Europe 2018 – Rome

Some of the worlds greatest art resides in churches. Caravaggio was commissioned to create three panels in the French Church of Saint Louis in Rome. Known for his extensive use of light and shadow, chiaroscuro, it takes seeing the paintings in the gloomy churches as they were meant to be displayed to appreciate the practical use of these effects. The natural light in the churches falls on the subjects from the same directions as they do in the paintings, which heightens the drama.

My favorite, The Calling of St. Matthew, beautifully illustrates how Caravaggio was breaking from the standard depiction of subjects in religious tableaux. Jesus is barely noticeable on the right as he points at St. Matthew, in contrast to the dominant role portrayed in other paintings. There’s even some doubt as to which subject is St. Matthew, the older man or the one with his head down.

Caravaggio was a bit of a rogue, so gambling implements and beautiful young men in the painting testify somewhat to his personal tastes. All these techniques contribute to a grittier realism that was a huge departure from idealized painting of the time, and a forerunner of many styles to follow.

Another fantastic venue for art, the mother church of the Jesuits, Il Gesu in Rome. The main ceiling fresco by Gaulli literally blasts the borders of art, which is a hallmark of the Baroque Style. The brilliantly colorful scene literally overflows the boundaries and the characters go from flat to sculpture. Truly a trompe l’oeil tour de force.

The main altar ain’t half bad either.

To one side, The Chapel of Saint Francis Xavier, cofounder of the Jesuits, is incredibly ornate, with polychromatic marbles and over-the-top gold gilding. And yes, that is part of his right arm in the reliquary, an arm which baptized over 300,000 people. 
And every day at 5:30 the Chapel of Saint Ignatius, founder of the Jesuits, is the site of a music and light show culminating in the appearance of Ignatius himself, or at least his effigy. Actually a panel depicting scenes of Ignatius’ life just slides down to reveal the statue. The earnestness of this low-tech production is really quite charming, especially in today’s world of wham bam special effects. Thanks to Jill Rowan and Chloe Rowan for telling me about this show.

Rome is famous for its fountains. Here are two of the most memorable.

Trevi Fountain has appeared countless films – Roman Holiday, La Dolce Vita, and Three Coins in The Fountain, to name a few.

Fountain of the Four Rivers was designed by Bernini for Pope Innocent X, and is in front of the family palazzo in Piazza Navona.


My loft at the Gran Melia resort, right next to the Vatican, in the middle of Rome.

One side of the loft has a view of the resort, which was full of blossoming orange trees. That’s St. Peter’s Basilica peeking over the hill. The view from the other side of the loft is a panorama of Rome.

This place is quite a find, with a full-featured spa, and a garden restuarant with incredible food.

History is full of leaders creating massive monuments to themselves. Two in Rome are 1700 years and a few hundred meters apart – Trajan‘s Column and the monument to King Emmanuel II.
Granted, Emmanuel’s achievement of uniting Italy in the 1800s was considerable, but most agree it did not justify the monstrosity erected on Capitoline Hill. Romans have coined several derogatory descriptions. My favorite is “The Dentures.” Chief among its crimes is dwarfing and crowding aside Michelangelo’s gorgeous Piazza del Campidoglio, which redefined the Roman Civic Center. Campidoglio pics are not mine, btw.

One fascinating thing about Rome is the ruins are at so many different levels. The Roman Forum has 2000-year-old ruins next to 1500-year-old ruins next to 1000-year-old ruins. You can literally step up and down through time. And in the background, perhaps the most famous ruin in Rome, The Colosseum.

Fun fact – The iconic Marcus Aurelius statue in Piazza del Campidoglio is now a replica. The original has been recently restored and will henceforth be kept in a climate-controlled environment in a newly-constructed addition to the Capitoline Museums.

Caravaggio’s John the Baptist, as we’ve never seen him before or since, also resides in the Capitoline Museums.

Saint Peter’s at The Vatican, and souvenirs for sale nearby. Not too soon to get your 2019 Pope Francis calendar.

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