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, October 29, 2016

Finding a link to Rome in a Sienese Renaissance painter - The gold of Giovanni di Paolo

The Rome connection here is a bit of a stretch, but the art of Giovanni di Paolo (1399-1482)-  currently the feature of an exhibition at The Getty Center in Los Angeles - is so astounding, I couldn’t pass up writing about it.

Giovanni di Paolo’s 1427 altarpiece for the Branchini Chapel in Siena is deservedly considered his masterpiece.  Even the jewels in Mary’s crown are still intact.  The gold that di Paolo, primarily a manuscript illuminator, distributes in this central panel of the altarpiece warrants the title of the exhibition, “The Shimmer of Gold.” 

Note jewels in Mary's crown.

The painting (above, top), and one smaller one that likely was part of the altarpiece, belong to the Norton Simon Museum in nearby Pasadena.  The Getty is exhibiting it, and several other related pieces owned by the Siena Pinacoteca and a Dutch museum, because of its work in restoring the work.  The Getty shows us the various pieces together and speculates how they might have been mounted in the San Domenico church.

The shimmer of the gold is impossible to ignore
(photo taken by Bill at The Getty Center).

The exhibition takes note of di Paolo’s influences, particularly the “master” Gentile da Fabriano, with whom some suggest di Paolo may have worked on the altarpiece.  And, now, for the Rome connection.  The name Gentile da Fabriano rang a bell with us, not because we know so much about Renaissance art, but because we have lived in a Rome apartment that is on Piazza Gentile da Fabriano.  

Piazza Gentile da Fabriano is across the Tevere at the end of
Ponte della Musica - the large, treed piazza in the center of
this photo (taken from Lo Zodiaco on Monte Mario).

Rome’s neighborhoods beyond the Centro are marked by thematic street and piazza names.  This neighborhood, Flaminio, features names of artists. We have lived nearby on via Pietro da Cortona.  And I wanted to rent an apartment one time simply because it was on via Masaccio, a painter I studied in college.  The art museum MAXXI's address, for another example, is viale Guido Reni.  Da Fabriano did set foot in Rome, unlike his student di Paolo.  Da Fabriano, who was from Northern Italy but also worked in Siena, where he influenced di Paolo, painted in the nave of Rome's San Giovanni in Laterano, paintings destroyed in a 1600s’ “restoration” of that basilica.  Da Fabriano died in Rome, and there is evidence he might be buried in Santa Maria in Trastevere.  That’s it – the tenuous Rome connection of Giovanni di Paolo through his mentor Gentile da Fabriano.
Gentile da Fabriano's The Coronation of the Virgin, about 1420, The J. Paul Getty Museum

Meanwhile, if you are in LA, don’t miss this lovely, small, beautifully curated exhibition that is on until January 8, 2017.  And if you can’t make it in person, there are photos of the works, and reproduction of the explanatory panels online.


Sunday, October 23, 2016

Deaths on 2 Wheels and 2 Feet - Warnings of the Perils of Getting Around Rome

"On the streets of Rome, 25% of the deaths are motorcyclists."

This LED display is one that never ceases to disturb me as we (motor)cycle around Rome.  Bluntly stated, it cites the statistic that 25% of deaths on the streets of Rome are of those who ride 2-wheelers. "Motociclisti" here includes we scooter riders.  Bear in mind, scooters can be quite large - up to 600cc.  Audrey and Gregory rode a 50cc Vespa.

It's not just riders, though.  Pedestrians are similarly warned:
The translation here:  In Rome in 2014, 45 pedestrians were killed and 1800 injured.  As Bill recently wrote about walking around Rome, "You can walk, but they can kill you."

Just don't be looking up at these signs while driving.  I took the one below while on the back of our 250cc Malaguti scooter.  Bill has never seen one of these signs - his eyes are on the road.


Monday, October 17, 2016

The Egyptian Academy: A Breath of Modernism in Valle Giulia

High modernist buildings are rare in Rome, and when we saw that the Egyptian Academy of Fine Arts was on the lists of sites for the annual OpenHouseRoma event, we couldn't resist.  We had been there once before, for an evening film screening, but had not seen much except for an interior stairway and the auditorium.  This would be different.

And it was, and wasn't.

The Academy, as it looked in the mid-1960s
The Egyptian Academy was founded in 1929, and for most of the following 30 years was located in one of the Emperor Nero's palaces on the Oppian Hill (Colle Oppio), across from the Coliseum.  In 1966 the Academy moved to its current location, at via Omero 4, in Valle Giulia, onto what one might call "academy row."  At the time it was the only Arab-African Academy in Europe.

Berlusconi (left) and Mubarak at opening of the remodeled
Academy, 2010

Little information is available about that building, except that it was subject to an extensive
remodeling under Egyptian architect Hatem Said early in the new century, reopening in 2010 to guests that included Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and his Italian counterpart, Silvio Berlusconi.

We had parked our scooter down the hill and walked up, negotiating still another Rome stairway filled with trash.

The Academy facade, after an $8 million renovation.
Worth every cent.

The tour was scheduled to begin more than a half hour later, so we busied ourselves looking at a display of Egyptian modern art on the first floor.

The courtyard, from the interior

The remainder of our wait was spent in the superb, simple, square courtyard at the back of the building: grass, sculptures, places to sit, the frame of  rectilinear modernism recalling the Kennedy Center (1971) architecture of an earlier era.

As it turned out, the "tour" was of the Egyptian art we had already seen, as well as a subterranean museum of ancient Egyptian artifacts--not our fancy--not, at least, on this day.  We bailed out, headed for another venue.  And pleased to have experienced the pleasures of the Academy courtyard.


Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Balocco: Big-Top Architecture in Rome

Weird inside and out.  It's Balocco, also known as Rocco Balocco, and it's usually described as a toy store, but also as a seller of baby gear and furniture.  You could buy clothes there, too.

If you've been to Eataly in Ostiense, you've seen the funky building, because it's only a few meters from Eataly's main entrance, across the street.

Last spring we sucked it up and went inside (knowing we weren't thinking about buying anything) and took a few photos.  Other-worldly one might say.  Circus architecture (as if that were a thing). 1980s??  Zany postmodernism?

Gloomy interior.  Odd, given the abundance of natural light. 
A Roman friend said this Balocco is one of several in a small chain of stores, and that the chain had been for sale for years and is now on its last legs.  One internet site claims it's closed, another suggests it's open.

Run, don't walk--to Balocco!


Tuesday, October 4, 2016

The Pope and Mussolini: What - and Who - did the Church Sacrifice for Fascism?

A commemorative card of the Lateran Accords, with the ineffectual King Vittorio Emanuele III at left (his Savoy house symbol above), Mussolini center, note, with his fasce symbol above, and Pope Pius XI right, with the papal symbol - papal hat and crossed keys, above right.
Where was the Catholic Church during Mussolini's rise to power?  Did it play a role in the increasing totalitarianism of the regime, the persecution of the Jews in Italy, or the invasions of other countries that marked the Fascist regime?  Those are difficult questions, and they fit with the near total confusion most of us have about Italy's role in World War II.  The Pope and Mussolini, David Kertzer's latest book, goes a long way towards providing some answers.

Kertzer is one of the best historians of the relationship between the Catholic Church and the secular side of Italy.  Along with his knowledge of the 19th and 20th centuries in Italy, he brings to this book knowledge of the vast Church archives that were opened only within the past 10 years, as well as the detailed records of the Fascist police, who had spies in the Vatican recording every move. Thus Kertzer, as his subtitle asserts, can tell us "The Secret History of Pius XI and the Rise of Fascism in Europe."

Most of this story takes place in Rome, the seat of both the Pope's and Mussolini's power.  It starts with the Pope locked in the Vatican, where the Popes had been in self-imposed exile since the secular forces took over the city, and formed the state, in 1870.  As Kertzer describes it, "Although the Church no longer ran the city, Rome still seemed to have a church on every block."
The Papal rooms in the Vatican where Mussolini's
negotiators met with Pope Pius XI's representatives.

The two men - Pope Pius XI and Mussolini - came to power in 1922, the year Pius XI was elected Pope and Mussolini orchestrated the Fascist March on Rome.  They shared important values, according to Kertzer. "Neither had any sympathy for parliamentary democracy.  Neither believed in freedom of speech or freedom of association.  Both saw Communism as a grave threat.  Both thought Italy was mired in crisis and that the current political system was beyond salvation." (One might think of Donald Trump in a similar vein.)

The Chigi Palace, seat of Mussolini's government.  One of
Mussolini's "gifts" to the Pope, to try to make him more
manageable, was the Chigi library.  The Pope started life
as a librarian.
Mussolini was not instantly easy to appreciate, and his movement was violent.  To gain approval, Kertzer argues, the Fascists needed the Vatican to play a major role in legitimizing the new regime.  Mussolini had at one time been a "mangiaprete" or priest-eater, and his wife, Rachele (as distinguished from his various mistresses, including the Jewish intellectual Margherita Sarfatti), remained staunchly anti-clerical.

Kertzer discovered from his work in the archives not how the Pope and Mussolini were different, but all they had in common  Besides their common values, listed above:  "Both had explosive tempers.  Each bristled at the charge of being the patsy of the other.  Both demanded unquestioned obedience from their subordinates...Each came to be disillusioned by the other, yet dreaded what would happen if their alliance were to end."

Piazza della Pigna in central Rome, where Mussolini met with
Cardinal Pietro Gaspari as part of the negotiations that led to the
Lateran Accords.   Mussolini entered the home of  Count
Carlo Santucci from this piazza.  The Cardinal entered from the
other side.  The home had the advantage of entrances on two
different piazzas - so the meeting could be kept secret.
The mutually supportive relationship between the two men led to the Lateran Accords of 1929, signed on February 9.  The Accords gave the Vatican specific territories in Rome (but not the Pamphili gardens it also wanted); Catholicism as the state religion - allowing crucifixes back in school classrooms; recognition of religious marriages for the first time since 1870; and a lot of money.
In return, the Pope supported Fascism.  One must recall at this time, many in the US did as well.  Cardinal Spellman wrote, "These are wonderful days to be alive and still more wonderful to be alive in Rome," adding that the Pope and Mussolini would find their places in history.  And President Franklin D. Roosevelt initially was positively inclined towards Mussolini.

As the Accords were being negotiated, the Pope saw Mussolini as the "man sent by providence," one who basically was releasing the Church from its exclusion from Italian life.

From February 9, 1929 onward the Pope and Mussolini continued an awkward dance, as the Pope continually tried to have the Lateran Accords firmly enforced - especially with respect to maintaining the Catholic Action social groups - and Mussolini tried to move away from them.  My conclusion, after reading Kertzer's book, is that Mussolini outfoxed the Pope.  By threatening to take away aspects of Catholicism's power in the state institutions, the Duce led the Pope to prop him up after opposition leader Giacomo Matteotti was killed by Fascist thugs (1924) [and Mussolini thought, because of the reaction to that murder, that his regime was doomed]; successfully kept the Pope silent when Italy invaded Ethiopia (1935); and managed to convince the Pope to keep his mouth shut when the racial laws (1938) went into effect.

The lodgings for the Jesuits, next to the Church of the Gesu' in
 central Rome.  The head of the Jesuits, the Polish Wlodimir
 Ledochowski, was among the most fanatical anti-Semites
 advising Pope Pius XI.  Ledochowski, according to Kertzer, 
thwarted some of Pius XI's attempts to counter the Fascist 
racial laws.
It's clear, according to Kertzer, that this Pope was uncomfortable with all of these actions by Italy and Mussolini.  At the same time, he could not imagine the Church having as great a role in the Italian state as it had with Mussolini in power.  Pius XI even allowed the Catholic political party, the Popular Party, to be disbanded; its founder, the Sicilian priest Don Luigi Sturzo, was sent into exile in London for more than 20 years.

Pius XI was especially troubled with the racial laws, in part because he did not believe in biologically separate races, but perhaps most because he wanted Jews who had converted to Catholicism not to be treated as Jews.  Yet the Pope was surrounded by others in the Vatican who were more conservative than he, and some of whom were virulently anti-Semitic (see the reference to the Jesuit leader in the photo caption at right).  Pius XI came to despise Hitler.  He closed the Vatican museums and left Rome when Hitler made his famous 1938 visit to Rome.

"The Vatican," Kertzer demonstrates, "made a secret deal with Mussolini to refrain from any criticism of Italy's infamous anti-Semitic 'racial laws' in exchange for better treatment of Catholic organizations.  This fact is largely unknown in Italy, and despite all the evidence presented in this book, I have no doubt many will deny it."

After more than 15 years of the pas de deux with Mussolini, the Pope was ready to be somewhat more outspoken, going so far as to prepare a speech that was seen at the time as highly critical of Fascism.

But Mussolini not only outfoxed the Pope, he also outlived him.  Pius XI died February 10, 1939, and the very pro-German Eugenio Pacelli, taking the name Pius XII, succeeded him.  That speech Pius XI haf prepared was never given, and even its full text  - hardly the heavy criticism some thought at the time - was repressed until recently.

Photos were not permitted, but this painting illustrates the visit.  Mussolini went to the Vatican only once, and hated going there.  His pact with Pius XI was purely practical.  He appeared to remain a "mangiaprete," or "priest-eater."

Two very good reviews of Kertzer's book when it first appeared in 2014 are by Alexander Stile in The New York Review of Books (interestingly titled, "The Pope Who Tried"), and Steve Donoghue in The National.