Archive for April, 2010

Cecilia, you’re breakin’ my heart

S. Maria di Trastevere
An altar in Santa Maria di Trastevere, covered with notes, prayers and offerings – reminding me of the Western Wall in Jerusalem.

We met at S. Maria di Trastevere, a nice change of pace as the basilica is only two or three minutes from our apartment (whereas the Campo is almost 2km away). The basilica was founded in the 340s CE (built on the site of a 2nd century church) and is one of the oldest churches in Rome. The basilica has undergone several remodels, including a 17th century renovation by Carlo Fontana and 19th century interior renovation under Pope Pius IX.

We convened to discuss both the use of spolia (the column capitals were taken from the Baths of Caracalla) and the 13th century mosaics by Pietro Cavallini. According to Paul Hetherington, this particular mosaic cycle (Scenes from the Life of the Virgin, including six narrative scenes and a donor panel) is preeminently important as it shows the stylistic evolution in Cavallini’s work. Hetherington established a chronology of Cavallini’s works, situating the S. Maria mosaics between Cavallini’s fresco of The Last Judgment for S. Cecilia and the apse paintings in S. Giorgio al Velabro. Based on some high-quality detective work, Hetherington arrived at a new date for the S. Maria mosaics (1298 vs. 1291) based on Cavallini’s progression as well as period specific (1300-1308) minutia present in the donor panel.

Afterwards, we grabbed coffee and headed over to the basilica of S. Cecilia. On the way, we passed this amazing little pasticceria (confectionary) and I couldn’t help but stop and take a few pictures. Anyway, back to S. Cecilia: we were there to view the remains of Cavallini’s partially destroyed Last Judgment, accessible from the nun’s choir loft at the back of the basilica. The frescoes were amazing, and Hetherington’s argument about Cavallini’s maturation was apparent, but the highlight of our visit was definitely the wedding. That’s right, this week we have seen a funeral (S. Pudenziana last Tuesday) and a wedding – featuring a young bride decked out in a classic cake-topper dress. Seriously, this girl was sporting at least 30 yards of train – she had to have six (6!) cute little girls walk her down the aisle and, I’ll admit, watching her stand, sit, kneel at the altar was almost amusing – in a beautiful, sentimental kind of way.

Pasticceria Trastevere
Pasticceria in Trastevere

S. Cecilia - Cavallini Fresco
An angel from Cavallini’s Last Judgment in S. Cecilia


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Buon compleanno, Roma!

Fireworks from Piazza del Popolo

Well, we had our first midterm this morning – the hard one (ART H 497), we think. Unlike most art history exams, there were no slides/images to identify, no “compare and contrast these artists/works/periods/styles” questions and nothing unexpected. The exam was structured in the form of three short answer and two essay questions, and a time limit of an hour and a half. Because of my learning disabilities, I take my exams separately from the rest of the class, but because there are no faculty offices or broom closets to lock me in, you know what that means? I got to take my exam in a 13th century fortified brick tower. That’s right. The test went very well, I’m feeling really really great about it and it’s apparent (to me, at least) that all of my studying over the weekend paid off, and then some.

In other news, today is Rome’s 2,763rd birthday! Every year Rome’s birthday is celebrated during settimana della cultura (Italian Culture Week) with a city-sponsored fireworks display at Piazza del Popolo (Piazza of the People, appropriately). Have some fireworks pictures!

Roman Fireworks

Roman Fireworks

Roman Fireworks

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Early Christian Art: 5th Century Mosaics

Santa Prassede Courtyard
Courtyard of the Basilica di Santa Prassede

We spent today in the 5th century, visiting Santa Maria Maggiore (430 CE) and Santa Pudenziana (422-432 CE), both basilicas built after the time of Constantine, with a pitstop at the Basilica of Santa Prassede (780-822 CE) which contains the Chapel of St. Zeno and the Column of the Flagellation. Our focus today was 5th century mosaic and representations in Early Christian art – examining the nave mosaics of Old Testament scenes at S. Maria Maggiore and the apse mosaics in S. Pudenziana.

We were especially fortunate at S. Pudenziana to be afforded a privileged view of the mosaics from the choir/organ loft – an area not open to tourists, but the gentleman – Mario – in charge of the historical aspects of the basilica, led us up the narrow, winding stairs to this unbelievable space – we were less than a meter from 5th century mosaics – how cool is that? Admittedly, our discussion went a bit over time (…by almost two hours) leaving us less time to study for tomorrow’s impending midterm exam. By the time we finished up, everyone was exhausted, hungry and more concerned about the exam than ever.

As it stands, our apartment took a collective (albeit staggered) nap and we have been diligently studying since this afternoon. One of the many things I love about the Profs. Lingo is their exam style: no slide ideas, just three short answer and two essay questions based on the scholastic articles we have read, the discussions which we have had, and the themes which we have covered. It’s super intense and extremely difficult to study for, but at the same time, you really have to know your stuff in order to succeed – I always remember much more from their courses than from those in which I just have to memorize a bunch of flashcards.

5th Century Mosaics in the Apse of Santa Maria Maggiore

Basilica di Santa Prassede
Funerary Monument in S. Prassede

Basilica di Santa Pudenziana, mosaics
5th Century Mosaics in the Apse of the Basilica di Santa Pudenziana

2nd Century Brick Stamp
2nd Century Imperial Brick Used to build S. Pudenziana

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L’Angolo Divino

L'Angolo Divino
Three Italian wines, waiting to be tasted

Today we met for class at the usual time, in the usual place, before venturing on to the Oratory of the Gonfalone confraternity. The Gonfalone are Rome’s oldest confraternity, established in the 1260s, and dedicated to the Madonna della Misericordia (Virgin of Mercy). The name of the Order, derived from the Italian confalone (meaning banner), refers to the prominent role of procession in the ritual practices of the Order. Confraternities developed in Rome during the tenth century as a congregation of lay men who wish to remain “in the world” (that is to marry, have children and work in their given profession) and yet still live a pious, religious life. The Gonfalone in particular were a flagellant confraternity who, from 1490 to 1539, processed to the Colosseum (from their oratory near the Campo de Fiori) during Holy Week and enacted plays depicting the Passion of Christ. In 1539, the play incited such fervor and violence in the spectators that they stormed out of the Colosseum and stoned to death both the actors who had played as Jews and Pilate’s soldiers in the play, and also Jewish citizens in the area. Paul III reacted swiftly and revoked the Order’s privilege of performing during Holy Week, immediately acting to prevent any further outbreaks. In any case, the Oratorio we visited is in the original location, but redecorated after a fire in 1555. The new altarpiece, surprisingly, does not depict the Misericordia, but the Crucifixion – and by a Spanish painter, Pietro Roviale Spagnuolo (Pedro Rubiales, the Spaniard), no less. The whole oratory was also decorated with 12 large frescoes depicting scenes from the life of Christ in high Mannerist style – one of few remaining examples from the brief period (ending in the late 1570s).

After class, I wandered home, stopped at the grocery store for more yogurt and oranges (two new foodie obsessions) and took a brief nap before our group wine tasting at L’Angolo Divino, right off the Campo. Ordinarily, I would start describing the epic wine tasting – but first, a brief interruption to discuss the meteorological situation in Rome at 16h00 on Monday, 19 April. It was pouring. It had begun by sprinkling delightfully against the bright, sparkling sunlight when I laid down for my nap. I woke up at 15h45 to huge, pregnant raindrops that were crashing to Earth with such force as to splash several feet up into the air and proceed to soak everything. 16h00, the rain lets up – only to be replaced by pieces of hail the size of fresh chickpeas. And then the rain resumed. Now naturally, I have to be at the Campo at 16h25 and it takes approximately 15 minutes to get there, and it is still hailing and raining like you wouldn’t believe. So, I don my Naot sandals, roll up my jeans, grab my umbrella and set out. Fortunately, five or so minutes from the apartment, the sky clears and the only sources of water are now overflowing gutters and flooded storm drains.

Now, the wine tasting. Administered by Massimo at L’Angolo Divino (the Divine Corner), we spent nearly three hours learning about Italian wine: what are the different classifications and why, how to quickly differentiate between regions, the three elements of wine tasting (color, aroma and taste), the four elements of wine tasting (tannins, alcohol, acidity and body) and how to properly test and taste wine. I’ll be honest, it was a wonderful experience but Massimo’s English was difficult to understand at times, and the conversation tended to be very technical.

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Glorious Sunday

Dabney’s Bruschetta

Today was a glorious, lazy day. I wish I could have slept in a little longer (we didn’t get home until 3h00 this morning, remember, and I was up before 9h00) but it’s not a big deal. I set myself up at the kitchen counter and worked on photos for all of you, did some research for my thesis and finished the readings for tomorrow. All in all, I was incredibly productive – albeit, housebound. That being said, this is really the first day since moving to Rome that I have honestly done nothing but take care of myself. It was glorious.

Earlier in the evening, four of us from the apartment decided to cook dinner together: Pasta Carbonara and Insalata Greca. While Greek salad is pretty straightforward, I had never made Carbonara before and it was an interesting experience cooking a split batch: half gluten-free tagliatella, half whole-wheat spaghetti noodles – in different pots, of course- and using the gluten-free pasta water to both cook the egg and add starch to allow the sauce to be, well, a sauce.

Gluten free pasta carbonara!

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A Night Tour of Rome

Detail of the Trevi Fountain at 2AM

I know, it’s technically Sunday, but I had to wait – we just got back from a night walk adventure, seeing the Trevi Fountain and the Spanish Steps lit up and crowded! We didn’t even leave the apartment until 12h30 and the streets were filled with bar-hoppers, partygoers and Romans having a good ol’ time. There was a birthday at the Trevi, complete with champagne and wishes made into the fountain; every bar and gelateria was packed, crowds flowing into the streets as we made our way to the Spanish Steps. Now, I’m a terrible tourist and had not yet seen the Steps – by day or night – and this was quite the novelty for me. It was 02h00 in the morning, and the Steps were crowded, mostly with locals taking a break from the bars, or stopping to hang out before parting ways. Street vendors peddled their normal wares: over-priced neon LED toys that spin into the air and cheap keychains – but tonight, they also toted coolers filled with cheap beer – yours for only €3 a can. Gross yes, but also hilarious (worse, people were buying it – ugh!). In any case, we made our way home a little bit ago and the streets were still crowded with people – mostly in their 20s and 30s, drinking on Ponte Sisto, hovering outside bars and clubs, wandering home through the narrow, winding streets.

Detail of the Trevi Fountain

Detail of the Trevi Fountain – Neptune

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Villa d'Este - Le Cento Fontane
Le Cento Fontane (Avenue of 100 Fountains) at Villa d’Este

So… tired…

Kit and I met up at 9h00 this morning to head out to Tivoli, a small town 40km from Rome
This required catching the autobus 87 from Largo (di Torre) Argentina to the Colosseum, taking the Metro linea B to Tiburtina, and then a treno regionale for an hour and a half out to Tivoli. It was kind of ridiculous. So, at 11h30 we finally roll into the station – a teeny little building, two tracks, and one platform – which you have to traverse (by way of plywood planks between the gaps) to navigate between the platform and the station.

We head out of the station and immediately see signs for Villa d’Este (our destination) and also Villa Gregoriana, pointing the same direction. We get to a roundabout and, of course, the signs are conspicuously absent, so we walk over to a picturesque little lookout and voila, the Villa Gregoriana.

Now, “villa” is a loosely applied term. For €5 you are granted access to a beautiful park-space (in the style of well-preserved wildlife parks in the states, sans wildlife) with defined trails leading between different sublime (in the 19th century sense of the word) panoramas and picturesque locations. One particular element is the Grand Cascade (Aniene Falls) which drops 120m, diverting water from Aniene to the valley below. The Villa pivots around the Aniene Falls, part of an artificial diversion of the river constructed in 1835 at the behest of Pope Gregory XVI in response to the devastating flood of 1826. While the falls are lovely, the route to reach the lookout necessitates 95 steep, travertine stairs down, and the breath-taking (in the unpleasant, impending pulmonary embolism sort of way) 95-steps back up to the main trail. We did it – and it was lovely.

Other features include the Bernini Cascade – and no, it’s not what you’re thinking. Literally, Bernini constructed an early subterranean canal between the Aniene and the Valley of Hell (the valley upon which villa Gregoriana is perched) which culminates in a cascade – thus, the Bernini cascade! Anti-climactic, I know.

There are close to a dozen waterfalls, mostly natural, which funnel water down into the valley to join the small lake (and river) at the base of the Aniene falls. Around these cascades are natural caverns, formed by water rushing through the porous tufa stone, creating really cool looking formations and interesting passages of water. Two of these caverns were named in the 19th century by Romantic (French) poets: the Mermaid Grotto and Neptune’s Grotto, both worth seeing, but unfortunately, no mermaids.

The problem with Villa Gregoriana is this: once you hike your way down to the Mermaid Grotto, you’re feeling alright – perhaps you’re a little tired, but there’s tons to see and the air is nicely cooled by the mist from the grotto. Unfortunately, you look up and realize that you are at the bottom of the Valley of Hell and must make your way back up to the top – either back the way you came, or up towards the temple ruins and the gift shop. Half way up, you reach the Grotto of Neptune and are refreshed, but the last third of the trek, the pathway now consisting of eroded tufa instead of dirt, you stop wondering why they call it the Valley of Hell.

We finally made it to the top, passed through the irritatingly air conditioned bookshop and wandered our way back to the main road. The signs direct you to the uscita (exit) through this little alley, but that’s it – one sign, taped to a building, and you’re on your own. We make it back, cross the small stone bridge spanning the valley and find ourselves back at the unmarked roundabout. Heading in the only other possible direction, we walk for another 15 minutes (uphill, on a two-lane road, with no sidewalk) before reaching another roundabout with a distinct lack of signage. We guessed correctly, as it were, and after another 10 minutes of uncertain wandering, we found a sun-bleached sign that indicated that the Villa d’Este was to our right. 10 more minutes and we arrived – along with every other tourist in Lazio. Seriously. (Okay, maybe not). You see, today kicked off settimana della cultura – Italian culture week – which, in addition to hosting a ton of cool events, provided free entrance into state-run museums, archeological sites, etc. So, in addition to ourselves, there were a half-dozen senior citizen groups, a dozen or so different school groups (kids between ages 8-18 running about bored) and dozens upon dozens of tourists. Yikes – but so worth it.

Now, as many of you know, this is one of the principal sites I’ve been dealing with in my research. My honors thesis relates three gardens – the Villa Giulia in Rome, Villa Farnese in Caprarola and Villa d’Este in Tivoli – to both each other and the larger picture of garden design and aesthetic theory in the late Renaissance. All three villas were constructed circa 1550 and are all near Rome (Caprarola is a little under 70km northwest of Rome and Tivoli, 40km east) but each embody different aspects of Renaissance, and particularly Mannerist, ideologies concerning aesthetics, architecture and the role of the villa. Needless to say, I was pretty excited to see the garden in person, and I was not disappointed. Admittedly, the Fountain of the Pegasus was under construction, and the Fountain of the Tivoli (also known as the Fontana dell’Ovata) was drained due to hydraulic problems, and most of the catena d’acqua were fountains were not running, it was still unbelievably cool.

We meandered around the property for almost four hours before heading back, realizing a much more direct path back to the train station, and arriving just in time to catch the 16h26 train back to Rome – fortunate because the next – and last – train back to the city didn’t leave until almost 18h00. On the upside, transportation is cheap – €3 for the bus rides to and from the metro station and the metro rides to and from Tiburtina, then only €4.60 roundtrip to Tivoli (total of $10.26 USD) so it really wasn’t anything to complain about. That being said, I am exhausted. Villa Gregoriana was a hike and in our four hours at the villa, Kit and I probably walked the whole thing three times over. I would be foolish to estimate distance, but I’m not that out of shape and the only thing I can think of is sleep.

Stay tuned for more adventures al’Italia.

Villa Gregoriana – Cascade through the Valley of Hell

Villa Gregoriana – Grand Cascade

Villa Gregoriana – Grotto of the Mermaids

Villa Gregoriana – Temple of Vesta

Villa d’Este – The Fountain of Neptune and Bernini’s Water Organ

Villa d’Este – The Rometta: Goddess Roma with Romulus + Remus and the Shewolf

Villa d’Este – The Rometta: Skyline of Ancient Rome

Villa d’Este – Fountain of the Dragons

Villa d’Este – Catena d’Acqua

Villa d’Este – Medusa Catena d’Acqua

Villa d’Este – Diana of Ephesus, the Goddess of Fertility // Mother Nature

Villa d’Este – Wisteria-covered Walkway

Villa d’Este – Wisteria

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