In my piece on Rome, which appears in TCW’s February 2014 issue, you can follow my romantic journey through the Eternal City. To be honest, there could never be enough pages to tell you everything I could about the trip. So here’s some of what you missed…
Great Walks, Great Works – Gratis
The big museums like the Vatican are filled with astounding art. But they can be overcrowded and overwhelming. Romans know there are masterpieces throughout the city and many are free. Most are easy to find on foot – things are more condensed than they appear on a map – and there’s nothing more romantic than getting out and wandering the streets of Rome.
Would you ever think you could walk on a Michelangelo? You can – at Piazza del Campidoglio at the Musei Capitolini (Capitoline Museums). Designed by the artist in 1538, the piazza is bordered by two palaces that house the museums and a palace that’s home to Rome’s city council. And as you wander through Old Rome (or Baroque Roma as the locals call it), you can get up close and personal with the work of the great masters.
You’ll find Gian Lorenzo Bernini’s artistry in Fontana del Tritone (Triton Fountain) in Piazza Barberini, and in the Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi (Fountain of the Four Rivers) at Piazza Navona. Bernini’s father, Pietro, is the artist behind Fontana della Barcaccia (Fountain of the Old Boat), which anchors the Spanish Steps.
On the west side of the Tiber River, the Basilica di Santa Maria in Trastevere, a church dating back to the 340s, is home to a number of late 13th-century mosaics by Pietro Cavallini and a 15th-century octagonal ceiling painting by Domenichino. Outside, the octagonal fountain in the piazza dates back to the 1400s and serves as a gathering spot for locals. On the other side of the river just a few blocks from Trevi Fountain, Chiesa di Sant’Ignazio di Loyola in Campo Marzio (the Church of St. Ignatius of Loyola at Campus Martius) is home to Andrea Pozzo’s startlingly realistic 15th-century trompe l’oeil ceiling fresco, which tricks the eye into believing the flat ceiling is really a dome.
You can satisfy your more base instincts with a wander along Via Veneto, home to some of the city’s toniest shops, hotels and restaurants. But keep strolling north and you’ll discover one of Rome’s greatest treasures – Villa Borghese, a 226-acre public park once owned by the aristocratic Borghese family. A spacious in-town escape, this landscape garden features various buildings, museums and attractions to explore.
Romancing the Stone
On the grounds of Villa Borghese is Galleria Borghese, a palazzo-turned-art-gallery offering an array of sculptures and paintings in a setting that’s as seductive as the art itself. Galleria Borghese features the works of Bernini, Canova, Caravaggio, Raphael and Titian, but there’s no need to overload here – spend some quality time with just four sculptures* and you’ll become an instant art lover.
First, there’s Antonio Canova’s marble portrayal of Paoline Bonaparte (Napoleon’s sister and Prince Borghese’s wife). Astonishingly lifelike, she luxuriates on a fainting couch with a robe draped across her lower body; its countless marble pleats and folds as soft as silk itself. And the couch cushion on which she luxuriates is soft, plush and inviting in spite of its stone composition. Fascinatingly realistic, Paoline is a study in exquisite detail and incredible precision.
In the next room, Gian Lorenzo Bernini has captured the moment just before a young David slays Goliath; his muscles taut as he prepares to release the fatal shot from his sling. The determined grimace on David’s face, and his flexing calves, abs, forearms and triceps demonstrate the artist’s remarkable ability to infuse time and movement into a stationary sculpture.
The following room houses yet another Bernini, Apollo and Daphne, in which the nymph Daphne is beginning to turn into a laurel tree at the very moment Apollo touches her. Gazing at the fear and agony on her face as she realizes her fingers and feet have already started to spout delicate leaves, it’s easy to forget she’s carved out of marble.
Finally, Bernini’s Pluto and Proserpina depicts Pluto abducting Proserpina, his fingers pressing into her flesh as she tries to free herself from his forceful grip – another demonstration of the artist’s gift for masterful storytelling through a singular moment.
There are other sculptures at Galleria Borghese, but none as significant as these four. If you’ve got an appetite for more art, move on to the Galleria’s small but impressive collection of paintings by Raphael, Caravaggio and Titian – there are enough to be interesting; not too many to be overwhelming.
No matter what gallery or museum you visit, focus on quality rather than quantity. A guide can narrow down what can often be an overwhelming array of masterworks. Antonio carefully selected a handful of important works, took the time to share their stories and invited us to examine them from every angle. Every member of our tour group came away with a better understanding and deeper appreciation for each piece and artist.
To read the rest of the story on ‘Romantic Roma,’ click here.