Chasing Caravaggio, Bernini, and Michaelangelo

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Flag of Italy  , Latium,
Wednesday, May 2, 2012

On my first day in Rome, my new roommate and I found out that we wanted to do the same crazy thing.  We wanted to see all the Caravaggio paintings, Michaelangelo sculptures, and Bernini sculptures that were free -- that is, they were displayed in churches or piazzas rather than musuems.

Our original plan was to head for the Basilica of St. Peter (hello, Bernini and Michaelangelo!) but the Pope had his audience on Wednesday, and we could not get in! I did, however, take a photo of the Pope, way off in the distance.

So we headed to the Cast'Angelo, the fortified palace of the popes that is linked to the Vatican by bridge of angels, and walked around in puzzlement until we found the first church, the Church of St. Augustine.

There we saw, on display, a Caravaggio called Madonna of the Pilgrims. It shocked the art world when he first displayed it because the Madonna had no shoes. She was barefoot! Both of us loved the chiascuro.

We headed for the fountain, The Four Rivers of the World, by Bernini, in which he portrayed the four main rivers of the world as it was known at the time!. I loved the torsoed bodies, the figure representing Africa with his shirt over his face. And the amazing engineering feat that Bernini achieved, which was to create an arch or hole in his fountain, but to place an obelisk right over the arch. How was that supported?!

We passed by Hadrian's six pillars, all that is left of a temple devoted to the god Neptune.

Then we were at the amazing Pantheon.This is an incredible Roman engineering feat. It is not a Bernini or a Caravaggio, but it is the biggest ancient concrete dome in the world, fronted by enormous pillars of marble. The bronze doors into the Pantheon are original -- that is, they date to the second century A.D.  Inside the Pantheon, the light shone through the hole in the centre, illuminating the entire dome with a kind of classical purity.

After the Pantheon, we saw the wonderful curlicues of Trevi Fountain, a baroque confection, with a deity standing on an enormous shell as horses rise from the water around him. Trevi Fountain has three levels of water cascading down from the front sculpture. I was slackjawed with amazement.

But we were still chasing Carvaggios! And, in our quest, we stumbled upon a palace of a prince, the Palazzo Pamphyj. This truly was a happy accident. The palace is a restored Renaissance and 17th century Italian palace, with ballrooms, a hall of mirrors, sitting rooms, and rooms and rooms and rooms of art. This family was a crazy tribe of art collectors. Inside, we gazed upon Titian's painting of Salome with the head of John the Baptist, and Titian's Mary Magdalen. There were three beautiful early Caravaggio paintings. One of them was that of the flight to Egypt, with the angel facing away from the audience, and playing the violin for Joseph and Mary, while the Christchild sleeps peacefully. Other paintings included paintings by Brueghel, an early Rembrandt, and most marvellous of all, Diego Velasquez's portrait of Pope Innocent. The Pope looked so lifelike that he stared out at you from the painting.

Bernini featured as well. He did a marble bust portrait of Pope Innocent, so lifelike that you could see the button on the Pope's cloak that was half in and half out of its slit.

I had never seen so much amazing art in one day in my life. But it was not yet over. We stopped by at yet another church, where Michaelangelo's Moses hid behind its niche. We stopped at the same time as afternoon mass, so we crept in, took a few photographs, and crept out. Amazing.

Finally, we found Bernini's Teresa in Ecstasy. This was at a tiny church called the Chiesi della Vittoria, completely nondescript. Nothing on the outside says, This is the home of one of the world's most famous sculptures! Bernini's sculpture portrayed St. Teresa being pierced with arrows of ecstasy by an angel. It was controversial because Bernini made her look as if she were swooning with pleasure.

Although the day was late, we rushed to the Colosseum to take a photograph in the setwe had dinner at a lovely seafood restaurant, and saw the final beautiful scene of the day -- the Tiber River in the late evening, illuminated.

The finding of each masterpiece of art was like a treasure hunt, because we did not know how to get to each church. The day entailed a lot of walking, sweating, consulting of maps, and puzzling over street signs. Rome's streets are not a grid! We got lost numerous times, we trekked up and down the sides of hills and near the Palatino as the dusk came, one of us lost a metro ticket, and we ended up taking a taxi back to a metro station. But we survived. And we saw all that art. It was so amazing.
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Chris on

Ooo, chasing Caravaggio! Love it! Glad you had a fun travel companion to check out the sites with as well! How lovely and I'm dreaming of all the images invoked through your descriptions...

dad on

how come your mum and myself did not see all those art. Did you go to the Borgais Gardens??. they have double bicycling there but I think you have to pay to see the art. Good that you see all the art. I hope you now got the hang of the metro train system. Have you seen the Panthelon, Coloseum and the Spanish Steps and the National Monuments?? you will like it there...

lynnloparo on

Hey Chris, it was totally a coincidence that my new roommate was a sculptor and artist, and really wanted to see all the free stuff! So we did the whole running around Rome thing. I was very glad to meet her, because I totally got over my fear of the metro system because of her. We just did it! Love you lots, L.

lynnloparo on

Hi Dad, I did not get tickets to the Borghese Museum! They were booked up!!!! I was so sad!!!! But I will come back again next time to see all the art! Hehehe, all the free art stuff I found in a guidebook. Thanks for your comments! Love you lots, L.

ritawritatravel on

what an amazing day! i wanted to go to the Chiesi della Vittoria, but didn't quite have time! where was it?

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