About Me

Dec 29, 2012

The traditional Roman Pangiallo.

The pangiallo romano is a typical Roman cake (pangiallo means yellow bread) already known in the ancient Rome.
It was prepared during the celebration of winter solstice to invoke the return of the Sun (that's why yellow). Obtained through a mix of dried fruit, honey and candied citron. It was customary in the past to use dried kernels of apricots and plums instead of the most expensive almonds and hazelnuts. In modern versions you might have also almonds, walnuts, pine nuts, raisins, pistachios or chocolate (which couldn’t have been added until the 1500s’).  Younger generations may have never tried this specialty.  It's still made in Rome's Jewish Ghetto and in some traditional delis.  Unfortunately industrially produced Panettone or Pandoro are more often seen on Christmas tables.

Dec 26, 2012

Tombola: the most traditional Christmas game.

Tombola was born in Naples in 1734.
Father Gregorio Maria Rocco wanted king Charles III to abolish Lotto, the very popular public lottery. The king preferred to keep it in order to have public control over gambling:  without a public lottery illegal gambling would prosper.
In the end Lotto was kept but suspended during religious festivities, so people started playing tombola at Christmas.
Now it is the most traditional Christmas game all over Italy.

Nov 18, 2012

Villa Giulia: the eternal banquet of an Etruscan couple.

Ancient Etruscan Sarcophagus of the Spouses, 520 BC, made of terracotta which was once brightly painted, currently located at the Villa Giulia National Etruscan Museum, Rome.
From the Banditaccia necropolis in Caere (modern Cerveteri), previously owned by the Ruspoli family, from which Felice Barnabei, founder of the museum, bought broken into more than 400 fragments! 
However, its function remains uncertain because burial and cremation were both practiced by the Etruscans. It may actually have been a large urn designed to contain the ashes of the deceased. Another example similar to this work is known (Louvre, Paris).
The urn is shaped as a bed upon which the deceased are resting and banqueting. The Etruscans, like the Greeks had adopted the Eastern custom of feasting in a reclining position. Etruscan women, who held an important place in society, could take part in a banquet (in Greece only men were admitted).

Nov 16, 2012

Centrale Montemartini. Not the average museum in Rome.

Agrippina the Younger.

What if the location for a collection of classical statues is a disused power station?
It happens in Rome where as many as 400 statues from the Capitoline Museums are housed since 1997 in the first public power station in Rome, built in 1912, named after its designer and fallen into disuse in 1963.
The result is certainly original:  the unusual contrast of Ancient Roman art and industrial archaeology is fascinating. 
When in 1995 humidity menaced the Roman sculptures on display in the Galleria Lapidaria wing of the Capitoline Museums the problem was solved by moving them to the Centrale Montemartini.
The first exhibition in 1997 The Machines and the Gods was to be only temporary but thanks to its success the 400 Roman sculptures remained.

Oct 12, 2012

A blasphemous Crucifixion (Palatine Museum).

Graffito caricature of the Crucifixion. Graffito from the early Christian period mocking the new religion. A man named Alexamenos is shown worshipping a donkey-headed figure on the Cross. Crucifixion was a humiliating punishment for the Romans. What is ridiculed here is that a sect could have grown up around the worship of a crucified man. The blasphemous inscription in Greek reads: ‘ Alexamenos worships his god’.

A blasphemous Crucifixion (Modern Art Gallery – Rome).

Crucifixion (1941). Renato Guttuso. 
Galleria Nazionale d'Arte Moderna

One of the most famous paintings by Renato Guttuso.
Revolutionary, even heretical, especially for the presence of the naked figure of Mary Magdalene (which earned the artist the title of pictor diabolicus). The face of Christ is hidden and we can only guess his grimace of pain. It recalls the pathos of Rosso Fiorentino in the Deposition from the Cross. Influenced by Picasso’s Guernica Guttuso pays homage to the figure of the horse very similar to that depicted in Guernica. The agony of Christ as a symbol for those who suffer outrage, imprisonment and torture for their ideas.
Sciascia claimed that whatever Guttuso wanted to paint he always painted Sicily.

Oct 11, 2012

Vespa: from Hollywood to Bollywood.

Charlton Heston and Stephen Boyd and a Vespa Chariot 1958.

Piaggio launched its original iconic Vespa in India creating an exclusive segment for the brand.
Its style has been conquering the streets across the world for six decades now. Designed by Corradino D’Ascanio the man who designed the Italian helicopter.
The name is the Italian for wasp (from Enrico Piaggio’s exclamation: “It looks like a wasp!”) It actually recalls a wasp for the engine sound, the vehicle body shape and the steering rod resembled antennae. The design is inspired by pre – World War II Cushman scooters made in Nebraska (olive green scooters popular in Italy). Ordered originally by Washington as field transport for the paratroops and Marines.
The biggest sales promo ever was Hollywood. In 1952 Audrey Hepburn side-saddled Gregory Peck’s Vespa in the feature film Roman Holidays for a ride through Rome resulting in over 100,000 sales. In 1956 John Wayne dismounted his horse in favor of the two wheeler to get between takes on sets. Lucia Bosé and her husband, the matador Luis Miguel Dominguìn as well as Marlon Brando and Dean Martin and the entertainer Abbe Lane had become Vespa owners. William Wyler filmed Ben Hur in 1959 allowing Charlton Heston to abandon horse and chariot between takes to take a spin on the Vespa.
When Vespa celebrated its 50th anniversary in 1996 more than 15 million of the scooters had been sold worldwide. Other companies vied with Piaggio for market share but none came close to emulating the success or romance of Vespa.
Over the years Vespa has moved from being a mode of transport to a fashion accessory. However it has retained its core design and has only grown more stylish with time.
Piaggio felt that launching the Vespa as any other scooter would do injustice to its legacy. It deserved to be launched as a fashion brand. The campaign created by Meridian has been inspired by the product itself. The look has been designed keeping in mind its iconic style.

Aquilia Severa: the vestal who married an emperor.

Aquilia married the emperor Elagabalus in 220. Her father Quintus Aquilius was twice consul under Caracalla. The marriage was a sacrilege since she was a Vestal Virgin and the punishment for breaking the vow of celibacy was death (guilty Vestals were buried alive).
Elagabalus might have conceived the marriage for religious reasons: as a follower of the eastern cult of the Sun god El- Gabal he desired a symbolic union to Vesta.
Severa was repudiated only one year after the marriage probably for the lack of a heir. The emperor remarried (Annia Faustina who descended from Marcus Aurelius). But this marriage lasted less than one year. He returned to Severa claiming their divorce was not valid. It is believed she remained with Elagabalus till his assassination in 222.
Some literary sources state she was obliged to marry him, other go further alleging rape. Probably many stories about Elagabalus may have been exaggerated by his enemies. We don’t know whether Elagabalus had any feelings towards Severa. He appears to have been either homosexual or bisexual: the historian Cassius Dio claims that Elagabalus had a more stable relationship with his chariot driver Hierocles than with any of his wives.
Between 219 and 222 Elagabalus married and divorced four times!

Beauty cases for the underworld.

Cista Ficoroni (IV century b.C.) - Etruscan Museum Villa Giulia.
Cistae are metal boxes mostly cylindrical, covered with incised decorations.They were found in the fourth-century necropolis at Praeneste (a town, located 37 kilometers southeast of Rome, an Etruscan outpost in the seventh century B.C.). The most famous cista and the first to be discovered is the Ficoroni presently in the Museum of Villa Giulia in Rome, named after the collector Francesco Ficoroni who first owned it. The cista was found at Praeneste but its dedicatory inscription indicates Rome as the place of production: NOVIOS PLVTIUS MED ROMAI FECID/ DINDIA MACOLNIA FILEAI DEDIT (Novios Plutios made me in Rome/ Dindia Macolnia gave me to her daughter).
The engraving represents the myth of the Argonauts: the boxing match between Pollux and Amicus, in which Pollux is victorious. The engravings might be the reproduction of a lost fifth-century painting by Mikon.
The function and use of Praenestine cistae are still unresolved questions. We can safely say that they were used as funerary objects to accompany the deceased into the next world. It has also been suggested that they were used as containers for toiletries, like a beauty case. Some contained tweezers, make-up boxes, mirrors, strigils and sponges. The large size of the Ficoroni cista, however, excludes such a function and points toward a more ritualistic use.

The legendary female pope.

Giovanna a legendary female pope who supposedly reigned for a few years some time during the Middle Ages. The story appeared in 13th-century chronicles and spread throughout Europe. It was believed for centuries though modern religious scholars consider it fictitious.
During the Reformation in the sixteenth century, the Catholic Church began to deny the existence of Pope Joan. However, at the same time, Protestant writers insisted on her reality, primarily because the existence of a female pope was a convenient piece of anti-Catholic propaganda.
Most versions of her story describe her as a talented and learned woman who disguises herself as a man often at the behest of a lover. She rises through the church hierarchy, eventually being elected pope. However, while riding on horseback she gives birth, thus exposing her gender. In most versions, she dies shortly after, either being killed by an angry mob or from natural causes.

The Monkey tower.

The Frangipani tower is nicknamed the Monkey tower because of an odd happening which occurred almost 4 centuries ago…
According to an old legend the owners’ monkey, which he kept as a pet, one day climbed the tower carrying the infant of the family in its arms. The Virgin was prayed for the safety of the child. The father called the animal with his customary whistle and surprisingly the monkey climbed down and entered one of the windows. As a thank offering for the ‘miracle’ the father dedicated a statue to the Virgin on top of the tower and vowed that a lamp should be kept burning in front of it in perpetuity. Electricity has made this vow easier to keep.
This legend is also recalled by the American writer Hawthorne who lived in Italy for some years.  [...] Three or four centuries ago this palace was inhabited by a nobleman who had an only son, and a large, pet monkey, and one day the monkey caught the infant up and clambered to this lofty turret, and sat there with him in his arms grinning and chattering like the Devil himself [...]  (French and Italian Notebooks”, 1883, Nathaniel Hawthorne).

Maritozzo con panna

Maritozzi con panna:  the traditional Roman brioche buns are filled with whipped cream and served at breakfast.  The name maritozzi derives from the word marito (husband) since originally it was customary for the groom, as proof of his love, to give these buns to the future bride, on the first Friday in March (date corresponding to our Valentine’s Day).  At the time they were quite larger garnished with the design two entwined hearts, two shaking hands or a heart pierced by Cupid’s arrow. The maritozzi could hide inside some gold object or the ring! 
Maritozzi can be found in pastry shops around Rome and are usually served in the morning with coffee or afternoon with a coffee or liqueur.  In the neighborhoods of Garbatella, Testaccio and Trastevere, it is easy to find them in bars in the early hours of the morning.
Try the legendary Maritozzaro of Rome Via Ettore Rolli, 50 – close to Stazione di Trastevere.

Unexpected Rome.

The Quartiere Coppedé is a small area of ​​Rome located between Piazza Buenos Aires and Via Tagliamento, around Piazza Mincio which is the heart of the district.
The Florentine architect Gino Coppedè planned this quarter in the Twenties. A mix of styles: Classical, Baroque, Catalan Modernism and Art Nouveau. A Rome out of time.
The set for a number of films. It recalls Gaudì’s Barcelona.

San Nicola in Carcere: one church and three pagan temples.

San Nicola in Carcere (St. Nicholas in Prison) is a medieval church dating back to 1128. Probably an ancient prison was supposedly there.
The dedication to St. Nicholas of Myra comes from the fact that the Greek community that venerated the saint occupied the area.
It was remodelled in 1599 by Giacomo della Porta who designed the façade. The bell tower is the fortified tower of the Pierleoni family who occupied this area in the eleventh century. One of the bells is still the one commissioned by Pandolfo Savelli in 1289.
The church occupies the site of three Republican temples in the Forum Holitorium (the ancient Roman fruit and vegetable market) supposedly dedicated to Janus, Juno Sospita and Spes. Remains are incorporated in the walls of church.
In the interior we can admire fine ancient columns from the temples. The Roman remains beneath the church can sometimes be visited: in a medieval burial ground the podiums of the three temples can still be seen and two narrow lanes that separated them.
The church is home to the cult of Mary: Our Lady of Pompeii and that Mexican Our Lady of Guadalupe are venerated here.

The Fountain of the Turtles duplicated in San Francisco.

The 16th century Fontana delle Tartarughe (the Fountain of Turtles) by Giacomo Della Porta and Taddeo Landini was commissioned by the Mattei family whose Palazzo is just around the corner on Via Caetani.
One of the few fountains in Rome built not for a Pope, but for a private patron!
A popular legend claims that the Duke Muzio Mattei ruined by gambling, ordered the fountain to be built overnight to win the trust of the wealthy father of a woman he wished to marry. The next morning he opened the window of his palazzo and showed his future father in law the fountain. The father was impressed and allowed the marriage to go ahead and the Duke to remember the event, had the window overlooking the fountain closed up. A window closed by brick still overlooks the fountain.
The four turtles were added during a XVII century restoration ordered by Pope Alexander VII. They are usually attributed either to Gian Lorenzo Bernini or Andrea Sacchi. The date of the restoration is recorded on four scrolls of marble around the fountain. The theme of the fountain could be Festina lente, the neoplatonic saying “make haste slowly”.
The turtles are very realistic: they may have used casts of a real turtle. Initially, dolphins the same as the dolphins at the bottom, should have decorated the rim, but these were, in the end, transferred to the Fontana della Terrina (now in piazza della Chiesa Nuova, but without the dolphins).
In 1853-54, during a brief period of puritanism in Rome, leaves were placed over the sexual organs of the boys. In 1979 one of the turtles was stolen from the fountain. After the theft the original turtles were replaced by copies.
A replica of the fountain made in Rome in the early 1900s, was bought by William H. and Ethel Crocker for their estate at Hillsborough, California. It was given to the city of San Francisco by their four children and installed in Huntington Park, Nob Hill, in 1954.
The one in Rome.
The replica in San Francisco.

Apr 23, 2012

Bernini, a workaholic.

Rape of Proserpina (detail).
Borghese Gallery
Bernini said that if he put together all the hours he spent on meals and sleep in his lifetime, he doubted whether they would add up to a full month.
He would labor for seven hours without interruption on a block of marble.
Often Bernini proceeded without a terra-cotta model and sometimes even without a subject in front of him, realizing a vision that resided in his mind.

Apr 21, 2012

Joyce: insensible to the charm of Rome.

In 1906 Joyce resided in Rome in very humble room in Via di Monte Brianzo. 
In a letter to his brother Stanislaus he admitted I must be a very insensible person.  Yesterday I went to see the Forum.  I sat down on a stone bench overlooking the ruins. 
It was hot and sunny.  Carriages full of tourists, postcard sellers, medal sellers, photograph sellers.  I was so moved that I almost fell asleep and had to rise brusquely. 
I looked at the stone bench ruefully but it was too hard and the grass near the Colosseum was too far.  So I went home sadly. 
Rome reminds me of a man who lives by exhibiting to travellers his grandmother's corpse.  It was a the bleakest period of his life, he started drinking and did not write a single line except daily letters to his brother but it's precisely in Rome and in those months that the idea of Ulysses germinated.

Apr 20, 2012

Antinous and the ideal of beauty

The past exhibition running from 5 April to 4 November 2012 (Hadrian's Villa Antiquarium, Tivoli) focused on the relationship between the Emperor Hadrian and Antinous, a supremely beautiful youth he met in Bithynia. 
Sculptures, bas relief, gemstones, and coins presumably found in Hadrian’s Villa, a series of portraits depicting Hadrian and Antinous.  Works discovered in the Antinoeion, the room built in Antinous’s honour in Tivoli.
The exhibition also provided an opportunity to document the rest of the architectural complex unearthed between 2002 and 2005 during the archaeological digs.
Antinoo mysteriously drowned at in 130 AD as he was travelling upstream on the Nile.
The city of Antinopolis was founded near the site where he died, a holiday was established on the 27th of November, Antinous’s birthday.
In the following years a legend grew around the figure of Antinous: Egyptian priests began to depict him with the likeness of Osiris, the greatest divinity in ancient Egypt.