Begin one of your days in Rome early, at the Museo
Begin one of your days in Rome early, at the Museo
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For the purpose of this one early morning visit, however, go primarily for the museum, where the cardinal amassed, by patronage and plunder, an extensive collection of paintings (temporarily closed to the public) and sculpture. The display begins dramatically, if not scandalously, with the statue of Napoleon's sister Pauline, who, when she married Prince Camillo Borghese, commissioned it from Antonio Canova as a wedding present for her husband. She insisted on posing as Venus, almost entirely in the nude. When asked how she could have done so, she replied, Oh, there was a stove in the studio, anticipating Marilyn Monroe's remark about having a radio on in similar circumstances.
Scipione Borghese was an early patron of Bernini, a number of whose most outstanding sculptures are on dis play here, including David, Apollo and Daphne, and Pluto and Persephone.
From the museum it is a pleasant walk (or, perhaps better for scheduling your time, taxi ride) to Villa Giulia at the northwest corner of the park, which actually is a 16th century suburban villa, built after a design by Michelangelo and Vignola for Pope Julius II.
It houses the Museo Nazionale di Villa Giulia, an outstanding collection of the art of the mystery ous Etruscans who once inhabited central Italy. Highlights include the Apollo of Veii, found in the excavations here, and the Bride and Groom, a sarcophagus depicting a smiling, dreamy eyed couple reclining as if at a banquet with an equality that shocked other ancient societies. Upstairs are attenuated bronze statues and other objects covered with drawings that, to our eyes, look strikingly modern. The Castellani collection of antique jewelry also is superb.
If modern art is what interests you, head next to the Galleria Nazionale d'Arte Moderna, which you passed on your way from the Museo Borghese. It contains works of modern painters such as De Chirico, Boccioni, Modigliani, and Pistoletto, as well as some foreign works.
From Villa Giulia, ride or walk west to the ancient via Flarninia; turn south on it and you'll be entering Rome as travellers have traditionally for centuries, through the grand gate called the Porta del Popolo, at piazza del Popolo. One such arrival was that of Queen Christina of Sweden, who converted to Catholicism and came to Rome in 1655, an occasion for which Bernini decorated the inside of the great arch and Pope Alexander VII composed the arch's inscription: Felia faustoque ingressui.
Across the piazza are the twin churches of Santa Maria di Montesanto (on the left) and Santa Maria dei Miracoli (on the right), playful exercises in the art of illusionary design begun by Carlo Rainaldi. The church on the left is narrower than that on the right, so Rainaldi topped the left church with an oval dome and the right with a round one in order to make them look symmetrical and they do. Good news is that the glamorous piazza is being cleaned and polished, and that the central Egyptian obelisk will be floodlit. Even better news is that it is closed to traffic.
Immediately to the left of the gate is the church of Santa Maria del Popolo, which was constructed with funds from the popolo (people) and gives the piazza its name. It was built originally in the Middle Ages over what was thought to be Nero's grave, in order to exorcise his malign spirit. Best known for its two paintings by Caravaggio, The Conversion of Saint Paul and The Martyrdom of Saint Peter, it also contains the Cappella Chigi by Raphael and works by Pinturicchio, Annibale Carracci, Sebastiano del Piornbo, and Bernini (who was responsible for the restoration of the church).
Between the twin churches runs the renowned via del Corso, named after the horse races that were run during Carnival along its entire length between piazza del Popolo to the north and piazza Venezia and the Vittoriano to the south. One new addition to the otherwise static street is the Fondazione Memmo, a private foundation that hosts art exhibitions in the Palazzo Ruspoli . Between shows, continue your tour by looking left (south) at via del Babuino (which leads to piazza di Spagna) and to the right at via di Ripetta.
Either of the cafes at the beginning of these streets is a nice place to pause for some morning refreshment. Most evocative of the dolce vita era is Canova, on the left, since it is modern in style and popular with employees of the nearby Italian television office, RAI, across the river. Rosati, on the right, with its original Art Nouveau decor, comes alive at night, when it is frequented by slick young lotharios on the prowl in noisy sports cars and motorcycles.
Follow the narrow via di Ripetta. For a look at the build ing where Antonio Canova once created his masterpieces, turn onto via Antonio Canova, the third street on the left. You'll find his former studio on the right, a low building with bits of classical sculpture set into its apricot colored facade, which also has a bronze copy of a self portrait bust of the artist.
Two streets ahead on via di Ripetta is the Ara Pacis Augustae, an altar finished in 9 B.C. to celebrate the Augus tan peace, which not only brought peace to the Empire but also ushered in the Augustan Age lauded by Virgil in the Aeneid and by other writers such as Livy, Ovid, and Horace. Much of the altar was rediscovered in Rome in the 1930s and transported to its present site, now covered with a protective piece of Fascist era architecture. Missing segments were reclaimed from museums throughout the world or replicated.
On one side of the altar, Augustus walks first but remains, modestly, almost unseen in the procession. Sir Mortimer Wheeler wrote of the marble, If we would understand the Augustan period its quiet good manners and its undernon strable confidence in a single document, that document is the Ara Pacis Augustae. As a work of art it is brilliant, and as a portrait gallery it gives us an image of the Augustan dramatis personae.
His daughter Julia (banished to the Tremiti Islands for her sexual exploits) and her husband, Agrippa, who built the temple that Hadrian later trans formed into the Pantheon, are at the center. The scenes of everyday life here are superb: A child pulls at his mother's robe and a woman silences a chattering couple with a finger to her lips. The child who wears the laurel crown would eventually be grandfather to Nero. The intertwined floral motifs on the far side are some of the finest examples of decorative art created in Roman times.
Across the street is the odd mound that is the mausoleum of Augustus. Now stripped of its original travertine covering and obelisks, it was once counted among the most sacred places in Rome. Like Hadrian's tomb (Castel Sant'Angelo), it took the cylindrical Etruscan form, and Augustus's ashes and those of his family were buried within. At his funeral pyre, which was nearby, an eagle was released when the emperor's body was committed to the fire, symbolizing his immortal soul soaring to divine heights.
Hold this thought and cross the Tiber at Ponte Cavour, where Rome's most curious museum awaits. Under glass are the face of a soul in purgatory that was printed on a wall; handprints of the dead priest Panzini that appeared on various objects, among which (without comment) was the chemise of Isabella Fornari, abbess of a convent; and other supernatural manifestations. Ask the sacristan if you may visit this Museo delle Anime del Purgatorio (Museum of the Souls in Purgatory) in the church of Sacro Cuore, lungote vere Prati 18.
Continuing along via di Ripetta, the first piazza you will encounter is piazza Borghese. Here, in the morning, stalls are filled with antique books and prints, often of high quality and reasonably priced. Nearby on via della Lupa is La Grapperia, a bar dedicated to the consumption of hundreds of varieties of the Italian aquavit, grappa.
Back at the begin ning of the street, via del Clementi no and via Fontanella Borghese lead to the Corso, across which begins via Con dotti. Lined with designer shops, via Condotti is Rome's most famous shopping street, though the two streets parallel to. it on the south via Borgognona and via Frattinaare lined with equally luxurious shops. If you're interested in serious shopping (see Shops and Shopping, below), avoid the area on a Saturday, when the nearby metro stop of piazza di Spagna disgorges hordes of young people from the sub urbs who look but don't buy, much to the consternation of the owners of Gucci, Ferragamo, Fendi, and other shops in the area.
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