Rome Travel Guide

Rome Architecture, History, Art, Museums, Galleries, Fashion, Music, Photos, Walking and Hiking Itineraries, Neighborhoods, News and Social Commentary, Politics, Things to Do in Rome and Environs. Over 900 posts

Saturday, February 27, 2016

The Roman Rooms of Saint Ignatius of Loyola, Jesuit Founder: Austere...and Baroque

A painting depicting an event in Saint Ignatius's life - in the corridor outside the Saint's rooms.
The rooms of Saint Ignatius of Loyola (1491-1556), founder of the Jesuits, are smack dab in the middle of
Rome and only lightly visited.  We've been there several times, and even we nonbelievers find them moving.  Here is where he wrote the Constitution of the Jesuits.  You can see the desk (which supposedly belonged previously to Saint Francis Xavier) on which he wrote, and his chair.
One of the rooms where mass is held.  In stark contrast to
Pozzo's decorated corridor.

In fact, most of what one sees visiting these rooms was built after Saint Ignatius's death, but the core 4 rooms, constructed in 1543, where he lived and worked, and died, remain - or rather have been restored - as they were when he was there in the 16th century.  As one passes through these simple rooms, one has the sense of walking back 5 centuries.
A haunting likeness of the Saint.  It was in one of the rooms decades
ago, and may still be there.  But we can't remember seeing it.
Photo courtesy of Bo Lundin, author of an excellent guidebook to Rome--
in Swedish.  
The entrance to the rooms was decorated in high Baroque style about 25 years after Ignatius's death by Andrea Pozzo - an accomplished painter less famous than some of his contemporaries - who also had a hand in the designs of the Church of the Gesù next door.  The Church gets most of the attention, and, so, being Rome the Second Time, we'll skip it for now and focus on Saint Ignatius's rooms.

Yes, that's trompe l'oeil perspective you are seeing here.
Flat angels?
Pozzo's elaborately painted reception area is worth a long look.  His elaborate use of trompe l'oeil is delightful here (even if puzzling to some visitors who say his angels look flat!). You have to know where to stand (there's a designated spot on the floor; guards will point it out) to get the full effect of his faux-perspective.  Although the ceiling paintings in the adjacent church of the Gesù are considered Pozzo's masterpiece, these corridor paintings are not to be missed.  They are stunning in their color, Baroque busyness, and "quadratura," which I now know means a combination of architecture and fancy.  It was by reading a 1991 New York Times article that we found Pozzo's frescoes had been whitewashed and only discovered with the late 20th-century restoration of the rooms.  Of course, Pozzo's high Baroque style reflects as well the Counter-Reformation, in which Ignatius played a major role.  In contrast to this Baroque feast for the eyes, the austerity of Ignatius's rooms provides a quiet interlude for contemplation.  On display are objects of the Saint's life, including his humble shoes (photo, left).

The Jesuits in charge of Ignatius's rooms have done a great service in providing many panels, in English, describing Ignatius's life - he was a Basque military man who, like Saint Paul, had a conversion and became a man of the spirit, moving from a life as an elite to a monastic existence.  The panels also describe the rooms and the objects in them.  This is an excellent self-guided tour.

Entrance to the rooms - to the right of the main entrance to
the Church of the Gesù.
The church and rooms are halfway between Piazza Venezia and Largo di Torre Argentina, on the cramped Piazza del Gesù where the very busy via del Plebiscito changes names to the equally busy corso Vittorio Emanuele II, easy to reach from any part of central Rome.

Hours for visiting the rooms are somewhat limited.  4-6 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 10 a.m. - noon Sundays and holidays.

There's very little online devoted to the rooms.  This Web site (in Italian, but one can use an online translator) is decent.


Saturday, February 20, 2016

Fasces, Fasci: Trolling Rome for the Politics of the Past--and Present

Yes, that's the United States House of Representatives, and, on each side of the central podium, fasces, complete with the wreath that symbolizes victory.  Fasces (that's the English word, "usually construed as singular," according to my dictionary) also appear on the reverse side of the Mercury dime, on the doorways of the Oval Office, on the US Capitol Building, on the Supreme Court Building, on Lincoln's chair at the Lincoln memorial (surprise!) and (a more personal reference here), on the entrance to Buffalo, New York's Art Deco City Hall.  Fasces grace the cover of French passports and have served as national symbols for Ecuador, Cameroon, and Cuba.  Police forces in Norway, Sweden, and Romania use fasces to represent their orders.  I had no idea.

Nasone, Grottaferrata, in the Colli Albani
outside Rome.  Fasces beneath
the gold nozzle
The origins of the symbol are Italian, using that designation broadly.  The bundle of wooden sticks, bound together, and sometimes including the axe blade, has Etruscan beginnings but became prominent with its adoption by the Kingdom of Rome, then the Republic, then Imperial Rome.

The fasces were carried by Lictors (attendants), and their presence signified the power of the magistrate being attended.  Added in Republican Rome, the axe meant that the power of that particular magistrate included capital punishment.  When the fasces were brought into Rome's center the axe was removed, a sign that power resided with the people, rather than with an arbitrary and capricious magistrate.

Flagpole base, inside Cinecitta', Rome.  Naval
motifs, including fish

Millenia later, Mussolini's Fascism took its name from fasces. And that's the problem.  For a long time fasces connoted collective power, strength through unity, one out of many, e pluribus unum. Just the right symbol for an American nation constructed from a wide variety of religions and immigrants groups and states with different interests.  Then the Italian Fascists appropriated the symbol, signed a deal with the Nazis, and went to war.  They did badly, and the damage was done. The fasces symbol had been corrupted.

Fasces with modern flair, abandoned 1930s
water fountain, Colle Oppio, Rome

Doorway, somewhere in Rome
Fasces pattern in small stones.  A sidewalk in Piazza
Damiano Sauli, Garbatella (on one of Modern Rome's walks),

Intact inverted fasces, school, Centocelle, Rome

Trashing fasces in Milan, probably 1945

Plaque on wall, Garbatella.  Here, fasces are linked to the Case Popolari (public housing) built after the Great War.
The plaque (and its fasces) have been intentionally preserved.  Dated 1920, 2 years before the March on Rome.  
Underside of a marble table, Naval Ministry, Rome

High up on an industrial water tower, on the Tevere near the Industrial Bridge, Rome...

....fasces, carefully preserved
The Italian experience with a Fascist government ended in 1943, when Mussolini was deposed and, some time later, executed.  It would be comfortable to believe that Italians were united in celebrating an end to Fascism, but that's not the case.  Many Italians had deep personal (or political) investments in the regime--they had participated in it in some way, and were proud of its accomplishments--and for them Fascism's demise was unfortunate, sad, or threatening. Others, of course, were overjoyed that Mussolini's authoritarian government was gone and looked forward to living in a democracy. Still others no doubt had mixed emotions.

At upper right, this building on viale XXI Aprile, Rome, is marked with an E and F (Era Fascista)
and the date (XI, or 1933).  On the rounded pillars, fasces have been removed.
The building was the setting for Ettore Scola's 1977 film with Sophia Loren and Marcello Mastroanni,
 "Una Giornata Particolare" (A Special Day).

Chipped off fasces, Rome school, San Giovanni area
Three chipped away fasces, dating to 1934.  Near Castel S. Angelo, Rome
Also note upper left "A-XII" (year 12, 1934) and what looks like a chiseled off  "EF"
 (Era Fascista)  on the upper right.
That mix of perspectives can be revisited by noting how 20th-century Romans have dealt with the fasces in their midst.  Some have been chiseled off public and private buildings.  Others remain, reminders of Italy's 20th-century fascination with its Roman origins, and of the country's 20-year flirtation with Fascism.

For Americans who grew up with the fasces on the back of the Mercury dime, these Rome
remnants of Italy's disagreeable past might offer a lesson, or lessons, on our own past: was American use of fasces different from the Italian Fascist use--that is, more innocent, more positive, essentially benign?  Or was there more to the Mercury dime (1916-1945, roughly corresponding to the Fascist era, and featuring the axe), and to the fasces in the US House of Representatives? Something unsettling?


In Piazza Augusto Imperatore (in RST's Top 40).  Perhaps Rome's best known fasces.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Margaret Fuller in Rome: "Rome must be inhaled..."

Margaret Fuller
As is the case with Goethe, it appears the 19th-century American Transcendentalist Margaret Fuller first had sex in Rome.  Not that I want to start a Facebook page on this topic, but the effect of Rome on artists is a subject RST has been exploring for years.  And for Fuller, the apparently plain-faced, 37 year-old genius, Rome "must be inhaled wholly, with the yielding of the whole heart,...It is really something transcendent, both spirit and body."  And so she did.

This post is in essence a short biography of Margaret Fuller in Rome, including locations that can be turned into an itinerary.  At the end is a link to a Fuller-inspired tour being offered this year by a knowledgeable American group.

I must admit my infatuation with Margaret Fuller came late and via an Italian friend.  After Bill and I drafted our first guide to Rome, Rome the Second Time, we asked this highly educated friend to review it for us.  After he had read the itinerary that includes Garibaldi's defense of Rome from the Gianicolo in 1848, he said, "Of course, you know Margaret Fuller."  Of course, I did not.  All those English courses at Stanford, an MA in English, lots about Transcendentalists, and nothing about Fuller.  No doubt the syllabus would be different today.

So, yes, we included a few sentences about Fuller in RST.  But it was only when I read Megan Marshall's 2014 Pulitzer Prize-winning biography, Margaret Fuller: A New American Life, that I understood that early feminist's effect on Ralph Waldo Emerson, among many others, and Rome's effect on her.
Via del Corso, where Fuller first lived in Rome, as a nanny for the Springs, as it might
have looked mid-19th century, with no vehicles (this photo taken recently, at dawn)
Giovanni Ossoli
Within a week of her arrival in Rome in spring 1847 as tutor for the 9 year-old son of fellow New Englanders, Rebecca and Marcus Spring, Fuller had met her future lover, the younger, not well-educated, monolingual Giovanni Ossoli.  It was a chance meeting, at vespers at St. Peter's during Easter week.

At the time, Fuller was living with the Springs on via del Corso, nearer Piazza Venezia than Piazza del Popolo.  We don't know the exact address, and now - unlike when Fuller lived there -  the imposing monument to the unifying King Vittorio Emanuele II occupies the view at the southern end of the street.

Via del Corso, no. 514, where Fuller lived when she
 returned to Rome by herself, in fall, 1847.  Ossoli found
her this apartment, close to where he lived with his parents
 - who knew nothing of his relationship with Fuller.
When Fuller returned to Rome after the 1847 summer, Ossoli found an apartment for her closer to Piazza del Popolo on via del Corso, then the most active street in the city.  Upstairs at 514 via del Corso, she could look across to the rooms Goethe, one of her influences, occupied more than 50 years earlier.

By the new year, Margaret was pregnant, and endured her first trimester with more than 40 days of unremitting rain in Rome.  "Rome is Rome no more." But in March she went to Ostia with Ossoli and "A million birds sang." By late April, the likely unmarried Margaret was "showing," and she had to leave Rome to avoid detection by anyone who knew her.  She left for the country mountain town of L'Aquila in the Abruzzi, then 3 days travel from Rome (now 2 hours by train), where she felt "lonely, imprisoned, too unhappy."  She was called a "ragazza madre," literally "girl mother," but probably equivalent to "unwed mother."
The flags mark Goethe's house, which Fuller could see from
her window at 514 via del Corso.

Meanwhile - and that's a big meanwhile - forces vying for control of Italy were raging along the peninsula. Soon not even L'Aquila was safe, because Neapolitan soldiers, loyal to the Pope, were encamped there.  So Margaret moved to the even smaller city of Rieti, with rooms overlooking the Velino River. In Rieti, on September 5, 1848, "Nino" was born.

After Nino was baptized, Fuller left the child with a wet nurse in Rieti and returned to Rome and to her job writing dispatches for the New York Tribune.  She resumed her column with an early December 1848 issue, recalling a year of "revolutions, tumults, panics, hope."

Ossoli located an apartment for Fuller at 60 Piazza Barberini, where she could see the Quirinale (then the Pope's palazzo), Bernini's Trident Fountain in the middle of the Piazza, and Palazzo Barberini, now partly obscured by mundane commercial buildings.
On Piazza Barberini, where we think #60 might have once been.

We looked for 60 Piazza Barberini.  Not only is the "modest stucco building" no longer there, but neither is the address.  It was likely swallowed up by new streets, such as via del Tritone.  Fuller biographer Marshall says Bernini's Bee Fountain was at the foot of Fuller's building, but that too has been moved since the 19th century.

From her rooms on Piazza Barberini, Margaret could hear gunshots from the various forces and see wounded men carried on stretchers.  In February the secular state was proclaimed, and from a balcony in Piazza Venezia, Margaret watched the celebrations there.

Via Margutta, where Thomas Hicks, who painted Fuller's
portrait, had a studio.  No one we encountered on the street
had heard of Hicks, or Fuller (but they''ll tell you where Roman
Holiday was filmed and where Fellini and Masina lived).

In the tranquil first few months of this new Roman state, Margaret walked the Borghese gardens, as she had 2 years earlier with little Eddie Spring.  Now the oak trees all had been cut down, for fortifications.   But the Republic was short-lived.

The stained glass symbol for the Fatebene Fratelli hospital
(featured, btw, in Angels and Demons)
With more wounded soldiers and civilians, Margaret found a role for herself.  On April 30, 1848, "Margherita Ossoli" was appointed "Regolatrice," or director, of Fatebene Fratelli hospital, functioning to this day on Isola Tiburtina, the Tiber Island in the middle of Rome.  By this time, French troops loyal to the Pope were advancing on Rome and Fuller was urged to go to a safer location.

She relocated to Casa Diez on via Gregoriana, just a couple blocks from Piazza Barberini.  This hotel had been favored by American and English tourists but, because of the revolution, was now almost empty.  We couldn't find the hotel, nor any trace of its name.  But via Gregoriana, leading to the top of the Spanish Steps, remains a popular location for foreign tourists.

Via Gregoriana - but we are not sure where the hotel Casa Diez
was located

On July 2, routed by the French, Garibaldi led his remaining troops out of the city.  Fuller watched as they passed by the obelisk in back of San Giovanni in Laterano. The next day the French troops marched into Rome.  Fuller spent her last night in Rome on the Pincio with her husband, who was camped there with his regiment.  She then left for Rieti to reclaim her son.

Fuller and Ossoli, who soon joined her, spent several weeks in Rieti, hiring a new wet nurse for their ailing son (the prior one had given him wine and water when her milk supply was short) and bringing him back to health.  They then left for Florence, where there was an American contingent. They finally booked passage on the only vessel they could afford, a cargo boat to the US, and left Livorno, on the coast near Florence, on May 17, comprising 3 of the 6 paying passengers on the "barque." It was supposed to be a 2-month voyage.  And so it was.  On July 19, the vessel went aground off Fire Island.  Only a few hundred yards from shore, Fuller, Ossoli and their son drowned.


Large parts of this narrative are derived from Megan Marshall's excellent biography, Margaret Fuller: A New American Life.  And parts were gleaned from an itinerary for a bicentennial commemorative tour of Italy following Fuller's life there.  The organizers planned to place a plaque at Fatebene Fratelli Hospital in Margaret's memory.  We looked extensively and asked many questions, but we did not see any plaque there, nor did there appear to be any similar plaques at the hospital.  Some of these same organizers are leading a 2016 tour based on transcendentalists in Italy.  See their Web site 

Sunday, February 7, 2016

A Night at the University: Mario Sironi's monumental Aula Magna Mural

We were attracted.
We're always eager to get official access to Rome buildings we haven't been in, and so in mid-May we headed off eagerly to the university--La Sapienza, as this one is known--to explore an evening open house.  Not much was open, actually, but the dinosaurs in front of one of the science buildings caught our attention, and we headed over.  That building is standard Fascist-era issue (most of the buildings here are of mid-1930s vintage), nothing about it of significant interest, really, even for RST, a fan of most of the era's architecture (including Gio Ponti's mathematics building on this campus).

Lots of people enjoy looking at rocks.
Still, we enjoyed puttering around in an old-fashioned museum of mineralogy, about which we know nothing.

Nude miners, mining

We were surprised to learn that Sicily was a center of sulfur mining, and that the mining was done by nude men.  Why nudity was required is not clear, though the poster's fine print might have offered an explanation.

Aula exterior

Having had enough of even very beautiful rocks, we took a chance and headed to the Aula Magna--the big hall on the campus that hosts concerts and other events (the official name is Aula Magna del Rettorato della Sapienza).  We had seen the exterior before, but had never been inside the building or its main hall, which features an important mural by Mario Sironi, a significant artist of the era (and the subject of a large retrospective a year or so ago). The outside of the Aula was suggestively lit for the evening, and--lo and behold--the doors to the auditorium were open.

Students with photos of themselves portraying very different
types of people (bride, hipster, etc.)
Inside, art students presented their work, a quartet offered music, and free wine was being served. We had talked to the students at the table (see left), and they were watching us.

And inside the hall, an orchestra was playing. And there was the Sironi mural.  We sat down, listened, and looked.

The mural is enormous--90 square meters--but even so, it can be difficult, as I'm sure readers will understand, to absorb the contents of such a work when there are distractions--an illuminated
The hall from our seats
audience, the music, the contours of an 80-year old modernist space, the thrill of being there. Here's what we later learned:

The mural is titled "L'Italia fra le Arti e le Scienze"--Italy between [probably better translated and] the Arts and Sciences.  As the story goes, the lead architect for the new university, Marcello Piacentini, approached the Duce with Sironi's name.  In 1933, Mussolini received the artist and acknowledged the great difficulty of presenting Fascism on the grand wall of the grand hall of the grand new university.

Sironi took the commission (we wonder if he had any choice) and, in two months, produced his mural.  It includes representations of astronomy, mineralogy, botany, geography, architecture, literature, painting, and history--the latter symbolized by the woman, at front/right, back turned, a book in her hands.  When it was unveiled, along with the rest of the university, in 1935 or 1936, it included a triumphal arch--the symbol of Roman conquests--a Fascist eagle, the Fascist date XIV (14th year of Fascism, or 1936), and a figure, presumably Mussolini, on horseback.  He liked to ride.
The mural was severely damaged a few years later, during World War II, and the early 1950s restoration by Carlo Siviero was freighted with guilt and embarrassment over Mussolini's regime and Fascism.  As a result, the restoration eliminated the man and the horse, re-sized the arch and the eagle (although we can't see the eagle), eliminated the Fascist-era date, and changed the "looks" of some of the figures.  Much was painted over.

Another, quite limited restoration took place in 1982.  The current restoration, which promises to restore the mural to something like its original state, began on July 1, 2015, just 6 weeks after our visit.  A reason to return.

Exiting the university through a Fascist-era arcade, its lines softened by the contemporary banners.