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Tuesday, December 3, 2019

Street Art Comes to the Hospital

To some, the painting above may be familiar.  It's Caravaggio's 1607 "Seven Works of Mercy," the original now in Naples, here replicated on the immense exterior wall of one of the many buildings of the Policlinico Gemelli (Gemelli hospital - more like a small city) in Rome's northern Trionfale quarter.

The artist signs himself Ravo; full name Andrea Mattoni, a Swiss-Italian whose hallmark is replicating the Old Masters or, as Ravo states it, "the recovery of classicism in the contemporary."  The Caravaggio above, completed in December 2017, was the most complex wall painting Ravo had done to date. In an interview, he stated (not my translation): 

Closeup of Ravo's painting; "Visit the
imprisoned and feed the hungry."

“It’s like if I was a conductor who present a symphony drawing from an immense repertoire and my theater is the territory itself. I become a transmission channel that follows the ancient tradition of the copy of the work, a practice that was once widespread for the diffusion of paintings. I try to present them to a larger and unexpected audience, carrying forward also my background: graffiti. In fact, the spray is the common thread that connects with my past, where I come from, and it is precisely for this reason that I chose the spray can as my running stick.”  

(You can see the work in process in late 2017 here.)

He is, of course, speaking our language when he inserts the unexpected - in this case the classical - into an unattractive contemporary landscape - the suburban hospital complex.

Ravo completed a second work at Gemelli this past Spring. We saw it shortly after it was completed.  "Madonna Litta," a late 15th-century painting in the Hermitage, is attributed to Leonardo. Ravo painted it in commemoration of the 500th anniversary of Leonardo's death.  It sits above a busy road within the hospital complex:

For photos of the Leonardo work in process, see here (article in Italian).

Ravo also has a Facebook page. One of his posts (they are in English) started with this quote: "All art is contemporary, or it was at some point."

One can debate whether replicating great art is itself art. It has been historically. And we like what Ravo is doing to our often isolated and forbidding urban landscapes

We later learned the Gemelli complex has 5,000 employees and hosts about 30,000 people on any given day. Hence, my reference to a "small city" - perhaps not so small.

Getting to Gemelli and finding the works was another issue. The complex is so enormous that we had problems even finding our way in - it's not made for pedestrian access.  Once in, most people - and we asked a lot of them, including at the front desk and in the library - had never heard of Ravo's work, even though he had recently completed the Leonardo.  And, the Caravaggio is in a building quite a distance from the main ones, on a hill. At one point, due to my poor translation, I thought we were looking for 7 works by Ravo (mistaking the "Seven works of mercy" - also a failure of my training in art history- sorry, Mrs. Reinhart from Stanford-in-Italy).  

Bill hauled us out to Trionfale and the hospital complex (no mean feat - these are not roads meant for anything but high-speed autos) on a day when no rain was predicted.  So, of course, it rained (recall, we are on a scooter).  Ultimately, the adventure was successful.  We saw two magnificent pieces of wall art, a glimpse into the life of hospitals in Rome (not that I haven't had others - very close up and personal), and the rather unfortunate story that most people don't even know these paintings exist.

Below, some of our hospital pix.  

Main hospital buildings, with statue of Pope John Paul II (and smokers).
The entrance to the complex is rather unassuming,
though somewhat intimidating for pedestrians.

The hospital seems to have its own highway system.

And its own bridges...Calatrava step aside!

Hard to capture the effect with this small photo, but this
 could have been the largest - and busiest -  hospital cafeteria
we've ever seen. We didn't even try to get a coffee.

No post is complete without a scooterpark pic.
(The sign says "motorcycle exit.") Ravo's Leonardo
painting is up on the right.

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