Rome III : A History Sampler: Renaissance, Baroque and Classical
Sunday, June 27
Sunday: the third day of our close-up examination of the Eternal City. For myself and Jenn, however, today wouldn't be exclusively about Rome: In the late afternoon and evening, we were going to go south to my mother's hometown and visit some relatives. Pu would stay behind in Rome and do more sightseeing.
However, there was a lot that could be achieved before then, and so at a bright and early 7:30am, we were out the door of our apartment. It was another sunny, beautiful day. Quiet, too -- The streets of rome before 8 a.m. on a Sunday are pretty much empty.
Door, Palazzo della Consulta
We walked northeastwards from our apartment, over and across the Quirinale Hill (one of the seven hills of Rome), past the official residence (the Palazzo Quirinale) of Mr. Berlusconi (nowhere was he to be seen -- apparently he is not up greeting tourists at 8am on Sunday morning). We then continued northeast on Via Nazionale, making the obligatory stop at a bar for a morning cup of cappucino for Mr. Chen. We reviewed Pu's 'best walks in Rome' book, and settled on a walk titled 'Maestros and Old Masters'. It [the walk] focused on several churches that were either themselves or contained within themselves great notable works of art; most notably, the artists Michelangelo and Bernini, and the periods/styles of the Renaissance and Baroque, respectively.
Consulting the walking book
Palazzo delle Esposizioni
St Paul's within the Walls
After our morning bar stop, we continued along Via Nazionale, eventually arriving at the Piazza della Repubblica. Visually, the main focus of this piazza is the fountain of the Niaiads in the center and the surrounding curved buildings with porticos to the west and south. However, we were more interested in a relatively nondescript semi-ruined wall of old Roman brickwork. The brickwork is part of what's left of the frigidarium of the Baths of Diocletian from the 3rd century A.D. Arguably even more interesting than this was the the fact that the architect Michelangelo had organically designed (and partially built) a Renaissance church into the ruins of the frigidarium.
Entrance, Santa Maria degli Angeli
We walked through one of the entrance doors in the unassuming front facade. The bronze doors themselves are these very cool recent bronze sculptures by the artist Igor Mitoraj. Inside, we entered a very beautiful light-filled and open church. Even though it dates from the renaissance, something about it seemed vaguely modern.
Igor Mitoraj's Bronze Doors
Vestibule, Santa Maria degli Angeli
The church is a very interesting place. Michelango reused the overall architectural space and shape of the Roman Baths and incorporated them into the church, even some actual finished original items, such as some of the huge interior columns, were directly incorporated. In a way, it was a way to see a glimpse of what the sense of space and architecture in these Roman Baths would have been like.
Chapel of S. Bruno, S. Maria d. Angeli
Another very neat feature of this church is the so-called Meridian Line. This is a sort-of sundial / timekeeping like device that is used to measure the date; in particular, it allows for fairly precise measurements of when the solstices and the equinoxes (the changes of the seasons) occur. The device has a strategically-placed graduated line built into the marble floor of the Basilica. Above, in the church's walls, are holes placed for the light from the sun (and some stars) to enter. At solar noon every day, a projection of the sun appears next to a spot along the graduated line, thus indicating the date. Apparently, one of the main reasons for building this device was the desire of Pope Clement XI to accurately predict Easter and to verify the accuracy of the then-relatively-recent Gregorian Calendar.
We exited out the back of the church and continued a short distance over to Via 20 Settembre - another fairly major throughfare in Rome. Along this street is a small but very important church in the history of western art - the church of Santa Maria della Vittoria.
This church contains a profusion of art from the Baroque period. And, most of that art was done at the hand of perhaps the most accomplished artist of that period, Gian Lorenzo Bernini.
Santa Maria della Vittoria?
Upon entering the church, we noticed that it really is quite small -- and dark. Perhaps it could hold a few hundred people at most. However, just about every surface is covered in some sort of dramatically elaborate fresco, sculpture, or painting.
Interior, S. Maria della Vittoria
Interior, S. Maria della Vittoria
We walked around quietly, marvelling at the sheer density and intensity of stuff on display. One one wall was what is perhaps the definitive masterpiece of the Baroque -- the Cornaro Chapel, and, in particular, the Vision of the ecstasy of Saint Teresa sculpture, by Bernini. It depicts a smiling angle about to pierce Saint Teresa's heart with a golden spear. I especially was impressed with the dramatic folds of Saint Teresa's drapery and the golden rods representing shafts of light from above. The sculpture, in the words of my art history book, is perhaps 'the most celebrated individual chievement in all Baroque sculpture'.
Ceiling, S. Maria della Vittoria