Sunday, April 06, 2014

Caravaggio, Bernini, and other Roman Treasures

This will probably be my last post from Rome. Tomorrow morning the group heads up to Assisi; I'll return late Thursday, and fly home Friday. So my next report will probably be from the home of Saint Francis.

Friday afternoon I made a trip over to the Capitoline Museum. The steps on on when I take this photo lead to the top of the Capitoline Hill, to a plaza designed by Michelangelo. Yes, that Michelangelo. The steps you see going off to the left lead to a church, Santa Maria in Ara Coeli or "Altar of Heaven." To its left you can see a bit of the Altare della Patria, better known as the Monument to King Victor Emmanuel II. 

In the center of the piazza is a statue of Emperor Marcus Aurelius. It's a copy of this statue, now inside the museum: 

Here are some murals depicting scenes from ancient Roman history. This shows the Temple of the Vestal Virgins, who were charged with keeping the sacred fire burning. In antiquity, this wasn't just a religious matter. When visiting Ephesus, our guide pointed out the need for everyone in the city to be able to come obtain fire in order to quickly kindle fires in their homes or businesses.

Here is Aeneas marking out the bounds of Rome with a plow.

This is the famous scene of the infants Romulus and Remus being nourished by a she-wolf.

The opposite wall told the story of the rape of the Sabine women -- but it was a little indelicate, so I am omitting that.

Here's the very famous statue of the she-wolf. The original predates our Lord's time. Many believe this is the original; however, Wikipedia reports testing dated it to the 13th century. The statues of the two boys were added in the 15th century.

Here's another striking statue. Dr. Elizabeth Lev pointed out that this statue was a contender to be a symbol of the city, but Pope Sixtus IV chose the She-wolf statue above, instead.

This is Emperor Constantine of happy memory. This head is huge. 

Do you know what this is?

That is the foundation of what was the temple of Jove, or Jupiter, which dominated this hill. Just beyond this hill was the Roman Forum of Augustus Caesar's time, and the Via Sacra led down the middle of it, among many temples and public buildings; for example, the Temple of Vesta, where the fire was kept. Dominating all this was the temple of the chief of the Roman deities, Jupiter. Now all that remains are the foundations. And now I can say I visited the Temple of the one, true God, in Jerusalem, and now this temple of a false god, whose worship was overthrown by the Christians.

Here is a lovely image of the Holy Family. I was very taken by the way Saint Joseph is so smitten by our Lady, as is our infant Savior.

This is an angel assisting Saint Matthew in composing his Gospel. I thought this was labeled as by Caravaggio, but I just checked and didn't find it as one of his; and I can't make out the inscription below the frame. (Sorry I didn't take notes.)

 This is one of Caravaggio's many paintings of Saint John the Baptist. His depiction of John is puzzling. No, not the nudity -- that was common in that era -- but the use of the ram, and no real other indication of this being the forerunner of our Lord.

I was struck by this image's depiction of the Holy Trinity:

Visiting the Capitoline Museum takes you to two buildings, and you cross between them through a passage under the piazza. The passage was filled with ancient objects with texts in them. Fascinating stuff, but I didn't have time to see everything. You are also able to duck down a corridor, past the ruins of another temple, and then emerge out onto a balcony to this view of the Roman Forum. You can see how the Via Sacra is angling to the right of the scene -- toward where the Temple of Jove stood in antiquity.

The other building mostly had statuary. I am always impressed by statues and busts using different sorts of stone, in this manner.

More statues.

This is the god Pan. I love the color of the stone.

This is a famous, ancient statue of a Gaul, dying after a battle.

One of the things that struck me was the detail of a moustache. Most of these statues either have full beards, or else the men are clean-shaven.

After a couple of hours in the Capitoline Museum, I made my way over to the Church of Saint Louis, where three Caravaggio works are on display in a chapel where they were intended to be seen.

This first picture is mine, serving to orient you. To the left is the very famous Call of Saint Matthew; in the center, Matthew is receiving inspiration from an angel; and to the right, Matthew's martyrdom.

The two times I've been here to see this, there is always a large crowd viewing these works.

Here are pictures of the images on the sides. I didn't take them; they are readily available online:

One of the distinctive features of Caravaggio's work is the use of light, usually a light that doesn't come from an obvious source. So in the Call of Matthew, note it doesn't come from the window; in fact, it comes from behind the figure of our Lord. Given the positioning of the painting in relation to the altar, the suggestion is obvious where the light comes from.

Well, that was Friday afternoon. On Saturday morning, after joining the North American College seminarians for the stational Mass at San Nicola in Carcere, two other Cincinnati priests on this sabbatical and I made our way up to the Galleria Borghese. Once upon a time this was a home belonging to the Borghese family; the villa now houses artwork that was collected by the family, and the grounds are a public park.

Alas, no photographs allowed; but I was able to see quite a few more Caravaggios, including this one:

There are several things I like about this painting. First, it shows David as a boy, which he was. Second, I enjoy the expressions. We see Goliath's last expression before he died. He seems to say, "I can't believe this boy is doing this--ack!" And then David seems to say, "I told you I could do it!"

Then there was this image:

Notice how it shows both our Lady and our Lord -- as a toddler -- stepping on the serpent's head. This does two things. First, it shows very powerfully the role Mary was given: she was our Savior's teacher in a true sense, even though he is Lord and God! Second, it solves an exegetical dispute. You may recall this is all based on Genesis: "He will strike at your head, while you strike at his heel." These words, of God Almighty to the serpent, refer to the "seed" of the woman; and is sometimes translated "he" (i.e., the Messiah) and "she" (i.e., Mary). (It's also translated as "they," referring to all the offspring of Eve.) Saint Jerome was one who translated it as "she."

One of the mysteries of this image was was older woman. I agree with my compatriot, who said he thought it would be Saint Anne.

If you go to the link above for the Galleria Borghese, you will find images of some of the artwork, which includes some astonishing statuary by Bernini; one of which tells the story of Apollos chasing Daphne, and to escape him, she changes into a tree. Bernini's amazing ability to use stone to show life and movement is on full display; and the delicacy of the fingers, turning into leaves, is simply astounding. I can't imagine how he kept from breaking the leaves as he worked on it!

After the Galleria, we hiked across the park and down to the Piazza del Populo, where there is a church with two more Caravaggios: the Martyrdom of Saint Peter and the Conversion of Saint Paul. The sign said no pictures allowed (although folks were snapping away), so I didn't take any. However, Wikipedia has excellent photographs of these paintings.

By the time we walked back from all this, my feet were sore and my knees aching; but I'd seen some of the great treasures of art in Rome, including, out of the 80-some Caravaggio works in existence, about 15 of them.

Later last evening we met another Cincinnati priest for a nice dinner; today I had Holy Mass with the NAC seminarians; and now I'm wrapping up this post while I wait for my clothes to finish in the dryer down the hall. I have to pack for tomorrow.


Shouting Thomas said...

Another great set of pics.

Trying to convince the girlfriend to retire so that we can travel and see these wonders in person.

rcg said...

Wow, these photos alone were worth the trip. A couple of things. IIRC, the Dying Gaul had the mustache so you would know he was a Gaul. Second, it is interesting that Jupiter is a word descended from 'Deus Pater' the God-Father and that came, in concept, from the Indo-European roots.

ndspinelli said...

Nostalgia, We were there in 2006. They also had a Matisse exhibit @ the time.

Jennifer said...

Thank you for sharing with us again. That looks so beautiful! I'm longing to board the next plane to Rome to see all these things for myself.

I just finished up a horrible trial with the most abusive litigants and opposing counsels. With a meek and humble heart I'm planning to spend some time praying in the local cathedral this afternoon. The local cathedral makes me think, how much do average Roman citizens appreciate the museums etc. in their surroundings?

Evi L. Bloggerlady said...

Great shots. Nice narrative. Brings back memories for me too.