Saturday, 16 August 2014

Lions and Griffins and David…oh my!


One of the things I enjoy about Rome's Capitoline Museums is that they offer a very eclectic blend of different forms of art, from different ages, as well as Roman history and archaeology.

I popped in on Saturday for a few hours -- it is only a 10-minute walk from my house if I cut through Trajan's Forum.

As it happened, the Museums were hosting a small Michelangelo exhibition that included a decent copy of his famous and spectacular statue of David, generally associated with the beautiful Republic of Florence.


So, in keeping with the vivid mix of art to be found in the Capitoline Museums, here are a few shots from my visit there.

At the top is, of course, the fake David in the courtyard of the museum with the giant head of a felled statue of Constantine in the background.



I must always visit Marcus Aurelius on his bronze horse, the original statue protected indoors with a copy placed outside in the Campidoglio (a piazza designed, of course, by Michelangelo).


Nearby, a small funerary marker with some dogs that I like very much:




A random shot of the Republican Forum.


Inside the Palazzo Nuovo, I find my favourite mythical creatures including a satyr and a griffin.





And a real, marble lion!



On the second floor of the Palazzo Nuovo, I was also able to get a decent shot of the beautiful mosaics over a side door of the splendid Santa Maria in Ara Coeli church, also on the capital hill.


Friday, 11 July 2014

Sansepolcro, The Resurrection, and the Agility Dogs




Centuries ago, possibly during the lifetime of Renaissance master painter Piero della Francesco, the Tuscan town of Sansepolcro was actually a part of northern Umbria and today it is still quite easy to visit from the Umbrian capital of Perugia.


I just spent a week in Perugia, presenting the Italian version of my novel The Virgin and the Griffin at a couple of great events. And while I spent some time visiting favourite spots from the novel in the city of Perugia, I also took a day trip up to Sansepolcro for a little research and inspiration for my new novel which is well underway.


As you might guess, Piero della Francesco (let's call him PdF) and Sansepolcro feature strongly in the new novel which I have not yet named and since the first draft is more than half complete, I had better find a title soon.

Although I have visited Sansepolcro several times, it was always by car so this trip was a bit of a test of the Umbrian railway, the F.C.U. (I think that is the most hilarious and aptly named railway I have ever seen, although that may be just my adolescent sense of humor).

For a mere 5 euros, I was able to have a very leisurely tour of tiny towns through northern Umbria and into Tuscany on the slowest, smallest railway – just two carriages – that I have ever used. But it was on time and featured air conditioning, so no complaints here!

Although Sansepolcro is the cherished hometown of PdF, who returned there frequently, kept a large house and maintained the family's leather businesses as well as involvement in local government, the modern community doesn't boast many PdF sites for visitors.

You can see the palazzo that was his home and today, hosts a PdF foundation for researchers but is not open to the public. (Word of warning, his home is not located on the street that bears the name of Piero della Francesco as I learned after prowling up and down the quiet strada trying to find my hero's historic house).

Along the way, I found this beautiful little shrine on the corner of a building, with intriguing twinkly electric lights, possibly for use at Christmas or another festive occasion.


The Duomo also boasts some pretty if faded frescos by other Tuscan masters of the day, this cycle focusing on San Benedict.




The Museo Civico, which was at one time Sansepolcro's town hall, owns a large and beautiful PdF altarpiece with numerous panels, and one of the artist's greatest masterpieces, The Resurrection (the top photo on this page).

This fresco of the Risen Christ, one foot planted on the edge of his tomb as sleeping guards snore through the entire historic event, is not only my favourite but is widely viewed as a masterpiece of the Renaissance for its dramatic perfection. And, happily for Sansepolcro, as a fresco painted into a wall of the town hall, it has stayed where Piero placed it – unlike so much of his work which is spread around the world.

That includes another very beautiful altarpiece in the spectacular and under-rated National Gallery of Umbria in Perugia.

Speaking of Perugia, the presentation of my novel went extremely well, I thought, because so many of the people who inspired me to write The Virgin and the Griffin were there – and because I didn't screw up my remarks made in Italian.


I used those same remarks at a community event a few days later in a different area of Perugia. That event was enormous fun; in part, because the opening act was a fantastic dog agility demonstration. Border collies dominated, although a collie, a terrier mix, and I think German shepherd also leapt in. They were all so excited, wiggling and squirming as they waited their turn to show how they could keep a herd of sheep in order, given a chance. (Dogs not exactly as shown above!)






Saturday, 28 June 2014

Presenting La Vergine e il Grifo



On Saturday, July 5th my novel, The Virgin and the Griffin, is being presented in Italian in the city where it all started….Perugia.

Indeed, the city of Perugia, as it was in 1504 and as it is today, is a key figure in the story, one of the reasons the publisher Francesco Tozzuolo asked to translate and publish my novel in Italian as La Vergine e il Grifo.

Saturday's event will be a bit more complicated than the style of book readings I am used to, but I am looking forward to it (despite my intense nervousness at delivering a presentation in Italian, yikes!) So many people who have been important to the novel will be there and for that reason alone, I am very excited.

My dear friend Letizia Mattiacci, who was the inspiration for a key character in the novel, has promised to be there with her wonderful husband Ruurd and their beautiful daughter Tea.  I am hoping that Mary Thomas Tacconi, another dear friend who first taught me to think about the unique heritage and great beauty of artisanal Umbrian textiles and ceramics, will be able to make it.


Marta Cucchia, who is continuing her family's tradition of hand-weaving at the Laboratorio Giuditta Brozzetti, and her mother Clara Baldelli Bombelli, a textiles historian who instructed me in the art, will also be there. When writing my novel, Marta taught me a few things about weaving while Clara gave me a wonderful overview of Umbrian textiles.


As the program at the top shows, the event begins, appropriately enough, at the Brozzetti laboratorio with a presentation on the history of Umbrian textiles.


A historian will then lead a one-hour walk through some the medieval city streets, touching on landmarks included in my novel, and we will end up at the chiostro of the great Cathedral of San Lorenzo which dominates the heart of Perugia's historic centre. An actor will read selections from the novel and I will talk (very briefly, believe me) about what inspired the novel.

As well, perhaps I'll drop a few hints about the novel I am working on now…..

Saturday, 7 June 2014

Rome street art - The Crucifixion of St. Peter


I believe French street artist C215 has recreated Caravaggio's Crucifixion of St. Peter on a quiet little corner in my Rome neighbourhood. C215, whose real name is Christian Guémy, has been described as France's answer to Banksy.

As you can see below, the 1 p.m. sun is casting shadows on the art from the vines growing from around the corner.

The original Caravaggio, painted in 1600, can be found in Santa Maria del Popolo.




This portion of the painting shows the martyrdom of St. Peter by crucifixion. It is believed that Peter asked that his cross be turned upside down because it is said he did not want to appear to be imitating Christ and His crucifixion.

Fans of Caravaggio, whose full name was Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio, know that he painted this fresco for the Cerasi Chapel and in 1601 painted a second work on the opposite wall of the small chapel showing The Conversion of Saint Paul on the Road to Damascus.


This flowering bush is just around the corner and its vines cast shadows on the street art. Below is another look down my street to the Forum of Augustus.


I apologize for the long breaks between my blog posts. Besides work, I have been busy with my novel The Virgin and the Griffin, which is being published in Italian.

Over Christmas, I met a publisher in Perugia who has had my novel translated into Italian and at this point, it is being published. Very soon, the Italian edition will be launched in Perugia and while I am excited about the event itself, I dread my role which will likely involve a reading and maybe questions and answers in Italian. Yikes!!!!


Saturday, 12 April 2014

Ancient Rome, hidden in plain view



I have walked past the Terme di Diocleziano - the Baths of Diocletian - a hundred times and have never gone inside, even though these ruins are adjacent to  Rome's main central Termini railway station and even gave Termini its name! (Some believe the name Termini was derived from terminus or end of the rail line, but in fact it was named for the terme or baths).





I likely would still not have noticed the baths even now, if it weren't for an interesting new exhibition of sculptures by France's Rodin.


Rodin's particular style of leaving his sculptures at least partly unfinished, a work-in-progress effect, actually displays very well inside the ruins of the baths of Diocletian, given the somewhat unfinished appearance of the ruins.


According to the archaeological superintendent of Rome, the Terme di Diocleziano was the most imposing baths complex ever built in Rome, and was constructed between 298 AD and 306 AD, spanning 13 hectares and able to accommodate as many as 3,000 people.


The structure included gyms, libraries, a large swimming pool as well as hot and cold baths, and it was used by Michelangelo as a model when he restored parts of the Basilica di Santa Maria degli Angeli which is right next door to the baths.


Today, the Terme di Diocleziano is part of the Museo Nazionale Romano (National Roman Museum) system, and has been renovated into an interesting complex, including a tranquil garden space with trees and flowers that is only steps from the central Termini railway station but truly feels very far from the chaos of that transportation hub.


Sunday, 16 February 2014

A spring day in historic Rome



After what seemed like weeks of rain through January and well into February, causing major flooding, landslides and train derailments all over Italy, today was finally sunny and warm so I took a long Sunday walk around the Celian Hill near the Colosseum. The Celian was, of course, one of Rome's famous Seven Hills dating from the Republican era.

I was surprised to see these blossoms above on one lone bush…..



And at a religious house on the Celian, someone has planted happy, smiling daffodils!


Or course, I cannot resist a fruit tree photo as I never before lived in a place with so many lovely fruit trees that seem to produce year round!


Nice to see so much greenery on the Celian at the historic chiesa di Santi Giovanni and Paolo, which has its roots in a 2nd century house church and boasts a wonderful bell tower and monastery.

And across from the Celian are the ruins of the great houses on the Palatine Hill.



A close up of the Colosseo, which is partly clad these days in scaffolding as it receives a much-needed cleaning.


Back on the Celian, a lovely mosaic on a church near the entrance to the Villa Celimontana, which has wonderful gardens that were originally connected with the Baths of Caracalla which lie below.



And this fellow lounges just above the Baths of Caracalla


Monday, 27 January 2014

What lies beneath Piazza Navona



How many times have we all criss-crossed Piazza Navona, one of the most popular spots for visitors to Rome, without thinking about the layers of history that lie beneath its beautiful fountains, its cobblestones and concrete benches, buskers and vendors?

Well, it has now become easier to get a glimpse of its long history, as a small section of the original structure built there - the Stadium of Domiziano - has been opened to the public.

I visited it on Sunday with my friend and classics scholar Laura, who explained in great detail the origins of the site which was completed in about the year 86 by the mad emperor Domiziano for a great athletic event in honour of the god Jove.

(The photos below are from Bernini's great Fountain of the Four Rivers in the centre of today's Piazza Navona)


Laura explained that there are some misconceptions about the origins of the stadium that shaped today's Piazza Navona, including the fact it was, indeed, a stadium for athletic events and not a circus, like Circus Maximus, which was used for larger events such horse and chariot races. It was also interesting to learn that a stadium was originally a unit of measure that varied depending on where it was used. In Latin it often referred to 176 meters, the length of a particular foot race.

The Stadio di Domiziano was the first permanent athletic structure in Rome - previously, temporary venues were built, perhaps from wood - and this stadium was modelled on the style used in Greece. Looking at a modern reconstruction, it stuck me how similar it is to many sports stadiums I have seen in North America!



The stadium originally seated about 30,000 spectators and the shape of Piazza Navona almost exactly follows the sweep of the original oval structure, which included a beautiful marble viewing box for the emperor and other nobility on the spot where today's church of Sant'Agnese in Agone rests.

In fact, there is a connection here with the young Saint Agnes. Apparently, brothels had originally been established in certain arcades of this stadium structure, and it was in one of these where Agnes's martyrdom began, because she refused to marry as ordered by a later emperor, Diocletian. (Another small fact, the word "fornicate" is derived from the Latin name of the arch of an arcade, "fornix,"  according to Laura).

Still another fun fact, the word "Navona" as used in Piazza Navona, is derived from the term "agonalis" a combined Latin-Greek word for "struggles" describing the athletic competition in the original stadium….and over the years, was mispronounced until it became "Navona" (which, frankly, sounds better to me!)