Day 15 and 16 [Reading Art and Space, or, A Villa, A Museum and the Augustan Altar of Peace walk into a Cappuccino Bar…]

On Thursday, we met in the morning at the Borghese Gallery (Cardinal Scipione was one of Bernini’s great patrons) just up the Pincian Hill from the Piazza Del Popolo.  We’ve had the opportunity to really look at Bernini’s architecture and urban design; today was an opportunity to see his sculptural genius in the collection at the Borghese.  Coming off the heels of our trip to Florence and seeing Michelangelo’s David at the Accademia, and following that up with our lecture on the urban space of Michelangelo’s Campidoglio and Bernini’s Fountain (and dramatic theatrics) at the Piazza Navona, it was great to see Bernini’s take on David.  The third room at the Borghese contains Gianlorenzo Bernini’s David [the first room contains Beata Angelico’s Annunciation – one of the paintings I studied as a graduate student, and the second room featured a sculpture by Canova, but there’s only so much space in this blog post].

“Michelangelo’s David seems to be gathering all his powers for the combat; Bernini’s David is at the point of discharging it. The veins in his arm protrude through his skin with the muscular effort. He pivots on the ball of his foot almost like a discus thrower, his left heel raised to apply more spinning force. The face of Michelangelo’s hero is impassively beautiful, but Bernini’s works: brows furrowed, jaws clenched, lips pursed. And those features are so precisely registered because, of course, they are Bernini’s own, seen in a mirror held for him, according to Baldinucci, by Barberini himself. As with Caravaggio, there’s never a time when Bernini isn’t conscious of the spectator, moving around the piece and seeing it work in different ways from different perspectives (even when, as seems to be the case, its back was originally against the wall of the room). Centuries on, this understanding of sculpture as presenting not one but multiple images to us, each in a state of mutating motion as we move about it, might seem a truism; but in the 1620s it broke all previous conventions. Bernini had discovered a way to make marble movies.” (Simon Schama,”When Stone Came To Life,” The Guardian, Saturday, September 16, 2006.)

There are, of course, many other spectacular works at the Borghese (including more Bernini sculpture and his self-portraits, works by Raphael, Caravaggio, and more), and, like the Uffizi,it’s almost overwhelming.  The Villa and its setting is also beautiful, set in the Borghese Gardens, an idyllic and expansive green break from Rome’s hectic urbanity.  It was a good way to take a break from work and drawing and mapping, yet also be be inspired by artistic and creative excellence, rigor and mastery.  We walked through the gardens, down to the Pincian Hill overlooking the Piazza del Popolo and spent part of the afternoon walking through the Ara Pacis – Richard Meier’s museum that houses the Augustan Altar of Peace, moved to this site (and rotated to create a new axis to the Pantheon) by Mussolini – who desired to be buried in the Mausoleum of Augustus, which is immediately adjacent to Meier’s building.  “Mussolini,” mused our lecturer, Antonella de Michelis, “really understood the power of Palimpsest.”  The afternoon’s lecture was a walking discussion and critique of how the contemporary designer can/should/must engage with history’s layers – and ultimately – HOW that engagement is realized.  We talked about the urban, architectural and landscape gestures of the building, how they work (and don’t) at the scale of the city, the street, materiality, experience, politics and historical contexts (Meier’s building kind of drops it pants and moons the obelisk of Rameses II in Piazza del Popolo and basically ignores a profoundly important street that Raphael and Sangallo the Younger worked on).  It works beautifully in other ways – creating a piazza for a Renaissance church out of water and travertine, creating a piazza in city full of piazzas, and through transparency and reflection gives the Ara Pacis, seen against the Mausoleum of Augustus, a kind of projective memorial home, back in the wooded setting of it’s original site.  It was a first-rate exercise in how we can engage, understand, critique and take a position on space, building, and landscape – and a perfect primer for our Istanbul studio (t-minus one-week).

Friday was a work day and the afternoon was spent at the student residences (see Juan’s previous post on how UofM CDes students spend their Friday nights, unlike the ahem, cough IOWA cough students next door).  Work on the course project is picking up speed – lots of graphite, rendering, palimpsestic techniques, symbolic, abstract, analytic and analogic drawings (grazie Andrea Ponsi!).  All this drawing seems to include standard meals of grapes, brie cheese, water and Nutella for some reason.  I hope the baclava I brought over on Friday helped.

Tomorrow – Two Gardens, Two Villas, Lots of Rain.


Sketchbook, check… Borghese entry tickets, check… camera phone to take sneaky pictures, check.


This is how happy we were to see Bernini’s sculpture.  Seriously.




Apollo and Daphne.


The Rape of Proserpina


The Borghese Garden behind the Villa


Rome seen from the Pincian Hill.


Piazza del Popolo, withe Obelisk of Rameses II


Meier’s Museum for the Ara Pacis


Talkin’ ’bout space.

One comment

  1. Pingback: Highlights | University of Minnesota Rome -Istanbul Study Abroad Spring 2015

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