Wednesday, August 4, 2010

The Palazzo Corsini is kind of irritating

I'm down to my last four full days in Rome, and today, since I'm still living on the east side of the Tiber, I decided to take care of some unfinished business in Trastevere: the Palazzo Corsini and San Pietro in Montorio, which was closed on Monday when I tried to visit it. I wanted to go to the Palazzo Corsini because, according to my guidebook, there were lots of great works by Guido Reni and at least one by Caravaggio. I'm kind of on a Guido Reni kick because he figures prominently in the plot of The Marble Faun, which I have almost half finished reading! I'm continuing to enjoy it, although it gets a little preachy at times.

Anyway, I arrived at the museum after a leisurely morning, and after checking thoroughly for any signs forbidding the taking of photos, I pulled out my camera to take a quick shot of the gallery:

Of course, as soon as I took the picture, a lady came running over to me assuring me that, "It is impossible to take photos inside!" Okay then. Maybe you should put up a sign by the door, since I'm not a mind reader. I later found a sign in the third room from the door, but that's not really going to help me.

This wasn't a good start, and after that, I overall found it very frustrating to attempt to look at the works in the museum. I am really starting to loathe galleries that are hung salon-style (two rows up and down - see the picture above), because it makes it very difficult to look at the works. It can be okay when there is seating at the center of each gallery, but there were no chairs or benches anywhere in the Palazzo Corsini, and no air-conditioning either, which meant wandering through hot, stuffy galleries while constantly craning my neck to find a possible position from which to view the works. I've encountered a lot of this in Rome's palazzi, and I am really getting sick of it.

The other major problem was the lighting, which came from huge floor to ceiling windows on the same walls as many of the works, in addition to overhead lighting. Caravaggio's St. John the Baptist was hung between two windows and also lit by direct spotlights from above, so that from far away, it was impossible to see this dark painting because my eyes adjusted to the dazzling light from the windows, and up close, the spotlights created so much glare on the dark oil surface that the painting was more or less illegible. I also had trouble with two heads of elderly men painted by Rubens, which were lovely little studies, but protected behind glass, so that when they weren't reflecting the light from the aforementioned terrible windows, they were mirroring other paintings in the gallery. When it comes to paintings, this trip is making me think that maybe I'm better off just staying home with ArtSTOR. Thank goodness for churches that light their precious works well, or else I might think that Caravaggio was a figment of everyone's imagination.

Oh, and also I had my own personal security guard following me around from gallery to gallery, which always makes me feel super welcome. Apparently, a young art historian walking around taking notes in a notebook is a major threat to everyone's safety.

The visit wasn't a total loss, though. I did see many excellent works by Guido Reni, including this lovely head of St. Joseph (not my photo obviously):

I had seen some works by Reni in the Capitoline Museums that I thought were kind of sappy, and I was kind of wondering what all the fuss was about, but now that I've seen things like this, I really get it. This is a gorgeously rendered and sympathetic portrayal, and there were many other little works like this scattered throughout the galleries.

I also stopped for a long time in front of this work:

It's Virgin of the Milk by Bartolome Esteban Murillo, and I think it's pretty clear that he was looking at Velasquez. Usually I don't go for really brushy, painterly painting (I'm a sculpture person - what do you want?), but I thought this was just gorgeous. Nicely lit, too, and in front of the only bench in the entire museum, so I got to enjoy it comfortably for quite some time, although I think the security guard was pretty sure I was planning to steal it.

And then there were three lovely still lifes by Christian Berentz:

I'm a sucker for any still life that involves clear glasses filled with amber liquid for some reason, and all three of these featured those objects. I think this one was called The Elegant Fast Break.

All told, despite some lovely works, I was more than glad to leave the Palazzo Corsini. For lunch, I went back to the place that had the 4 Euro pizza, and found it swarming with Germans. In the last two days or so, Rome has been invaded by thousands of German schoolkids of about high school age, divided into groups by different-colored neckerchiefs or silly hats, but all with the same logo on said items. They're everywhere you go, even the more obscure places, and there were about 50 of them in my quiet little restaurant. They must have had some sort of neckerchief bat signal, too, because every few minutes another group of them would arrive. It was rather amusing.

After lunch, I headed back to San Pietro in Montorio, and this time found the courtyard to Bramante's Tempietto open. I learned that viewing the Tempietto from inside the courtyard isn't much different from seeing it while outside the gate. I had hoped that maybe the doors would be open so that I could see the inside, but no such luck. I admired the beautiful little building for a while, and took a few pictures:

The Tempietto is located in the courtyard of San Pietro in Montorio, which is near the top of one of Trastevere's hills and once thought to be the site of the crucifixion of St. Peter:

I got kind of a weird vibe inside. When I first got there, which was just when the church opened, there were almost no lights on inside, so it was hard to see the altarpieces inside. Shortly after I got there, though, I was joined by a whole group of (who else?) German schoolkids, and the sacristan turned on the lights for the group, then walked around with a collection basket and very emphatically shook it in front of each of us, so I gave him some change. I guess the kids were a little noisy, because shortly afterward he turned off the lights again, which I took as our signal to leave.

Here's a somewhat dark picture of the church interior:

Take a look at the ceiling and the apse; all of the "carved" decoration there is actually illusionistic painting. I know I keep harping on this, but I just find it so neat, and it's everywhere.

One last musing note: I've been thinking about accents, and wondering how one European language sounds when spoken by someone from another European country, because generally my ear isn't good enough to detect accents in other languages. Today, though, I definitely heard some German-accented Italian. It was clear that the kids didn't speak much Italian, but a lot of them were running around calling things like "Bella Italia!" and such (I've definitely done things like this myself). One teenage boy even "Ciao bella"-ed me! And there was definitely an accent there.

Tomorrow, I'm moving across town for the last time, back to the hostel where I stayed right before Charlie arrived. And I'm considering a rather wacky pair of sites to see - the Palazzo Barberini and the Baths of Caracalla. I might bring the little Fuji camera rather than my Nikon, because I'm sick of carrying the big camera around and then finding out I can't use it.


  1. Y'know, you could fund your post-doc (do you have to do such a thing in your field?) with one well-planned heist! I'm sure that there are lots of people who would like to see that artwork closer... without the glare of glass... and at eye-level (instead of 6' up!)...

  2. Great plug for ARTstor! Do they know? Maybe you could fund your way with embedded ads.