Rome Travel Guide

Rome Architecture, History, Art, Museums, Galleries, Fashion, Music, Photos, Walking and Hiking Itineraries, Neighborhoods, News and Social Commentary, Politics, Things to Do in Rome and Environs. Over 700 posts

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Wedding Photo Shoot



Wedding photo shoot, complete with reflector, prone photographer, and married couple.  What's the location?

Monday, December 22, 2014

JMW Turner's Rome paintings - new light, new film, new prices

Modern Rome - Campo Vaccino
JMW Turner, the 19th-century artist experiencing a kind of renaissance of public opinion, in some ways is simply one among the hundreds of artists influenced by Rome.  And he's one who doesnt easily come to mind when we think of Rome influences.  With Turner, we think of seascapes.  I first saw - to my surprise - a few of his Rome works in the magnificent collection in London at the Tate Britain (not the Tate Modern).  Turner's views of Rome illuminate (and I use that word purposefully because of Turner's amazing representation of light) the city in a blend of realism and idealism that quickens the heart of any Romaphile.

Mike Leigh's new biopic, Mr.Turner, focuses on the last 25 years of the painters life, but does not include the Rome years.  Yet the film brings to life this often underrated - especially in Rome - painter.  One of the Rome paintings is seen quickly in the film at some point -  as I recall, the Forum Romanum for Mr. Soane's Museum (see below); and the movie helps us understand the eccentric Turner's love of light and ability with color.

Turner's Rome paintings also are in the news for their recent sales.  The Getty LA bought Modern Rome - Campo Vaccino (at top) in 2010 for $45 million, a record for a Turner at that time.  The British government placed an embargo on the painting, hoping a British museum would raise the money to buy it so it would not leave the country.  None did, and so the Getty now owns this acknowledged masterpiece. Modern Rome, a view over the forum, exhibits Turners exceptional ability to capture the real and the idealized views with an extraordinary mastery of color.  The Getty describes the work as follows:

"Ten years after his final journey to Rome, Turner envisioned the Eternal City through a veil of memory. Baroque churches and ancient monuments in and around the Roman Forum seem to dissolve in iridescent light shed by a moon rising at left and a sun setting behind the Capitoline Hill at right. Amidst these splendors, the city's inhabitants carry on with their daily activities. The picture's nacreous palette and shimmering light effects exemplify Turner at his most accomplished.

When first exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1839 with its pendant, Ancient Rome; Agrippina Landing with the Ashes of Germanicus, the painting was accompanied by a modified quotation from Lord Byron's masterpiece, Childe Harold's Pilgrimage (1818): "The moon is up, and yet it is not night / The sun as yet divides the day with her." Like the poem, Turner's painting evokes the enduring sublimity of Rome, which had been for artists throughout history less a place in the real world than one in the imagination.

The painting is in a remarkable state of preservation and remains untouched since it left Turner's hands."

Given that last statement, we're not sure why it's not yet on display at the Getty. [UPDATE:  The Getty is hosting what looks like a magnificent Turner exhibit Feb. 24-May 24, 2015 - and it looks like this painting will be in the exhibit.  It's one of 3 paintings on the Web site announcing the exhibit.]

Just this December 3, another Turner Rome painting - Rome, From Mount Aventine, painted in 1835 (at left), sold for $47.5 million, setting yet another record (the estimated value going into the Sotheby's auction was 15-20 million pounds; it sold for 30.3 million pounds).  It was the first time the painting had been sold in more than 130 years. 

Turner was an inveterate sketcher (also shown in Leigh's film), and no doubt used his many sketches to paint Modern Rome 10 years, and Rome, From Mount Aventine, 7 years (respectively) after he left the city.  Those sketchbooks also are the property of the Tate, and can be viewed online as well

Vision of Medea - one of the 3 works exhibited in Rome in 1928
and on display at the Tate Britain when I saw it.
In 1828, Turner's second trip to Italy (the first was in 1819 and also included Rome), he stayed primarily in Rome and 3 of his works were on public display.  His biographer says a high number of visitors (estimated 1,000) saw these works, and "were mostly mystified by what they saw," so new and unusual was his painting style.


Turner was born in 1775 to working class parents (his father was a wigmaker, and then, when those went out of style, astutely turned to being a barber).  The painter's early work under architects perhaps explains some of his life-long attraction to architectural forms, which served him well in Rome. 

As noted above, another great Rome painting is Forum Romanum for Mr. Soane's Museum.  Soane was an architect - so the architectural themes play out again here.  (And if you haven't been to the Soane Museum in London, put it on your Top Ten list!)  This painting, however, ended up as part of Turner's bequest to the government; so it apparently never went to Soane's museum; why, I don't know. 
Perhaps the most famous Rome painting is Rome, from the Vatican. Raffaelle, Accompanied by La Fornarina, Preparing his Pictures for the Decoration of the Loggia, exhibited 1820 (above).  Raphael was one of Turner's influences and 1820 marked the 300th year of Raphael's death. 

So why the Turner Exhibit at the Tate - including one on view now of "Late Turner"?  Turner bequeathed the government all the paintings, sketches, and sketchbooks in his possession at his death, with a plan to establish a fund for needy artists.  The fund never materialized, but more than a century later, the Turner Society raised enough money for the exhibition space for this vast collection at the Tate.   Many of the works are on permanent display there.

Turner is sometimes called the painter of light, and these Rome paintings exhibit that quality.  He supposedly said on his deathbed (and as replicated in Mike Leighs film), "The Sun is God," attributing a kind of metaphysical power to light. 

Dianne


Thursday, December 18, 2014

Snoopy comes to Montecelio

We found this bar in the small town of Montecelio, above the city of Guidonia, about an hour northeast of Rome's center.  It has the sophisticated look of a franchise, but the chances are that the folks who own the rights to Snoopy's image are not aware of this establishment and have not granted permission for its use.  I had my own experience with Italian disregard for international property rights some years ago, when an historical essay of mine was translated and reprinted in an Italian collection, entirely without the knowledge and permission of the author or the copyright holder--the Journal of American History.   I was pleased to see it reprinted in Italian, but surprised that no one asked beforehand, or told me about it on publication.  I found out years later.   Bill


Saturday, December 13, 2014

Grocery Store Surprises: a Rome SMA

Different kind of cart
Rome grocery stores--the chains that is--are not all that different from American stores. They're smaller yes, but they have a similar mix of departments and items.  Unlike some state-side stores, where legislation prohibits the sale of alcohol, Rome/Italian stores all stock wine--and better quality than that carried by the California stores we know.  Another difference is how metal shopping carts are regulated. In the US, you just grab one and go.  In Italy--at the big stores in Rome, at least--it takes 50 ore more centessimi (Euro cents) to free the cart from the lineup; you get it back when you return the cart.  Most stores also provide smaller, plastic carts with handles and wheels for which no deposit is required (guess which ones we use)..

Underdressed shopper




Despite the similarities, as a tourist one can still be surprised at what one finds inside one of those Rome supermarkets.  On our last visit to the city, we were regular customers at a SMA, tucked in behind the basilica of San Giovanni in Laterano.


The first surprise was a scantily clad cut-out in one of the aisles. It's safe to say you'll see nothing quite this provocative in the US, where prudishness--or one might say decorum--prevails.

Culture at Checkout








The second surprise was of another sort altogether. Across from the checkout lanes was a series of murals, illustrating the store's neighborhood setting, but nostalgically so, in a era before the automobile.


One of the murals (above right) featured a piazza and courtyard on the backside of San Giovanni in Laterano--a place seen by thousands of Romans from their automobiles every day, but one seldom visited and relatively obscure.

Another mural was more of a mystery.  The scene depicted somewhat resembles the intersection of via Druso and viale delle Terme di Caracalla, perhaps a mile from the store.  The curious "booth" at the center looks like one at that intersection, and the ruins in the background may be the baths.  No matter, we loved the dash of "culture" at the checkout counter!   Bill

Terme di Caracalla?  

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Mario Sironi, the Melancholy Fascist. A review by Frederika Randall

Pittsburgh-born guest blogger/reviewer Frederika Randall is a long time resident of Italy.  She is a superb translator of Italian works into English, including 3 books by historian Sergio Luzzatto; a near impossible task - the translation of Luigi Meneghello; and her latest achievement, Ippolito Nievo's important 19th-century novel, Confessions of an Italian.  She also writes for The Nation and for the Italian weekly Internazionale. Her other contributions to the RST blog include treatments of Roman poet Giuseppe Gioachino Belli, the Partisan anthem "Bella Ciao,"  and the 2013 Vittoriano exhibit on artist Renato Guttuso.  
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Sironi, Self Portrait
You have a great artist in your midst, perhaps the greatest of these times, and you don’t know it. Picasso, addressing feckless 20th-century Italians, was talking about Mario Sironi. It was a peculiar tribute, coming from a man who belonged to the Communist party until the day he died. While Sironi, on the other hand, was a believing Fascist even before1921, when he began working as graphic artist for Mussolini’s paper, Il Popolo d'Italia and the review Gerarchia. He even adhered to the Republic of Salò, the German-backed Italian puppet state of 1943-45, and that was much more of a minority camp than Fascism ever was.

For a taste of this political outlier—and yes, great painter—I recommend Sironi 1885-1961 show at the Complesso del Vittoriano in Rome until February 8, 2015. There are ninety paintings, graphic works and sketches for murals neatly organized to follow the artist’s life path: born in 1885, studies in
engineering, a nervous breakdown, art school, meeting Boccioni and Balla, Futurism, the Novecento, bleak urban landscapes, a brief Metaphysical phase, Fascist illustration, publicity for automaker Fiat, an Expressionist turn, followed by the huge murals commissioned by Mussolini for new Fascist public buildings in Milan and Rome.

Things looked bad for Sironi when the Liberation came on April 25, 1945. He took the road out of Milan toward Como and Switzerland, like many Fascists who feared partisan reprisals, and not wrongly. On foot, his dog on a leash by his side, Sironi was stopped at a partisan checkpoint, and only when the poet and children’s writer (and partisan) Gianni Rodari stepped in, was he saved from being shot. After the war, Sironi continued painting, and the vein of melancholy that colors everything he produced seems to have deepened into something like despair. There was no place for a man like him in a postwar Italy where all the artists and intellectuals were anti-Fascists.
This exhibit, the first in Italy dedicated to Sironi in twenty years, was curated by art historian Elena Pontiggia, who provides a very useful biographical framework to hang the artwork on, both in a short film and the good wall quotes.

This doesn’t quite compensate for the fact that not many of Sironi’s greatest paintings are on

display, or that this show is much smaller than that of 1994, which had 400
artworks. But Pontiggia does bring out a crucial fact: that Sironi was a life-long depressive, a man of melancholy who it would seem should have been quite unsuited to the Fascist regime’s celebration of might and right.

Even as a young man Sironi would close himself up in his rooms, seeing no-one, drawing obsessively. “He’ll copy a Greek head 20 or 25 times!!!” reported  Boccioni (exclamation marks his). The Futurists disapproved of antiquated art.
Urban Landscape, 1922
Yet Sironi’s most powerful works are those that don’t celebrate Fascism, modernity, or industry. His urban landscapes, some of them painted in the early 1920s, others after World War II, are haunting, and haunted. When in 1922 he produced one of several paintings titled Urban Landscape, Sironi was staying alone in a cheap hotel in Milan, too poor to bring his new wife there to live with him. Dusty white and brick-colored industrial buildings, a great black swath of train track, a tiny tram and a tiny truck. The only thing that looks animate in the composition is the lowering green and grey sky.

The Yellow Truck, 1918
In another cityscape shown here, an ashy black truck stands immobile where two utterly empty streets of factories and warehouses intersect. There is no life or movement in the painting, just beautiful volumes. Once again, only the sky is alive, with big brushstrokes of smoke and cloud.
The Yellow Truck, 1918, is another work from this period. Big rough brushstrokes, in part painted on newsprint, it suggests a Futurist enthusiasm for the vehicle itself that is utterly absent in urban scenes done even a few years later.


Urban Landscape, 1920













In another urban landscape painted in 1920, a hard brown wall hides what seems to be a construction site. Again, the night sky is roiling overhead. Sironi is no longer celebrating the dynamism of the machine that was Futurism’s trademark. The only thing that’s dynamic is the air. When it comes to the work he did in the 1930s, Fascism’s heyday, the show tries to persuade us that although he worked for the cause, his murals and wall decorations (here, sketches for his mosaic Justice Between Law and Force in the Milan Court of Assizes) were never propaganda for Fascism. But like so many efforts to rescue Sironi from his politics, this doesn’t really ring true. Fascism was not just Blackshirts and castor oil; it was a political creed based on just the kind of myths that Sironi produced in his large allegorical murals. They embody a kind of immobilism, an image of the best of all possible worlds that need never change. Sironi was happy to accept those mural commissions because he wanted to make art for the people, not for bourgeois sitting rooms. But that, too, was a thread of Fascism.
Urban Landscape, 1922


My Funeral, 1960
After the war, Sironi continued to paint, and there are several more gloomy cityscapes here, often painted in a thick impasto of brown, blue and white, that are very striking. He died in 1961, not before producing a small tempera work, My Funeral, in which a tiny hearse in one corner of the picture is followed by a tiny handful of mourners. “Let us hope that after so many storms, so many gales, so much bestial suffering,” he wrote, “that there will nevertheless be a port for this miserable heart to find peace and quiet."  

Fifty years later, his reputation as an artist has been largely detached from his role as a Fascist, but you couldn’t exactly say he rests in peace.

Frederika Randall, Rome




Monday, December 1, 2014

Marcello and Sophia's Wild Ride in the South of Rome OR, an RST itinerary for the Jet Set

Sophia - photo explanation below
Arizona State University historian friends of ours asked us to lay out an auto itinerary for them… outside Rome, à la the second time.  We asked what they liked – small towns (we’re okay at that), beaches (hmmm, we’re not so good at that). 
We came up with an itinerary mainly to the south of Rome that includes the Castelli Romani, Norma/Norba, the Mussolini-created town of Latina (near the beaches), Anzio (more beaches + WWII), Ostia (more beaches), and Ostia Antica.   The itinerary is a full and interesting one, developed mostly by Bill.  We’ve included Bill's original itinerary at the end of this post; for those RSTers who want to go farther afield.
Brian and Cathy amended the trip somewhat, as we hoped they would.  They went off in a convertible with an unusual June rainstorm looming and added more religious sites – the latter makes sense since Catherine – of the Loren car scarf - is a specialist in Catholic church history.
Brian dutifully wrote us a report of their trip – which we found interesting and funny and fun.  And he included photos.  We asked him if we could use his text and photos as a guest blog post.  In a weak moment, he said “yes” – and so it follows (again, with Bill’s original itinerary and a map at the end):


               I will send in a moment a link to a set of photographs that will bore you [included rather than linked here, and photos of Italy never bore us], but they do demonstrate a high level of compliance to your commands. Obedience paid nice dividends, thank you very much.  Our getaway into the Castelli Romani was smooth, and the temperature dropped 10 degrees—on the road trip the front brought in rain, but not all the time, hence Marcello and Sophia (pictured) looked really sharp with the ragtop down, RayBans on. 

Norma - and to the left, Norba
        I freaked out over Norma, its precarious position alone quite stimulating save when drunk.  
I provide photographic evidence of the scholastic role the Mussolini family played there, but the best part were the chistes [Brian, being Arizonan, prefers Spanish to Italian; apparently this means “jokes”] between the old men and the old ladies in the piazza. The old ladies won. 







Meanwhile, Cathy danced in the street, flipping her Loren car scarf at the pious inhabitants of the tortured dank alleyways. 











We dropped down onto the malarial plane [the Agro Pontino] and found it a place not unlike Phoenix…agriculture being king as it once was in that American desert city.  And, like that city, there are some pretty conservative views there, as a photo of a sign on the gate to a “pilgrim’s way” suggests.  







Near Latina, we found an inexpensive luxury beach hotel, and you will see the proof of that. 

Someone with an engineering sense had laid out these weird, for Italy, straight roads called migliara [ok, Brian – that refers to “miles”].  Once we found these we were set.  Primarily to head back to the hills and examine monasteries that my perfect spouse insists on visiting.  I think she prays in them, god forbid. Indeed, it was claimed we stood in the very cell in which Thomas of Aquinas died, joining in that moment the natural law with the divine one. 
I attach a shot of me standing around while Loren recited the rosary, and of the cool Solomon’s riddle that the Cistercian monks had placed in the chapter room of their truly beautiful abbey. 

I failed in my search for porchetta.  Sophia kept insisting I could get it in the next town, waving her scarf “adelante,” until we ended up in another monastery town, Sermoneta, in a torrential rain.  The waiter, hearing the word as I pronounced it and seeing as I pointed to the trattoria sign that said they had it, motioned us to sit down at a soaking table under a suspect umbrella, napkins drenched, water dripping on our heads, and Italians in doorways barely suppressing their laughter at these Yanks, too slow to come in out of the rain.  I did prevail upon the man to seat us inside.  He presented us with bending plates of excellent cheeses and first-rate olives and scrumptious red peppers, the display heavy with delicious meats, all of the porcine variety but well cured and lacking a trace of porchetta. [Hey, Brian – note we said porchetta in Ariccia – in the Castelli Romani.  Local means local in Italy.]

We surmised that, desperate for customers, he had decided that the Americans were going to get a “big pig feast” all right, just not the one we indicated.  It was grand, as was the cool castle at the top of the town where we listened, with some comprehension, to the tale of the Castiglione, dukes of the town and of the pestilential plain, one of whom, at the battle of Lepanto, met a fetching Aragonesa and married her, bringing Spanish ducados into the ducato.
Sermoneta

As we returned we visited Anzio, a sad thing really, all those young, slender boys with smiles on their faces and guns in their hands. Going along the road to Ostia Antica, with its mosaics and its Roman playwright’s coffin carved in honor of the muse, we encountered what Bill once did, a sign for a bar named Tom and Jerry, a reminder of my purpose in life, which is, it appears, to give a TnJ party every year.



Ciao!

PS… threw in your picture again, as a sign of thanks for being so kind to us.  We offer sincere congratulations for finishing the f*!@#g wall.  [You may surmise that Brian accompanied us on one of our “wall walks” of Rome.  That section was posted on the blog in early November.  From his comment, you may – or may not – want to replicate that section of the wall, esp. in blistering Rome heat.]

           
The itinerary as offered by us:

Hi Brian and Cathy,
   "Small towns, a beach" isn't much to go on.  But with those guidelines, here's something you might like: 
1.  First day.  Drive into the Alban Hills (Colli Albani/Castelli Romani) on highway 7, catching towns of Castel Gandolfo (Pope's summer residence, town just OK, not so fascinating; view spectacular), Albano (great cistern there, better town), Genzano (famous for Pane (bread) Genzano); Ariccia (home of porchetta, and a Bernini church, castle, etc., one of our favorite towns).  There are two lakes up there, Albano and Nemi (smaller), though if you choose to explore them you likely won't be able to reach your "destination" (Norma), archeological sites, etc.  Then through Velletri (site of 5th army breakthrough; mostly rebuilt after the war) and onto an area on the fringe of the Monte Lepini that's pretty cool.  Latter includes Ninfa  (an amazing park-like area, sometimes open to the public - on the flats before Norma/Norba) and, on the bluff, Norma (where's there's a hotel - and it's decent).  Norma is paired with "Norba" - an ancient Roman site, mostly buried now and the land used for grazing - but Norba/Norma is spectacular area for views and distinctive tiny town.
2.  Day 2   Drive southwest off the bluff and (back) onto the flat plain of the Agro Pontino, once famous for mosquitos, then for eradicating them, to the town of Latina, one of several in this area constructed by the Mussolini regime.  Nifty Fascist-era modernism. Don't miss the "M" building.  From there, over to Nettuno/Anzio, where the allies landed and where I assume you can find a beach.  Good (if idiosyncratic; run by an individual) World War II museum and, of course, cemeteries.  OR from Latina you can head to the coast and go SOUTH, cruising along a spectacular beach /Lido, spending some time in another of the Fascist cities, Sabaudia, and finding your way (not far) to Monte Circeo, which you can hike--it's not hard and there's a great view from the top up the coast.  There are hotels in Circeo and wine (labeled Circeo) is made there.  If you stop short of Circeo, there's another very small fascist town, Pontinia, which has one (good) hotel.  Note that the hotels often have the best dinners.  It's sometimes not easy to find good dinner eating (lunch, yes - including full meal lunches) in small towns.
3.  Day 3  (assuming you don't head south on Day 2).  
From Anzio you can either shoot straight north to Aprilia, then left to Pomezia (both Mussolini towns) or putter along the coast going northwest til you find a good beach.  Lido di Ostia is a great large beach town and has some wonderful modernist architecture.  From there, head toward Rome to Ostia Antica, the 2000 year old port city, the remains of which are quite something.  Then to Rome.  OR if you're into the Etruscan scene, continue NW to Cerveteri for some quality time with tombs.  Another good beach town, instead of the more crowded Ostia, is Fregene.  You can get access to public beaches in all these places (though many beaches are private), and there's a good public one in Fregene.  Then to Rome.  You can also do Ostia and Ostia Antica by train from Rome.  Fregene no.  
   Nota bene:  though we've seen everything mentioned above, we have never done this as a three day itinerary, and we don't know your habits, whether you're into 3-hour lunches, etc.  Some of the roads are very curvy and slow, others straight and fast.  Traffic and curvy mountain roads will slow you down, maybe significantly.  So it's hard to know if this sequence will work for you. 
   You'll need a Lazio map to get a sense of distances and to plan in detail.
Hope this helps!
Bill (and Dianne)