Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Rome 2009 - Part 3

The final countdown of my Top 10 Favorite Things about Rome 2009

4. Andersen Museum. If you go just north-northwest of the Piazza del Popolo (that's the piazza in the picture above) and look for Via P.S. Mancini, you’ll find a lovely pink palazzo that houses the Hendrik Christian Andersen Museum. Affiliated with Italy’s National Gallery of Modern Art, this museum is one of the hidden gems of Rome, and it was the first time that even Luca had been there when we visited. Andersen (1872-1940) was born in Norway. He emigrated with his family to America, but eventually made his way to Rome to study sculpture and lived there the rest of his life. Andersen is little known today but for those who are fans of the novelist Henry James, who met Andersen in Rome in the late 1890s when James was in his 50s and Andersen in his 20s. The two became lovers of a sort, as evidenced by their exchange of letters. The museum was once Andersen’s studio and it now houses many of his full-size models and finished works. The work you see here, for instance, is a picture I took of his model for Evening, a sculptural group from around 1907 for the planned Fountain of Life that was never completed. These erotic figures are larger-than-life, and their idealized nudity reveals Andersen’s affinity for classicism, but on a superhuman level. This isn’t the delicate sensuality of Canova, but the sublime forms of Michelangelo. Yet, their delicately harmonic bodies show his knowledge of Carpeaux and Rodin, and thus betray his true interest: abstracting the motion of the body, like music being performed for you. The museum is filled with these enormous bodies, to the point that it almost overwhelms you. But a visit here is worth the extra few minutes of walking, if for no other reason than you’ll be the only one in the museum, and it’s in a beautiful upscale neighborhood without a tourist in sight.

3. Caravaggio. If GianLorenzo Bernini is one of the leading artists of Baroque Rome (see #8 on my list), the other is undoubtedly Caravaggio (ca. 1571-1610). This artist’s reputation precedes him. He was bisexual, an alcoholic, and a murderer, and yet Caravaggio also was one of the most prized artists of cardinals and churches, despite the frequent controversy of his subjects. Using stark realism and a heightened tenebrism (the effect of light and shadow), Caravaggio helped define artistic drama. His Bacchus at the Uffizi is one of my all-time favorite paintings, and previously I had seen works like David and Goliath at the Villa Borghese. On this trip, however, I finally had an opportunity to see other famous Caravaggio works. At the Palazzo Barberini, paintings like the psychological Narcissus are paired near the serene St. Francis in Meditation, one of the most simplistically spiritual paintings ever. I was unable to see his paintings in the churches near Piazza del Popolo, but the 3 paintings on the life of St. Matthew at San Luigi dei Francesi were worth fighting the crowds to see. Sant’Agostino, however, has another of my favorite Caravaggio paintings, the Madonna of Loreto (left, image courtesy of Web Gallery of Art). This painting was considered controversial in its day because the Madonna and Christ child are unidealized and pushed to the side, literally standing in a doorway with Mary struggling to hold the baby as most young mothers would. Instead of wealthy patrons, there are farmers who worship them (note their filthy feet), adding to the startling realism of the work. Rome is where Caravaggio lived for most of his career. If it wasn’t for him, the spirit of the Baroque never may have happened at all.

2. Local Guides. There’s nothing like having friends and colleagues in other cities. They make site-seeing a new experience. While in Rome on this trip, I met up with Christina, whom I had met at Yale back in April. We had drinks at a fantastic little wine bar not far from the Campo dei Fiori called Coco e Mimi (by the name alone, I’m convinced two drag queens own it). Luca, whom I met at another conference last year at Yale, took me all over Rome, from St. Paul’s Episcopal Church with paintings by Edward Burne-Jones to dinner at a fantastic ristorante called Tre Scalini run by friends of his. Luca’s friend Marcello met up with us one afternoon, and he was the one responsible for giving us the Jesuit tour, not to mention convincing us to visit churches like Sant’Agostino. The best part about having local guides is that you get to see and do things off the beaten path, but their companionship alone also made the week an even more enjoyable experience. Saluti e grazie a Christina, Luca, e Marcello!

1. Cremolato. Just about everyone has heard of gelato, the Italian version of ice cream. Luca took me to San Crispino for some delicious gelato, but then Christina told me I absolutely had to go to Giolitti and I have to admit theirs was better. On my last night, Luca took me outside the city center southeast of Santa Maria Maggiore, into Rome’s Chinatown, for one of the great gelato experiences at Palazzo di Freddo. It’s their equivalent of an ice cream parlor, but they’ve become quite famous and have a few branch gelati parlors around the world. But with all the gelato, Luca outdid himself by introducing me to cremolato. Like gelato, cremolato is cold and delicious, but it’s even more creamy and available in fruit flavors. It tastes like a combination of frozen yogurt and sorbet, but it’s even better than that. Top it with panna (whipped cream), and you’ll think you’re in dessert heaven. We had it at a road-side bar and coffee shop just near the Protestant Cemetery. I had fragoli (strawberry) topped with panna. I swear it was one of the best desserts ever, perfect for a hot afternoon. It was so good, in fact, that it is officially #1 on my list of great things to do in Rome! So next time you’re there, check it out. I promise, you won’t be disappointed.


Sherman Clarke said...

When we were in Ravenna in 2001, the waitress stirred this concoction and then served me my lemon sorbetto but it sounds more like your description of cremolato. I didn't know what she was doing as I heard the spoon in the bowl ... and then it was there, in front of me. And across the street was Theodoric's something or other. Yeah, Italy is pretty special, ten things or not.

bklynbiblio said...

I know being Italian and all I'm probably biased, but I do have to agree, Italy is pretty special, cremolato or not!