- Just Like Pasta e Fasule: Italy 2023, Day 01
- When in Amsterdam…? Italy 2023, Day 02
- Jesus, Jesus, Jesus…: Italy 2023, Day 03
- A Capitoline Idea! Italy 2023, Day 04
- … A Little Laundry Must fall: Italy 2023, Day 05
- Travel day, Plus!: Italy 2023, Day 06
- New Mask for Old: Italy 2023, Day 07
- Giuditta a Venezia : Italy 2023, Day 08
- Eating Venice: Italy 2023, Wrapping Up
Wednesday revealed itself to be another beautiful, crisp winter day. Clear skies and sunshine, with highs around 9-10 degrees (and lows around 0 – eek!), great for seeing the sights. Unfortunately, Lisa woke up in the grips of that travel cold we mentioned last time. Desperate not to let it get into her lungs and sabotage yet another trip to Italy, she decided to stay in, take aaaalll the drugs (the legal kind, relax) and stay warm and rested. (Spoiler alert: she gets better in a day or two, don’t worry.) So, John set out to explore some of Rome on his own and maybe even get lost a little; a latter day, grown-up, Italian Macaulay Culkin.* More or less.
In a certain kind of museum (which is most of them) there is a long stretch of the collection that covers roughly the 13th-17th centuries and includes almost exclusively Christian religious imagery. Icons, portable devotionals, altar pieces, organ doors… the list of things that someone would paint a martyr on is practically endless. Now, we never begrudge these things, especially since every major museum has to presume that for at least some of their visitors this is the first, maybe only, exposure to fine art that they will get and so it is worth an exhaustive walk through the centuries. If you have been to more than a handful of these significant museums (and if you’ve been following along you get the idea…) then yet another walk through a few centuries of art where, in all honesty, quality took a back seat to subject matter is just not that exciting.
Thus it was that John strolled through the early portions of the Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Antica, or “National Gallery of Ancient Art”, at a pretty brisk pace muttering “Jesus… Jesus… Saint John… Jesus… Saint Sebastian? [reads card] yep… Jesus…” I am by no means anti-religion, but I’ve also never sought (nor have I achieved by accident) religious ecstasy in a museum. For a lapsed Presbyterian I have developed a pretty good eye for saints, although sadly it’s mostly in the form of a catalog of how they were killed rather than any miracles they may have performed. (Paintings of saints are almost exclusively depictions of their martyrdoms, at least in my experience.) Fortunately, most of these museums take the time to place some kind of context on some of their collection, if only to slow smart-asses like me down.
Here in the Palazzo Barberini (home of the Nat Gal of Ancient Art) the lesson involved these two crucifixes. As you can see, the one on the right depicts a stoic Jesus who seems less to be suffering the cross and more to be putting up with it. On the left, on the other hand, we’ve got a fully suffering Christ figure. In my naivety I had always taken this as artistic license, but in fact it is a depiction of a serious theological debate that was going on (and maybe still does? Not my forte…) concerning the nature of Jesus. [Editor’s note: this is going to be a combination of keeping things simple so as not to write a book, and also probably not knowing everything about the subject at hand. Go easy, ok?] The cross on the right represents the belief that Jesus was God en-robed in flesh but still God – thus, nailed to a tree is more of an inconvenience than anything else. The cross on the left, on the other hand, posits a fully human Jesus (son of God questions aside for a moment) who thus had the full human experience when tortured and crucified. I don’t really have a dog in this fight, not trying to convince anybody of anything, I just thought it was interesting that these depictions had more going on behind them than artistic whim.
As the centuries progress, these collections inevitably get more interesting. For one thing, perspective stops being considered the work of the devil, so things stop being quite so flat. Allegorical stories from other traditions likewise come into vogue even amongst the Christian devout, so that pictures of Greek gods (for example) start appearing. Portraiture becomes acceptable a little later, and unsurprisingly an interest in the quality of the art rises once people care whether or not a painting looks like Uncle Bart or just some random homunculus.
And all of these trends converge on pieces like this one by Raphael:
The collection in the Palazzo Barberini is largely comprised of donations from various Church fathers down the years, and so even in the 16th and 17th centuries you get more Biblical stories than a more random sampling. However, that does mean you’re more likely to get entries into our favorite art collection: Judiths!
After a day of art and wandering through the Forum, dinner was decidedly low-key. Lisa found a review for a cut-above trattoria called Li Rioni, which does many things well but specializes in Roman style pizza. One mushroom pizza and one diavola (spicy sausage, the default European equivalent to pepperoni) pizza later, we were ensconced in our cozy room once more, nibbling on ‘za and writing about the day; hi.
* Home Alone 2: Lost in New York is the reference/ joke being made here.