Sunday, March 14, 2010

Camp Marzio and Pasquino

The Campo Marzio, or Campus Martius in ancient Latin, is the heart of the city of Rome today, much as it had been the ceremonial heart of the city for centuries during the Roman Empire. Originally a grassy meadow where military exercises were conducted, the area filled with temples and other buildings as space ran out in the forums.It is amazing to walk these streets, as old Roman columns literally pop out of the walls in this area of Rome. One can only imagine what else lies underneath the modern day buildings. Certainly dozens of temples remain buried. I once had dinner in the cellar of one of the buildings in the Campo Marzio, and there were porphyry columns sticking out of the walls of the basement.One of the stranger monuments in Rome is the so-called "Pasquino," which during Papal Rome served as a sort of "free-speech zone" in a time when speaking against the government landed a person in jail. The joke was that the statue was speaking the political commentary, so it continues to this day.As you can see, people still plaster political messages on the base of the statue, as they have for centuries.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Cornaro Chapel, Santa Maria della Vittoria

This church is one of those little packages with a big prize inside. Located on the Quirinal Hill, this church is less famous for its structure as it is famous for one of its altars in the left transept of the church. Below is one example of the beautiful paintings in the church that is often ignored.But the real surprise is the altar dedicated to St. Theresa of Avila, designed by the great Gianlorenzo Bernini.The Ecstasy of St. Theresa is famous the world round in art history, but it is remarkably small for such a famous work of art.Note the attention to detail, and how the white marble almost seems to come alive, in what we call in art history vive carne.At this point in Bernini's career, he would have probably just created a scale model that his assistants would then have translated into the full size sculpture.Bernini was a master of the manipulation of light; note the window hidden up above the sculpture group; outside on the street we can see Bernini built a small addition to hold his window. I can only imagine what Bernini would have done if he access to computer animation.But let's not forget the other works of art in the church; below is a skeleton rising up in multicolored marble glory; he is reminding the faithful that death awaits everyone, one day.The Holy Spirit bursts through the vault of the church, in this tour de force of illusionistic ceiling painting.
The members of the Cornaro family, some already deceased, look on from their box seats, discussing the miraculous vision in front of them on the marble and gold stage.Here is the high altar, almost forgotten by the Cornaro Chapel.St. Andrew, if I remember correctly, appears opposite of the Cornaro Chapel; it's a great sculpture group, and is worth looking at if you're in the church.Here's a closeup of the sculpture.There are some very competent ceiling paintings in the church as well, as these two examples attest.Art of the 17th Century wanted to impress you, and blow you away. I think it is often successful on both counts.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Sant' Ivo alla Sapienza

This wonderful church by Francesco Borromini anchors the famed university of "La Sapienzia" or the "Wisdom." Reacting to Gianlorenzo Bernini's architecture, Borromini's radical design seeks to create an aesthetic wholly void of classicism.The tall turret, variously described as a Tower of Babel, illustrates Borromini's unique approach to architecture.The hours in my guidebook were wrong, so I didn't get inside this beauty.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Sant Andrea al Quirinale

Sant Andrea al Quirinale is located high on the Quirinal Hill, on the Via del Quirinale, on a rectangular site with its long side facing the major avenue. Now major avenue in Rome means two lanes and sidewalks, mind you. It is the masterpiece of church design of Gian Lorenzo Bernini, who attended the church, claiming it was his only perfect work. The genius of his design is his creation of an optical illusion of a normally proportioned church sitting in what is in reality an awkward location.The interior is stunning, and greeting the visitor straight ahead is a miraculous vision of the apostle Andrew being borne into Heaven in a blaze of stuccoed glory.Above, you can see his martyrdom in paint, where the apostle continued to preach on an X-shaped cross even after being pardoned by the Roman governor. Below is a close-up of the stuccoed figure of St. Andrew.Below is the hidden window that Bernini used to light the altar; he always hid his light source to give the impression that Heavenly rays were falling on the miraculous vision.I don't like the advertisements, but this website has great drawings of the interior, which is difficult to capture on a camera.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Arch of Titus, Roman Forum

The Arch of Titus is one of the most famous of the many triumphal arches that still grace the city of Rome, but ironically, it originally was one of the smallest of the fifty or so of its type. The Arch of Titus was not built by the Emperor Titus, but rather by his successor and brother Domitian. It commemorates the defeat of the Great Jewish Revolt around 70 AD with the capture of Jerusalem (the fortress of Masada held on for another couple of years).What is fascinating are the two high relief sculpture panels on the interior of the arch. Below, we the Emperor Titus driving his chariot through the streets of Rome during his triumphal parade after his victory in Judea. According to Roman tradition, legionnaires and their commanders were allowed in the city only if the Senate allowed them to celebrate a great victory. The war booty and prisoners would be marched along with the legions, and the victorious general would sacrifice to the gods on the Capitoline while the defeated leaders of the revolt would be executed in the prison nearby.In this panel, legionnaires carry the Ark of the Covenant and a candelabra from the Great Temple of Jerusalem. There is an urban legend that the Vatican still possesses the last relic of the Great Temple, but that is preposterous. The candelabra in question has not been seen for centuries.The arch was turned into the gate of a family's compound after the fall of the Roman Empire, thus accounting for the damage to the interior of the arch. Imagine a giant door attached in the opening, and you can see how it would have been damaged. Much of the nice, clean marble is actually restoration.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Column of Trajan

The Column of Trajan represents the pinnacle of Roman monumental architecture; in one single, long comic strip-like spiral, the emperor Trajan's architects and sculptors tell the story of the conquest of Dacia by Roman legions in the 2nd Century AD. The next four pictures show a progression of the column.

According to legend, the height of the Column of Trajan was determined by the height of the hill that was hauled away from the construction of the basilica and forum of Trajan.What is cool about the column is that it shows Roman military tactics, such as the testudo, shown above, where legionnaires would lock their rectangular shields together to provide protection as they assaulted the walls of a fortress.Above, the god of the Danube River looks up in curiosity as humans march across a bridge built over his body.In the base of the column, the ashes of the emperor Trajan and his family were interred. There is a staircase up to the top, but it is not open to the public. Below is just one of the massive columns that made up the basilica around the Column.See the site, in the middle of Rome, here.

Friday, November 20, 2009

The Capitoline Hill

The Capitoline Hill was the center of the ancient Roman government and religion, functioning not only a citadel on one of its two summits, but also the location of the most important temple in Roman, the Temple of Jupiter Optimus Maximus. Nowadays, it is a centerpiece of the architecture of the Renaissance, designed by Michelangelo and completed bit by bit over several centuries.The Church of Santa Maria Aracoeli, or "Altar of Heaven" surmounts the peak of the Capitoline that once held the Arx, or citadel of ancient Rome. This was the location of the famous geese sacred to Juno, who warned the Romans of a night attack up the steep slopes of the hill by Gallic raiders. The temple on the Arx was dedicated to Juno Moneta, or Juno of the Watch; money was minted in the precincts of this temple, hence our English words "money" and "monetary."But the real highlight of the Capitoline is the great Piazza Campidoglio, designed by Michelangelo and flanked by the Capitoline Museums on the left and right and the City Hall of Rome built on the foundations of the Tabularium, the hall of records of Rome.The square is irregular, so Michelangelo gently rotated the new building on the left, the Palazzo Nuovo to create an optical illusion that the piazza was perfectly square.The optical illusion works, coupled with the elaborate oval pavement of the piazza.Above is the statue of Marcus Aurelius, who serves as the focal point of the center of the piazza; saved from destruction because it was incorrectly attributed to be Constantine, the first Christian Roman emperor, it became one of several Roman statues placed in the piazza, creating a link from ancient Rome to the Renaissance Rome. What you see here is actually a reproduction; the real one is in the Capitoline Museums.Here is a statue of a river god, one of two ancient Roman river god statues now placed on the Campidoglio.This is the famous Dioscuri statue, salvaged from ancient Rome and mounted at the top of the stairs along with its mate on the other side.The picture above illustrates just how tall of a hill the higher of the two summits of the Capitoline really is.The Capitoline Hill is still a sleepy enclave in the center of the city, made up of a lush park and winding footpaths up to the summit where the Temple of Jupiter once stood.
This is the infamous Tarpeian Rock, or close to it, as the area is prone to landslide so much of the area was blocked off, where traitors were thrown to their death. The rock is named after the treacherous Tarpeia, who was promised by the Samnites, Rome's enemies, gold bracelets if she opened the gates of the citadel. After she committed the act, the Samnites crushed her to death under their shields, which were decorated with gold bracelets. A great example of your typical ironic Roman morality tale.This mysterious cut in the rock is a mystery to me; it does illustrate how rugged and shear of a rock formation the Capitoline Hill is. Here is an aerial view of this wonderful cultural site.