Posts Tagged ‘Rome 2010’

Guido Reni a go-go

Near San Gregorio Magno
Remnants of the Early Christian monastery at S. Gregorio

Well today was pretty interesting – we met at Palazzo Pio before walking around the corner to SS. Trinità dei Pellegrini, one of only a handful of churches in Rome who have revived the Tridentine Rite – at least for Sunday Mass. Why is this relevant? Well we arrived at the church at 8h30, just as morning Mass was ending and the priest was nice enough to turn on the recently-installed electric lights after he had cleared the altar so that we could best view Guido Reni’s Holy Trinity altarpiece from 1624-26. Unfortunately, we couldn’t stage our discussion in front of Reni altarpiece because there was one particular woman, in her seventies or eighties, who was still praying. We wandered back to the classroom and discussed the work before hopping a series of busses to S. Gregorio Magno al Celio and particularly, the Oratorio di Sant’Andrea al Celio which features two amazing in situ frescoes: Guido Reni’s St. Andrew Led to Martyrdom and Domenichino’s Flagellation of St. Andrew. Unfortunately, while it’s amazing that the frescoes are still in situ, they have suffered over the centuries and really, really do not reproduce well. We spent an hour or so discussing the two works, both individually and in relationship to one another, before heading back to the Rome center for more time with Caravaggio.

The debate really focuses on the different conceptions of narration in early 17th century painting. Both Reni and Domenichino were trained at the Caracci Academy in Bologna, but they chose very different modes of representation for these frescoes. There was an anecdote, described in letter from the 1610s, just a few years after the frescoes were finished, which captures the essence of the issue – the story goes like this…

One morning, an old woman and her grandson enter the oratory – presumably to see the new paintings and for reasons of personal devotion. They pause in front of Reni’s Martyrdom, but the grandmother says nothing. Turning around, they pause in front of Domenichino’s Flagellation and the grandmother immediately begins narrating the story to her young grandson, explaining who the characters are and what is being represented.

This story was used as evidence for the greater success of Domenichino’s fresco because, critics wrote, the story was thus more legible than in Reni’s painting and Domenichino’s obvious mastery of affetti provide the perfect models for the viewer’s expected response. I disagree. I don’t think for a moment that Reni’s isn’t “as good” or doesn’t function as well – it just functions differently. The Reni is much more intellectual and the composition more complicated – the whole thing really requires solemn contemplation (the perfect fresco for an oratory space) rather than acting as a visual trigger for a known story. At the same time, this type of meditative image was falling out of favor in the post-Tridentine/Counter Reformation era where the main goal of sacred imagery is clear legibility, historical accuracy, and effective didacticism (even to the illiterate).

I’ll be honest, I’m rather sick of St. Matthew at this point – reading about Jews and usury and how Matthew’s status as a Levi tax-collector was the most sinful a sinner could be blah blah blah. I’m starting to hate on St. Matthew, I’ll be honest, and at this point, I don’t give a fig about which figure is which – I was joking with my professor that I plan to argue that St. Matthew isn’t even in the scene and is off using the restroom or getting a beer or Manischewitz or something. Ugh. On a positive note, I did get my grade back on my presentation – whew! – did much better than expected and I feel 1000% better about my life right now – thank goodness.

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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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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

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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.

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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)

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In Memoriam

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

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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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Primavera (no, not Botticelli)

Penne Primavera, my way
Gluten free Penne Primavera

I’m still exhausted from yesterday- even with an hour’s late start, it’s going to take me a few days to recover. Even still, we had a great class meeting – discussing the Vatican, the Cortile del Belvedere and the new design for St. Peter’s basilica (Bramante’s, Michelangelo’s and ultimately, Bernini and Carlo Maderno’s) but most particularly Raphael’s Stanze, the rooms he frescoed for Pope Julius II c. 1510, including the ever famous School of Athens. All of this in preparation for our intense Vatican visit tomorrow – can’t wait!

Oh, the pasta? Right, that’s what I eat. Every day. Pasta + vegetables + pepper flakes + Pecorino Romano. Admittedly, I do mix up the veggies! Here, zucchini, red bell peppers, mushrooms, garlic and onions with the pepper flakes, a little bit of olive oil and some balsamic vinegar. Also notice how there is a 2:1 ration of veggie:pasta. That’s healthy, right? =/

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Civita di Bagnoregio
Civita di Bagnoregio

Today was another long day in the field – but so amazing! We met our charter bus at 7h45 this morning, driving (albeit rather slowly) for almost three hours to Orvieto. We took the funicular from Orvieto Scalo to Orvieto proper and proceeded first to the most adorable artisan chocolaterie, then to the cathedral. Il Duomo (1290s-1310) is intense: a solidly Gothic cathedral, constructed from alternating layers of volcanic rock: black basalt and white-gold tufa, looking kind of like a Beetlejuice layer cake. Yeah. Anyway, it is one of few definitively Gothic churches in Italy and is utterly unique at that: the facade is decorated with bas reliefs, unbelievable mosaics, a large rose window with complex tracery and sculpted pilasters and columns inlaid with gold and marble tiles. The facade is most known for the aforementioned mosaics which shine brilliantly (some might argue blindingly) in the afternoon sun, making the cathedral glisten like a beacon on the hilltop.

Inside, the basalt/tufa construction continues, and you come to notice that the lancet windows are not glass (obvious from the outside) but they are not bricked over, either – they are outfitted with paper thin panels of marbled alabaster, which casts a gentle golden light on the side chapels and aisles. The late 16th-early 17th century design campaign, initiated by the Opera dell Duomo (a civic committee of laymen who have been in charge of the cathedral’s design since the 14th century) was a major art historical event, but the products are no longer in situ. The sculptures and altar were removed in the 19th-20th century when the interior was renovated back to its Late Medieval appearance. Thus, the 12 apostles (by various artists), Francesco Mochi’s Annunciation, and the highly architectural tabernacle have all been removed to local museums.

That being said, there is still much to see in the Duomo: the Cappella del Corporale (Chapel of the Corporal) which features the relic from the Miracle at Bolsena (which I am not going to get into, but do read it for yourself), as well as the Cappella Nuova which features frescoes by Luca Signorelli and Fra Angelico. Unfortunately, the Cappella del Corporale is really dark and has a rather odd fresco cycle depicting scenes from both the Miracle at Bolsena and the history of the Eucharist. The Cappella Nuova, from the 16th century, has intense frescoes by Signorelli of the Apocalypse/Book of Revelations, the Last Judgment and scenes of Heaven in the vaults, as well as Fra Angelico’s depiction and Christ with the Apostles over the altar. On the walls proper, there are portraits of poets and humanist scholars (like Dante) and tondos depicting scenes of historical violence and martyrdom, as well as a Lamentation which both quotes the Meleager sarcophagus and a miniature reproduction of the antique itself in the background.

We finished up at the cathedral then walked across town to the museum. Oh my goodness, my inner (okay, outer) art history nerd was in HEAVEN: Francesco Mochi’s Angel and Virgin Annunciate right there, in front of me. AH. I can’t even tell you how unbelievably amazing it is to see two of your favorite sculptures in person, without a huge crowd, not sequestered behind bulletproof glass or ten feet away behind a railing. AH. Okay, so the story of Francesco Mochi’s Annunciation is awesome – basically, the young artist, untried and untested, was suggested to the Opera del Duomo by Alessandro Farnese c. 1600. Now, the Farnese had a pretty big influence in Orvieto and the Opera conceded, granting Mochi the opportunity for his first major commission which produced what I consider to be the first sculpture of the Baroque. Look at the angel! His drapery is twisting, rustling, whirling – as if he is streaking down from heaven like a meteorite, about to crash land on the altar! Erm, ok maybe not, but it does look like he’s still in the process of racing to reach the Virgin. And the technique! The undercutting is so intense and the base so tiny, but the whole work is an unbelievably set of counterweights and the whole thing balances perfectly, but to obtain this, the draper is so thin in places, that if you get down on the floor and look up (which I totally did), you can see the light shining through. AH. Bernini-shermnini! (It’s ok Gian Lorenzo, I still love you).

And the Virgin! Here she is, her profile modeled, first of all, after the sybil a 13th century Tuscan sculptor, Giovanni Pisano (Mochi was all about the Tuscan tradition and saw himself as part of the legacy of Donatello, Raphael and Michelangelo). Anyway, the Virgin – this sculpture was super controversial at the time – not that you would ever know it now. The Bishop of Orvieto* refused to allow it to be installed on the high altar because he found it extremely inappropriate – why? Well, two reasons: first of all, he argued that her drapery was too clingy and, albeit not revealing, but evocative – of the wrong sort of idea. Second, he felt that it was not the kind of moment we wanted to represent – here she is, grabbing her dress, and looking totally startled/annoyed/frightened – she stood up from her reading (as the text goes) so quickly that her drapery is tangled on the chair and the chair itself is rocking off the floor – but then, if a speeding angel appeared in your bedroom, bearing news that you were at this very moment conceiving the son of G-d, wouldn’t you freak out too? Anyway, after three years of stonewalling, the Opera won out and the pair was installed.

Okay, okay I’ll stop. After the museum, we wandered around Orvieto for a few hours, souvenir shopping and grabbing lunch before meeting back up, taking the funicular back down the mountain and hailing our charter bus – next stop, Civita di Bagnoregio!

Civita, an hour or so from Orvieto, is a teeny little town in two parts: the more modern part, and across a canyon, the more famous medieval hilltop town. We walked down the mountain, then back up on that teeny little footbridge in the lower right of the picture. Uh huh. But our efforts were rewarded! The most amazing bruschetta (so I was told) with wonderful cheese and house-made olive oil and wine. The family who owns the osteria has been producing olive oil in Civita for 500 years and now also produces red wine and honey – and they’re amazing. The olive oil is light and olive-y and almost garlicky, but delicious. Oh wow.

We left Civita around 19h15 and didn’t get back to Rome until 22h00… yeah, just a little bit later than our professori had anticipated, so they’re cutting us a bit of a break tomorrow, giving us a late start. Thank goodn

* Oh did I mention that this bishop also collected paintings by Caravaggio? Yeah. Triumphant Love is totally cool, but this Virgin is ALL WRONG.

Orvieto - Guitarist
Guitarist performing near il Duomo

Orvieto - Il Duomo (Exterior)
Il Duomo (Orvieto Cathedral) henceforth known as the Beetlejuice Basilica

Orvieto - Il Duomo (Exterior Detail)
Detail of the intricate Gothic facade

Orvieto - Il Duomo (Nave)
Il Duomo – Nave

Chiese Orvieto
Two churches and rooftops, en route to the museum

Orvieto - Giardino
Arcaded atrium (I love arcades in sharp lighting)

Mochi's Annunciation
Mochi’s Virgin Annunciate (1608-09)

Mochi's Annunciation
Mochi’s Angel of the Annunciation (1603-05)

Mochi's Annunciation
Detail of Mochi’s Angel

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Ah, Roma!

Il Stazione
Stazione Roma Tiburtina

Today was beautifully, remarkably uneventful. We woke up early and caught the 9h39 train as we had planned, arriving back in Rome around 13h15. Unfortunately, we arrived back at Roma Tiburtina at 13h15 and couldn’t catch a local commuter to Stazione Termini until 14h00. Ah well, the sun was warm and there were wildflowers growing between the tracks that were begging for a portrait! Alas, nothing was open and we were unable to restock our sadly, sadly depleted refrigerator, but we all have pasta, olive oil, balsamic vinegar and garlic as well as peanut butter and jelly, so we’ll be just fine.

On a side note, I am fairly certain that I am, in fact, allergic to Rome. Every time I leave the city, my nose stops running and I stop sneezing – as soon as we come back, 20 minutes later, I’m sneezing, my eyes are itching and my nose is starting to drip. Attractive, no? Oh, Roma.

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Vasto - Pier
Pier out over the Adriatic Sea

Happy May Day! I’ll be honest, it was a little more (or less) happy here! In Italy, May 1st is also Labor Day and everyone takes the day off to be with their families, hit the beach, whatever. On the down side, everyone takes the day off and practically nothing is open – you’ll be lucky to find an open bar for your morning espresso!

Today was gorgeous – we took the train from Chieti to Pescara and from Pescara to Vasto, a small seaside town an hour or so away. We arrived just after 11h00 and immediately hit the beach, walking along the shallows for over an hour before deciding to head up to the town itself. Now, we were too cheap/lazy to find a bus, buy a ticket and deal with all of that so we elected to walk up the mountain. Yes, mountain. It took us an hour, in sundresses, sandals and 75F sun-shining weather, but we did make it, and only mildly dehydrated/sunburnt at that. We walked around Old Vasto for a few hours, grabbing lunch at a charming local restaurant (okay, it was our only choice – nothing was open) where we feasted (okay, not really) on local Pecorino cheese and a balsamic reduction, a salad for myself and pasta for the girls. This not-quite-epic lunch was, however, followed by the most amazing gelato ever (not to mention cheap! €1.80/medium aka 3 flavors mounded into a giant cup). Of course, I got hazelnut, coffee and dark chocolate — how can you go wrong! — but the vanilla, coconut/dark chocolate as well as lemon and cherry/cream were apparently excellent as well.

We meandered our way down the mountain, past orange trees and farms, along the highway, through the new part of town, past the old train station and back to the beach. We walked the boardwalk on our way back to the (new) train station, picking up some souvenirs along the way (I found adorable wood earrings and Gina found a bouquet of 15 hand-woven silk flowers). We headed back to the train station, walking past restaurants and hotels we had passed that morning, enjoying the cool breeze and warm afternoon sun. We ended up taking the 18h41 train back to Pescara – no big deal, there were two more that ran that night, one at 20h00 and one at 22h00. However, in the process of booking our tickets from Pescara to Chieti, we were confronted with the realization that there were no more trains that evening – the last one left Pescara at 18h00 and there would not be any more until tomorrow morning. We were a little concerned, but Pescara is not far from Chieti and our hosts had encouraged us to just take the bus anyway – so we would do that.

An hour and a half later, we pull into Pescara Centrale – pleasantly sunburnt (I daresay) and ready to head home for dinner. We visit the newsstand/bus-ticket-purveyor in the lobby only to hear that there are also no more buses tonight. Great. We had to call Tony. 20 minutes later, Tony pulls up in the rickety (albeit stable) Fiat Punto we have become so accustomed to and we take off, once again at breakneck speed, through Pescara, along the turnpike and back to Chieti. Fortunately, we leave early tomorrow morning (9h39) and will be back in Rome in the afternoon, just in time for… oh wait. It will be Sunday. Like good roommates, we cleaned out all of our perishables before leaving the apartment for three days; like unadvised foreigners, we didn’t set anything aside because we didn’t know any better. At least there’s Monday!

Vasto - View to the Beach
View of the Adriatic Sea and the Beach from Old Vasto – see that skinny little dock? That’s the pier in the previous photograph.

Vasto - Carousel
Carousel on the Vasto Boardwalk

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Taranta Peligna

Taranta Peligna
Window + balcony of another abandoned building in Taranta Peligna

Well, as it were, Tony’s friend ended up not being able to go with us this morning, so Tony drove us himself. It’s roughly an hour and a half drive from Chieti Scalo to Taranta Peligna, the small mountain town where Maria’s great grandmother, Maria DiNardo is originally from. The country is beautiful, and the route took us along sharply winding roads through the Maiella mountains, through Fara San Martino (where the best spaghetti in the world is produced- according to Tony- using water from a mountain spring) and Casoli.

Taranta Peligna (the name has something to do with tarantulas – fantastic, no?) is a small, small town (population c. 500), nestled into the side of the Maiella mountains in the Aventino River valley. We rolled into town in Tony’s cobalt blue Fiat around noon and, in true Italian form, immediately pulled over to talk to someone. It turns out, Tony spotted three aging gentleman and immediately began explaining to them the whole situation: we’re three American girls, studying in Rome, staying in Chieti Scalo at his B&B and that Maria is trying to find her roots, here, in this town. He asked about Maria DiNardo, Maria’s great grandmother, and the three gentlemen hopped into their respective cars and we wagon trained 1/4 mile down the road to a small house on the hill. One of the gentlemen introduced us to the family – two aging siblings (in their 80s), and their daughter, explaining that these are the DiNardo’s and that they must be Maria’s distant cousins. After trying to sort through names and relationships from c. 1920, we were invited in for cookies and juice, and met the granddaughter and great-granddaughter of the siblings who might be Maria DiNardo’s brother’s children. We spent an hour trying to sort the whole thing out, to little success but great excitement. It was amazing to just show up at someone’s home as a long lost relative and be well-received, even invited in for an afternoon snack.

We made our way down to City Hall to speak to another DiNardo and check the ledgers of all the people and families in Taranta Peligna who emigrated to America. Not much luck, but we were pointed in the direction of a local man – Enrico Rosato – who was just returning from Rome this very afternoon and whose hobby it is to catalogue the family histories of Taranta Peligna. We stopped in at a small bar and got ice cream (oh Magnum bars, how I will miss you!), before the amateur biographer arrived, at which point, Gina and I wandered off in search of adventure.

And did we find adventure… We found the medieval castle/church/fortress near the Aventino River, and behind it, a small abandoned house. Technically, there was no breaking, only entering, but we definitely had to duck under construction fencing… oh well. The house itself was small (four rooms between two storeys, maybe 200 square feet in all) and was obviously used, at some point, as a local after hours hang out spot for high school kids. We were poking around, looking at things when Gina found a Rolling Stones album and I found the box of an original Diana+ camera…from the 1970s. Upon further investigation, all of the magazines and newspapers still on the floor also seemed to hail from this period and it was a little disturbing, this cute little house in the shadow of a church would be abandoned for 40 years.

We wandered our way back to the bar/cafe, only to find a half-dozen people crowded around the table with Maria, Tony and the biographer. They had found Maria Vincenza DiNardo, born in the 1890s. After another few hours and much discussion (during which time Gina and I ended up falling asleep in the shade by the river…oops.) it seems as though we may have found the right family. Maria (and Gina and myself) were introduced to another pair of aging siblings (also in their mid-late 80s), a granddaughter, a grandson and a great-grandson (although he was only two or three) and were able to see the ruined foundations of the house in which they think Maria DiNardo was born, way back when. All in all, it was a fruitful day, and the hour and a half car ride home seemed much less anxious in the fading afternoon sun.

Tony’s wife and our gracious hostess, Amina, offered to make us dinner – much easier than trying to find another open and nearby restaurant, we were thrilled at the offer. She made whole roasted spigola, a type of white fish about the size of trout, but which tastes more like mahi mahi or tilapia, with roasted potatoes, a green salad with sliced heirloom tomatoes, a local cheese (with bread), imported walnuts and a fruit salad for dessert. It was lovely and, if you know my eating habits well, you’ll be shocked and amazed that I dealt with a whole fish (admittedly, headless) on my own and actually ate almost all of it.

Tomorrow we’re off to beautiful, coastal Vasto for a day at the beach!

Taranta Peligna
Small masonry building just outside Taranta Peligna

Taranta Peligna
Houses in Taranta Peligna

Vineyards in Chieti
Afternoon view from our B&B towards a neighbor’s vineyard

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