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It’s showtime!

Villa d'Este - Irises
Irises from the Villa d’Este

WHEW!

As of 16h30 this afternoon, the site presentation I’ve been stressing out over all week was over! Done, finished, kaput – the best feeling in the world. The whole thing ended up taking almost three hours – including my formal presentation and discussion, and an hour for everyone to roam (pun intended) around the garden. The weather was surprisingly pleasant – maybe a little on the humid side, but in general, it was dry, sunny but breezy. Discussion was a little sad, but more than anything I think that was a result of the circumstance: we had been traveling since 8h15 this morning, spending the morning at Hadrian’s Villa (for Denver’s awesome presentation on the Maritime Theater and the logic behind Hadrian’s massive design). The Maritime Theater is a really interesting space – said to be Hadrian’s private retreat and, amongst other interpretations, the symbolic and physical nucleus of the sprawling villa. McEwen argues for a strong connection to the structure and design of the Pantheon (this involved literally hundreds of measurements and comparisons between the two and some um, creative extrapolation) which, in another article, she connects to the composition of a rhetorical argument and the ancient art of oration. Here, too, McEwen relates the architecture to rhetoric, arguing that the villa as a whole but, most particularly the Maritime Theater, was a memory palace for Hadrian. For those of you unfamiliar with the ancient arts of memory, the Palace was one particular technique for remembering a speech or different ideas. The concept is that you would imagine a great palace and assign different ideas to the furnishings, architecture, curios, etc. and then, when you wanted to remember a speech, say, you would walk through the palace (or room) and the visualization would trigger a strong memory response.

In any case, the Maritime Theater is one of the least-understood spaces at the villa. The concentric-circle form is very uncommon and it’s pretty quirky: there is an inner disk of land, surrounded entirely by a moat (which was more of a reflecting pool, but stocked with really scary fish – I SAW THEM) then an outer rim of land, enclosed by walls. Now here’s the fun thing – Hadrian specifically designed the inner disk and its small temple-like structure to be a private retreat and, as such, made the bridges removable. When he wanted to have some alone time, he would go out with a servant and then pick up the wooden bridge and keep it with him on the island. Cool, right?

Anyway, we walked around for a few hours to see the rest of the Villa which includes baths, the Canopus and Serapeum (pool and grotto – probably the most famous/iconic structures), the hospital, Greek theater, and Temple of Venus. Somewhere in there, we also had an informal picnic (by “somewhere” I mean in the dirt at the Temple of Venus) before driving into Tivoli proper to the Villa d’Este for my presentation.

We arrived at the villa around 13h30 and I jumped into my presentation, in the courtyard before slowly wandering through the villa itself and the hall of frescoes to kill a little bit of time. Leading the group down to the Rometta fountain, I got into more of the meat of my discussion, raising issues of the period (most notably, the influence of the Counter Reformation) and introducing what I feel to be the most influential factor: humanism and the resulting interest in antiquities. Finishing this section, we were just in time for the Water Organ performance at 14h30 which, while brief, was unbelievably cool and a new experience for both the group and myself. From this point, we walked down to the Porta Romana (the original entrance to the property) to introduce the element of spatial experience and design and its prominent role in the garden. At this point, we turned everyone loose to explore the garden for an hour before reconvening at the loggia for ice cream (mmm magnum bars…) and a final discussion based on the group’s on-site experience. We finished up just in time to meet our bus driver at 16h30 and make the hour-long journey back to Rome.

Hadrian's Villa, Maritime Theater, Villa Adriana, Tivoli, Italy, Italia
Hadrian’s Villa – Maritime Theater

Hadrian's Villa - Maritime Theater
Hadrian’s Villa – Maritime Theater

Hadrian's Villa, Baths
Hadrian’s Villa – Baths


Hadrian’s Villa – the Canopus and Serapeum (pool and grotto, respectively)

Hadrian's Villa, Mars, Canopus, Sculpture
Sculpture of Mars at the Canopus

Villa d'Este - Gate
One of the subsidiary gates to the lower gardens of the Villa d’Este

del Popolo


Columns in Santa Maria del Popolo

Today began with a brief stop inside Sant’Agostino to see Caravaggio’s Madonna di Loreto and discuss the complications of decorum and representation c. 1600. We particularly considered these issues as applied to the Madonna, which was sharply criticized in the later 17th century for being indecorous – showing too much of the filth from the streets. Pamela Jones argue that this was a reflection of contemporary (c. 1672) feelings and opinions on poverty more than an objective criticism.

We soon made the journey north to Piazza del Popolo for my roommate Maria’s presentation on the Cerasi Chapel. I have to give this girl major kudos – not only is she presenting on not one, but two Caravaggio paintings, but two Caravaggio’s and and an Annibale Carracci – talk about awesome, but also intense! She did an amazing, amazing job arguing for the connection and mutual influence between the two artists, amongst other things. Like I said, she did a fantastic job and definitely set the bar a little (ok, a LOT) higher and I only hope I can live up to it!

Afterwards, Kit, Kristin and I grabbed lunch at a local osteria before heading back to the Rome center. I made a pit-stop at Piazza Navona and stocked up on amazing art – not the mass-produced pseudo-watercolors, but the real, one-of-a-kind stuff. Gorgeous and unique – I love it. Anyway, post-retail therapy, spent the rest of the evening at the Rome Center fine-tuning my presentation and printing out my notes for tomorrow – yikes!

Piazza del Popolo - Santa Maria in Montesanto
Santa Maria in Montesanto

On the way to Valzani…

Classic Fiat
Classic Fiat sitting outside Valzani

I can at least say I was productive today. I didn’t really leave the apartment, but I made serious progress on my presentation on Villa d’Este for Tuesday – hey, it’s only 20% of my grade, no sweat. Presenting in the field, you say? Oh, well that changes things. Yes indeed, I have to present on Tuesday on (and at) Villa d’Este – totally awesome, and also extremely challenging. The whole site is steeply terraced and there is no good single-vantage point (one of the basic elements of the design, thank you Pirro Ligorio for not anticipating this assignment!) and with all of the beautiful fountains, the ambient noise level is pretty intense – especially for people like me who have learning disabilities which interfere with our ability to process sound in a noisy situation. Fortunately I’m the one presenting, right? Anyway, I’m thinking that I’ll stage my presentation in three parts: open in the courtyard, move through through the house to the garden and stop at the Rometta, then make a bee line for the Porta Romana. Sounds good, right? Right?!

Deep breath. I’ll be fine.

Oh the Fiat? Right, seen on my single venture from the apartment to Valzani for some chocolate fortification. Valzani, whose sign is just legible on the upper left section of wall, is a local dolceria (sweet shop), specializing in Roman treats (cannoli, cakes, etc.) and has been family-owned since it opened in 1925. Located on the corner of an unnamed serpentine alley and the Piazza di S. Apollonia, I walk past the shop every single day on my way to wherever and, especially in the mornings, right before 9h00, you can always smell the freshly baked cakes and cannoli as they come out of the oven. Oh man. Inside, there is a sweet old woman, one of the original daughters, who works the cash register and makes the best dark chocolate hazelnut bark I have ever had in my life – and she swears it’s gluten free. I love this woman.

Villa Aldobrandini

Villa Aldobrandini - Water Theater Panorama
Carlo Maderno’s Teatro dell’Acqua at Villa Aldobrandini, c. 1600

This morning was unbelievable.

Kit, Vicki and I traipsed through the pouring Roman rain to catch a Regionale train to Frascati to see Villa Aldobrandini. We arrived at Termini around 9h25, in plenty of time for the 9h52 train – so we thought. We bought our tickets, validated them, and waited for the platform to post. Post it did, on the large digital sign spanning the platform, and we walked over to Platform 23 and a waiting train. Several other people got on the train and asked if this was going to Frascati (always a good sign that you’re in the right place). The train slowly filled, then 9h52 came and went… we were moderately concerned, but didn’t want to leave the train to double-check if, on the off-chance this train was just running late, we would not be able to get back on. At 10h05 we finally deboarded and went to check the departure board again – and much to our dismay, Platform 23 was now rescheduled to Cassino and the 9h52 train to Frascati had departed from a different platform. Typical Italy. The platform posts 10 minutes before departure, then sometimes they just change it, but do they make an announcement? Of course not.

So, irritated and still slightly damp, we check to see when the next train leaves – thinking it would be an hour after the first departure, like most Regionale trains, but oh no, another Italia moment: the next train to Frascati doesn’t leave until 11h52 – the only two hour gap in the entire schedule. Now, being my mother’s daughter, I resigned myself to my fate and remembered that everything happens for a reason. So, with an hour and a half to kill, we did what any rational group of art historians would do in the face of adversity: we went across the street to McDonald’s and got soft serve sundaes. We boarded the 11h52 train just in time and made the 20km journey in as many minutes, arriving around 12h15 at the teeny (albeit scenic) Frascati train station.

This was Kit’s second journey out here, having visited the previous Friday (the day before May Day) only to find everything unseasonably closed. Why take one day off when you can take three? So, in hopes of better luck, the three of us planned today’s adventure. We walked from the train station, up a winding two-lane road lined with thick vegetation, strongly reminding me of driving through Oregon backroads in the spring or summer. It was damp, but cool enough to inexplicably see our breath as we panted up the hill. We reached Villa Aldobrandini only to find the gate closed and padlocked shut. Fantastic. Unsure of what to do, and with no one to ask (it was siesta, after all, and no one was around) we walked further up the hill in search of the small church advertised in tiny lettering on a road sign. Five more minutes up the brick-paved hill and we found the church – down a long, steep (and overgrown) path into the surrounding vegetation. Knowing it, too, would likely be closed, we sat for a few minutes and tried to come up with a plan.

It is now after 13h00, and walking back down the hill, we decided to wait for more of the finanzia officers to leave for siesta and ask one of them what was going on with the villa. We waited by the gates, and were about to stop one of the drivers when we noticed a lone pedestrian making his way up the hill. He was an older gentleman, in his sixties or maybe seventies, with a bucket hat and paint spattered wingtips. He saw us and slowed in his approach to the villa gate, and Kit asked him (in Italian) where the proper entrance was. His immediate response – in English – was that the villa was not open on the weekends. (This just gets better, right?) “But,” he said “I live inside, if you would like to see the grounds – for a few minutes.”

Shock and elation would properly, albeit somewhat inadequately, describe our reaction. We thanked him profusely and he let us in, locking the little wooden door behind us and explaining that he would have to let us out again. As we walked around the villa to the rear garden, he asked where we were from and, upon hearing Seattle, smiled and seemed to warm up a little bit. We explained that we are three art historians, researching 16th century gardens and villa architecture and he, in turn, explained that he was a Dutch-born former architect, raised in London and now living at the villa as a painter – his name is Herbert. He took us to Maderno’s teatro dell’acqua and let us roam around the courtyard for a while before offering to take us up behind the cascade – definitely not an area commonly open to tourists. We wandered around, walking along the catena d’acqua towards the upper cascades, looking back to the beautiful house. He was incredibly knowledgeable on both Villa Aldobrandini and other 16th century villas in the area, including Villa d’Este, Villa Gregoriana, Villa Torlonia and Sacro Bosco in Bomarzo.

He set us loose near the upper cascades, informing us that he would be in his house just down the road and that were to come knock when we wished to leave. Reveling in our good fortune, we spent quite a while with the half-destroyed fountain, nymphaeum and cascades before walking down the shaded, muddy road to the little terra cotta villa. We walked through the gate, beneath the wisteria covered pergola and Herbert welcomed us in to see his studio. He is incredibly talented, working in an Impressionist vein but with bright, clear colors — and Jimi Hendrix blaring on the stereo. As it turns out, his interest and affection for Seattle stems largely from his love for Hendrix – imagine that.

We bid Herbert farewell and made our way back to the train station, still somewhat in awe of the afternoon’s events. Catching the 15h29 train back to Rome, we arrived safely back in Termini by 16h00 and that is where our adventure ends.

Villa Aldobrandini
Villa Aldobrandini – view from the Catena d’Acqua

Villa Aldobrandini - Gate
Gate into the Villa proper – and harbinger of art nouveau?

Villa Aldobrandini - Atlas and Catena d'Acqua
Atlas in the central niche of the teatro

Villa Aldobrandini - Polyphemus
Polyphemus in the teatro

Villa Aldobrandini - Centaur
Centaur in the teatro

Villa Aldobrandini - Faun Herm
Faun Herm in the teatro

Villa Aldobrandini - Catena d'Acqua
Catena d’Acqua and emblazoned column (stars and stripes + merlons are part of the Aldobrandini crest)

In Memoriam

Amaretti
Gluten free Amaretti cookies with Earl Grey tea

I’ll be honest, I had the most productive morning: I read, I researched, I worked on my thesis and my presentation – woo! Then I went to work and all hell somewhat broke loose.

After checking my e-mail, I received a startling update. A friend’s sister wrote to tell everyone that our wonderful Rob was not doing so well. Now, Rob had been diagnosed with leukemia in July 2009, only a few months after graduating from college, and had been battling hard ever since. I’ve been in touch with him regularly over the past year, moreso than the few years prior where a gap in camp attendance put our friendship on hold. Rob and I go way back – I think I was 11 my first year of camp, and even though we spent every summer together for the next six years, that’s how I will always remember him – from the perspective of a little girl at her first sleep away camp.

It was late July in Cheney, Washington and it was hotter than hell. The drive was bleak, the air dry, and the brick Skeeter Hall was surprisingly cool, albeit dark. Rob may not have been the first person to talk to me, but I know he was there when I went to eat dinner alone on the first day and again when I didn’t have a partner in our digital film class. In the afternoon at the pool, and even in the group picture on the rock climbing wall – this cute, quirky, vivacious kid was there for me when I didn’t know a soul. I had the biggest crush on him for probably three years before I finally gave up and settled for friendship – as if you could call it settling.

Rob was the most sincere, kind, whimsical person I have ever met. He was brilliant and funny and sweet, and if you were ever having a bad moment, he was there to cheer you up and get you back on track. If I could only say one thing, I would say that Rob loved life and it loved him back – so it seemed.

The Most Handsome Squire Ever Known
From 2002 – the most handsome squire around.
Rest in Peace, Rob – zichronam livracha
Roman Rooftops

Today was unbelievable, but I’ll be honest, it had its moments.

Pro: We started off the day with our best discussion yet – oriented around Caravaggio’s Bacchus (1595) , Amor Vincit Omnia or “Love Conquers All” (1602-03) and The Martyrdom of St. Matthew (1599-1600). Con: we had class twice today, and our discussion lasted forever. Pro: we had a really nice break after class. Con: I had an appointment with our TA and didn’t have time to do anything, much less eat. Pro: we got to go to the Quirinal! Con: our TA, leading myself and Denver, got us lost on the way to the museum and we had to all-but run to make it remotely on time. Pro: CARAVAGGIO! IN REAL LIFE! IN FRONT OF ME! Con: everyone being “CARAVAGGIO! IN REAL LIFE! IN FRONT OF ME!” Dude, German tourists are so rude, they shushed us after a single word, they would literally shove you out of the way, and on top of it all, they would stand right in front of the paintings, listening to their audio tours and frequently, repeatedly set off the motion detectors. UGH.

But seriously, Caravaggio was unbelievably, indescribably amazing. Most of you know that I am a bad art-lover and think museums are bo-ring and that most paintings that have been removed to a museum can actually be best experienced through a high quality reproduction (aka digital slide). I know, I’m a terrible person. But Caravaggio – oh, Caravaggio. I was so incredibly impressed with the texture in his work. Not his painterliness, but the representation of different textures – velvet, silver, fur, hair, lace, leather and his skin, it was tangible, fleshy, inviting and his feathers!, oh gosh. These feathers are unbelievable – particularly the ostrich feather in the cap of the gentleman in The Cardsharps – it’s light, fluffy, soft – you can almost feel it tickle your skin. The most frightening thing was viewing the painting from an oblique angle (I was standing in front of the Bacchus and happened to look over) and it looks as if the plume was actually stuck onto the painting – as if it were multimedia art, a real feather, applied to the canvas. Like I said, unbelievable.

* Oh yeah, for those of you who didn’t know, Caravaggio’s real name is Michelangelo. Go figure.

Musei Vaticani

Musei Vaticani - St. Peter's
View of St. Peter’s from the Pinacoteca

Okay, the Vatican Museums – as much as I disdain them for treating art and history as material assets – have a few things going for them. First of all: sheer size. Holy cow (literally?) – so big! Second, the most awesomest stuff ever. EVER.

Just look. And drool.

Musei Vaticani - Apollo Belvedere
Apollo Belvedere

Musei Vaticani - Laocoön
Laocoön and His Sons

Musei Vaticani - Reclining River God
Reclining River God

Musei Vaticani - Belvedere Torso
Belvedere Torso

Musei Vaticani - Staircase
Staircase in the Musei Vaticani