Wednesday, 24 December 2014

Stalking Caravaggio: a walk following the steps of the artist in Rome

Here we go with the second walking itinerary suggested by your faithful "Rome Nipper".

Today I'd like to entertain you guys with the places and life of one of my most favourite artist, Michelangelo Merisi from Caravaggio, popularly nicknamed after his birthplace, Caravaggio.
The chance to come up with this walk around the center of Rome came from an initiative of the Ministry of Cultural Activities and Heritage dating 2011, set up to celebrate the 400 years from the death of the artist (1571-2011).
Compared to the original walk, mine is waaay more simplified and less cultural, but I hope that you'll manage to enjoy it anyway ^_^ !
In case you care, here you can find the link to the interactive Google Map that you can spot above.

Ok then, let's start our walk from Palazzo Madama, now seat of the Italian Senate.

This charmingly fancy building was once the residence of Cardinal Francesco Maria dal Monte, the first, farsighted protectors of the Lombard artist.
As the painter was facing an obvious crisis due to his lack of money and his terrible temper, the cardinal offered to host him in his huge apartments. In return, Caravaggio produced an intense quantity of masterpieces, thus making of Cardinal Del Monte his very first, important commissioner.

Caravaggio painted for Del Monte and his circle of friends pieces like The Musicians, The Lute Player, the famous Bacchus, the prospectively intriguing Medusa, The Basket of Fruit but also the beautiful Saint Catherine of Alexandria and the Judith and Holofernes.

Caravaggio would stay in Palazzo Madama from the summer of 1597 to 1600.

A few steps from Palazzo Madama is the French Church of San Luigi dei Francesi, that hosts three wonderful masterpieces of Caravaggio dedicated to the figure of Saint Matthew.

It's the Contarelli Chapel, dedicated to French cardinal Matthieu Cointerel, and featuring The Calling of Saint Matthew, The Martyrdom of Saint Matthew and, in the middle, the famous The Inspiration of Saint Matthew.

In the vicinity of the Church was the art shop and residence of Costantino Spata, an art dealer and one of the few friends that Caravaggio managed to get once he arrived in Rome.
It's said that Del Monte got interested in Caravaggio because he noticed The Cardsharps and the Fortune Teller exhibited by Spata.
The original location of the shop of Costantino in the square is recognizable by the presence of a Madonnella, a votive portrait of Virgin Mary.

The next stop is the Church of Sant'Agostino, that features an interesting rendition of Virgin Mary by our Caravaggio:

Located in a vivacious zone in Rome thanks to the market in Piazza Navona and the docks of Porto di Ripetta, getting to paint something in this Church recently restored together with the area around was a huge hit.
Following the wishes of Ermete Cavalletti, his family chapel was decorated with this huge painting portraying The Madonna of the Pilgrims, a depiction that caused some big ruckus among the audience.

Getting into the tiny roads of the quarter, we would reach Piazza Firenze:
This is where Caravaggio destroyed his Roman happiness by killing Ranuccio Tommasoni.
After this homicide, Caravaggio would be sentenced to death and he would never return again in Rome.
It's unclear why the two groups had a fight in the first place, it's said that it developed during a match of pallacorda, but the presence among Caravaggio's teammates of some famous delinquent made it clear that the act was pretty much premeditated...

It's fun to notice that many places around the area show references to this fact:

--On a side note, the restaurant above was closed when I happened around here, but it looks quite the nice place!

Going back in time, this is the time for an interesting bit of our tour-- Recent studies, in fact, managed to find the residence where Caravaggio stayed after he left Palazzo Madama, from 1604 to 1605:

The owner of the building was Laerzio Cherubini, commissioner of the Death of the Virgin, but the landlady was a certain Prudenzia Bruni, who signed the contract with Caravaggio.
We got to find this house because of some records were Caravaggio requested the authorization to "expose half the hall" to grant himself an intriguing light source for his paintings, and that he would have covered the expenses to fix everything once he would have left.
Caravaggio lived here together with his assistant and errand boy, Francesco.

Keeping onwards, we would get a touch of Caravaggio's "dangerous life" by approaching the zone once called "The Morass", where bandits and prostitutes were at home.

In Via di Monte D'Oro were two doors used to regulate the access to the prostitution area.
Around the same zone, by the church of San Carlo al Corso was said to be the house of one of Caravaggio's famous lovers, the prostitute Maddalena Antognetti, nicknamed Lena.
It's said that Caravaggio used Lena as his favourite model for many of his paintings-- The above mentioned Madonna of the Pilgrims and the Madonna dei Palafrenieri are some illustrious examples.

But other prostitutes used to pose for Caravaggio.
Fillide Melandroni, the lover of Ranuccio, is the woman portrayed in Portrait of a Courtesan and her friend Anna Bianchini gave her features to Penitent Magdalene and to the Mary of Rest on the Flight to Egypt.

I kept on walking along Via del Corso, trying to imagine how it looked the Rome of back then, seeing traces of adventures and corruption, a mix of dirt and sanctity, just as in those fateful ages--

It's not such a far walk, and we reach Piazza del Popolo with its church of Santa Maria del Popolo:

This is the last stop of our walk and a chance to take a peek at another series of wonderful masterpieces, this time preserved in the Cerasi Chapel, dedicated to Monsignor Tiberio Cerasi.
Here you can find the magnificent Crucifixion of Saint Peter and the Conversion of Saint Paul.

As an extra, you could go to spot the various prisons that Caravaggio got to visit because of his terrible character and bad habits.
Besides fighting with everyone for whatever reason, in fact, he was used to go aroud armed, something that was forbidden but for knights, soldiers or policemen.

The Prisons of Tor di Nonawas once located on this bank of the Tiber.

Caravaggio went there around a thousand times, but he always managed to be freed because he just needed to name any of his commissioners to be instantly pardoned.
I can figure the ears of Cardinal Del Monte constantly ringing by then..!

Another due stop is the old location of the Prisons of Savella: they were placed by the building now occupied by the English College, and they are infamous for the unjust execution of the young Beatrice Cenci:

The event of Beatrice's execution left a deep scar in the memory of Caravaggio and his contemporaries.

Both prisons were destroyed and removed from the city in 1652 by Pope Innocent III, who constituted the Carceri Nuove ("New Prisons") in their place, now seat of the Museum of Criminality.

Monday, 1 December 2014

The Keats-Shelley House in Rome

I'm not a fan of poetry, but after the visit to the Acatholic Cemetery and the chance to go out with a friend, a few days ago I visited this tiny house museum dedicated to some of the most charming Romantic poets.
The Keats-Shelley House is conveniently located by the Spanish Steps, set up by the donations and passion of British and American fans of the poet John Keats and his circle of friends and admirers.
If you're a fan of British Romanticism, or even if you're just curious about the experience of an English gentleman in the Rome that preceeded the unification of Italy, I highly encourage your visit.
John Keats and his faithful painter friend, Joseph Stevern, left his residence in Wentworth Place on September to reach Italy.
He would get to Rome on November, where he'd take residence in this house now turned into a museum, where he'd die of tubercolosis on the February of 1821, in the arms of his dear friend Joseph.
Keats didn't write anything during his stay in Rome, as the sickness was already getting a toll on his body, so we are informed about the daily life of the two Englishmen only thanks to the packed correspondence of Stevern, who wrote frequent reports on the decourse of Keats' sickness and his daily life to his wife Fanny Brawne and his sister, Fanny Brown.

The museum was founded in 1909 by Robert Underwood Johnson, Rennel Rodd and Harry Nelson Gay, who enstablished the Keats-Shelley Memorial Association to preserve the memory and contribution to the city of these artists.
Percy Bisshe Shelley and Lord Byron never visited the house of Keats, but of course they shared an intense friendship and admiration for each other.
The founders of the museum decided to dedicate it to their memory too, hosting a collection of works and relics to remind the love that these personalities had for Italy and the city of Rome.

Keats and Stevern shared the house with the landlady, Anna Angeletti.
The woman lived on the other side of the arc that is now part of the hall dedicated to the popularity of Keats and Shelley and the library.
The most impressive feat of the room is its huge library. It's the creation of Harry Nelson Gay, who joyously collected the books and magazines dedicated to Keats, Shelley, Byron and Leigh Hunt, from the first prints and original manuscripts of the authors themselves to modern essays in Italian and English.
Many relics and curiosities are hosted in this room, from the portrait of Shelley that Stevern painted in Rome in 1845 to a gracious selection of hair locks of the various poets and their friends, tiny gifts to exchange according to the use of the times.

In the hall are preserved also letters, comments and tributes of the illustrious fans of Keats and Co: Oscar Wilde, who kneeled down in front of Keats' tomb and called it "the holiest place in Rome", but also Walt Whitman and the President of the USA Theodore Roosvelt, who showed his appreciation to the work of the Foundation with a letter on 1906, and visited the place in 1911.

The next room that we access is the living room, that Stevern used as his bedroom.
Here are preserved the portraits and paintings that he dedicated to his friend and his family.
Peculiar attention must be given to the cast of Keats face when he was still alive:
It's interesting to compare it to the funerary mask of the poet that can be found in his room.

The room of Keats was completely destroyed and every bit of it burned down, according the the laws of the time on the matter of tubercolosis.
What we see now is a reconstruction, compiled with furnitures dating the same period of Keats' stay.
Out of the whole room, the only original bit is the fireplace, used by Stevern to warm up the food destined to his friend.

During our visit the kitchen ("The Terrace Room"), now turned into a room dedicated to the life of Shelley and Byron and connected to a cute terrace opening on the Spanish Steps, was hosting an exhibition dedicated to the correspondence of English poet Robert Browning with the American sculptor William Story (in case this name sounds familiar: he's the author of the "Angel of Desperation" of the Acatholic Cemetery).
Through the letters one could get the idea of the Rome of the period and the whereabouts of Browning and his wife... Very interesting!
The exhibition had also its cute "Cabinet of Curiosities" with loans from Provost & Fellows of Eton College.

Though, we were really looking forward to the view from the terrace-- Here's a shot taken from the window that faced the entrance to the Hall out of stubborness:
And here's a shot of the lovely terrace from the Spanish Steps:
Going there on Spring must be a delight..!