This morning we walked to the Victor Emmanuel Monument, monument to the first king of a unified Italy, in the late 19th century. The views of Rome from the top of the monument were breathtaking. We could see the giant dome of St. Peter’s Basilica, in Vatican City, in the near distance. We could also make out the Pantheon roof – the top of the dome – nearby.
After the monument, we walked to the National Roman Museum, or the Palazzo Massimo alle Terme, which houses some amazing antiquities, both Greek and Roman. In one room on the second floor were four walls holding the frescoes from Livia’s (wife of Emperor Augustus) garden room. “The windowless room of frescoes, painted around the 1st Century B.C., was partly submerged to keep it cool. It’s easy to spend hours looking at the elaborate paintings of the spring-like scene and imagine the wife of an Emperor enjoying an escape from the heat.” (from afar.com website)
There were some amazing Greek (Hellenistic) sculptures as well. Two of them were bronze and came from a late 19th century excavation, where they had been buried for well over 2,000 years. They was found in 1885, on the Quirinal Hill, probably near the Baths of Constantine during the construction of the National Theatre. Most bronze statues were melted down to make weaponry or coinage, so it is simply extraordinary that these two survive. The only other place extant statues from the Hellenistic period have been found is in shipwrecks.
One of the bronze statues is the Pugilist. He’s a Hellenistic bronze sculpture from the 4th century BC and he is stunning. The details of the gloves on his hands and the look of exhaustion…and possibly defeat…on his face…are fantastically detailed. This is the Boxer at Rest.
“The sculpture is soldered together from eight segments, separately cast through the lost-wax process; the joins have been filed and finished to be virtually invisible. The lips and wounds and scars about the face were originally inlaid with copper, and further copper inlays on the right shoulder, forearm, caestus and thigh represented drops and trickles of blood. The fingers and toes were worn from being rubbed by passers-by in ancient times, which has suggested that the Boxer was carefully buried to preserve its talismanic value, when the Baths were abandoned after the Goths cut the aqueducts that fed them.” (from Wikipedia)
“Six distinctive features of the statue as follows: (i) The Pose, distinct for its massiveness and “elemental” form, (ii) The Face, noted for the large brow and columnar neck, (iii) The Blood, noted by its inlaid copper upon the bronze statue itself, (iv) The Scarred Genitals, distinct for being infibulated for cultural and aesthetic purposes of ancient times, (v) The Hands, noted for being astounding yet gentle at the same time, and (vi) The Foresight, referring to the sculptor’s strength of vision which resembles and conjures Goya‘s Giant as well as comparison with “Velazquez and Rembrandt“”
The other Hellenistic statue, found only a month after the Boxer at Rest, is the Hellenistic Prince. His pose is striking as are his features. He wears a finely-detailed light beard, reclining on a spear in an heroic pose, which is taken from Lysippos‘ Heracles.
Among the Hellenistic statuary exhibited was a bust of Alexander the Great, the Macedonian who became king at age 20, after the assassination of his father, King Phillip. Alexander spent the remainder of his young life over 10 years on a campaign of conquest that took him and his army through Persia, Egypt, India and Afghanistan. Alexander wanted to march to conquer China, but his army after 10 years of continuous battles had had enough and wanted to return home to Babylonia. In 323 BC, while in Babylon, Alexander got very sick with a fever and died.
Next, we viewed a marvelous statue of the Greek god, Dionysus, who was the god of fertility and wine, later considered a patron of the arts. He created wine and spread the art of viticulture. He had a dual nature; on one hand, he brought joy and divine ecstasy; or he would bring brutal and blinding rage, thus reflecting the dual nature of wine.
Moving on to Roman sculpture, there was a great statue of Emperor Augustus, “wearing a tunic and over it a toga, the most characteristic Roman dress. The toga, a length of woolen cloth with rounded edges, had been the traditional garment of the Romans for centuries, but by the late first century B.C., it was declining in popularity. As part of his effort to revive ancient values and customs, the emperor Augustus made the toga a sort of unofficial state dress that all citizens were required to wear in the forum. A cylindrical leather box for scrolls, represented at the feet of this figure, identify him as a man engaged in public business.” (from the metmuseum.org website)
Another Roman sculpture was of Aphrodite (Hellenistic) or Venus (Roman), goddess of love and beauty.
Another very famous Roman marble statue is that of the discus thrower, which is a copy of the ancient Greek statue of the Discobolos, which was originally sculpted in bronze in about 450 BCE by Myron. “The athlete is poised at the moment of highest tension, when he has swung his arm back and is about to fling the discus. The musculature of his body is beautifully incised and he looks like a coiled spring. His face, however, does not reflect this tension, but rather is expressionless. In the typical severe style, the facial features are simplified and emotionless.” (from brown.edu website)
After the National Roman Museum, we sought out J.’s favorite restaurant in Rome, the Hosteria Romana. This is a traditional Roman family restaurant, and is unique because graffiti is encouraged on all surfaces. In fact, there are no spaces in which to write new graffiti without writing over previous graffiti! Mandy had their specialty, the goat, and I had the fettuccine with porcini mushrooms. Excellent!
The first Caravaggio was a painting, from 1599, of Narcissus. “The classical myth of Narcissus knows numerous representations since ancient times, but the version that Caravaggio gives is distinguished by the unusual compositional scheme conceived almost like a playing card: the lower part mirrors the upper one as if the painter had overturned 180 degrees the upper half of the canvas to obtain the reflected figure. A layout congenial to the story of the young hunter, who falls in love with his own image reflected in the water.” (from https://www.barberinicorsini.org/)
Another Caravaggio was Judith and Holofernes, 1599, “Three characters and a red cloth in the background: few elements, capable of orchestrating a real theater of opposites. Dark and light, old age and youth, life and death, strength and fragility. Judith is an Old Testament heroine, a young Jewish widow who saves her people from the siege of the Assyrian army. She pretends to want to ally herself with the enemy and kills General Holofernes with her own hands, after being welcomed into the camp with a sumptuous banquet.” (from https://www.barberinicorsini.org/)
Another Caravaggio was San Francesco in Meditation, 1607, “It is no coincidence that the saint, famous for having embraced an ideal of life based on poverty, during one of his last retreats in prayer, would have received the stigmata, reliving the physical signs of the crucifixion. He is represented on his knees, showing only a part of his face, strategically illuminated between the right cheek and the wrinkles of his forehead, and we can sense his absorbed and suffering expression.” (from https://www.barberinicorsini.org/)
On our walk back from the museum we again passed the Pantheon. To its rear, in a small plaza, we discovered what could have been an Egyptian obelisk perched on the back of an elephant. Rome is certainly full of pleasant surprises!