Friday, October 21, 2005

A visit to the Vatican

Monday, March 14, 2005:

Well, today was a Vatican day. Much to our dismay, we arrived to find a line of visitors queued up for the Vatican Museum and Sistine Chapel that wrapped around three sides of the walls of Vatican City. I knew my feet would not survive a three hour stand in line so I thought we might have to forgo the Sistine Chapel. But I suggested to Pat that we check out the interior of St. Peter's Cathedral and the Pieta and see if we could at least see that.

Much to our pleasant surprise there was only a short line there. So we went inside and I proceeded to photograph practically everything I could get a decent shot at in the low light - in that large of space, the shutter speed is still pretty slow even with the flash. But I see a number of them turned out okay. Of course the Pieta was absolutely breathtaking. I took photos as best I could then just gazed at it to try to remember as much of the experience as I could. I understand it is the only statue on which Michelangelo chiseled his name. I guess he became quite upset when he overheard someone discussing the sculpture and attributed it to one of his rivals.

"The Pieta is considered to be the masterpiece of his early years, deeply poignant, exquisitely beautiful and more highly finished than his later works were to be. In creating a harmonious pyramidal group from the problematic combination of the figure of a full-grown man lying dead across the lap of his mother, Michelangelo solved a formal problem that had hitherto baffled artists." - From "The Bulfinch Guide to Art History"

It was sad that this magnificent piece of art has to be protected by a bullet-proof glass enclosure now after some deranged individual attacked it with a hammer.

We then wandered around the cathedral taking pictures of various sculptures and of course the high altar and the Pope's ornate bronze canopy.

Most of the interior decoration of St. Peter's, including the high altar, is the work of Gianlorenzo Bernini (1598-1680).

"Bernini was a sculptor, painter and architect and a formative influence as an outstanding exponent of the Italian Baroque. He was an exceptional portrait artist and owes to his father his accomplished techniques in the handling of marble and also an impressive list of patrons that included the Borghese and the Barbarini families. Bernini originally worked in the Late Mannerist tradition but rejected the contrived tendencies of this style. By 1624 he had adopted an expression that was passionate and full of emotional and psychological energy. His figures are caught in a transient moment from a single viewpoint, bursting into the spectator's space." - From "The A-Z of Art: The World's Greatest and Most Popular Artists and Their Works", by Nicola Hodge and Libby Anson

"Bernini was made a papal knight at the age of twenty three. A year later his chief patron, Maffeo Barberini, was made Pope Urban VIII, and immediately summoned the sculptor: 'It is your great good luck, Cavaliere, to see Maffeo Barberini pope. But we are even luckier in that the Cavaliere Bernini lives at the time of our pontificate.' Urban reigned for nearly twenty-one years, during which Bernini was the most grandly employed, and richly rewarded, artist in the world. In the mid 1640s, under the new pope, Innocent X, Bernini was (probably unfairly) blamed for cracks in St Peter's bell towers, which had to be pulled down. But he was soon back in favour and continued to serve the papacy under Innocent and his four successors, for another thirty-five years, making fifty-six in all.

During this long and intensive service, Bernini effectively completed the setting and interior of St Peter's. Indeed his contribution to the church as we see it today is greater than that of any other artist, including Michelangelo. He did three principal things. The main fabric was completed in 1626 and Bernini was charged with ennobling its interior. He did this first by constructing (1623-24) an enormous baldacchino over the high altar. He placed four immense marble bases at each corner, and on them constructed colossal gilt bronze columns, wrought into spirals and joined by a cornice, with angels, each twice life-size, guarding its crowned superstructure. It is a work of complete originality, for nothing like it has been built before or since (apart from smaller copies). There are those who believe that Bernini's contemporary and (at times) rival, Francesco Borromini (1599-1667), provided some ideas. Maybe he did, but the work as it stands has the impress of Bernini's artistic character all over it. While working in and around the Vatican, Bernini also provided, as a setting for his wonderful St Teresa, the architectural and painted embellishments of the Cornaro Chapel (1644-55). This too was completely original, for no one before had combined together, in a single artistic design, and on the largest possible scale, marble and stone, brass and gilt, gold and silver, plain and stained glass, all wrought together to produce a single emotional spasm. The divine dove descends, skeletons arise from the pavement, angels swirl around and crown the scene with flowers, while all the time, in the centre, Teresa writhes with joy. It is an amazing composition which drew admirers from all over Europe, and was imitated by all who had the means.

It inspired the papacy to demand from Bernini a similar artefact, on an even larger scale, to complete the main decoration of the interior of St Peter's. This is the famous Cathedra Petri, or Peter's throne, in effect a gigantic reliquary, which forms the climax of the view along the nave, and is framed by the baldacchino columns. It is a complex piece of sculptural architectural confectionery, made up of red jasper, black Sicilian marble, masses of bronze, some gilt, stone, iron, marble statuary, a yellow glass eye, through which the light pours, and golden stucco clouds. The size is staggering but is perfectly in scale with the huge dimensions of the building. Bernini continued his work inside the church by shifting around various papal tombs, and designing new ones, and creating a suitably grandiose setting for the spectacular papal collection of relics - for most visitors their main object in coming to St Peter's. Finally, he put into the Vatican Palace, adjoining the church, a regal staircase, the Scala Regia, through which princes progressed upwards to the papal apartments. In an ideal world, he would have pulled down the entire palace, externally an eyesore which remains to this day and spoils the total prospect. But this could not be done, at any rate in those days, without demolishing the magnificent frescoes, by Raphael and others, on its internal walls. So Bernini was left with an awkward site for his stairs, a problem he solved by a brilliant piece of trompe l'oeil foreshortening which makes the stairs seem longer, grander and steeper than they actually are, and has to be seen to be believed. It is even more ingenious than Michelangelo's stairs in the Laurentian Library, if not as beautiful.

Finally, Bernini transformed the small existing piazza in front of St Peter's into the largest and grandest square in the world, or rather a key shaped device of colonnades, which branch out from the church in a narrowing stem, then form into two halves of a circle, which encompasses an obelisk and two fountains. The circle was intended by Bernini to be closed by a third colonnade, which screened the whole from the visitor approaching from the Tiber. But this was never built, and in 1939 Mussolini hacked through an avenue which spoils the surprise. Even so, there is nothing like it anywhere in the world, for the colonnades, despite their grandeur, are low by comparison with St Peter's facade, which thus continues to dominate the whole and appears to stretch out arms to gather in the faithful - clearly Bernini's master idea." - From "Art: A New History", by Paul Johnson.

The paintings in the domes were very beautiful and Bernini's richly embellished ceiling looked like decorative icing on a wedding cake.

As we emerged from St. Peter's, we saw the Pope's guards in medieval costume traditionally said to be designed by Michelangelo.

"When the company was founded, in 1505, the soldiers wore simple tunics, but in 1548 the present uniforms were adopted. A long-standing tradition holds that they were designed by Michelangelo, but there is no foundation for this belief. As well as their everyday costumes, the Swiss Guards have suits of armor, with swords weighing thirty kilos, but these are used only for escorting the Pope during special ceremonies in St. Peter's.

At the beginning of the 16th century the Vatican began to employ Swiss mercenaries, who had a reputation for faithful and disinterested service. During the Sack of Rome in 1527, when Charles V of Spain devastated the city with his army of "lanzichelecchi", it was only the quick reaction of the Swiss Guards which enabled Pope Clement VII to take refuge in Castel Sant'Angelo; 147 Swiss soldiers died in the fighting. The invaders occupied the Vatican buildings, causing untold damage: they used ancient manuscripts as bedding for their horses, lit fires on the marble floors and scratched graffiti on the frescoes.

The Cohors Helvetica currently numbers 107: the commander, five officers (including a chaplain) and 101 soldiers, all of Swiss birth. Until about 30 years ago, only citizens of the German-speaking cantons were eligible for admission to the company, but in recent years there has been a dearth of candidates and now French- and Italian-speaking nationals can also enrol. They must be Roman Catholics, unmarried, between 18 and 25 years of age, and they must also be good-looking. Officially they are supposed to be over 1.74 meters tall, but nowadays this regulation is not enforced too strictly. Their pay is not very high - the equivalent of just over 1,000 U.S. dollars per month, paid in Swiss francs - but they are given full board and lodging.

Every year on May 6, anniversary of the Sack of Rome, the Swiss Guards renew their vows of allegiance in the Courtyard of San Damaso inside the Vatican. In a colorful ceremony, new recruits kneel down, raise three fingers of their right hand to symbolize the Trinity and swear to serve the Pope "to the death". - InfoRoma

They did not wear the conquistador-style helmet today that I have seen on television but a cocky beret instead.

We then strolled over to the Vatican Post Office to send some postcards and I found some wonderful books about the artwork of St. Peters, Michelangelo and the Sistine Chapel and a gold papal medallion depicting a scene of the Madonna from one of Leonardo's paintings.

Apparently the Vatican releases one each year but I preferred the art on the 2002 Medallion to the scene on the 2005 Medallion. Maybe I can find more on Ebay - oh oh - another collection!

We stopped by a food cart for a sandwich and were charged 21 EUR for two sandwiches and two bottles of Coke. I told Pat it was sacriligous to rip people off right under the Pope's nose but Pat said the Coke was probably specially blessed by the Pope to make me feel better about it.

Afterwards, we stopped by a nice gift shop and I found some delicate cameos for my sister Jane, a cross with medieval artwork for my minister sister, and a detailed figurine of the Capitoline wolf for me.

As we walked back towards the Metro, we saw that the line to the Vatican Museum was gone so we excitedly headed towards it. Although we found that the Etruscan gallery was closed, we were able to see some of the Roman sculptures.

We then followed the sea of humanity flowing toward the direction of the Sistine Chapel. On our way to the chapel we strolled through the famous Hall of Maps. I was simply awestruck by the riotous colors of art in the Hall of Maps. I actually enjoyed the images in the Hall of Maps more than the Sistine Chapel. (Is that considered sacrilege?) Of course the Sistine Chapel was unforgettable, too. Personally, I like the bright hues of the paintings since they have been cleaned and restored. In one of the books I purchased it showed the difference between the soiled paintings and the restored paintings and there is simply no comparison. Michelangelo's delicate flesh tones and rich colors of clothing and landscape are once more visible to an appreciative audience.

Upon emerging from the Vatican, I thought of the dean's wife who loves the Italian version of ice cream called gelatto so we stopped by a cafe for a cooling dish of rich vanilla gelatto and fresh strawberries. We returned to our hotel for a brief rest and to prepare the roses Pat brought to place on Caesar's bier tomorrow on the Ides of March and I went online to reserve the car for Pompeii.

Richard (my co-moderator of the Imperial Rome discussion group) will be arriving tomorrow and is our designated driver for our Pompeii, Ostia, Tivoli, and Florence road trips.

Pat remembered she had seen a web page on the internet with pictures of Roman catapults and a caption that said reproductions of these types of Roman military equipment were located in the Museum of Roman Civilization. I looked it up on the web and we found it is about 3 1/2 miles from our hotel on the blue Metro line. So, if we aren't too tired after our trip back to the Forum tomorrow and our exploration of the Roman Wax Museum, we will catch the Metro down to the Museum of Roman Civilization.

We concluded the day with a light dinner at a restaurant close to the hotel that we have visited several times. The waiter has become friendly enough with us that he is now joking with us. Tonight I ordered a calzone wood style which is a calzone filled with cheese and mushrooms. I also ordered a tomato salad and was surprised to find that when you order a tomato salad you are brought a plate of sliced cherry tomatoes garnished with a few sprigs of watercress. So, Pat donated some lettuce garnish from her ravioli and some black olives that had been placed on the butter plate for decoration and I produced an American-style salad. I noticed the waiter passed our table and looked a little confused when he saw what I had done with the salad.

We topped the meal off with a dish of mousse.

Friday, October 07, 2005

Rome Journal: The Glories of Capitoline Hill

Sunday, March 13, 2005: " Although the not-so-mythical founder of Rome (Romulus) built his first stronghold on the Palatine hill, the Capitoline was long the defensive center of Rome. It was the highest and rockiest hill in Rome, being bordered on all sides by sharp cliffs. In fact, the western side was known as the Tarpeian Rock, off of which criminals were thrown to supplement crucifixion and burning at the stake in the Romans' repertoire of means of capital punishment. Access to the Capitoline was only by means of a narrow path leading up the southern side of the hill. This was easy to defend in the event of an attack. Even at the height of Rome's power, the Capitoline was still considered the citadel of the city, and citizens could flee there in case the city's walls were breached by an invading army. So, this massive, fortified hill towered over the city, and still does today." - Capitoline by W. Logan.

Today, we were excited to find the Capitoline Museum open (Pat had thought it was still closed for rennovation) so I took hundreds of pictures as you can imagine. I got some nice photos of the murals depicting the founding of Rome although it was a challenge since flash photography is not allowed and I'm a bit short so the angle creates some distortion. I was only barked at twice by one of the female guards. Once because I was trying to steady my camera by leaning against a wall (Pat, my volunteer human tripod, had taken a break) and once because she thought I might be shooting video which is also forbidden.

Of course I took pictures of the Capitoline Wolf from all different angles. The Capitoline Wolf, the ancient symbol of the city of Rome, is probably one of the most immediately recognized statues of the ancient world. The bronze wolf is thought to be of Etruscan origin dating from the 5th century BCE. The suckling children were added during the Renaissance. Most people are familiar with the legend of Romulus and Remus. Although the Renaissance additions depict chubby apparently happy children, as young men, the two brothers did not get along nearly as well. In an argument over the site of their newly proposed city, Romulus killed Remus. So the eternal city ended up with the name of Rome (not Reme). Romulus ruled for 38 years then legend says that he was taken up to heaven by a violent whirlwind:

"Romulus's end, in the 38th year of his reign, was a supernatural disappearance, if he was not slain by the Senate. Plutarch (Life of Numa Pompilius) tells the legend with a note of skepticism:
"It was the thirty-seventh year, counted from the foundation of Rome, when Romulus, then reigning, did, on the fifth day of the month of July, called the Caprotine Nones, offer a public sacrifice at the Goat's Marsh, in presence of the senate and people of Rome. Suddenly the sky was darkened, a thick cloud of storm and rain settled on the earth; the common people fled in affright, and were dispersed; and in this whirlwind Romulus disappeared, his body being never found either living or dead. A foul suspicion presently attached to the patricians, and rumors were current among the people as if that they, weary of kingly government, and exasperated of late by the imperious deportment of Romulus towards them, had plotted against his life and made him away, that so they might assume the authority and government into their own hands. This suspicion they sought to turn aside by decreeing divine honors to Romulus, as to one not dead but translated to a higher condition. And Proculus, a man of note, took oath that he saw Romulus caught up into heaven in his arms and vestments, and heard him, as he ascended, cry out that they should hereafter style him by the name of Quirinus."

"Then a few voices began to proclaim Romulus's divinity; the cry was taken up, and at last every man present hailed him as a god and son of a god, and prayed to him to be for ever gracious and to protect his children. However, even on this great occasion there were, I believe, a few dissentients who secretly maintained that the king had been torn to pieces by the senators. At all events the story got about, though in veiled terms; but it was not important, as awe, and admiration for Romulus's greatness, set the seal upon the other version of his end, which was, moreover, given further credit by the timely action of a certain Julius Proculus, a man, we are told, honored for his wise counsel on weighty matters. The loss of the king had left the people in an uneasy mood and suspicious of the senators, and Proculus, aware of the prevalent temper, conceived the shrewd idea of addressing the Assembly. Romulus, he declared, the father of our City descended from heaven at dawn this morning and appeared to me. In awe and reverence I stood before him, praying for permission to look upon his face without sin. "Go," he said, "and tell the Romans that by heaven's will my Rome shall be capital of the world. Let them learn to be soldiers. Let them know, and teach their children, that no power on earth can stand against Roman arms. Having spoken these words, he was taken up again into the sky. " (Livy, 1.16, trans. A. de Selincourt, The Early History of Rome, 34-35) [1] ("

I found a nicely detailed figurine of the wolf with suckling Romulus and Remus the next day at a shop outside the Vatican for a very reasonable price. It resides in a place of honor on my bookshelf in my office. I thought this picture of a WWII poster showing a much less maternal wolf was quite interesting. Notice the target of the wolf's wrath. It apparently was used for recruiting purposes by Mussolini's regime.

I also made a special effort to be sure to seek out the bust of Brutus. Brutus is of course Lucius Junius Brutus, often referred to as the founder of the Roman Republic, who lived in the 6th century BCE not Marcus Junius Brutus, one of the conspirators that assassinated Caesar. According to Livy,

Brutus was the most important personality of the patrician "revolution" which overthrew monarchic rule in Rome and instituted the Republic. Brutus was the son of Marcus Junius and of a sister of Tarquinius Superbus. When he was still a child, he saw his father and brothers being executed by the tyrant and escaped solely by feigning mental insanity (the origin of his cognomen Brutus). Saved by such deceit, he was regarded with disdain, being kept in the palace as a laughing stock. He grew up in the royal entourage, waiting for the right moment for vengeance.
During a plague which almost overwhelmed Rome, Tarquin's sons were sent to Delphi in order to consult the oracle and they took Brutus along, obviously to amuse themselves and forget about the boredom and the smaller inconveniences of the trip. Brutus brught as an offering to the god Apollo a coarse stick. But Brutus had hidden a golden sceptre inside the stick. Apollo's pythia predicted the god would give the empire of Rome to the one who would first embrace his mother after their return.

Brutus, perceiving the true meaning of the pythia's prophecy, kissed the land, the mother of mankind, of his ancestors immediately after entering Rome.

However, Brutus did not need to feign imbecility for much longer, because the ill-fated rape and murder of Lucretia by Sextus Tarquinius, one of the king's sons, gave him the pretext he needed to act. He grew enraged when confronted with the dead body of this heroine, seized the iron stick which had served as the murder weapon against her chaste resistance and swore to kill all the Tarquins, who were deeply unpopular in Rome, if not odious. Brutus ran to the Forum, called the people to listen to his speech (it was his legal right as tribune of the Celers, and the king was abroad) and proclaimed the abolishment of the Roman Monarchy and the enactment of the exile of the Tarquins.

The royal family quickly returned to the city in order to deal with the rebel - to them, he was little more than a usurper. They didn't understand their lack of popularity and this sudden change in their fool's personality, believing he was perhaps controlled by the senatorial magistrates. The Tarquins attempted to take the city by surprise but were abandoned by their soldiers. Rome was a republic - res publica." - Controversial Personalities of the Roman Republic by 'Andraeus Papadopolus Dacicus Maximus'

Of course as a big fan of the film "Gladiator" and actor Joaquin Phoenix, I had to search out the famous statue of Commodus dressed as Hercules in the robe of the Nemean lion.

Commodus began to dress like the god Hercules, wearing lion skins and carrying a club. Thus he appropriated the Antonines' traditional identification with Hercules, but even more aggressively. Commodus' complete identification with Hercules can be seen as an attempt to solidify his claim as new founder of Rome, which he now called the Colonia Lucia Annia Commodiana. This was legitimized by his direct link to Hercules, son of Father Jupiter. He probably took the title of Hercules officially some time before mid-September 192.

While the literary sources, especially Dio, Herodian, and the Historia Augusta, all ridicule the antics of his later career, they also give important insight into Commodus' relationship to the people. His most important maneuver to solidify his claims as Hercules Romanus was to show himself as the god to the Roman people by taking part in spectacles in the amphitheater. Not only would Commodus fight and defeat the most skilled gladiators, he would also test his talents by encountering the most ferocious of the beasts. Commodus won all of his bouts against the gladiators. The slayer of wild beasts, Hercules, was the mythical symbol of Commodus' rule, as protector of the Empire.

During his final years he declared that his age should be called the "Golden Age." He wanted all to revel in peace and happiness in his age of glory, praise the felicitas Commodi, the glorious libertas, his pietas, providentia, his victoria and virtus aeterna. Commodus wanted there to be no doubt that this "Golden Age" had been achieved through his munificence as Nobilissimus Princeps. He had declared a brand new day in Rome, founding it anew in 190, declaring himself the new Romulus. Rome was now to be called Colonia Lucia Annia Commodiana, as noted above, and deemed "the Immortal," "the Fortunate," "the Universal Colony of the Earth." Coins represent the archaic rituals of city-[re]foundation, identifying Commodus as a new founder and his age as new days.

Also in 190 he renamed all the months to correspond exactly with his titles. From January, they run as follows: Lucius, Aelius, Aurelius, Commodus, Augustus, Herculeus, Romanus, Exsuperatorius, Amazonius, Invictus, Felix, Pius. According to Dio Cassius, the changing of the names of the months was all part of Commodus' megalomania. Commodus was the first and last in the Antonine dynasty to change the names of the months.

The legions were renamed Commodianae, the fleet which imported grain from Africa was called Alexandria Commodiana Togata, the Senate was deemed the Commodian Fortunate Senate, his palace and the Roman people were all given the name Commodianus. The day that these new names were announced was also given a new title: Dies Commodianus. Indeed, the emperor presented himself with growing vigor as the center of Roman life and the fountainhead of religion. New expressions of old religious thought and new cults previously restricted to private worship invade the highest level of imperial power.

If Eusebius of Caesarea is to be believed, the reign of Commodus inaugurated a period of numerous conversions to Christianity. Commodus did not pursue his father's prohibitions against the Christians, although he did not actually change their legal position. Rather, he relaxed persecutions, after minor efforts early in his reign. Tradition credits Commodus's policy to the influence of his concubine Marcia; she was probably his favorite, but it is not clear that she was a Christian. More likely, Commodus preferred to neglect the sect, so that persecutions would not detract from his claims to be leading the Empire through a "Golden Age."

During his reign several attempts were made on Commodus' life. After a few botched efforts, an orchestrated plot was carried out early in December 192, apparently including his mistress Marcia. On 31 December an athlete named Narcissus strangled him in his bath, and the emperor's memory was cursed. This brought an end to the Antonine Dynasty. - Commodus by Dennis Quinn

The original of the Dying Gaul, another well known statue, is also in The Capitoline Museum. Although this statue depicts a Gaul with a Romanized short haircut, it may actually be more accurate than the monument erected to Vercingetorix with his long flowing hair. Many Gallic, Germanic, and Batavian chieftains that led revolts against the Roman domination of Gaul and Germania were Romanized to a large degree, having served as commanders of Roman Auxilliaries.

We met another lady traveling by herself from Australia and she joined our adventure today. She and I took the time to go into the King Victor Emmanuel monument and I managed to photograph some murals and sculptures inside as well as take some close up photos of the tomb of the unknown warrior and the honor guard. I also got some more pictures of Trajan's forum and a few more of Trajan's column.

On the way back to our hotel, the taxi drove by the Circus Maximus so we got to check it off our list too.