getting ready to tell the sorrowful attendees how it came to be, what to look for, and what it all meant.

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