December 15, 2006

Venezia IV Arrivederci

Thursday 30th November
My 21st Birthday!
To celebrate I had a spritz with prosecco at lunchtime in my local patisserie. I then went to the island of Murano, in the lagoon to the north of Venice, where the biggest glass factories are. En route the vaporetto passes the cemetery at San Michele, which was the first renaissance church in Venice. I had a good wander round the glass shops, looking for the perfect birthday present from my parents: I now have a lovely little millefiore vase in blue and pink. It was a little worrying transporting it home though. I also bought a couple of Christmas tree decorations for the Christmas tree at home. There are a lot of very large and very expensive objects in the shops on Murano, some of which are more attractive than others, but also some beautiful smaller items, and the prices are cheaper then in Venice itself. When I got back I went to Florians, the most famous, and expensive, café in Venice and had a pot of lavender flavoured tea with Venetian biscuits, which was very nice. I took the sugar packets and the napkin as a souvenir though. In the evening I went round to some friends for dinner, and had a very yummy risotto and chocolate cake. We then met up for drinks in the Ollandese Volante (Flying Dutchman) to celebrate.

Friday 1st December
I went and collected Graham from Treviso airport in the afternoon, as he was coming to stay for the weekend. Unfortunately the vaporetto staff were supporting a national 24 hour strike, so we had to walk back from Piazzale Roma to my house, which takes about an hour. We did go via the Piazza though. In the evening we went to a masked ball at the Palazzo-there were lots of lovely masks, and I’d chosen a couple for us: had to get mine put on a stick though to make it easier with glasses.

Saturday 2nd December
We went to the Scuola Grande di San Rocco, the most famous of the Venetian Scuole or confraternities, which is on the other side of the Grand Canal. This one was decorated by Tintoretto. He originally got the job by, when several famous artists were asked to submit sketches for a ceiling panel, The Glorification of St Roch, (the plague saint the Scuola is named after) persuading someone to put a finished panel in the right location. The cycles cover Old Testament episodes relating to their charitable work and the life of Christ and the Virgin Mary.
After this we went to Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari. This was a Franciscan gothic church, and became a pantheon for the city: Titian was buried here, even though he died during a plague outbreak. It has a lovely set of wooden choir stalls, with inlaid marquetry panels, whilst its most famous works are Titian’s Assumption on the hgh altar, and the Giovanni Bellini Madonna and Child in the sacristy. I personally prefer the latter. In the evening Graham and I went for dinner in a local restaurant: I had Spaghetti Seppe alle Nero, or spaghetti made with black squid, which is a local speciality.

Sunday 3rd December
In the afternoon we went to San Marco. We had a look in the museum, which houses the original horses stolen from Constantinople, along with mosaic fragments, and a series of tapestries and other artefacts belonging to the previous patriarchs. We then went into the basilica proper, and saw the high altar and the Pala d’Oro: San Marco is a church that cannot be taken in fully in one go, and it is well worth queuing for multiple visits, especially as the hoards of tourists have mainly gone home. In the evening we went to an Advent carol service at St Georges, which was quite good-they had a scratch choir singing several pieces.

Monday 4th December
Before Graham flew home in the afternoon we went to the Doge’s Palace. As well as housing the Doge, or the head of the Venetian regime, who lived there, it was also the home of all the different parts of government: the Sala del Maggior Concilio, where the male patricians of Venice over 25 met weekly to discuss issues and elect government officials, is one of the largest rooms in Europe. The decorative scheme, generally dating from the late sixteenth century, is devoted to extolling the virtues of Venice, but there are one or two nice paintings, and it is interesting to see the rooms where the bodies of state I have learned about met and worked, including the new prison on the other side of the Bridge of Sighs. Of the portraits of previous Doges that line the Sala del Maggior Concilio the most famous is that of Marin Falier, who is covered by a black veil as he was executed for treason.

Thursday 7th December
Having written my second long essay, including 250 pages of Italian in my reading, I took the opportunity to see a bit more of Venice, including some of the churches on the other side of the Grand Canal. First I went to the church of San Polo. This is a gothic building that was somewhat mauled about by nineteenth century restoration (classical pillars in the nave.) It does however boast a Giandomenico Tiepolo cycle of the Stations of the Cross, filled with contemporary portraits. I then walked up to San Giacomo dell’Orio, which is in a large Campo buzzing with children. The church fabric dates from the thirteenth to the sixteenth centuries, including a green marble column originally from Constantinople (yet another acquisition at the time of the Fourth Crusade.) There are some good paintings, but the architectural beauty is greater in my opinion.
The Scuola Grande di San Giovanni Evangelista has a nice façade, including a lovely 1481 screen by Pietro Lombardo in marble. I then wended my way, via another quick trip into the Frari (I had mislaid my Chorus pass for the Venetian churches at the weekend, so I could get in on that), to Ca’ Rezzonico, now the Museo del Settecento Veneziano (Museum of the Eighteenth Century). It includes a series of eighteenth-century interiors, displaying furniture, including some massive chandeliers, and frescos, several by the Tiepolo family, most famously The New World and a series of Pulchinellos from Villa Zianigo, taken from palaces across the city. There are also paintings of Venetian scenes by Pietro Longhi, and on the third floor an art gallery and a reproduced apothecaries shop complete with rows of jars and the glassware for distilling remedies. There was also an interesting exhibition of prints, based on Canaletto drawings, of ducal ceremonies, including the coronation and the annual Marriage to the Sea.
From there I went to San Sebastiano. This church has some lovely Paolo Veronese frescos, but some of the ones depicting the life of St Francis are a little difficult to see because of the gallery. There is also a St Nicholas by Titian. Finally I went to the seventeenth-century church of Angelo Raffaele just around the corner. The highlight of this is the cycle on the organ loft showing the story of Tobit.
In the evening we had our final dinner in an Art Nouveau hotel on the Lido. There was shellfish pasta, polenta with prawns, and John Dory (San Pietro in Italian), followed by tiramisu, though not everyone on my table could manage it, then finally prosecco and speeches before we went back home via Du Champs bar.

Friday 8th December
I handed in my essay (“Discuss the roots of Catholic Reform in Venice”), and then went to the Accademia, which is the main art gallery for Venice. Some of the paintings ended up here from various churches and Scuole courtesy of Napoleonic suppressions. It is actually made up of several religious buildings, including a Scuola Grande. It features the development of Venetian art, and many of the pieces are large works for (semi) public display, such as altarpieces. Unfortunately expansion work means that most of the pieces that are hung in the same room as Giorgione’s Tempest are currently not on display, but there are still lots of impressive works, such as the Veronese Feast in the House of Levi. This was renamed to circumvent the Inquisition who thought it a most unseemly depiction of the Last Supper-its original title, and several Tintorettos relating to Saint Mark-these are a contrast with the more serene pictures of the medieval artists or Bellini. I prefered the earlier works to the later ones, especially given the long corridor of pastoral scenes: Venice also stopped producing big name painters. The tradition of painting cycles for the Scuole is represented in the Miracles of the Relic of the True Cross of the Scuola Grande di San Giovanni Evangelista. These are very interesting for their depiction of Venice at the end of the fifteenth century. There is also another cycle, that of the Scuola di Sant’Orsola, which has a series of paintings, by Carpaccio and assistants, based on episodes from the life of St Ursula. Finally there is an in situ Titian: The Presentation of the Virgin still hangs in the space it was designed for in the original Scuola.
After this I went to the Museo Correr, which is the civic museum for Venice (and houses yet another art gallery, this one showing quite strongly the impact of the Low Countries on Venetian art). It has some interesting exhibits about Venetian life, including a Ducal hat, and a fantastic 1500 map of the city by Jacopo de’Barbari. It also has an incredibly high pair of platform shoes, so that the wearer, like the ladies in the Carpaccio painting of two noble women, could have a longer hemline whilst keeping the fabric out of harms way. The coin collection was fun as I was seeing how many Doges I could recognise.
Finally, and as it started raining, I went to the Venetian Christmas market and had a glass of mulled wine whilst buying various goodies, including cheese, sausage, and some lovely fretwork Christmas decorations. I then went home to begin the task of fitting everything in my suitcase to return to England.

Saturday 9th December
Having managed to pack everything up (the vase was carried separately) I said goodbye to the bakers and the patisserie, and went to have one last look at San Marco-there was very definitely aqua alta (only the third occurrence of it we had) in the Piazza, which made circumventing tourists with umbrellas interesting. I then returned home to take my case on the Grand Canal, having said goodbye to my landlady, and been promised somewhere to stay when I return-both she and the university secretary have made me promise to do so, up to Piazzale Roma to catch the coach to Marco Polo airport. Fortunately, despite having a great deal of excess baggage I didn’t have to pay, helped by being at the end of the check in queue! Leaving the airport the plane flew over the city, so I got to see San Marco from the air-the Campanile stands out, as does the size of the Arsenale. I finally arrived home safe and sound, and a little ahead of schedule, to be greeted by Mum and Graham-the lights of Surrey were quite prominent as we circled Heathrow.

The website for all the Chorus pass churches in Venice is

November 23, 2006

La Salute

Tuesday 21st November: Feast of La Salute
This is an annual festival where Venetians process across the Grand Canal on a votive bridge to the church of Santa Maria della Salute for Mass, and to light candles to pray for health or give thanks for good health over the past year. La Salute was started in 1630 to give thanks for the end of a plague. As a local holiday a lot of shops take the afternoon off. I went to the 10am Mass, which was celebrated by the Patriarch of Venice, who came in procession with the mayor and a lot of clergy. The church was decked out with red velvet around the pillars, and absolutely packed.
Afterwards everyone heads to a nearby street where there are helium balloons and sweet things on sale. I had a zalette or Venetian doughnut: it is quite large and flat, and a stick of toffee strawberries. It was a foggy morning though unfortunately. I then went to the other plague church in Venice, Il Redentore, which was designed by Palladio after the 1576 plague. The feast of Il Redentore is celebrated on the third weekend in July, and includes a fireworks show. The church is quite big, as it was designed for crowds, and interestingly contains no burials, in accordance with the wishes of the monks who originally served in the church. It is a beautiful church, with reminders of his other work, such as San Giorggio Maggiore. After this I returned home to do some more work.

November 22, 2006

Venice III

Monday 6th October
Having handed in my first long essay (for which I got 70,) this week was devoted to a) getting started on the next long essay and book report, and
b) researching masks, and how out of reach of my budget some of them are.
I went to the Rialto market on the Friday and got a silver scaled fish called a Lotregano, which seems to be local, given the lack of translation in the dictionary. I also got a fennel bulb, which I cooked with milk a few days later. (It was very nice, as I like aniseed flavours.) I’ve been cooking quite a lot of local dishes, as I have a little English language Venetian cookbook.

Saturday November 11th
Today I visited Verona, which is about an hour and a half away on the intercity train (these have lots of compartments). First I went to the Romanesque church of San Zeno Maggiore, built to honour the city’s patron saint. It has a beautiful east door, although the bronze panels on the doors themselves were surrounded by tour groups when I tried to look at them. The Basilica walls are covered with lots of fresco fragments, many painted as votive offerings, whilst the statue of the Saint is interestingly depicted smiling. The altarpiece, which is by Mantegna, not always one of my favourite artists, was replaced by a copy, as the original is in the Mantegna exhibition, of which more later. When I came out of the church I discovered that the square was being used for a display of various riding and carriage groups, including the army and assorted branches of the police force. I then walked past the Castlevecchio into the centre of the town. I next visited the little church of San Lorenzo, which still has its matroneum, or women’s gallery. (Red and white striped seems to be a popular colour of church buildings in Verona.)
Following this I went to the Arena, the third largest Roman amphitheatre in existence, after the Colosseum and the Anfiteatro Flavio near Naples. Unfortunately an earthquake destroyed most of the outer wall, but the seating tiers still exist. Nowadays this is the home of the opera in the summer, they were clearing away the seating whilst I was there, although the steps to walk up the tiers are rather badly cut.
After this I walked to San Fermo Maggiore, which is in fact two churches built one on top of the other as the lower church kept flooding. The lower church contains many frescos, including one of several nursing Madonnas in Verona. It also has a beautiful ship’s keel roof. Unfortunately the south side of the church is currently mainly under scaffolding, but some of the frescos can still be seen.
I then walked past the Casa di Giulietta, mythical home of Juliet Capulet, into Piazza delle Erbe. In this square is the tell-tale sign of Venetian control from the fifteenth century onwards: a winged lion on a pillar. One of the houses in the square is covered in sixteenth-century murals: unlike Venice, which is too damp, they have survived very well.
Next looked at the Arche Scagliere, a collection of Gothic tombs of the della Scala family, whose surname is reflected in the ladders of the palisade around the tombs, and who on occasion had canine first names.
I then went to the church of Sant’Anastasia, although its most famous fresco, Pisanello’s St George and the Princess is unfortunately also under wraps for conservation. The holy water stoups interestingly are supported by figures of hunchbacks, whilst the statue of St Peter Martyr, had been removed (and it is a stone statue…) for the Mantegna exhibition.
Next door is the tiny San Pietro Martire, whose walls are covered by frescos that were later painted over, then rediscovered. The East wall lunette is interesting because it depicts an allegory of the Annunciation with several animals.
After this I visited the Duomo, which has a lovely Romanesque west door, and a south portal with a carving of Jonah and the Whale. One of the paintings inside is by Titian, whilst the choir has an interesting curved screen.
I then walked across the river on the Ponte Pietra, which bears signs of having been rebuilt several times in the past, most recently after being blown up by the Germans towards the end of the Second World War. The Teatro Romano was carved into the hillside, and is now accompanied by an archeological museum in an old convent above: the fresco in the chapel can still be seen. There are some interesting marble and mosaic fragments, a delicate bronze sieve, and several small bronzes, including some Etruscan pieces. The view from the terrace is also worth the climb.
I finished off this part of my trip with a visit to Santa Maria in Organo, which has in the sacristy and on the choir stalls some exquisite marquetry, showing animals and cupboards full of all sorts of intriguing objects, all in perspective. Unfortunately they seemed to be out of postcards. The lectern, which has a lovely rabbit, and marquetry music on the book-rest was another exhibit in the exhibition.
Walking back into the city centre I stopped off for a gorgeous hot chocolate, before heading to Castlevecchio. This is the main art gallery and museum for Verona, and has some beautiful Medieval and Renaissance paintings. There was also a concert going on in one of the rooms, so I was able to walk round listening to historical music.
Finally I went to the Palazzo della Gran Guardia. This is currently housing an exhibition on the influence of Mantegna’s San Zeno altarpiece in Veronese art, or lack of influence in some cases. It has most of the best period altarpieces, and other paintings, from the city, which show that Mantegna’s work was often reflected in details of setting, rather than portrayal of figures, and places it in the artistic influences of Verona, principally its classical heritage and illuminated manuscripts.
I then caught the train home, and had a St Martin biscuit figure before going to bed as it was his feast day: in Venice they cook sweet-covered biscuits and “cotemagna”, which are made out of crystallized apple, in the image of the saint on horseback.

Sunday 12th November
After church, which was a Remembrance Sunday service, I walked back via the Piazza San Marco to admire some of the sculptural elements on the Doge’s Palace, and in the Piazzetta, some of which were stolen from Constantinople, now the tourist hoards have more or less gone.

Monday 13th November
Again this week has been dedicated to work, especially my book report on Savonarola. However I did go to the Rialto on the Friday, although I’m not entirely sure what the stall-holders made of me taking lots of photos. It appears that cardoon or thistle plants are a seasonal speciality.

Saturday 18th November
The University went on a trip to the Venetian villas near Bassano del Grappa. The villas were built as a cross between grand summer retreat and working farm. The Villa Barbaro was designed for two brothers by Palladio, and the decorative scheme (including some statuary by a not very good sculptor) reflects their humanist interests. The frescos inside are by Paolo Veronese, and make one question who is the observer, as well as including some lovely pastoral scenes, although he seems to not be so good at painting trompe l’oiel architecture. Most of us will remember this place for the felt slippers we had to wear to protect the parquet floor in two of the smaller rooms. Palladio also designed the little Tempietto, his only church outside Venice, where finally he was able to build according to his ideas about the perfection of the circle as a church shape, not having to worry about the need to accommodate a congregation.
Bassano del Grappa, where we had lunch, is home to the local firewater, distilled from grape skins, and dominated by the pre-Alps, indeed the town is built on both sides of a river valley. In the centre of the town is a wooden bridge designed by Palladio in 1569. As it is timber it can withstand the spring melt waters, and if the worst comes to the worst, it is easy to replace.
After lunch we went to the Villa Emo, another Palladian house, but with a bigger focus on grain production than the Villa Barbaro. It has frescos by Zelotti, a rival of Veronese, who was better at architecture, but not quite so strong on figures. This house is interesting as the decorative scheme includes some religious works alongside the classical scenes, and one of the rooms is devoted to six of the muses.

November 06, 2006


Monday 30th October: Travel Week
Every year week 5 of the Venice course is devoted to going travelling in Italy to see places we’ve read about and the art. Especially as half our course is on Florence, we are encouraged to go there. So on Monday I travelled to Mestre (Venice’s port neighbour, where everyone who is young/can’t afford Venetian house prices lives) to catch a train to Florence. Having found the place where I was staying in the south of the town, or Oltrano, (a palazzo owned by the Waldensian church) I went off to sightsee. I visited the Palazzo Veccio, which was, and still is, the town hall, and has an imposing tower. The original fortress section was enlarged and decorated by Cosimo I de’ Medici in the sixteenth century, with Vasari’s fresco scheme being a visual panegyric of the Medici family, but there are also some earlier paintings in existence. One of the most interesting rooms is the Salle delle Carte, which is decorated with maps showing the known world as it existed in 1563. Each part, including the larger European countries, has its own map. The map of Great Britain and Northern Ireland was most interesting. It had Coventry, and Camarthen, but no Birmingham-then a village. Thanet was depicted as a peninsula However, it did have several of the Cinque Ports, including Hythe, but the most interesting thing was ‘Crimbrt’ which judging by its position was probably Cranbrook, now a small town just down the road from my house, but then an important cloth town. Outside the Palazzo Vecchio is a copy of Michelangeo’s David, which once stood inside the building.
I then walked to Santa Croce, which is the pantheon church of Florence. It has nineteenth century cenotaphs to Dante and Alberti (a humanist), whilst perhaps the most famous monuments are those to Michelangelo, Machiavelli, and Galileo, who was probably hidden in the church by the Franciscans until it was safe to bury him publicly in 1737. Having just been writing about him, I also enjoyed seeing the tomb of Bruni. Santa Croce also has two chapels in the south transept frescoed by Giotto, an early Renaissance artist. One shows SS John the Baptist and John the Evangelist, the other, which has a large altarpiece on the same subject, shows scenes from the life of Saint Francis. Unfortunately the museum was closed for building work so I couldn’t see the original Cimabue crucifix, which was badly damaged in the 4th November 1966 flood. Walking back to my hostel I passed Orsanichele to see the statues erected by the merchant guilds on the façade, including Donatello’s St George. In the evening I met up with my friends who were also now in town for a drink.

Today we went to the market, which principally sells leather and silk products, and did some shopping. Afterwards, we visited the church of San Lorenzo, the oldest church in Florence, although the current building dates from the 1420s. Unfortunately the façade was never completed, but it contains several works by Donatello, including the pulpits. Unfortunately the library, with its eccentric entrance staircase, was shut. In the afternoon we climbed the 463 steps to the cupola of the Duomo or cathedral. The route up goes via the gallery under the dome, giving a close up view of the last judgement fresco and the stained glass windows. It then winds around the dome itself, in a narrow passageway, before a steep set of steps over the very top of the curve (coming down this was the worst bit.) The views from the top are incredible, especially as it was a clear day.
Once we had descended, after a reviving drink we went in the Baptistry, which dates from the sixth or seventh century. It is clad in marble, with a thirteenth century mosaic roof, and contains the tomb of John XXIII, a schismatic pope. However the most famous element of the building are the entrance doors: the south set are by Pisano from 1336, but the north set are by Ghiberti, as are the east ones, known as the ‘Gates of Paradise’ made of gold, and a wonderful example of Renaissance art. (They are also normally surrounded by tour groups.)
We then went inside the Dumo itself. On the north wall there are two fresco momuments to famous condottiere or mercenary soldiers, one of whom is Sir John Hawkwood. There is also a fresco of Dante explaining the Divina Comedia. In the evening we went out for drinks as the bars all seemed to have Halloween offers, possibly because the next day is a public holiday.

Wednesday 1st November
In the morning first thing we went to the Accademia art gallery. This has several lovely religious paintings, but the highlight is Michelangelo’s David. This is approached through a gallery containing unfinished sculptures by Michelangelo, the Slaves which are very interesting for their display of the process of carving marble. David himself was carved from a flawed block of marble, but was the first large freestanding marble nude since antiquity (one of the art historians gave us an explanation) and the first sculpture to show David both as a grown man rather than a boy, and before killing Goliath. Up close one can see the veins in his hands and the detail of the muscles.
Afterwards I visited the Museo di San Marco, housed in an old monastic cloister and famous as the home of the monk-artist Fra Angelico. Savonarola was prior from 1491, but the 1430s expansion was funded by Cosimo il Vecchio de’ Medici. In the Ospizio dei Pelligrini (Pilgrim’s hospice) one can see various works by Fra Angelico brought from other churches, and upstairs the frescos that he and his assistants painted in each cell as a devotional aid. However the most famous painting, and my favourite work in Florence, is the Annunciation at the top of the stairs.
After lunch we went to the Uffizi gallery, the main art gallery in Florence. This contains early Renaissance artists such as Giotto and Cimabue, Pierro della Francesa, and Fra’ Fillipo Lippi. It also has an entire room, apart from the Portenari Triptych, devoted to Botticelli: personally I prefer the Primavera to The Birth of Venus, and some of his religious works even more. There are also collections of the Northern Renaissance artists, the Mannerists, the Venetian painters, Titian and Raphael. It also has some later works, including Rubens and Van Dyke. After returning to the restaurant for pudding, I visited Orsanmichele to see inside the church, which contains a huge carved altar dedicated to the Virgin, and some frescos showing the patron saints of the lesser Florentine Guilds. On my way home I then went to Santa Trinitá, whose interior is mainly Gothic, with a side chapel frescoed by Ghirlandaio to show the Life of Saint Francis, which is also a portrayal of contemporary Florence.

Thursday 2nd November
In the morning I visited Santa Maria Novella, near the train station. Unfortunately the façade is under scaffolding, so I couldn’t see it, but the church inside is beautiful. The church was built as a home for the Dominicans, and contains several interesting works of art. Massacio’s Trinity was one of the first pictures to rigourously use classical proportion and perspective, whilst the fourteenth century frescoes in the Cappella Strozzi include a vision of hell and purgatory based on Dante. The most interesting chapel is that in the Tornabuoni chapel behind the high altar. This was painted by Ghirlandaio, depicting episodes from the life of the Virgin and St John the Baptist, and featuring cameos of several members of the family, as well as displays of contemporary costume. The cloister features images from Genesis, whilst the Cappellone degli Spagnuoli, once the convent chapterhouse, later the chapel for Eleanor of Toledo’s retinue, has extensive frescos depicting the triumph of the Dominican order, and through it the Catholic Church.

In the afternoon we took a train to Sienna. The countryside of the Chianti region was lovely, and we even saw a hill town with its many towers. Sienna is also a beautiful place, with a medieval Duomo built from bands of white and black marble, giving it a distinctive appearance. The Duomo also has an extensive pavement with designs in sgraffito marble. It also has a lovely carved pulpit, and some fantastic frescos, showing the life of Pius II, and old manuscripts in the Libreria Piccolomini. Unfortunately as it is now winter, most of the museums shut very early, but we had a walk round the town and some delicious (and very thick) hot chocolate. In the evening we had a ride on the carousel in Florence’s Piazza Reppublica.

In the morning I visited the Bargello gallery, which houses the Florentine museum of sculpture and applied art. It is however an undervisited museum in comparison with the Accademia and Uffizi. The Paazzo del Bargello was once the seat of the Podestà or chief magistrate, and even Machiavelli was brought here under arrest. The courtyard contains coats of arms of many of the Podestà, who had to be knights from outside Florence, and some sculptures that once graced a fountain. The Renaissance sculpture room contains Michelangelo’s Bacchus and Pitti Tondi, as well as a bust of Brutus, created as a coded celebration of the assassination of a tyrannical Medici duke. There are some other wonderful pieces, including an allegory of Florence (a young woman) defeating Pisa (an old man). Upstairs there are a series of bronze birds that once graced the gardens of the Medici villa at Castello, and a collection of pieces by Donatello, including his David in bronze (the first freestanding male nude since antiquity), and St George from Orsanmichele. There are also the Brunelleschi and Ghilberti plaques submitted in the competition to design the Baptistery doors. There are also fantastic collections of medieval carved ivory, and glazed terracotta pots and bowls, a medium also used in the extensive collection of devotional scenes by the della Robbia family. On the top floor there is also a collection of small bronzes, some of which are copied from famous sculptures.
Following this I visited the Museo dell’Opera del Duomo, which includes many items removed from the Cathedral façade, some for redecoration, and more recently some for conservation reasons (including the original panels of the East Baptistery doors), Other items come from design projects that were never completed, including Michelangelo’s Pietà, featuring his self-portrait as Nicodemus. Amongst the collection of statues one can find two carved marble choir lofts and a collection of silverware from the Cathedral.
After lunch I went to the Medici palace. In the ground floor exhibition rooms there was a display about a Roman copy (c. 50-40 BC) of a classical Greek statue (c. 360 BC) of an athlete discovered in the sea off Croatia, and on loan as a thank you to Florence for the assistance given by one of the city’s conservation laboratories in restoring it. It is quite a stunning piece. Upstairs one can visit the small but luxuriously frescoed chapel, painted by Giordano to show the Medici and their allies in the Procession of the Magi, with angels on either side of an altar with an image of the Madonna and Child. Further upstairs one can find the Sala di Luca Giordano, a hall with ornate gold decoration and painted mirrors. Lastly I walked across the Arno to Piazzale Michelangelo, a terrace with fantastic views of the city. En route I passed through the Piazza della Signoria to find the stone marking the spot where Savonarola was executed. As the following day was the 40th anniversary of the Arno flood that wreaked havoc with many rare books and important art works, there was also a display of vintage fire vehicles in the square. Finally I paid a quick visit to San Miniato al Monte, a lovely Romanesque church dedicated to San Minias, an early Florentine Christian and martyr. It has an eleventh-century raised choir, and fresco decoration, although it was hard to see in the fading light.

Saturday 4th November
I returned to Venice and in the afternoon went church visiting in the San Marco area. However first I went and admired the external staircase of the Palazzo Contarini del Bovolo, which looks like a snail shell.
Santo Stefano has had a colourful history, needing to be reconsecrated half a dozen times, but is now a fine church with a wonderful ship’s keel ceiling, and frescoed walls in the same brickwork pattern as the Doge’s Palace. The apse end is actually built on a bridge over a nearby canal. The sacristy includes some nice works of art, including some late Tintoretto’s.
Santa Maria del Giglio, or Santa Maria Zobenigo, has a façade that celebrates the military and diplomatic achievements of the five Barbaro brothers who financed the 1678 rebuilding. It is filled with an extensive collection of art, including the Stations of the Cross by various eighteenth century artists.
San Moisè (St Moses) is near the Piazza San Marco, and acknowledged as the ugliest church in the city, with an elaborate Baroque facade. Inside the altarpiece is a giant carving of Moses on Mount Siani receiving the tablets.
En route through the Piazza I stopped off to have a brief look at a collection of pictures of the 1966 flood, like Florence, forty years ago today. It was interesting and awe-inspiring to see places I know under such deep water. I was also lucky that I was walking through the Piazza at dusk as there was a beautiful sunset, reflected in the gold mosaics of San Marco.
Finally I went to the Scuola di San Giorgio dgeli Schiavoni. This was the meeting place of the city’s Slav confraternity, and is decorated by Carpaccio. The paintings relate to the Dalamtian patron saints SS George, Jerome, and Tryphone, and are full of interesting details, showing a Flemish influence (although the remains of the dragon’s victims are a little gruesome. Upstairs there are a series of votive paintings showing religious images and seventeenth-century brothers of the Scuola.

Venice II

The weather definitely went down hill in the third week-it rained Thursday night-Saturday.

Monday 16th October I paid a visit to the church of San Giobbe near the train station, it has a striking Renaissance majolica ceiling in one of the side chapels, although most of its best artworks are in the Accademia, courtesy of removal by Napoleon.

Tuesday evening we had an after hours trip to San Marco, which was amazing. We were allowed in the Baptistry, which is normally reserved for prayer, and the Capella Zen which is never open as its permanently under restoration because it’s flooded a lot. It has a ceiling showing various episodes from the life of St Mark, and is filled by the bronze bier of the Cardinal Zen, which faces a Sacra Conversazione in slightly larger than life size. Bronze is the most expensive of the sculptural materials then in existence, so it shows the wealth which allowed the Cardinal to be buried in what was once part of the narthex of St Marks, the church itself being reserved for the Doges. We then walked back into the nave, which was in darkness, and watched as they brought the lights up, as they do at Easter. The mosaics look wonderful in the half light. The Pala D’Oro, or altarpiece was facing us, then they rotated it to show the ferial side which is painted, and normally on display. Then we walked round behind the Pala D’Oro to see all the beautiful enamel minatures, some of which were stolen from Byzantium, in close up. We also admired the Sacristy door, which is composed of many bronze plaques. Then we went down into the crypt, which spent most of the time under water until about seven years ago. You can see that some of the brickwork has suffered as a result, but the frescos over the altar have survived remarkably well. One can also see the original tomb of St Mark, with steps up to it so that pilgrims could touch the coffin.

Wednesday evening I visited San Francesco della Vigna, a large Franciscan church in Castello, which also has a Bellini picture of the Virgin and Child with Donor, and a Veronese Holy Family with Saints, the church is a very large classical structure, although the lighting is not very good.

On the Thursday evening we had a book launch at the Palazzo, which entailed some very long speeches, but there were drinks and very nice traditional sandwiches afterwards. Later it started raining, though fortunately the worst of it was overnight

Friday 20th October, which was a very foggy day, we went to the northern Lagoon islands. Torcello was settled by people from Altinum (now the site of Marco Polo airport), fleeing the barbarian invasions of Italy, and became the site of the first cathedral in the Lagoon, Santa Maria dell’Assunta. The Basilica contains a large 12th Century Byzantine mosaic of the Last Judgement, influenced by those at Ravenna. Additionally there are some beautiful opus sectile floors, and a fine rood screen which combines paintings of the Virgin and Apostles with beautiful carved marble panels showing Byzantine designs exectuted by local craftsmen. However, it declined from the fourteenth century onwards as it became swampy and malarial. Today there are only about 30 people living on the island.
We then hopped back across to Burano for lunch. This is another island that was originally settled by refugees from the mainland, and is now famous for its lace and painted houses, which are said to have been brightly decorated originally as an aid to returning fishermen. The lace museum is housed in the Scuola dei Merletti, founded in the late nineteenth century to ensure the craft did not die out: there were some old ladies there demonstrating the stitches, and some fine examples of large pieces of antique lace. It is possible to find hand made lace in the shops there still, but there are also a lot of imported pieces. Burano point lace involves a very fine net background, whilst Venetian point lace has thicker bars between the decorative work. After lunch we went to Murano, centre of the Venetian glass industry since 1291 when the Venetian government moved the glass makers here for safety reasons, and to ensure that their secrets did not escape. Over the years Murano has developed some beautiful techniques, being the first place to create crystal glass, and later creating beautiful and slender pieces of filigree patterned, ‘ice’, and metallic based glass. For many years Murano was also the only place in Europe to make glass mirrors.The Museo Vetriano has some specimens from the fifteenth century onwards, including the beautiful Barovier marriage cup, which is delicately painted. There are also some ‘interesting’ nineteenth century specimens, and the courtyard contains marble fragments found on the island. After this we walked to the Dominican church of San Pietro Martire, which houses a lovely Bellini painting of the Madonna and Child with St Mark, St Augustine, and Doge Barbarigo. This combines the Venetian forms of Sacra Conversazione and votive paintings: St Augustine is the Doge’s name saint, whilst St Mark is presenting him to the Virgin in his role as patron of Venice. The painting, which is quite large, ended up on Murano because the Doge left it in his will to the Convent of Santa Maria degli Angeli, where two daughters were nuns. Finally we visited the church of Santi Maria e Donato. This was founded in the seventh century, but the current building is a beautiful Veneto-Byzantine structure from the twelth century. The double dedication dates from 1125 when the bones of St Donatus were brought there, along with bones from a dragon that he killed. It also features a lovely 1141 mosaic floor, one of the images in which is two roosters carrying off a fox, symbolising the victory of Christianity over paganism.

On my way back home I stopped off to visit the Ospedaletto or Santa Maria dei Derelitti near the hospital as it is only open Thursday to Saturday afternoons. It has a series of eighteenth-century paintings inside, some of which can be very hard to make out properly, one of which is an early work by Tiepolo. Finally I went to San Giovanni in Brágora, which is actually dedicated to St John the Baptist, and is just around the corner from my house. No one is quite sure how the suffix originated, it may be an area from whence relics of the saint were once brought, a comment on the state of the area as a muddy backwater, or from the Greek for a main public square (agora), as this part of Venice was once home to a Greek community.

Saturday was rather wet, but I went to the Scuola Grande dei Carmini. This was the home of the Carmelite confraternity in Venice, and was decorated by Giambattista Tiepolo. I then walked down to the waterfront past the squero di San Trovaso, where they still make Venetian gondolas-they look very different out of the water, and one can see their asymmetric lines quite well, The squero itself looks Alpine in building style: the original gondola builders came from the Dolomites. I then visited the church of Santa Maria della Visitazione, which has a nice painted ceiling, and the Gesuati, or Santa Maria del Rosario (there is an over-size wooden rosary decorating the façade.) When the Gesuati order was suppressed, the Dominicans took over, and built the church, in a style that partly reflects Il Redentore on the other side of the Giudecca canal. The paintings inside are mainly by Tiepolo, portraying a variety of Dominican saints. After this I went to the Guggenheim museum with some other students from Warwick-this is a modern art collection assembled by Peggy Guggenheim, in a white palace on the Grand Canal that never got further than the first storey. There are some very interesting works of art inside. Finally on my way home I went to La Salute, one of the two large plague churches in Venice, built as part of a vow to the Virgin Mary. The Festa della Madonna della Salute is the 21st November, when there will be a bridge across the Grand Canal so that Venetians can go and pray for good health. The church is built on an octagonal plan, and has a good collection of paintings in the Sacristy, mainly by Titian, with a large Marriage at Cana by Tintoreto taking up one wall.

On the Sunday, as there was no morning communion at St George’s I went and heard Mass at San Marco. It was nice to hear a choir again, although they’re hidden in the gallery on the north side of the altar. I was sitting under the dome showing the Pentecost, so I was able to admire the frescos at the west end during the sermon. There had been water in the Piazza before the service, but it was a lot higher afterwards, so the only way to walk around in the dry was the duckboards. In the evening I went to Holy Communion at St George’s, and was asked to read the Epistle.

Monday 23rd to Sunday 29th October
I spent this week busy working as we had an essay deadline looming just after our return from Travel Week. The subject of my essay was “Assess the contribution of Leonardo Bruni to the development of Renaissance humanism.” I concluded that humanism owed more to its intellectual than its political context: there is a thesis that Bruni et al developed a type of ‘civic humanism’ that was distinctly Florentine, encouraging active involvement in Florentine government as a way of developing individual virtue, and that Bruni was important, especially in writing history and translating texts, but that there were lots of other humanists working in lots of other cities, so we shouldn’t concentrate on him alone. Saturday afternoon I went to the station to buy my train ticket, and admired the palaces on the Grand Canal en route.

October 16, 2006


Apologies it’s been so long since I last updated this, but I’ve been busy with work and getting to know Venice-I haven’t got lost that often, but there is nothing in the world quite like coming to the end of a street and realising there’s only a canal in front of you. Venice is beautiful, and very quiet away from the main thoroughfares. I’m living in Castello, which is the eastern part of the city, not far from the old Arsenal, or shipyard, and a short stroll along the waterfront, past all the souvenir stalls to San Marco.

We arrived on Saturday 30th September, half an hour late, but having passed some beautiful mountains. The left hand side of the train is certainly the best for coming over the causeway, as it doesn’t have a view of the cruise ship berths! My landlady met me at the station and took me down the Grand Canal on the vaporetto, or water bus, to my flat. It was fantastic to come down the canal and get my first view of the roofs of San Marco appearing over the Doge’s Palace

My flat is very nice, a bedsit with a ‘kitchen in a cupboard’-sink, fridge and two hobs. It’s in a residential street but there are lots of shops at the end of the road. In the evening I went for a quick explore of the surrounding area to get my bearings, and locate the supermarket, before heading over to the bright lights of Campo Santa Margherita, where the students from the Venice university hang out.

Sunday 1st October I went to the English church in Venice, St Georges, which is near the Academia, and does BCP Holy Communion at 10:30 on a Sunday. I had a slight surprise when the History of Art lecturer turned up, and turned out to be Sub-Deacon, but it was a lovely service, and as it was harvest festival, I was able to purchase a lot of fruit for a small donation to the 400th anniversary repair fund-the roof is in serious need of attention. It was a bit misty first thing, but cleared when the sun came out. Afterwards I headed to the Lido, stopping on the way to the beach at the supermarket to get some bread and one or two other food essentials, and had a picnic on the beach before going for a quick paddle in the Mediterranean. In the evening I went to the local trattoria for a meal, as it was the last night of the holidays, avoiding pasta, as I’d had a surfeit of that in Rome.

Monday dawned bright and warm, and I headed for the Palazzo Pesaro Papafava for the start of term, taking the boat round the outside of the city for a view of the Arsenal. The Palazzo is on a narrow street, and like most houses in Venice, the decoration is reserved for the canal façade, although there is a triangular pediment over the door. The university is renting the first floor, and the main lecture room has two impressive chandeliers and a balcony overlooking the canal, and the Scuola della Misericordia. One of the seminar rooms, where we had our Italian lessons in the first week, has a lovely painted ceiling.

Tuesday afternoon I was fortunate to see a Volga boat race on the Grand Canal whilst waiting at a vaporetto stop-this involves six men standing up in a boat and rowing it.

On the Wednesday, having discovered that tourists and the duckboards in the Piazza San Marco do not make for ease of movement, I visited the church of San Giovanni Chrisotomo on my way to the Palazzo, this is a little church facing onto the main street, from the Rialto to Strada Nova, with paintings by Bellini and del Piombo, and made a little detour into a courtyard with a lion on the banister of the stairs. I then used my lunch hour to go and visit the church of the Gesuiti near to the Palazzo. This church was built by the Jesuits, on the same floor plan as the Gesú in Rome, and has fantastically painted walls and carved marble to look like white and green damask draperies-it has to be seen to be believed. In the afternoon our Italian teacher, Margaret, took us across the Grand Canal to the site of the Rialto market, then I walked back across the bridge, and on my way home, walked through the Corte de Milion, where Marco Polo’s family lived., then paid a quick visit to Santa Maria Formosa, which has a lovely painting of St Barbara, and two facades, one overlooking the canal, and the other the square.

Thursday morning we had a tour of the Piazza San Marco with the art history lecturer, which was very interesting, and on my way home in the evening I visited San Zaccharia for the first time, to admire the paintings, but there wasn’t enough time to visit the crypt. In the evening several of us went out to Campo Santa Margherita and had ice cream

Friday 6th October, in the morning I went to the Rialto market to buy fruit and veg-radicchio, white onions, and pink and white beans, and also sardines from the fish market for tea. As Margaret was retiring, we had tiramasu and prosecco in the last of our Italian lessons, and drinks at Margaret Du Champs in the Campo S Margherita in the evening, as it was also someone’s 22nd birthday.

Saturday everyone who wanted to go managed to be on time for the trip to Ravenna, which impressed the lecturers. This town, two hours by road from Venice has some beautiful mosaics.

First though we stopped off to admire the frescos at the nearby abbey at Pomposa, which was once incredibly wealthy, controlling a lot of land and several benefices, however as the Po shifted and the area went into decline, becoming a malarial marsh, it declined too. The frescos deal with biblical scenes and the Last Judgement-there was an impressive devil eating people up.

We then moved onto Ravenna itself, which was chosen by the Emperor Honorius in 402 as the capital of the Western Roman Empire as it was easy to defend and situated close to the important port of Classis. Later it was captured first by the Ostrogoths, and then the Byzantines, who created some fantastic mosaics. On the way in we passed the Mausoleum of Theodoric, one of the Ostrogoth rulers, which is a small, white, ten sided building, based on Syrian models. In the centre of the town we went first to San Vitale, considered the crowning achievement of Byzantine art still existing anywhere in the world. The church is lit by thin panels of alabaster, which gives it a diffused yellowish light. The building is octagonal, and was the model for Aghia Sofia in Istanbul. There are a series of Old Testament scenes on the theme of sacrifice, and as was common in Byzantine mosaics, the symbols of the evangelists and a beardless Christ in the apse mosaic, enlivened by a plethora of animals. There are also two interesting panels showing the Emperor Justinian and Empress Theodora. Nearby is the Mausoleo di Galla Placidia, half-sister to Honorius and later regent for her son Emperor Valentinian. There is a beautiful blue roof, and on one of the walls a representation of St Lawrence going happily towards his martyrdom, and facing it a Roman mosaic of Christ the Good Shepherd, which is in a much more naturalistic style than the later Byzantine representations. Also included in the St Lawrence mosaic is a cupboard containing the gospels, which is the first known depiction of books rather than scrolls.

After lunch (a chicken burger sandwich of all things) we headed to the baptisteries. The Neonian, or Orthodox Baptistery was converted from a Roman bathhouse, as a result it has some lovely marble wall panelling. There are also mosaic representations of thrones and altars encircling the walls, and in the centre, a mosaic of the baptism of Christ, surrounded by a procession of the apostles led by SS Peter and Paul. The Arian Baptistery was built by Theodoric, who was a follower of the Arian heresy-he rejected the divinity of Christ. This just has a ceiling mosaic of the baptism of Christ and apostles, so the brick construction of the walls can be clearly seen. Then we walked to Sant’Apolinare Nuovo, named for the patron saint of Ravenna. It was built by Theodoric, who covered the nave with mosaics, with scenes from the life of Christ in the topmost part, and an imperial procession lower down. The Byzantines removed most of these figures apart from the Nativity and three kings dressed in contemporary costume, including leopard skin trousers. They then put in a line of male and female martyrs, who all look very much alike, apart from St Agnes, who has a lamb, but they thankfully are all named. At the west end is a representation of the port of Classis, and the palace of Theodoric.

We then drove the short hop to the basilica of Sant’Apollinare in Classe, burial place of the saint, which has an allegorical depiction of the transfiguration, with a field of plants and trees, and the faithful represented as a line of sheep coming out of the cities of Bethlehem and Jerusalem. On the way home we were treated to a Mongolian throat-singer courtesy of someone’s ipod, and a beautiful sunset crossing a river estuary.

On Sunday afternoon I walked round part of Castello, visiting the front gate to the Arsenal, the first ‘production line’ shipyard in the world, San Pietro in Castello, and walking back through the gardens, past the Bienniale site. I didn’t go as far as Sant’Elena as there was a football match on, so I decided to avoid the area. In the evening I met up with a couple I know from Staplehurst, who were just coming to the end of a week painting in the city as he is an artist. We had dinner in a restaurant near San Marco, and I had Spaghetti alle Vongole, which is a local specialty.

On the Monday afternoon I had a surprise when I got back from the Palazzo, sitting on the quayside, in front of the cruise liner that had moored there the previous day, was a tall ship, Amerigo Vespiano. The cruise liner soon left, heading for the Giudecca canal with one of the pilot boats in tow-I’ve seen several ships, of various sizes, heading to and from the cruise terminal.

Thursday 12th, I visited the Campo dei Mori, which is decorated by several statues of the oriental merchants who once lived in the area-they came from Morea in the Peloponnese. I then went to Madonna dell’Orto, which is a lovely church, still with its original herringbone brick campo, which has several impressive paintings, including Conegliano’s St John the Baptist and other saints, and several Tintoretto’s, the artist living nearby.

Friday I visited Santa Maria dei Miracoli, a small Renaissance building covered in marble, and a beautifully decorated interior-it is a favourite church for weddings. I also visited the crypt of San Zaccaria, which has a permanent layer of water flooding the floor, although it wasn’t very high that day. There are also a couple of side chapels, which contain yet more paintings, some frescos and a lovely altar polyptych. In the evening we were taken to visit some of the better bars in Venice, and sample some traditional Venetian snacks.

Saturday 14th October In the morning I visited San Giorgio Maggiore. This church occupies the island at the end of Giudecca opposite San Marco and the Riva degli Schiavoni-the quayside overlooking the basin that I live near. The church was built by Palladio, and contains a wealth of lovely paintings. The view from the top of the Campanile is stunning, looking over the lagoon, in all directions, with San Marco below on the other side of the basin, and the basins of the Arsenal showing up quite prominently. It was however a bit windswept. In the afternoon I went to San Lazzaro gegli Ameni, home to an Armenian monastery, which has a very big library and the best preserved Egyptian Mummy in Europe amongst its treasures, which can only be visited on a guided tour in the afternoon-there was an English translation, but it helped to be able to understand a bit of Italian. The island is very beautiful, and there are a lot of lovely artefacts, from Armenia, and elsewhere, in the museum.

Sunday I went to the Lido again for the afternoon whilst the weather is still good. When I came back I visited Santi Giovanni e Paulo, or San Zanipolo in Venetian dialect. There are some lovely paintings, and lots of funery monuments as several doges were buried here. In the campo outside is the statue of a condottiere or mercenary, who gave money in his will for a statue outside San Marco-the authorities put it outside the Scuola San Marco (now the civil hospital) instead.

September 29, 2006

Rome Part III–the final chapter

Follow-up to Rome Part II from Rosemary's blog

Thursday 28th September
Today we went to the Villa Borghese to see the art gallery. This juxtaposes Classical and Baroque sculpture, including a beautiful Apollo and Daphne, in the setting of a noble villa decorated in the late eighteenth century. It also has a series of mosaics of gladiatorial combat. The Pianoteca, which one is unfortunately only allowed half an hour to visit-entrance numbers as a whole are very tightly controlled, has some beautiful paintings, including several Raphaels, Titian’s Sacred and Profane Love, and Cranach’s Venus and Cupid with a Honeycomb. There are lots of lovely paintings; in a very lovely setting-the family park is now open to the public.

Friday 29th September
On our last day in Rome we spent a morning tying up loose ends before meeting Caspar for one last tour. We started on the Captoline hill, where there is a piazza designed by Michelangelo, incorporating the buildings of the contemporary town council whilst giving them a classical twist, and a perfect exemplar of his reluctance to use arches. Next we visited the Gesù, home of the Jesuit order. It is the archetype of all Jesuit churches, and as such typical of Counter Reformation church design. The nave ceiling is a trompe l’oeil, creating the impression of the ceiling opening up to reveal heaven. Another such work, this time incorporating the whole barrel vault in a masterpiece of single point perspective on the subject of the apotheosis of St Ignatius Loyola, is the church of Sant’Ignazio. There is another canvas over the crossing, creating the effect of a cupola, which is very realistic.
Next we saw a real dome, namely the concrete structure of the Pantheon, last rebuilt by Hadrian, where Raphael is also buried. The hole in the ceiling, which is a perfect hemisphere, lets a lot of light in. This building, particularly the coffered dome, inspired many Renaissance and Baroque architects in creating their own examples. We stopped in the courtyard of Sant’Ivo alla Sapienza to admire the Borromini cupola, which makes interesting use of curves, before finishing in Piazza Navona. Unfortunately there was some scaffolding around Bernini’s Fontana del Quattro Fiumi, showing the four great rivers of the world. The figure representing the Nile has his face hidden to represent its unknown source. The obelisk on the top is Roman in origin. It is a lovely design that like so many things in this city was built for a Pope, namely Innocent X. We stayed in Rome in the evening to celebrate our last night here, having drinks in Campo de’ Fiori, and pizza in a nearby restaurant, before making our way to the Trevi Fountain area for one last delicious icecream.

Rome Part II

Follow-up to Rome Part I from Rosemary's blog

Sunday 24th September
In the afternoon we visited the ancient Roman port of Ostia, now cut off from both sea and Tiber. We walked through the Necropolis, where they buried their dead, saw yet more lovely black and white bath mosaics, this time of Neptune, and the theatre. Then we walked round the square, with a temple to Ceres, goddess of the harvest at the centre, which housed the offices of the foreign merchants, each identified by their mosaics, including several ships, and even an elephant. We also saw a bar, a Mithraeum, or temple to Mithras, and some lovely wall paintings, and a house with an opus sectile floor and marble still on its walls, giving an idea of how grand it must once have looked.

In the evening we went into the centre of Rome to celebrate someone’s birthday. We had pizza in a very nice pizzaria down a backstreet near the Spanish steps. Afterwards we joined the crowds that throng the steps at night whilst eating chocolate cake.

Monday 25th September
Unlike the blazing sun of the previous day, this was a grey morning. Fortunately the Colosseum metro station sells coffee, and even one of the fake Roman soldiers who stand outside the Colosseum for photos was having one. We walked to San Clemente, a multi level basilica. The modern level is twelfth century, and has a lovely wall painting showing early perspective. Then we descended into the fourth century building, which also has some surviving frescos. Below this there is a well-preserved Mithraeum, an underground stream, and the remains of what may once have been the imperial mint-it is very thick walled. After this we nipped briefly into San Pietro in Vincoli, which has a reliquary containing the chains that bound St Peter at various points and the tomb of Pope Julius II, which features statues by Michelangelo of Moses, Rachel and Leah. The next two churches: Santa Prudenziana, and Santa Prassede, have, like San Clemente, beautiful mosaic apses, in the iconography of which the Last Judgement features heavily. Santa Prassede also has a lovely decorated side chapel. Unfortunately the mosaic at Santa Prudenziana has been cut down by later decoration of the apse. Finally we visited Santa Maria Maggiore, which has a fifth century interior in an eighteenth century shell, with mosaics of the Old Testament, the life of Christ, and a fine late thirteenth-century apse mosaic of The Coronation of the Virgin and later papal tombs in the side chapels.

In the afternoon I went to St John’s Lateran, which is not dedicated to St John. It is the Cathedral of the Pope as Bishop of Rome. This also has an apse mosaic, although most of the decoration stems from the 1600 remodelling for the jubilee year. The heads of SS Peter and Paul are housed in a large structure in the crossing, and there is a lovely cloister. When it finally reopened after lunch I went to the Baptistery, where the font seems a little like a bath. However, it was also raining very hard in the afternoon, and my shoes got rather wet trying to circumnavigate the large puddles outside the Basilica.

Tuesday 26th September
This morning we took the metro across the Tiber to Castel Sant’Angelo. This building originally started life as a mausoleum for the Emperor Hadrian, and was later converted to a fortress by the papacy, indeed the pope lived in some beautifully decorated rooms on the upper floors during the Sack of Rome, and it was also used as a prison. As there is currently an exhibition on the baroque in some of the rooms, we toured this-Bernini was obviously fond of self portraits-and it was very interesting. The view of St Peter’s from the roof terrace was wonderful. We then made our way to the back streets round St Peter’s for lunch, followed by joining the Vatican museums queue, which fortunately wasn’t too long. However, once we had got through the courtyards, the tour groups did become very noticeable, especially in the Gallery of Maps. This has wonderfully accurate sixteenth century maps of Italy-Venice is on the wall as you leave the gallery, with pictures of saints and events from the different regions. Unfortunately, the direction one walks through the gallery makes it impossible to properly admire the ceiling, but the guides are hurrying you through. It is also the hall used by tour groups to explain the Sistine chapel. From here one can enter the Raphael stanzae. Having seen many of the preparatory drawings and prints of the frescos, especially for the Stanza della Segnatura. The Raphaels are beautiful, and as ever, nothing beats seeing a painting in the flesh. I preferred these paintings to the Sistine Chapel because I thought that had too many different images to really work as an overall decorative scheme. Finally we reached the Sistine Chapel, which is a large and stunning room, if somewhat crowded. It really helped to find a seat round the edge of the room to contemplate the pictures without serious neck ache. The following rooms also included some interesting works-Roman mosaics, a variety of ancient globes, and two maps of the world c. 1530. Finally we came to the Vatican library with its impressive ceiling, before heading for a VERY crowded metro, so we stopped off for ice cream near the Trevi Fountain until the rush hour crowds had died down.

Wednesday 27th September
Today we went to Travestere courtesy of the metro and the bus, stopping off en route for coffee. We visited the Tempietto of St Peter, constructed by Bramante over what was then thought to be the sight of his crucifixion, on classical lines carefully adjusted to fit the needs of a church. The classical frieze contains symbols connected with the Eucharist, and it is a charming little building, which stands in the courtyard of St Pietro in Montorio, with some lovely paintings, including a Flagellation by Sebastiano del Piombo. We then descended to Santa Maria in Travestere, which contains some more medieval mosaics, showing the slow progression towards the use of space in art.

Next we visited the Villa Farnesina, built by Agostino Chigi, one of the papal bankers, as his suburban villa near the Vatican. It was designed by Peruzzi, who was responsible for a lot of the decoration, which has references to classical mythology. In one of the rooms there is a large head and scenes from Ovid’s Metamorphoses by Peruzzi, a picture of Polythemus by del Piombio, juxtaposed with Raphael’s Triumph of Galatea. However most of the decoration is later pastoral scenes, giving it a very odd look. Another room has a Raphael–designed ceiling fresco of Cupid and Psyche. Upstairs there is a room with an early example of trompe l’oeil, showing Rome, although the perspective is a little odd, and a Sodoma cycle of the life of Alexander the Great.

Finally we made our way to St Peter’s basilica. This is one of the world’s largest churches, and took over 100 years to build, the influence of the many changes of architect showing in the Latin cross plan. It is ornately, perhaps too ornately, decorated inside, mainly by Bernini, who is responsible for some dramatic statues. However the most famous statue is the Pietà by Michelangelo.
The central dome is dramatic, and the ornate baldacchino underneath it is in part decorated by bronze taken from the Pantheon. The most interesting tomb is that of Alexander VII, with the Pope kneeling on carved marble drapery, which has ensnared a memento mori skeleton with an hourglass. After lunch I went to the Vatican bookshop, to the church of Santa Maria sopra Minerva, which has a statue of an elephant carrying an obelisk outside and a Michelangelo sculpture of Christ Bearing the Cross inside, and went window-shopping at the ecclesiastical outfitters. In the evening some of us went to a very nice local bar for a drink.

September 24, 2006

Rome Part I

Greetings from Roma, courtesy of a university halls internet connection. I arrived on Wednesday, and have been seeing the sights ever since.

Wednesday 20th September
The food on BA flights is better than Swiss Air, but the views of Alps were wonderful, and unforgettable, especially with all the lakes and glaciers. I also saw the Dartford crossing, Thames windfarm, and Sheppy and Thanet. Rome is warm, and distances seem even longer with a heavy suitcase, although mine was by no means the heaviest. The rooms at the residenza are nice, and the food filling, if a little predictable-lots of pasta with tomato sauce for starter.

Thursday 21st September
Headed into town with three friends, and discovered a road junction flanked by four fountains representing the Tiber and Anenine rivers and Strength and Fidelity, and a lovely little church by Borromini, before we reached the Palazzo Barberini which has a wonderful painted ceiling of The Triumph of Divine Providence. Fortunately they provide large seats in the middle of the room so that you can lie back and admire it. Unfortunately renovation works limits what one can see, but they have a Caravaggio Judith and Holofernes, as a rather gruesome highlight amongst some lovely religious paintings, a Holbein portrait of Henry VIII, and Raphael’s La Fornarina.

Following this we made our way to the Trevi fountain to toss in our coins, and admire what is a massive work of art hidden away in a small square, which also has a very nice deli that does good pizza slices. To complete the day’s selection of ‘must see tourist sights” we strolled to the Spanish Steps, which are one of the big places to hang out in Rome, and there are a lot of them, beautifully set off by a boat shaped fountain at their foot. The last sight of the day was Piazza del Popolo, a large square with an obelisk at its centre, unfortunately covered in scaffolding, but at least the scaffolding had an image of what lay underneath. Here we visted Santa Maria del Miracoli, and ice creams were consumed whilst waiting for Santa Maria del Popolo to reopen for the afternoon-many churches are closed 1-4. It was worth it for the lovely chapels, including one with a pair of Caravaggios, that apparently caused a stir when first painted, due to their dramatic subjects and chiaroscuro. We then caught the metro back to Gulio Agricola to avoid rush hour, as the Rome metro can be very crowded, although the most modern trains don’t have partitions between the carriages. In the evening the whole group went into town again to see the Trevi fountain, the Pantheon, and Piazza Nuovo by night, the fountains especially being beautiful when lit up. The journey home was a little more of a challange though, as the metro is currently replaced by buses in the late evening, and we did a lot of searching to find a bus, eventually having to run to catch one at the Piazza Barberini.

Friday 22nd September
We four decided that although we wanted something a little more restful after our excursion yesterday, we still wanted to see the sights, so we headed for Piramide metro station, which is named after a large white marble pyramid, which is accompanied by one of the old gates in the city walls. Then we headed for our destination, the Baths of Caracalla. Unfortunately we went the long way round trying to find the entrance, but discovered just how big the site was in the process These took 9,000 workers 5 years to build (started by one of the shorter lived emperors) and could take up to 9,000 bathers a day by having two identical sets of rooms, although only 1 olympic sized swimming pool. From what remains of the columns, one can tell that the roof would have been enormous, and beautifully decorated, judging from the mosaic fragments propped against some of the walls. Unfortunately the Farnese family removed the most important sculptures, some are now in Naples, but it is still a lovely place to spend time, surrounded by trees, on the Aventine hill.

In the afternoon we met up with everyone else for the first of our guided tours, with a young British lecturer, named Caspar, from one of the American universities in Rome-apparently there are two rival institutions.

The Palatine hill overlooks the Forum and the Circus Maximus, and the Domus Flavia was originally built by the Emperor Domitian. It is a large complex, still with some of the original coloured marbles that would have decorated the palace dotted around, giving some idea of what the interiors, which are now plain brick, would have looked like, and it would have had large courtyard gardens, one of which even has the remains of a sixth century private ampitheatre. The statues found here are in a small museum, including several imperial heads, and there are also some intricate frescos. There is also the remains of an extension that Nero made to one of the aqueducts for his Domus Aurea. Caspar is a very good guide, explaining the history of Rome, although he was somewhat foiled by the hoardes of tourists on the terrace overlooking the Forum.

Then we wandered down to the Arch of Titus, which although completed after his death, shows images of his Triumph having defeated the Hebrews. This brought back memories of the Cambridge Latin course at school, but it has some lovely carving, although it has had to be somewhat restored-the new bits are in a pit-marked undecorated limestone, so you can tell the difference. We then walked through the Forum, seeing the various temples and public buildings, mostly rebuilt after a fire in the third century AD.

Finally we walked back along the anciet Via Sacra to the Colosseum, as all the tour groups were going home for the night. This, although not the best preserved ampitheatre, was by far the largest, and it is possible to gain some idea of its awe-inspiring size, and the complexity of the underground tunnels that held the animals and moved them around under the arena floor. The stories of Nero and his exploits brought back fond memories of Tacitus and A Level Latin.

It was lovely to revisit some old haunts and be a classics vulture again, although a little too hot-I was very grateful for the water fountains dotted around Rome.

Saturday 23rd September
We descended on the city en masse again in the morning, walking to Campo di Fiori, the vegetable market, via Largo di Torre Argentina, which has at its centre yet more ruins. The market was buzzing and it was interesting to see all the colourful Italian fruit and veg. I also had a lovely white peach. We then had coffee-I tried expresso for the first time, before heading through the Jewish ghetto towards the Tiber. The river still smells a little, but has been cleaned up considerably. We then walked back past another couple of temples to the Vittorio Emanuele II monument, a massive white marble concoction, although some of the murals are very nice, and the views, especially of the Roman sites, are fantastic. The café on the terrace at the rear of Il Vittoriano is a little expensive, but the views are worth the price. We eventually walked back towards the metro via Trajan’s column, finally finding a working bancomat or hole in the wall machine.

In the evening some of us went to a performance of La Traviata at the American church in the centre of Rome: St Paul’s within the Walls, a Neo-gothic, stripy, building, with a Burne-Jones apse mosaic. The performance was very good, although the soprano couldn’t reach all the high notes. The journey back involved another instance of running for the crowded metro replacement bus in unsuitable shoes-this is unfortunately becoming a habit it seems.

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