Rome Travel Guide

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Saturday, January 23, 2010

RST Top 40. #28: The Frescoes that Worried Mussolini

The title for this posting is a brazen ripoff of Anne Weale's June 12, 2007 blog, and we thank her for it. But we found Guido Cadorin's frescoes on our own, though by accident, one evening more than two years ago. We had learned that the Grand Hotel Palace (now called the Boscolo Palace Hotel) was having an evening of jazz, one of our passions. We shed our jeans and T-shirts for hotel-respectable garb and headed for via Veneto. We found the Lounge Bar (up the hotel's main stairs and to the left) and the price list of beverages (gulp), but succumbed to the elegance of the room and the prospect of an evening's entertainment and ordered a bottle of white wine (E50). Our table was the one at the bottom left of the photo above, and the piano was only a few feet away.

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And then we saw the frescoes. They're by Guido Cadorin (1892-1976), a Venetian painter of some repute. Guido's father was a sculptor with money, and the youngster grew up with the right influences, befriending Modigliani among others. Still, he refused an invitation to join the Futurist movement, writing in his journal: "I'm a spiritualist and an uncorrupted vegetarian" [the Futurists must have been ravenous meat-eaters]. "I feel outraged and after reading their books I just want to burn them and never reply."

Although well known for his easel paintings, Cadorin did several decorative, fresco projects in the 1920s, including a series (1924) at the home of the poet, Gabriele d'Annunzio. The frescoes in the lounge were completed for the opening of the hotel (then, apparently, called the Albergo degli Ambasciatori), designed by Marcello Piacentini, who had a major role in the building of EUR and in designing the new University of Rome (1932), with interiors by the Swiss decorator, Emilio Vogt.

According to one source, quoted by Weale, Cadorin's wall paintings drew on a famous series of frescoes by Veronese at the Villa Maser in the Veneto region. That may be true, but the great pleasure of these sublime works is their powerful evocation of the manners and social life of Rome's high society in the 1910s and 1920s. Their realism, their authenticity, owes much to Cadorin's personal observations; indeed, the people in them were real people.

And that's why Mussolini got so upset. One of those depicted was art critic Margherita Sarfatti, the daughter of a Jewish banker and, since 1911, Mussolini's mistress. As the story goes, Mussolini was concerned that the frescoes would expose the relationship, and so, within months of their unveiling, he had them covered. They remained inaccessible until after World War II.

Today you can enjoy Cadorin's work and need not indulge in the bottle of wine to do so. If only to feel more comfortable and less out of place, we do recommend giving the bermuda shorts some time off. Cadorin would concur.

PS - Make sure you get the right building; there are similarly named hotels nearby. The Palace is at via Veneto, 70, and it's on Itinerary 5: Nazis and Facists in Central Rome, in Rome the Second Time (p. 80).

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