Posts Tagged ‘art history’

Family Fun with the Farnese

Palazzo Corsini
Palazzo Corsini (it’s not the Farnesina, but it’s across the street!)

Well our morning began at the Farnesina, the ‘little Farnese’ villa on the Trastevere side of the river, right next door to John Cabot University. Fortunately for our apartment, we were able to meet the rest of the group on site (rather than crossing the river back and forth in quick succession) which gave us an extra 15 minutes to sleep in – a much needed break, albeit brief, after such a crazy week. Honestly, it feels like all we have been doing is go go go for the past ten days, and with no sign of the pace letting up before we end in Venice- that would be after finals, if you’ve been following closely.

In any case, Kristin delivered an amazing presentation on Raphael’s Cupid & Psyche Loggia (1518-19) in the Farnesina before we headed back to the classroom to discuss Annibale Carracci’s ceiling (1597-1600) in the Palazzo Farnese (the big palace) across the river, abutting the Campo de Fiori. Unfortunately, the Palazzo Farnese is now the French Embassy and access is severely restricted. While past programs have been able to schedule appointments to view the gallery, the French government really hassled our program this time and we were unable to get in – talk about a major disappointment. Ah well, the ceiling is totally epic and while the quadratura does not reproduce especially well, the overall effect can still be understood from photographs.

That being said, we discussed the socio-political context of this highly controversial ceiling – modeled in part on both Michelangelo’s ceiling for the Sistine and Raphael’s loggia at the Farnesina, Annibale’s ceiling features scenes from the love-lives of antique gods and goddesses: Jupiter and Juno, Venus and Adonis, Bacchus and Ariadne, etc. The frescoes are beyond suggestive and honestly, border on pornographic – so how was this commission perceived in the context of a Cardinal’s Roman palace in the shadow of the Vatican? Quite strangely, one might imagine, especially considering it was a Farnese pope (Paul III) who convened the Council of Trent in the first place. So what gives? Well, as it turns out, this was during the papacy of Clement VIII (Ippolito Aldobrandini), a very conservative pope (think Theatine), whose family was trying to marry into the Farnese – and it was a bitter, violent negotiation, more like warfare than a marriage contract, with both sides lying to one another in turn. Rumor has it that the ceiling was actually meant to be in celebration of this marriage – and maybe just a bit of an ‘eff you’ to the Aldobrandini pope and a whole-hearted ‘Welcome to the family!’, don’t you think?

Still waiting for my presentation grade (cue panic attack) so that I can work on the follow-up paper due on Tuesday by midnight – yikes!

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It’s showtime!

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


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

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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.

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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

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Pink tea rose from the atrium at S. Cecilia in Trastevere

Today we had another long-ish day in the field – we met at the Gesù to discuss both the original 16th century structure and facade, designed by Giacomo Barozzi da Vignola and Giacomo della Porta between 1568-1575. The Gesù, used as an architectural template for many future churches in the late 16th and 17th centuries, was designed and built for the Jesuits as their “home church” in Rome. The Jesuits, founded by Ignatius of Loyola, were confirmed into an Order in the 1540 under Pope Paul III (Alessandro Farnese) and it was Paul III’s grandson, also Alessandro Farnese*, who was the driving force behind the Gesù project.

Cardinal Farnese called upon the family architect, Vignola, to design and build for him (erm, I mean, the Jesuits) a great, impressive church with no aisles and a barrel vaulted nave. Now, this may sound like a great deal – the Pope confirms your order, then his wealthy grandson offers to build for you a church – unfortunately, the style of the Gesù wasn’t really their taste. Until this point, the Jesuits had favored more traditional church plans: long nave, a pair of side aisles and a flat timber roof. As we can see, the Gesù is not of that persuasion. Admittedly, all of the gilding of the dome and the ridiculous trompe l’oeil frescoes were later additions, even the basic structure of the church (essentially a Greek cross plan with an elongated nave) is very different from the basic basilica form.

After finishing up at the Gesù, we made our way to Trastevere, crossing the Isola Tiburtina (Tiber Island) and stopping at a bar for coffee along the way.We wound our way through Trastevere, back to Santa Cecilia, this time to see Stefano Maderno’s 16th century sculpture of the recumbent Cecilia. First, a brief recap of Cecilia’s story: she was a Roman noblewoman, living in Trastevere, martyred in the 3rd century (along with her husband, Valerian, his brother, Tiburtius and a soldier, Maximus). Evidently, she married Valerian but never consummated the marriage, and instead, converted him to Christianity – along with his brother. When the soldier Maximus was sent by Emperor Marcus Aurelius Severus Alexander to execute her, he too was converted to Christianity and was quickly martyred himself. Another soldier was sent after Cecilia and they apparently decided to boil her to death in her own caldarium, restraining her in the tub and stoking the fires for 24 hours – naturally, she emerged, dry as a bone, and totally unharmed. At this point, the emperor has had quite enough and decided to have her decapitated – unfortunately, Roman law has a “three strikes” contingency and if, after three blows, the victim is still alive – oh well. This was the case with Cecilia – three blows to the neck, and she was still alive – and continued to be for three days, during which time she gave away all of her worldly possessions, blessed her house and her family and died singing the praises of God – thus, in the 16th century, she became the patron saint of music.

Now, legend has it that in 821, Pope Paschal I was called – in a dream – by Cecilia to go recover her remains from the catacombs outside the city and bring them to a place in Trastevere (the location of her former home) and there, build for her a church. So he did. In 1599, Cardinal Sfondrato (I don’t know why, but I always think of Dracula when I hear his name) wanted to renovate the church and, in seeking to establish a stronger connection to its Early Christian past, began excavations in hopes of finding St. Cecilia’s relics. Well, he was successful – and then some. He found the relic/bodies of Valerian, Tiburtius, Maximums and Pope Urban I (who baptized Cecilia) all beneath the altar – and of course, he also found Ceclia: “entire and uncorrupt…more than 1,307 years after her death” wrote Sfrondrato. Unfortunately, in all of their excitement at finding her body, they were too afraid to violate her modesty by touching the veils covering her body, so no one actually verified this claim – or even whether or not the body had a head. Oh, I didn’t mention it? Right, well, when Pope Paschal I interred Cecilia’s body in this new church, he apparently put her head in a separate reliquary and sent it to Santi Quattro Coronati – but if it ever was there, none of the nuns know anything about it today. So yes, the body/relic of S. Cecilia may have been headless – but Cardinal Sfrondrato and Pope Clement VIII were too concerned with Cecilia’s modesty to check. Um, yeah… about that… But it gets better: apparently, Stefano Maderno’s sculpture is said to be an exact rendering of the exhumed body/relic, as it was recovered in December of 1599 and before it was reinterred in January of 1600, complete with head and turban-veil, the first representation of its time.

Here’s where the art history gets interesting: in order to represent the exhumed body as it was recovered such that it could be present at the altar, the Maderno had to sculpt a recumbent Cecilia. This could have been a problem – because obviously, any prostrate female figure is an instant sexual object, didn’t you know? So in order to desexualize this representation, Maderno twists Cecilia’s head around at an unnatural angle, present the viewer with the back of her turban-covered head and the three wounds in her neck (which are still dripping blood, FYI). So, that’s the story of Santa Cecilia.

After S. Cecilia, Kristin and Lori took me to the Indian restaurant nearby and, I have to say, it was pretty good. It wasn’t great, but it was gluten friendly, fairly tasty (if not what I’m used to) and on the cheaper side. Breaking up after lunch, we parted ways to begin more test prep – I tell you, this has been just the longest week. Our second midterm (ART H 397 – Roman Art & Architecture, Ancient-Present) which covers everything from 6th century BCE Etruscan Tombs to the Column of Trajan to the apse mosaics of Santa Pudenziana – yikes. Wish me luck!

(*These names may be familiar to you if you’ve been keeping up with my thesis: Paul III began work on Villa Farnese at Caprarola and his same grandson, Alessandro, hired Vignola to complete it in the 1550s-60s).

Gesù Ceiling
A look at the barrel vault in Il Gesù

Il Gesù - Capella di S. Maria della Strada
Fresco of the Annunciation from the Capella di S. Maria della Strada in the Gesù – so beautifully rendered, check out the detail of the veil around Gabriel’s wings!

Sant'Angelo Window Box
Window Box in Rione Sant’Angelo

Rose from the atrium at S. Cecilia

Santa Cecilia
Stefano Maderno’s recumbent Saint Cecilia, 1599

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Optics and Illusions

No picture today, I know, I know, but I have a nifty video instead! Dr. Charles Falco, professor of Optical Science and (Condensed Matter) Physics at the University of Arizona, came to speak this evening on the subject of Optics in the History of Art, the use of lenses in (Flemish) Renaissance art. I was kind of offended by all of his anti-art history jokes and really demeaning attitude towards art historians, but the lecture itself was really interesting. This video is NOT the lecture he gave last night, but it’ll give you a taste of his awesome work.

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