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.