Where to begin? We’ve had a very, very busy last little while. After our mid-course break (some to Venice, others to Pompeii and Castel Gandolfo, to Turin and Bologna), we returned to Rome and hit the ground running on the homestretch. We’ve a week to go until flights to Istanbul (!) and a few days left until our final reviews at the Piazza dell’Orologio.
Our students have been compiling a map of Rome, building a Piranesi and Nolli inspired palimpsest of historical, architectural, urban, landscape and narrative layers, taking in some of Rome’s greatest monuments, some of its most enduring streets and spaces, its stories and mythic roots. Students have been working on sites that include Saint Peter’s, the Castel Sant Angelo, Piazza Navona, Campo de Fiori, the Ara Pacis, Piazza del Popolo, San Carlino, the Colosseum, the Campidoglo, the Tiber and Trastevere. They’ve been walking, drawing, documenting, researching, investigating, sketching… Our time here – and the student work in particular – has been spectacularly enriched by the help of our our two resident historians – Dr. Paolo Alei and Dr. Antonella de Michelis. Their lectures and field trips, their injunctions to project ourselves into the mindsets of pilgrims, of priests, of popes and their artists – has added so many additional layers to the work of the students. This past week in particular was especially… palimpsestic.
We began on Monday with a walk from Largo Santa Susanna – in line (and in sight) of Michelangelo’s Porta Pia. We began with facade dissection of the church of Santa Susanna and learned how urbanism followed water in Rome, how Popes appropriated Hellenic and Roman antiquity to craft new, syncretic hybrids of power, meaning and symbolism; how urban space was an essential participant in the theatre of revival and renaissance. We followed that up with a spectacular lecture inside Santa Maria della Vittoria, where we listened and talked about Bernini’s Coronaro Chapel and his masterpiece, the Ecstasy of St. Theresa -and the unity of Renaissance art, space, sculpture and painting. We continued along the Via Pia, linking obelisk to obelisk in Rome’s urban layout and spent the next little while in Borromini’s masterpiece – San Carlino, learning of Borromini’s cerebral, introspective, thoughtful and intense working of neo-platonic ideas and forms in the crafting of this immensely moving space. We skirted the edge of the Quirinal (we were actually shooed away by police because of the recent political upheaval regarding Enrico Letta’s resignation) and continued a walk around the former papal villa, then along the Via Corso to end with a teaser for our final lecture next week – of Rome as the New Constantinople.
Santa Maria della Vittoria
Inside the Coronaro Chapel + Bernini’s Ecstasy of St. Theresa
In Borromini’s Cloister
On the Quirinal
Tuesday was an introduction to the Stanza of Raphael in the Vatican Palace Apartments of Julius II (and Leo X). We deconstructed the images of the Stanza della Signatura, of the School of Athens, the Expulsion of Heliodorus, the Fire in the Borgo. We learned about the particular and highly detailed relationship of image and narrative to space and program and how the humanist orators and librarians of the Renaissance guided and assisted Raphael in developing the visual backdrop for the Papal Library, Signature Rooms and Audience Chambers. We continued this theme on Thursday, with a related lecture on the development of the Sistine Chapel, of Michelangelo’s frescos of Genesis, of Eden, of the Flood, of prophets and sibyls, of his painting of the last Judgement; of Il Perugino and Botticelli and Ghirlandaio and their early narrative paintings in the life of Christ and the life of Moses, of the spatial complexity of liturgical space, of how it is appropriated and transformed through architecture and landscape; how Bramante envisioned a new Jerusalem and a new Parnassus in the Corte Belvedere…
In the flesh – so to speak
Waiting for Antonella…
On top of that, we visited the Borghese Gallery and Gardens for the requisite Bernini love-in (and exasperations: “I spent an hour in one room and all I drew was David’s HEAD”… We also popped in to the Vatican Museums (post Raphael and Michelangelo lectures) and saw – with more open eyes – what we learned about in our in-class lectures. We wrapped up Friday with our final lecture by Antonella, with a looping walk + talk around Richard Meier’s still hotly contested Ara Pacis museum, deconstructing how designers and architects think through (or don’t) the very particular and specific questions of site, of history, of meaning, when operating in a dense historic urban fabric (remember this for Istanbul!). Our week wasn’t over, we concluded with a visit to Hadrian’s Villa and Villa D’este. For those of you familar with our experience last year, you’ll probably re-call that it was very, very wet (I’m surprised, gratefully, that no-one got hypothermia – although James did have his wallet stolen – then returned… minus cash). The rain last year began when we arrived at Villa Adriana and the deluge ended when we got on the bus to leave Villa d’Este for the drive back to Rome.
Today could not have been more different. Rome has had, over the past few weeks, its fair share of rain. For a while, the Tiber was dangerously high in Rome (flooding several outlying districts) and we were quite certain that the sun simply did not exist. I am especially grateful for today’s weather. We saw Hadrian’s Villa in the sunshine – and to a large extent- almost all to ourselves (except for a small horde of invading french high-schoolers). The Canopus, the Serapim, the Maritime Theatre, the Piazza D’Oro – all the ruins under a spectacular blue sky. We walked the grounds of those emperors and their courts, of the artists who came to view and study and draw this landscape – just as we are doing (in some way) in Rome – Michelangelo, Piranesi, Borromini…
Then: rain. Lots of it. Thunder, yes – booming. But perhaps we earned our share over the past couple of weeks and this lunch-time squall too, thankfully, was passing and mercifully short. A short while later, the sun emerged from billowy clouds and we wandered the gardens at Villa D’Este, taking in Ippolito D’Este’s maniacally beautiful gardens and fountains, and fountains, and more fountains. And pools. And more fountains. We walked along the 100 fountains in a bright oblivion (our own river Lethe), past statues of Pan, of Apollo, of Diana, of the exiled cardinal’s “Rometta,” a model of Roman monuments that he could look to, and beyond to the smoke and skyline of Rome in the distance. We were only exiles from the Eternal City for a day, and it was a treat to be so at these spectacular landscapes with their lush green, their roaring water (and water organ). To bring it all full circle, we even tracked down a fountain by Bernini.
Villa Adriana – The Pecile
Villa Adriana – The Canopus
Villa Adriana – The Canopus
Villa Adriana – The Maritime Theatre
This is the last of our group visits. Now the real Olympian event begins. 4 days until Final Reviews and our Closing Ceremonies in Rome.