Rome Travel Guide

Rome Architecture, History, Art, Museums, Galleries, Fashion, Music, Photos, Walking and Hiking Itineraries, Neighborhoods, News and Social Commentary, Politics, Things to Do in Rome and Environs. Over 800 posts

Monday, October 21, 2019

A Tale of Two Libraries and Many Eras

The photos left and below right are from the same building - the Biblioteca Hertziana (the Hertziana Library and Max Planck Institute for Art History) - above the Spanish Steps in Rome.

They illustrate one of our great pleasures in Rome - the mixing of the old and the new, here the Renaissance and the contemporary with a bit of ancient Rome thrown in. The 'grotesque' mask-like exterior was created in the late 1600s by painter Federico Zuccari (for whom the Palazzo is now named), echoing the "Parco dei Mostri" outside of Rome in Bomarzo. 

As many times as we've been up the street - via Gregoriana - and in the piazza at the top of the Spanish Steps (Piazza della Trinita' dei Monti), we had never noticed this amazing facade.

Another library in Rome that inserts the 21st century into older buildings is the Biblioteca Universita' Lateranense (the Pontifical Library at San Giovanni in Laterano).

Above, its older entrance; left, inside the 21st-century library.

A close-up photo of a Zuccari fresco on science, illustrating
a graphic anatomy lesson.
We have spent years trying to get into the contemporary Hertziana during Open House Roma; there seemed to be no other way to see the inside (our emails and telephone calls for personal access went unanswered).  We finally landed a place in 2019's OHR, only to find first what we had not known existed - the 16th- century part of the complex that included Zuccari's frescoing inside the palazzo.
Tourists turn their backs on
Palazzo Zuccari's facade
in Piazza della Trinita' dei

A Zuccari ceiling, painted 1590.

But we were there to see the 21st-century library, designed by Navarro Baldeweg and Da Gai architects, 2003-2012. It is magnificent.

Looking up through the glass lined walls, it feels like
one is looking at a James Turrell skyspace.

And, it can't be Rome without the discovery of ancient ruins, in this case the villa of Lucio Licinio Lucullo. The architects solved the problem of excavations delaying the library for decades by creating a "bridge" over the ruins so that the excavations could continue while the library was built and continues to be used. Also discovered were a ninfeo that was in the gardens of the ancient Roman villa.
Model of the Biblioteca Hertziana

Looking down from the library through the glass wall, one
sees some ancient ruins, part of a visual backdrop for the
library's entrance (at this point, being remodeled). This
area is just above the excavations, which have none of the
heavy library directly above them, just the airy space
going towards the sky.

And what would be a Roman palazzo today without a view? Those of us on the tour were treated to the rooftop terrace.

The fellows and employees of the Max Planck Institute
can take their morning coffee up here.

The Lateranense Library had long been on our wish list after architect Nathalie Grenon told us it was one of her favorite contemporary buildings. It too imposes a 21st-century library among older buildings. Architects King & Roselli (who also did the Radisson Blu in Rome) also use stepped floors to give incredible and sometimes vertiginous vistas of light and air to heavy library stacks and work areas. The library was built 2004-2006.

Modern entrance to the Biblioteca Lateranense
with the older buildings of the Pontifical
University reflected.

And as a treat, across the parking lot from the Pontifical library is Borromini's Baptistry (below).


Monday, October 14, 2019

Villa Certosa: A Hidden Rome Neighborhood

Railroad tracks are usually the enemy of community.  They cut through and divide neighborhoods, bringing with them dirt and noise and a certain trashy, industrial ugliness, leavened, if barely, by the graffiti that often covers their sides.  Paradoxically, rail lines can also create neighborhoods and nurture community, doing so by isolating an area and, effectively, protecting it from outsiders.

Railroads explain the charm of a Rome neighborhood known as Villa Certosa.  Villa Certosa is a spit of land bordered on one side by the multi-track Ferrovia Urbana Roma Giardinetto, which runs adjacent to the busy via Casilina; and another--even more impenetrable and isolating--track to the south and west that eventually passes through the Parco degli aquedotti (Aqueduct Park).  One can access Villa Certosa at several several places along the Casilina line, but the other track is a solid barrier.  Because one can't get through Villa Certosa to go anywhere else (there is one exception to that), there's no reason to go there--unless one lives there.  Or unless you're in quest of "authentic" Rome, the "real" Rome that tourists--even clever and committed ones--never see.

Even then, those looking for a spectacular site are likely to be underwhelmed.  The houses are simple, the pace deliberate, the noise and bustle of via Tor Pignattara, while not that far away, fails to intrude - that's also Villa Certosa's charm.

Perhaps the best place to access Villa Certosa is through Largo Alessi, a stop on the Casilina/Giardinetto line.  Wander southwest on via Galeazzo Alessi, along the tracks. As it turns left, take a right at the first or second street--the second one is via Savorgnan, which runs the length of Villa Certosa. As you turn onto via Savorgnan, you'll see a restaurant that is one of our favorites, Betto e Mary, about which we posted several years ago (recognizing the very Roman food - innards and horsemeat, and the bell that rang for our large "mancia" or tip - which we gave because the bill was so small).

Quiet, unassuming streets.
Not far ahead you'll begin to see more commercial activity, including Bar Shakespeare, with benches outside.  There's beer and wine, and the wine list is surprisingly long and good; so get yourself a glass of wine and sit out front with the dog-walking locals, or in a very funky outdoor back room.

A few paces beyond, and you'll be in the "town center," Largo dei Savorgnan, also known as Piazza Ciro Principessa.  Here there's another bar--less hip and cool than Bar Shakespeare, but no less authentic.

The other bar.

--as well as the seat of local government. (below).

A large mural identifies Villa Certosa's local hero son, Ciro Principessa, in whose name there's a yearly festival, held in May.  Raised in Naples, Principessa had been living in Villa Certosa for two years (he was 17; the year was 1979).  A committed anti-Fascist, he was working in a library on nearby via Tor Pignattara when Claudio Minetti, a militant neo-Fascist, entered the library with a companion and asked to borrow a book.  Principessa asked for his library card and Minetti ran out with the book.  Principessa gave chase, and in the ensuing struggle, Minetti stabbed Principessa in the chest.  He died in the hospital.

Below, the poster reads: Fascism is not an opinion, it's a crime.

Having absorbed the minimalist delights of the piazza, continue on the main street until you hit the "T," where you can go right and under the tracks to the famed via del Mandrione in Tuscolano, or left (which we suggest), working your way downhill until you reach via Tor Pignattara, and Villa Certosa ends.   If you turn right at the T, at the end of the tunnel you'll find yourself on a particularly intimidating section of via del Mandrione, with few outlets.

Maybe a hundred yards before you get to via Tor Pignattara, there's an entrance to some older buildings on your right.  In back--you have to be a bit intrepid here--there's ANOTHER wine bar.  This one looks like a back yard, and it was closed when we came through, but apparently it exists.

The other wine bar.  

Villa Certosa has TWO WINE BARS, and all without a hint of gentrification.

We first heard about Villa Certosa from our friend Patrick.  Otherwise we might never have found it.  Thanks, Patrick!


Monday, October 7, 2019

The "F" Word in Rome: A Brief Survey

I first became interesting in tracking the use of the "F" word in Rome last spring. We were living in Pigneto, a hip and cool neighborhood with lots of recent immigrants. Not long after we settled in, we saw this sticker on the door of a business--a regular, establishment business, not some fly-by-night operation.  And right above the sign "tirare," instructing customers to pull the door.  No one could miss it.

I was shocked.  I reasoned that the sticker wouldn't be there if "Fuck White Supremacy" wasn't an entirely acceptable, even mainstream expression--presented here by a 1950s-style woman--at least for Pigneto.

One doesn't have to think quite so hard about the use of the word "fuck" in relationship to sports competitions and sports teams.  Although commonly the team you don't like is referred to with the word "merda" (shit), as in Lazio Merda or Rome Merda (expressions ubiquitous in Rome), I did find one use of "fuck."  It's from 2015, and it was posted by the Ultras (extreme) fans of the Roma team, on via Guido Reni in the Flaminio quartiere:

Interesting, the Italian equivalent of "fuck" (fanculo), a version of "fanculo te" or "fuck you," is seldom seen on Rome walls. Indeed, in two months of walking the city, I saw it only once, in Quadraro, a leftist community out via Tuscolana, and one well known for its street art.  Indeed, the reference had to do with street art--the writer didn't like it, probably because it was understood to be the cutting edge of gentrification, and with it rising rents and trendy wine bars.  "Fanculo la street art."

"Fuck" can also be used ironically, as in the stencil below (also Pigneto):

Or it can seem to be used in all earnestness, or apparent earnestness, to make a broad political statement.  This appeared in Ostiense, under one of its bridges.  The poster replaces the U and the C with an anxious woman's face.  Not sure how to read that.

Below, a "Fuck" diatribe, all in English, apparently about Beyonce, in Monteverde Vecchio:

Also in Monteverde, we found a pub using a version of the word to advertise its establishment, on the assumption that its use would bring in customers. Here "fucking" is used as an adjective, meaning "very".

Then there's the simple finger, which says "fuck you" without using the word.  Instead, one is tempted to say it to oneself--hence there's a participatory element.  Also from Pigneto.

And another


Monday, September 30, 2019

The First Mormon Temple in Italy - in Rome (sort of)

The temple looks large and impressive in this view, but it's actually quite small. The
curved planes seen here may be a citation to Meier's Jubilee Church, below,
or to Borromini's San Carlo alle Quattro Fontane. 
Our search for contemporary churches led us a few months ago to the first Mormon temple in Italy – dedicated on March 10 this year. It’s the 162nd Mormon temple in the world.

It was indeed a search to find the temple, which is as far out of the center of Rome as any church we’ve found.  Touted as a building whose sponsors “spared no expense,” the temple is, frankly, underwhelming.  Of course, it must compete not only with the spectacular Catholic churches of the Renaissance, such as St. Peter’s and San Carlo alle Quattro Fontane (both cited as inspirations for the temple) to name just two, but also 21st-century churches we admire that include Richard Meier’s Jubilee Church and Piero Sartogo’s Santo Volto.

Scale model of interior of temple

For those who think Meier’s Jubilee Church is way out of town, you need to go twice as far to get to the Mormon Temple. It’s practically on top of the GRA (Rome’s outer ‘ring road’) and seems to fit in with, perhaps even be diminished by, the large, undistinguished shopping mall and apartment buildings nearby.

Meier's Jubilee Church

Piero Sartogo's Santo Volto
We found the temple decidedly uninspiring. The Salt Lake City-based Mormon architect might have done better to collaborate with an Italian starchitect to end up with something that approaches the awe-producing design of Paolo Portoghesi’s Mosque, or Meier's and Sartogo’s churches.

Admittedly, we did not go inside the temple because once it is dedicated, non-Mormons are not permitted inside. Mormons are allowed inside only for specific purposes, which do not include basic church services.  The inside – from the scale model we were shown by a young American proselytizer at the Visitor Center, looks more homey than church-y.  Church services are held in a chapel, which again is decidedly – and it appears purposefully – plain.  There’s none of what Alain de Botton cites as the religious architecture that makes one almost believe there is a God.

Adam and Eve

The Visitor Center paintings include an Adam and Eve who look like Barbie and Ken, the Mormons’ patron saint, Moroni, who looks like Charlton Heston, and others who may be designed to make us feel that we, too, can be figures in a Passion Play. It also has a faux Italian farmhouse and faux farm landscape.  A villetta was torn down to make way for the temple complex – so perhaps this is an homage to that villetta.  Regardless, it’s kitchy at best.

Faux villetta inside Visitor Center
The Mormons have only recently been added to the list of religions that have an elevated status in Italy, allowing them some tax and other benefits. They cite the 1929 Concordat between Mussolini’s Fascist government and the Roman Catholic Church for inspiration, and they ended up hiring a lobbyist to get what they wanted, beginning that particular quest in 2006. The history of discrimination against the Mormons is an interesting one to be sure. Pope Francis met the LDS (see PS below) President in March, a first-ever meeting of those figures.
Faux campagna romana inside faux villetta

We’d like to think we’re eclectic in our lay appreciation of religious architecture, but, frankly, we’d skip this complex in favor of almost any other one in Rome. In fact, what attracted Bill on our scooter ride home was his discovery of a brutalist water tank that is in one of the books in our library on 200 great Rome architectural works of the 20th century.  At least he got something out of our trek.

Bill's brutalist water tower

PS We read recently that the Mormons no longer want to use that name and ask that everyone use the Church of Latter-Day Saints, or LDS for short.  Because they used Mormon when building and consecrating this temple, we stuck with it for this post.

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

RST Turns 10 and Reaches 800 - Years and Posts on Rome

                                                                    Our 800th!

Here at RST we can't hide our pride in our longevity (we've been writing on Rome for more than a decade!) and in the volume of our work product (800 posts, each requiring from 4 to 8 hours of labor, and some much more, not counting "experiencing" whatever it is we're writing about).

To commemorate #800, we're offering a list of some of our popular posts (though not necessarily the most popular), one for each decade of the site's existence.  In developing the list, we tried for balance, for a batch of posts that more or less represent the content we offer (got to have something on Fascism, on graffiti, on the scooter we ride daily, on hiking, on religion, on a neighborhood seldom visited, on something quirky, and so on).  Below is our list, starting more than 10 years ago, and a link to each post - should you want to engage in a bit of nostalgia. Here we go:

2009  Europe's Largest Mosque -- in Rome  (4th most popular all time)

2010  Centocelle: Rome's New Rochelle

2011  Renting a Scooter in Rome  (most popular all time, over  20,000 hits)

2012  Fascism and the Reconstruction of Rome (with a heavy nod to Paul Baxa's book)

2013  Tracking Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton's stormy love affair in Rome

2014  The 6-legged Dog: the story of Eni's famous logo (6th all time)

2015  Richard Meier's Suburban Jubilee Church (2nd all time)

2016  Hiking near Rome: Tivoli, Train to Trail

2017  Anna Magnani, Rome Icon

2018  "Love Nests"/Exploitation in the Woods: Rome Prostitution (7th all time)

2019  Cy Twombly in Rome

Bill and Dianne

Coming soon: revised TOP 40 list

Friday, September 6, 2019

Art for Tourists? and is that bad? Three exhibitions in Rome: Gallerias Corsini, Borghese and Nazionale.

Juxtaposing art works by a theme other than historical context seems to be the new-ish rage. A couple Rome examples.

First, the Robert Mapplethorpe exhibition at Galleria Corsini. I'm sure the Popes, cardinals, and royals who established and contributed to this gallery would roll over in their graves had they seen (a bit hard to do from the grave) Robert Mapplethorpe's stunning black and white photographs of sadomasochism next to paintings of saints. That's what the Corsini did - the show has been extended until October 6. I was fascinated by it; Bill not so much.

Then I wondered if I was falling into the trap of simplistic viewing of art - art for tourists rather than art for those who know and appreciate art, to steal a distinction used by Christopher Knight recently in a screed against the new Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) new building design and curator goals. A nicer way to put it, per Knight, is that "Every art museum serves two publics - an art public and a general public." In his polemic, Knight says LACMA's current plan "puts a thumb on the scale for the latter."

The extension of the Mapplethorpe exhibition was justified, according to the gallery, because public viewing of the Corsini doubled - part way through the current show - compared to the same period last year. In our experience, the Corsini is generally not one of the most visited museums in Rome.

Here's one of the more audacious Maplethorpe juxtapositions, as I reference above:
Mapplethorpe, Lisa Lyon, 1981. The three paintings are by Bolognese painter
Guido Reni (1575-1642) of Christ with the Crown of Thorns, the Sorrowful Virgin 
and St. John the Baptist. The sculpture is "Silenus Head," Roman, 2nd Century AD.
The curator places the photography of body-builder Lisa Lyon in sadomasochistic garb below the three Guido Reni paintings of pained saints. What is the viewer to think about these works? That depictions of sorrow and pain can have similarities and differences over centuries? That Mapplethorpe's work is rooted in the classical?  It seems to me these are worthy questions, and they don't make the works "homeless," a term Knight uses.

I recall a pamphlet on the exhibition (which I lost on the way back from Rome) that explained Mapplethorpe's deep ties to classical art. And the image below demonstrates that:
Mapplethorpe, "Black Bust" (1988) and "Apollo" (1988), The sculpture is by Luigi Bienalmé
(1795 -1878), "Dancer with Finger on her Chin," in Rome's Galleria Corsini. Another sculpture from the 17th century "framed" Mapplethorpe's photographs on the other side.

Another exhibition illustrating this 'trend' is one I didn't see - Lucio Fontana's work placed in the Galleria Borghese, apparently the first 20th-century artist to be so "honored." It closed August 25. This one, too, keeps the Renaissance works in their own context, and adds Fontana. I'll leave it up to you to decide if the interplay adds meaning (photo below right).
"Terra e Oro" (Earth and Gold), Fontana exhibition at the
Galleria Borghese in Rome.

A third exhibition - on view until November 3 - takes a similar approach.  "Joint Is Out of Time," a follow-on to 2016's "Time Is Out of Joint" (yes, from "Hamlet") uses works in the Galleria Nazionale's collection placed in a context with each other that is not related to their style or chronology,  This is more of the type of exhibition Knight complains about - it takes everything out of context.  Each room in the exhibition has a different theme or way of connecting the pieces in it.

I liked one room that I would call "war" (the Gallery's descriptions of the rooms were non-existent for the most part, and there was very little information about the art work and the artists), even though it takes very different types of works in different media from different periods and puts them together. On the other hand, is this just "art tourism"? Art for the general public?  What more can we say than that the theme is one of fighting? Does the juxtaposition make us understand or appreciate any of the works more than if they were in context with other artists/styles/periods that are similar?

The sculpture of the fighting dogs, which is disturbingly real and well-placed in the gallery, is by Italian sculptor Davide Rivalta. It was in the 2016 exhibition as well. I don't recall the artist of the painting on the wall (one of our readers might). At the Galleria Nazionale d'Arte Moderna in Rome.
Unlike the pamphlet for the Mapplethorpe exhibition, the limited material available for the Galleria Nazionale exhibition was, frankly, close to unintelligible curator high b.s. And there was no attempt to tie the works together in the different rooms of the museum. You were on your own.  Or, if you were like these teenagers at right, in the room on "war," you were bored (whatever was on their phones was more interesting, apparently).

Below is an example from the Mapplethorpe exhibit that seemed to me too simplistic.  Each is a portrait of a dandy, from different periods. Each artist selected a similar profile; each subject has a high forehead and trimmed beard. Should we appreciate the similarities, or are the similarities simply superficial?
Left, Simone Cantarini, "Self-Portrait" (1612-1648);
Right, Mapplethorpe, "Harry Lunn," 1976. Galleria Corsini, Rome.

Another benefit from this type of exhibition is that it uses primarily the works already in the gallery. It doesn't require the loan of an entire show worth of works (in the case of Galleria Nazionale). It doesn't require rehanging an entire gallery (in the case of the Corsini and Borghese museums). In other words, it's economical compared to travelling or entirely new shows, at a time when galleries are underfunded.

Jason Farago, in a recent article in the New York Times on an exhibition at the Pompidou Center entitled “Préhistoire” ("Prehistory"), made a similar distinction in reviewing a show he says demonstrates - in detail - how "prehistory" influenced modern artists. He states, "This show doesn’t merely juxtapose hand axes and fossils with superficially concordant modern art, but grounds these juxtapositions with the artists’ notebooks, interviews, and other primary sources."  He is critical of some works in the show, noting "the curators' engagement with modernity and thickened time gives way to a few too many wink-nudge sendups of old rocks and fertility goddesses."  It's these "wink-nudge" comparisons that trouble me.

A contrast to the Rome exhibitions highlighted above is the Galleria Moderna d'Arte's (the city of  Rome's modern art gallery - once the Mussolini gallery (!)),exhibition on the depiction of women in art in the 20th century (a specific theme, a chronological approach, but also using its own collection) and the Palazzo Merulana (the private gallery about which I wrote a year ago) exhibition on the works of Giacomo Balla - a specific artist, again of the 20th century. (Photos below.) More traditional shows, not likely to draw as many visitors perhaps, but, to me, giving the viewer more opportunity to learn about the art.

Balla, "Autocaffè" 1928, in the show:
"Giacomo Balla. Dal Futurismo astratto
 al Futurismo iconico" (Giacomo Balla:
 From abstract Futurism to iconic Futurism)
 at Palazzo Merulana.
Photograph in Rome's Galleria Moderna d'Arte from its
show "Donne. Corpo e immagine tra simbolo e rivoluzione"
 ("Women: Body and image in symbol and revolution").

A respected gallery curator with whom I was speaking recently (who knew the three shows I highlighted above only from my descriptions) said these types of placement of works could encourage people who have previously seen the works to look at them in new ways, or could cause viewers who don't normally relate to one period or style to come to see it and possibly appreciate it because they came to see a style with which they are familiar. In either case, one is expanding the art public or the public's sense of art or both. Or are these shows just encouraging simplistic conclusions?

My ambivalence remains.


A PS to those who read my screed on private galleries, highlighting Palazzo Merulana and Los Angeles's Marciano Art Foundation: Palazzo Merulana recently won the "Best Practice - Public Patrimony" prize for 2019 ("Premio Best Practice Patrimoni Pubblici 2019"). So much for my opinion!