Wednesday, July 15, 2009
The Roman Emperors loved to haul back to Rome the great treasures of cultures more ancient than their own. Thus, the explanation for the dozens of Egyptian obelisks planted around the city. In turn, this concentration of antiquity's great art inspired Roman artists and craftsmen to their own heights of artistic creation. Nothing is more emblematic of the Popes as successors to the Roman Emperors than the Vatican Museums. They are filled with the great treasures of the Mediterranean and were to a great extent one of the catalysts for the Italian Renaissance which is obviously well represented here as well.
I warn you if you love art, do not try to do the Vatican Museums in one day. But if you are just curious about what all the fuss is about or want to learn more about the "best of the best" then put on your hiking shoes and prepare to move at a near jog through room after room, after courtyard, after hallway of what made the Renaissance such a big deal (according to every history teacher since the 1600s).
This is not a paid advertisement but one of the main reasons the Vatican Museums are at the top of our list is Professor Enrico Bruschini. He is available as a guide but if that doesn't work he has two wonderful books available on Amazon: In the Footsteps of Popes and The Vatican Masterpieces.
So what is the official Trinca list of the best-of-the best? (I warn you the list is long) First, Fra Angelico paintings -- another artist who seemed to anticipate modern painting; Raphael's Transfiguration painting which seems to out Michelangelo, Michelangelo; the shocking sketch/painting of St. Jerome by Leonardo da Vinci; Caravaggio in general, his Deposition specifically which is arguably his best; the many, many marble statues from antiquity (look how the Greek and Roman artists were able to express the shape of the human body even through clothing), the must-sees of which are the Hermes (a picture of which I will be taking to my next trainer), the Lacoon, the Belvedere torso (both of which influenced Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel paintings) and don't forget to look for the statue that is a dead ringer for President Bill Clinton (I kid you not); and one of the best Egyptian museums in the world.
But don't overlook the Gallery of Tapestries (notice how the perspective changes on the Christ Resurrection tapestry -- almost impossible to do in a painting let alone a woven tapestry); the Gallery of Maps (we were able to find the small town from where the Trincas emigrated). Prepare to spend time in the Raphael Stanze and pay particular attention to the School of Athens (see if you can spot the brooding Michelangelo and the Raphael self portrait. Finally, pay attention to the floors! Many of them are 2,000 year old mosaics -- yes they are originals torn out of many an emperor's palace.
Remember, the Vatican Museums are not a check-the-box sort of Rome experience. You could literally spend a lifetime studying and enjoying their contents. So, get your tickets on the internet ahead of time and go back more than once if you can.
The Sistine Chapel can be overwhelming. It is as if Michelangelo was trying to excise some sort of fresco demon from his system by covering absolutely every inch of the chapel ceiling. It is a little busy to say the least. Also, it is on the darn ceiling! Could it be any more awkward to view? All that being said, it is spectacular. Three pieces of advice: 1. Take some time to study it beforehand (see http://www.sacred-destinations.com/italy/vatican-sistine-chapel.htm); 2. Do not make it the end of a long day at the Vatican museum -- go first and just sit; and 3. move around to different vantage points -- if you try to look straight up at a particular frame, you will be uncomfortable. Progressively move to the back of the chapel as you take in each section. Enjoy, it lives up to all the hype.
Tuesday, July 14, 2009
As the headquarters of Catholicism, St. Peter's is intended to overwhelm you with its size, splendor and majesty. Truthfully, Mrs. Trinca was not necessarily overwhelmed in a positive sense, but even with this negative vote weighing down on the decision, St. Pete's comes in near the top. First, the view of the dome from every hilltop of the city helps make Rome uniquely - well -- Roma. St. Peter's square -- despite the partial blockage of the dome -- is awe inspiring. The inside of the building itself is an odd combination of Grand Canyon and red wood forest. Kim developed a little kid fascination with the sun beams filtering in through the various windows and columns of the Basilica. The main dome is a lens into the heavens. It is hard to get a sense of its immensity until you realize there are people standing up their peering down -- ant size people.
What propels St. Pete's to the front is the art and Michelangelo's Pieta is the engine. It is sad that we have to see one of the greatest works displayed behind glass but such is the crazy world we live in. Like most great works, it leaves us with many questions: why is she so young and beautiful? why are the two figures out of portion to each other, considering the mathematical genius of Michelangelo. why isn't she gazing at his face, but instead his mid-section? How could a man in his early 20's be able to carve such perfection out of a single piece of stone? These questions add to its mystery, but let's face it, in the end we are just awed by its simple beauty.
Other mentions: the statue of St. Peter of the rubbed foot; Bernini's monument to Alexander VII (got to love his depiction of death lurking under the stone blanket); Raphael's transfiguration mosaic; the Baldacchino made from bronze taken from the Pantheon; and much more. Don't forget, however, in the midst of your tour book check list to just stand and admire how Michelangelo and others use light throughout the building. It is heavenly.
Monday, July 13, 2009
The Pantheon is a hard thing to describe or photograph in a way that captures its real life beauty. The outside of the building looks all of its 2,000 years. Barbarians, the Barbarinis (an inside joke which apparently requires you to be both Roman and a student of the Renaissance Papacy), and the Romans themselves have through the last millennium or so hacked off almost all of its outer shell of marble. The inside, however, is another matter altogether. Through the pure serendipity of barbarian greed for pagan gold and finery, the inside of the Pantheon has evolved even more into a sublime expression of architectural simplicity. It is the essence of a dome. Unfortunately, most structural emulators have failed to make this connection through the centuries: when it comes to domes, austere simplicity is better.
The result: what you do not think about when viewing the Pantheon's dome is its engineering virtuosity. There are no visible arches or vaults holding up the dome to distract the viewer. The mathematics are equally as simple. For example, the diameter is precisely equal to its height. And, to this day it is still the largest unreinforced concrete dome in history.
What you DO think about is its other-worldliness and unexplainable beauty, only made more pronounced by the 9 meter hole opened it is middle. The light streaming in through the hole moves throughout the day with the rotation of the earth recreating the Pantheon's look every few minutes.
One of our most memorable half hours in Rome was spent simply standing and watching the rain and hail come in through the hole and disappear down the Pantheon's ancient drainage system. Sun, rain, hail, darkness -- all a fitting tribute to the pantheon of gods, who the ancients endowed with personifications of these natural phenomena.
From the original Marcus Aurelius in its new setting, to the Dying Gaul, to the ancient bronze She-wolf statue, to the view of the Roman Forum from the old Tabularium windows, to one of the most beautiful mosaic in existence (Doves drinking water), to the rooms full of busts of Roman emperors (warts and all), the Capitoline Museums are one of the main reasons why we want to go back to Rome soon.
Saturday, July 11, 2009
What can I write here that hasn't been written a thousand times before? The building is 2000 years old and is an engineering marvel by even today's standards. In its day it seated over 50,000 people and was in use for over 500 years. It is estimated that over 500,000 people died in the Colosseum as well as over a million animals. It defines Roman engineering and cruelty at the same time.
Friday, July 10, 2009
I can hear the cries of cheating already. But, hey, if the dogs eat the dog food, it's got to be good. The reality is if the Trincas had any chunks of spare time in Rome this is where we headed (though we tried others, including the traditional upscale shopping area nearer the Spanish steps). The Pantheon's hood is officially defined by the Trinca family as follows: the Via del Corso to the East; the far side of the Piazza Navona to the West; Corso Vittorio Emanuele II to the South; and a straight line drawn west from the Column of Marcus Aurelius. Ok critics, some Trinca-wanna-bes may have already defined this area as "Centro Storico" but hey we consider ourselves to be the original discoverers.
This hood has it all: great sights, great people watching locations,art,shopping, and of course gelato. We especially loved checking the art at Piazza Navona, the stationary store near the Pantheon - Il Papiro, Aperitifs at either Piazza Navona or the Piazza de Rotonda, the Caravaggios at S Luigi del Francesi, finding all the Bernini fountains and statues hidden all over this area and so much more. Plan to spend lots of time getting lost in this hood.