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Jan 24, 2013

Barberini Palace: great anthology of Italian Art.

Beatrice Cenci (attributed to Guido Reni)
This glorious gallery is a must! 
Especially after the recent refurbishing.
Built for the pope Urban VIII, the Palace's project is by Maderno, Borromini and Bernini.
See the amazing staircases by Bernini (square) and Borromini (oval).
The Salon ceiling is decorated by Pietro da Cortona (Triumph of the Divine Providence trompe-l'oeil fresco).  The collection is stunning:  a show of the major and most important Italian paintings of all times,
arranged in order to provide an overview of the development of Italian art.  Masterpieces include La Fornarina by Raphael, The Annunciation by Filippo Lippi,  Guido Reni's Beatrice Cenci, Hans Holbein's famous portrait of Henry VIII. For Caravaggio fans the gruesome Judith beheading Holophernes and Narcissus. Hopefully the wonderful gardens will be restored very soon.

Jan 21, 2013

The Sleeping Hermaphrodite at Palazzo Massimo

Sleeping Hermaphrodite  (1st century BC) -  Palazzo Massimo alle Terme (Museo Nazionale Romano) Rome.

Hermaphrodite is the androgynous child Venus (anything but monogamous) conceived with Hermes.
From behind we perceive the curve of a female back and the suggestion of a woman’s breast.
Turning around and facing the statue we discover the figure is endowed with male genitals.
According to Ovid he was incredibly handsome and he was transformed into an androgynous being by union with the water nymph Salmacis.
Salmacis tried to seduce him but the naive youth rejected the nymph's advances.  
So when he was bathing undressed she jumped into the pool, wrapping herself around him.
He struggled of course, recalcitrant, but by invoking the gods she obtained they would be together forever. So with the aid of divine intervention their bodies blended and formed a creature of both sexes.

Jan 20, 2013


The original bronze statue of a Crouching Venus by the famous Greek sculptor Doidalsas (3rd century b.C.) no longer survives but it served as a model for many Roman copies.
One of the best versions is considered to be the one at Palazzo Massimo alle Terme (National Roman Museum).  The Crouching Venus is undoubtedly one of the most sensual statues from Antiquity.
The attention to detail is great: the mouth is half-open and we can admire her beautiful teeth.
In some versions she is accompanied by Eros who probably was not foreseen by Doidalsas.  The original Aphrodite had to be plumper and show more curves while in the marble translations she has apparently lost weight.
Twisted, she is trying to cover her nudity, almost hiding.  Pure charm and grace.

Doidalsas of Bythinia (200 B.C. - 100 B.C.) is a
Greek sculptor, mentioned also by Pliny, who describes a statue of Aphrodite bathing herself in the Portico of Octavia in Rome. 
The pose is convincing even if, standing up, the figure would be too elongated.  The effect is intentional:  her fleshiness is unparalleled in other Aphrodite types. 


One of the highlights at Palazzo Massimo alle Terme (main seat of the National Roman Museum) is undoubtedly the Boxer at rest:  a magnificent bronze statue long attributed to Apollonius (1st century b.C).  Recent studies prove that it is certainly by Lysippus (340 b.C.) the greatest Greek sculptor known for his meticulous attention to detail. The mistake was due to the alleged existence of an inscription on his left glove strings showing Apollonius' signature. Lysippus was a restless artist:  (more than 1500 works are attributed to him and his workshop).  Unfortunately most of his works are lost and we have mostly Roman replicas of his statues.  His masterpieces were moved to Rome as spoils (as the Apoxiomenos on display at the Vatican Museums) and then sent to Constantinople (when the capital was moved). Just a few survived.
The Greek bronze statue was discovered in 1885 on the Quirinal hill while building the Teatro Drammatico Nazionale (closed in 1929).  The area was originally the site of Constantine Baths.
It has been suggested that it could represent the Olympic athlete Theogenes.  Probably it's not a true portrait  but a generic character of boxer.  It is surprisingly well preserved (except for the eye balls).  His hands are protected by boxing gloves.  
Formed by eight separately cast segments. The lip, wounds and scars on his face were originally inlaid with copper and further copper inlays are used for drops of blood on his bruised body. The fingers were worn from being rubbed by passers-by in ancient times.  It's the muscular and noble body of a middle aged man revealing scars, marks and deformities caused by such a violent profession.  His expression suggests also weariness and a sort of resignation.  Even if the Boxer is 'at rest' the pose does not diminish his strenght.  His head is turned as if someone had caught his attention in that precise moment.

Jan 19, 2013

Looking for some souvenir in Rome?

What about some delicious Chocolate covered coffee beans from CaffĂ© Sant'Eustachio?  The most celebrated coffee in Rome (reviewed also in the New York Times).  Its historical roaster dates back to 1940s.
Piazza Sant'Eustachio, 82 (near the Pantheon).

Or a fancy pair of Italian leather gloves?  A charming little shop is just off Piazza San Silvestro  (this is where I go but there are a few in Rome).  As you enter you'll see photos signed by movie stars and celebrities from the 50's, 60's and 70's.
Solo Guanti -Via di San Claudio, 70.

Why not an old print of Rome?
One nice address is Mercato delle Stampe:  an interesting little market specialized in old prints of Rome (not far from Piazza del Popolo) .
Largo della Fontanella Borghese.

You'll see soccer shirts everywhere in Rome. 
An excellent address for soccer fans is the official Roma team wear - A.S. Roma shop is at Piazza Colonna 360 (near the Pantheon).

Jan 15, 2013


Jeremy Irons
You may have liked the series by Neil Jordan (2011) for the BBC which stars a fabulous Jeremy Irons as the pope Alexander VI.
At the Vatican you can actually visit the Rooms where the Borgias lived, rooms which oversaw intrigues, alliances, even murder.
The papal apartments were decorated by Pinturicchio and his school at the end of 15th century:  the frescoes on the vaults (some have been recently restored)  show Christian, Jewish and pagan elements. 
After the death of pope Alexander VI and the disgrace of the Borgias, those rooms were abandoned.
Only in 1889 the apartments were first restored and opened to the public.
In 1973 the Modern Art collection of the Vatican Museums was installed here.
In the Hall of the Sibyls Cesare Borgia was imprisoned in 1503 by Julius II, in the same room where he had his cousin Alfonso of Aragon (second husband of Lucrezia Borgia) murdered! 
In the fresco showing the Disputation of St. Catherine (in the Hall of the Saints) the figure of the Saint could be the portrait of Lucrezia, the pope's daughter (or his mistress Giulia Farnese).


Palazzo Massimo alle Terme is one of the seats of the National Roman Museum.
Just around the corner from Rome’s Termini train station, it's the perfect place to get a feel for ancient Roman art.
Highlights include the famous bronze Boxer and two versions of the Discobolus!  
Pride of place goes however to the breathtaking ancient frescoes and mosaics stunningly set up to "re-create" the look of the villas they once decorated. 
The second floor of the museum in fact is dedicated to those amazing decorations from the heyday of the Roman empire. 
The frescoes from the Villa of Livia (Augustus wife)  at Primaporta, on the via Flaminia were discovered in 1863 and displayed here in 1951.  A lush painted garden covered the walls of a semi-subterranean chamber, probably a cool triclinium (dining room) for summer banquets.  These stunning frescoes, which totally surround you, depict an illusionary garden with all the plants in fool bloom.
The other villa 'reconstructed' here is the Villa Farnesina:  sumptuous residence of the Augustan age,  brought back to light in Trastevere in 1879.  Set up like the villa itself, one can actually see how the rooms would have looked with the frescoes on the walls, detailed molding on the ceiling and mosaics on the floors. The references to the Egyptian world can be read as a celebration of the conquest of Egypt. In fact the owner of the residence is probably to be identified as the general Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa himself, author of the victory at Actium, who married Augustus' daughter.