Thursday, August 5, 2010

Palazzo Barberini > Palazzo Corsini

Today was a bit of a hodgepodge: the Palazzo Barberini for some paintings, the Baths of Caracalla for some awe-inspiring ruins, and a bonus, which I'll explain later.

I started out my day a bit wistfully. I moved hostels again today, from Happy Days near St. Peter's where I've been for the past few days back to the Ciak Hostel across town, where I stayed over my birthday weekend. I've had a really good time the past few nights at Happy Days, and I made a lot of friends - a young crowd, so at times I felt a bit like a den mother giving out advice and medical attention, and I had lots of great late night conversations with the night manager, as the only two people over 25 in the place (or maybe 22 for that matter). Leaving, I had a hard time saying goodbye, and I also felt pretty clearly that this is the last time I'm moving hostels before I leave Rome. I can already tell that I'm going to be leaving a piece of my heart in this city.

Anyway, with a bit of wistfulness in my heart fueled by wistful folk songs in my head, I approached the Palazzo Barberini:

Let me just say that in so many ways, this experience was the inverse of the one I had yesterday at the Palazzo Corsini. First off, I don't mind bans on photography when they are clearly stated, and this one was right up front, along with a rule that all bags (including purses) had to be put in lockers at the door. I don't really mind a rule like this, because I get pretty sick of carrying my bag all over Rome, and I'm happy to walk around the museum with nothing but my little notebook and pen. So right away, I was happy and unencumbered by a heavy bag.

Then, when I got upstairs, I found that although the Palazzo Barberini has large windows just as the Palazzo Corsini did, these windows are covered with opaque shades that let in gentle sunlight but cut down on the glare. Add the improved lighting situation to the fact that all paintings were hung in a single row at eye level, and suddenly I had a sensible and comfortable situation for appreciating the Barberini collection.

Sadly, I've been unable to find digital images for many of the paintings that I wanted to discuss in this post today, so I'm just going to let some of those thoughts lie and hope I'll get a chance to see images of these works someday. One thing that's kind of funny about this trip is that a lot of these palaces really illustrate the fact that Raphael, Leonardo, and Michelangelo had lots of less-famous contemporaries who were also artists, and the reason these artists were less famous is that their work was just not at the same level. There were lots of bizarre paintings in the collection today, with asymmetrical faces and weird body shapes. This was also true yesterday - one highlight (lowlight?) yesterday was a copy by an unknown artist of a Parmagianino painting of the Madonna and child with saints, the original of which is in the Uffizi. Now, Parmagianino can be kind of unsettling on his own, and his baby Christs tend to be particularly so, but in the hands of a lesser copyist, the vaguely unsettling face of Jesus became the visage of a possessed demon child. Good to know that there are different degrees of success in any artistic period!

But anyway, let's get on to a few of the really great works that I saw today, and leave the odd things by the wayside:

Here's Raphael's La Fornarina, a painting of his mistress. Charlie and I saw this work reproduced on a sign outside the palazzo while walking by last week. I captioned it, "You're not fooling anyone, toots," and Charlie called it, "Hi! Here are my boobs." Now that I know the actual subject, the overt sexuality makes sense.

I stood a long time musing in front of Caravaggio's Judith and Holofernes (and I was actually able to see it!):

This might be art historically sacriligeous, but after thinking about it for a while, I'm pretty sure I prefer Artemesia Gentileschi's version of the subject, which I saw in the Uffizi in Florence (see it here). Caravaggio does a wonderful job with Holofernes' expression, but I think Artemesia does a much better job of capturing Judith's strength and the struggle of cutting off a man's head. That maiden above isn't really trying too hard - seems like Holofernes is made of butter and she's got a hot knife. The expression on the face of the servant is pretty outstanding, though.

One other work that captured me for a long time was Guido Reni's Beatrice Cenci:

Beatrice Cenci was an Italian woman at the end of the sixteenth century who was executed by beheading after participating in a plot to murder her father, who had forced her to commit incest with him. Reni's painting figures heavily in The Marble Faun, in which Hilda is obsessed with copying the work's expression perfectly, while she and Miriam discuss Beatrice's crime in a thinly-veiled reference to Miriam's own wrongdoing. Seeing this work was another major check on my Grand Tour list.

I also really want to discuss an exquisite painting of St. Luke by Guercino, but I was unable to find an image online. This was sad, because the work was a rich one, with the saint pictured in the guise of a painter, holding a red-chalk drawing of the Madonna and Child while observed by a carved marble bull (the symbol of the saint). Hopefully I will find an image of it someday, because it would be an excellent work to teach or to research.

So that was my trip to the Palazzo Barberini, overall a success. I decided to take the subway down to the Baths of Caracalla, and on my way I noticed some Americans who were lost, and so I showed them the way and taught them my mnemonic device for remembering which way to go on Line A:

Battistini = Basilica = if you're going to the Basilica San Pietro, go toward Battistini
Anagnina = Away = if you're going away from the Basilica San Pietro, go toward Anagnina

They seemed to appreciate it.

I reached the Baths of Caracalla without incident, and here I am inside:

I was really glad that I went, as the view of these ruins was truly awe-inspiring. Here's the giant central frigidarium, the space where Romans would bathe in cold water after first passing through the caldarium (hot) and the tepidarium (tepid):

The frigidarium of the Baths of Caracalla must once have been an incredibly grand space, and even now it has been the inspiration for many other buidings, including the old Penn Station in New York that was torn down to make room for Madison Square Garden, a fact that was even mentioned on the wall texts in these ruins.

I was really glad I went to the baths also because I'm going to be seeing a lot of the sculpture from the Baths of Caracalla next week in the Naples Museum, including the Farnese Hercules, and now I know a bit more about their context.

And here's a gratuitous shot of arches and sky:

After the baths, I had one last little errand. While reading The Marble Faun last week, I came across a passage stating that the sculptor Kenyon's studio was in "an ugly and dirty little lane, between the Corso and the Via della Ripetta," in a space once occupied by Canova. I immediately looked at my map, and noticed a street that was right in this area actually called "Via Antonio Canova." Knowing how often Hawthorne is accurate, I decided to look for reference to Canova on this street.

Here's a photo of the street as a I saw it:

And a little way down, I found a building embedded with fragments of classical statue and a plaque labeling it as the former studio of Canova!

So that was a success!

I must sign out for the evening; I am very, very tired.

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