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.