Monday, November 24, 2014

Art in Rome

On our fourth day in Rome we had tickets to the Borghese Gallery for 11:00.  We hopped a subway train, crowded as usual, that took us to our first stop along the way, the Capuchin Monastery. 

The Capuchin Brothers are a branch of the Franciscans, and are noted for their caring and compassion, as was reflected in their art.

But we came here for art of a different kind, to be found in the crypt.  If you have ever visited a bone chapel you know that they are created where burial space is limited, and after a period of time the previous occupant of a grave is removed to make room for a newly deceased person.  The bones are lovingly stored on shelves in this crypt chapel.

Photos were not allowed here, and I respected that, so I bought a couple of post cards to illustrate just a bit of what we saw.
 Yes, those are human bones, the bones of the Brothers, lovingly arranged in intricate designs.  While some may find this macabre and even repulsive, I found it to be quite beautiful.  And remember, to a true believer, one's left behind body has no meaning after the resurrection. 

Moving on, we passed the U S Embassy on our way to the gallery.
 I saw no art here, although that tree is a thing of beauty, but the troops were on guard.
 We walked out through the old city wall and into the former grounds of the villa of the Borghese family, now Rome's equivalent of New York's Central Park.

 Lord Byron lived and died in Rome.  His art form was literature.
 Public art can celebrate victories, heroes, important people,

 or just add beauty and pleasure.
 We were early for our appointment, so we had time to sit on a park bench under oak trees and be entertained with Italian music.  
 The Borghese Museum is the former villa of this wealthy and powerful family that produced several popes.  They could afford to commission their own art and we get to see these works in the very rooms for which they were created. 

 Paintings by Correggo - this is Danae c. 1531

 Titian's Sacred and Profane Love c. 1515

 Bernini's The Rape of Proserpina  - 1622.  Pluto strides into his realm and shows off his catch, the daughter of the earth goddess Ceres.  His three-headed dog, Cerberus, who guards the gates of hell, barks triumphantly.

 And this is where I fell in love with Gian Lorenzo Bernini. He was an architect, town-planner, sculptor, painter, engraver, and playwright, but most notably, a sculptor. A Renaissance Man for sure (1598-1680) he almost single-handedly invented Baroque. His works are fleshy and fluid and filled with motion and emotion. He created works of art for popes in Rome, Louie XIV in France, and Charles I in England.  He was extremely prolific, as his works all over the city of Rome can attest, working fast and utilizing an army of assistants. 

This is my favorite, Daphne and Apollo , 1625. Apollo, made stupid by Cupids arrow, chases after Daphne, who rejects him, calls to her father to save her, and magically her fingers begin to sprout leaves, her toes become roots, her skin turns to bark, and she transforms into a tree.

 It's hard to believe that this is cold hard stone marble.  
 Bernini's David, 1624.  David grimaces as he aims at Goliath and springs into action.

What Bernini started, others continued.  The sculptor Canova created this work in 1808. It is Pauline Borghese as Venus. The sister of Napoleon posed in the flesh for this, scandalizing Europe. 

 Notice the almost translucent quality of the drapes of fabric, and how the mattress actually looks soft. 
 I wonder how long it takes to pose when your portrait is in stone! She did say it wasn't cold. 

We discovered later that this is a modern piece. It is a zoetrope inspired by Caravaggio's painting The Massacre of the Innocents. Every ten minutes the lights would dim and this thing would start spinning.
 When it was spinning fast enough the figures would look like they were moving.  That means, of course, that each figure had to be made just slightly different than the one before. 
 It was quite amazing, but the subject matter was brutal, men beating women who were trying to protect children, and up above, seemingly trying to throw a child over the railing.  Why?  

 Another Bernini masterpiece, La Verita, carved when he was only twenty, in 1618.  It depicts a side story of the Trojan War.  Aneas, legendary founder of Rome carries his father Anchises, while his son Ascanius clings to his leg.  They are fleeing Troy as it is burning, the old man clutching  penates, home gods present in every house. 

 The pretty little putti bid us ciao as we left the gallery, an hour before our time was up, but saturated with art and ready to move on.
 We spent the next hour wandering in the park, trying to find the way out.  But it was a pleasant way to be lost, so refreshing to be in a green open space away from crowds and with smooth surfaces underfoot. 
 Obelisk alert!
 Rome has 13 Egyptian obelisks.  In Egypt they were connected to the sun god Ra.  Ancient Romans brought them here and put them in key public places to celebrate their occupation of Egypt.  In the 1500's Rome's new rulers, usually popes, moved them to new locations and fixed crosses on their tops, signifying the triumph of Christianity over all other religions. 

That became an oft repeated phrase of ours, "Another obelisk!" 
 And finally, down there, we found the object of our searching, the Piazza del Popolo. Oh, another olelisk!
 Traditionally the north gate to the city, it was a ramshackle mess until in 1480 Pope Sixtus IV decided the city needed to present a better face to all the pilgrims entering here.  Art for the sake of impressing is a common theme the world over. 

 Piazza del Popolo means square of the people and is a popular place to hang out.  We were interested in seeing the art in the church of Santa Maria del Popolo, but it was closed, so we moved on down between those domes along one of the upscale shopping areas. 

 Our next destination being this landmark that was drawing a crowd.  Are there steps there?
 Yep, the Spanish Steps, being fully sat upon. The Sinking boat fountain was built by .....yup, Bernini.
The church at the top was fully scaffolded, and supplied great space for advertising, but not so great for photos. 

Of course we climbed them.  What's a few more steps after the hundreds, maybe thousands, we have already climbed and descended on this trip .

 There are good views at the top,
 and another obelisk.  The church was scaffolded inside too, so there wasn't much to see. 
 So we went shopping some more.
 And came to the Parliament building, where reporters and camera men were gathering for somebody's arrival.
 We came to the Piazza Colomna
 and this second century column depicting the victories of Marcus Aurelius over the barbarians. 

We had to find our way carefully to the next landmark, because no streets directly connect to this little piazza. 

And alas! it too was covered with scaffolding! Yes, the Trevi Fountain was drained and under wraps. 

The fountain was built in 1762 by Nicola Salvi to celebrate the repairing of aqueducts that finally brought fresh water back to the citizens of Rome. 
 There are a few coins in the fountain, but not mine. 
We did get a close up from the ramp. 

 We drowned our sorrow in some expensive sit-down gelato.

Thus fortified, we were off in search of ancient architectural art. There, up ahead, behind that obelisk! Does that look old? 
 It is, of course, the Pantheon.  Originally built as a temple to all the important gods, in 27 B.C. It suffered a couple of fires and was rebuilt by Hadrian around 120 A.D. Its exterior was later stripped to create other monuments, but the main structure still stands and has been in continuous use. 
 The 40 foot high columns of the portico, built in the Greek style, are enormous and are made from single pieces of red-gray granite quarried in Egypt and brought down the Nile and across the Mediterranean to Rome, where they were fitted with Corinthian capitals before being lifted into place.  I can't imagine how.  
 The dome, with its open oculus, the largest made until the Renaissance, is a wonder of mathematical perfection, and served as a model for many others, including Michelangelo's dome of St. Peter's and even our U.S. Capitol 
 The oculus is the only light source.  We were there late in the afternoon on a cloudy day and there was sufficient light, although of course there are now electric lights too.  The oculus is 30 feet across. 
The tall niche once held an enormous statue Jupiter, king of the gods, and many other gods, a pantheon of gods, had alters here. 

 Now it is a Christian church, and we were frequently told to be silent over a loud speaker, but of course no one was. 
 The floor, though patched and repaired over time, is the original design. There are drain holes near the center to drain the rain away. 
 There are tombs here.  This is the tomb of the artist Raphael

 Two kings are entombed here, and Royalists still stand guard. 

 And Tom stands in a place that is a dream come true for him, truly a place on his bucket list. 

 We exited as the afternoon was waning and lights and people filled the Piazza della Rotunda, where there is another obelisk.

 As you leave the Pantheon you walk up a slope.  Nothing else here is as old and everything else has been built on the rubble of the past.  That includes the Church of Santa Maria Minerva, built on the remains of a temple to the goddess Minerva.  Yes, that is another obelisk, sitting on a marble elephant created by...Bernini. 
 This is the only Gothic style church in Rome, and upon entering it I know why I love the Gothic style so much, with its delicate soaring arches.  That blue, starry sky isn't bad either. 

 Several Popes are buried here, including Leo X, who excommunicated Martin Luther, and his cousin Clement VII of the Medici family, who were friends with Michelangelo.  
This stature of Christ carrying the cross was done by Michelangelo.
 Another claim to fame is that this is where, in 1634, a frail 70-year-old Galileo knelt at the alter on the way to his trial before the Inquisition in the church's monastery. 
 And now, knowing where we could catch our bus later to go back to the hotel, we chose to stay here in the Piazza della Rotunda, in front of the Pantheon, and dine. 

 It was a lovely meal, accompanied by classical guitar music played by performers on the square.  It rained  a bit, and there was a distant thunder storm, but we were dry and comfortable under our cafe awning. 
 As we left, two young operatic performers were singing Ave Maria. 
It was a lovely ending to a lovely day. 


  1. Thank you so much for the fabulous art tour! Your photos are excellent, & the commentary very nice! Really enjoyed the post, Thank you again for sharing your experience!

  2. Another very very full day. I can see why you fell for Bernini. His work is simply amazing. You didn't waste a minute during your trip, and I for one am glad for all the photos showing everything! :-)

  3. So good to hear that Tom got to cross something off his bucket list! You had a wonderful Roman Holiday...very beautiful sculptures. The one going around and around was disturbing with the children...but the bones...they are very beautiful when they are art:)

  4. so much history took place there-it's amazing, thanks for sharing...

  5. You really know how to pack a lot into the time you have. Those sculptures were amazing though some quite disturbing with their violence.
    The art and the history are spell binding. You would make a great tour guide.


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