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Published: March 19th 2018
The most splendid of splendid aristocratic dwellings!
We gathered in the hotel portico, facing the pouring rain. Jim, one of our group, directed us to “Omar”, the umbrella seller. At 5 Euros, they were a deal! Reportedly umbrellas are 8 Euros at the Coliseum. I bought a white one and when the rain eased off, discovered that it fit in the pocket of my jacket; therefore, very good for travel. The rain didn’t ease for long, resuming as we walked for about twenty minutes to the Borghese Gallery
The Borghese Gallery was originally the family country villa, built to house in harmonious surroundings rapaciously collected treasures. The entry check-in was formal - reservations are required, bags and cameras must be checked, and we had “whisper” technology again. Francesca was our guide again, and she made the paintings, architecture and sculpture come alive for us.
The core of what she showed us was the development of Bernini
as an artist. The first marble she showed us was a sculpture done when he was twelve - incredible – two babies holding a goat to milk it. The goat’s hair is curly shag, the children are chubby, and the composition is playful. His father was a sculptor, so Bernini grew
The walls of Rome
Imposing, emphasized by the pouring rain
up "in the business". At 20 he did his first paid piece: an old man, his son Annacus and his son, a child, all with wonderfully realistic skin and musculature. Then we moved on to the action-packed Rape of Persephone
. She is pushing so hard against Pluto’s face that the skin is stretched, and he is holding her so hard and his fingers dig so deeply into her thigh that you can feel the bruise forming. Finally we saw Bernini’s masterpiece, Apollo and Daphne
. He is chasing her, and the sculpture catches her in the moment in which she is turning into the laurel tree. The leaves of the tree are individual and exquisite – apparently they ring like china.
Francesca also helped us understand that the heart of Renaissance art is the emphasis on the physical world – “naked truth” - as a spiritual moment. Then she showed us the evolution into Baroque
, in which the flowering of emotion and portrayal of the moment formed the heart, especially for Bernini. She also showed us a sample of the art of the transition from Renaissance to Baroque in which the ungainly twisting of the body depicts the uncertainty of the times (discovery
of America, rise of Atlantic nations, decline of papacy).
Also we saw many busts, once-fashionable fake-Egyptian statues, badly-repaired and reproduction statues, endless paintings, and frescoed ceilings. The marble was of every conceivable colour, decorating the walls and floors, just as it would have been in the Ancient monuments that are now just ruins. Long vistas from the interior showed off the gardens in the French formal style. Unfortunately when we left the Gallery it was too wet for us to explore.
Following a quick lunch at the gallery, a group of us walked back in the pouring rain, in my case stopping only to take a quick photo of the ancient City walls. After a rest, a few of us went to Santa Maria degli Angeli
(Diocletian Baths), my favourite space in Rome. I stayed an hour, half of the time looking at the paintings and details of the meridian, and half just sitting, listening to the silence and the quiet efforts of everyone to maintain the silence in the vast space – a few footsteps and a few murmuring voices.
Then I went to the National Museum
– as recommended by Gary, a fellow tourist. On two floors were the statues of the Roman era, from early “portraits” to the late “portraits” of the emperors who oversaw the empire’s disintegration. Without the interpretive text, you could barely see the difference in over 500 years. On the top floor was a marvellous display of mosaics. Most were from floors of villas – tiles ranging from about 3/8” square to a few millimetres square. Other mosaics for the wall, similar to much later ones seen in the Borghese gallery, were made of tiny, tiny tiles, similar to beadwork done by the Blackfoot Nation, although in addition to patterns there were also images. I have really begun to understand how sumptuous life was for the rich in the Roman Empire. And, in the basement of the Museum was a fascinating coin and medal collection – extensive and detailed, probably of most interest to numismatics. Also there were displays of fine jewellery – fine chains and small jewels. Most surprising were the fine caps, made of thin netted gold chains.
Our tour’s final dinner together was spectacular. In a restaurant near the top of the Spanish steps, we over-looked ancient Rome, with St. Peter’s Dome on the horizon. The sun set while we enjoyed a dinner of salad, gnocchi in tomato sauce, veal (bit tough) in a fruit sauce, oven roasted potatoes with balsamic vinegar, and thin slices of sweet zucchini. Dessert was a tart of cookie-type dough and currant compote. Red and white wine flowed.
Our group sang a special version of Simon and Garfunkel’s “Cecilia”, written by Meryl. Cecilia, our guide, was overcome! And back at the hotel (on foot), she introduced her husband, and presented each of us with a small bottle of wine and a chocolate kiss.
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