Saturday 27 October 2012

Italy's National Gallery of Modern and Contemporary Art

I have mixed feelings about the Galleria nazionale d'arte moderna e contemporanea in Rome, which I visited last weekend.

There is some truly interesting art inside a gorgeous building, but also some weird stuff all jumbled together in a way that makes me wonder if it even has a curator. 

I'm certainly no expert, but the mix of periods and styles and subjects and disciplines was off-putting to me. I lurched from Cezanne (top) to Modigliani (above) to some Italian portraits from the 19th century, to sculpture, to the dreaded Pre-Raphaelites. 

The gallery - not to be confused with the museum of contemporary art - is located in the Villa Borghese (which I have come to learn refers to the entire very, very, very large park.) It's easy to reach by tram if you don't feel like hoofing it. They also have a rather posh outdoor cafe. 


At present, there is a Paul Klee exhibit on, but frankly it was small and to my mind, not terribly compellng.
Still, the galleria overall is an interesting change from Rome's otherwise (and natural) emphasis on its ancient glories and Renaissance and Baroque art wonders. It's also off the beaten path so I doubt it is ever crowded. 

Saturday 13 October 2012

More marvelous mosaics from Rome

I've just discovered a treasure trove of beautiful, very old mosaics in a fascinating church/mausoleum complex in a northern neighbourhood of Rome.

The Basilica di Sant'Agnese Fuori le Mura (Basilica of St. Agnes Outside the Walls) is a 7th century church that includes some stunning mosaics, the shrine of the virgin martyr St. Agnes, all atop catacombs.

Adjacent is the fascinating, small round mausoleum of Costanza, the daughter of the emperor Constantine who believed her leprosy was cured by her devotion to the martyred St. Agnes, and insisted that her mausoleum be built near the burial site of the saint.

It is also decorated with remarkable mosaics, including some on the ceiling that are in fantastic condition and date from the 4th century.

Visitors to Rome may have seen another church, in Piazza Navona, dedicated to the very young Saint Agnes, who was a member of Roman nobility in the third century.

That church - St. Agnes in Agony  - was built on the site where Agnes was martyred. It boasts as its most important relic poor young Agnes's skull.

The rest of her body reportedly rests here, beneath Agnes Outside the Walls.

An enormous golden mosaic above the altar is stunning.

According to tradition, St. Agnes was born in 291 and raised in a Christian family. She was martyred at age 13 during the reign of the Eastern Roman Emperor Diocletian, on January 21, 304.

It is said that the prefect Sempronius wished Agnes to marry his son, and when she refused, he had her dragged around Rome naked (although she miraculously grew enough hair to cover her modesty) before he condemned her to death by burning at the stake.

When the time came, however, the wood at her feet wouldn't burn, so the officer in charge of the troops overseeing her execution drew his sword and cut off her head.

Agnes, who is the patron saint of young girls, is often represented in art as holding a palm-branch in her hand and a lamb at her feet or in her arms.

Outside the church is a wonderful array of marble plaques attesting to prayers answered and miracles worked by the saint.

More can be found on the stairway into the church, the ceiling of which is also decorated with some lovely frescoes.

Saturday 6 October 2012

My new neighbourhood in Rome

I've found a new apartment here in Rome - unfortunately, far from my present digs in Monti, which is a fantastic neighbourhood that I've grown to love.

Sadly for me, so many other people have also come to love Monti and that has driven rents up too high for my budget. 

So, as of Oct. 31 I will be discovering a new part of Rome, north of the Vatican and near the Cipro metro stop. 

My new 'hood teeters on the edge of the more posh Prati region. It's still considered part of the historic center but really (to my mind) it's on the fringes of the center.  (Of course, for someone living in the suburbs, this would still be considered very central.) 

A few things about my new neighbourhood: it's named Trionfale for a Triumphal Arch somewhere nearby that was erected in the days of the ancient Roman Empire. Apparently, victorious Roman generals entered the city after their battles through this Arch. 

My apartment is a 10-minute walk from the entrance to the Vatican Museums, which isn't too shabby. Unfortunately, as visitors who have made the long walk around the walls enclosing the Vatican City-State, that means it's likely about a 25-minute walk from my place to Piazza San Pietro! Or, an hour's walk to Piazza Navona. 

But there are many pluses: it really is a Roman neighbourhood, since not that many visitors venture past the Vatican. And I've been told the Mercato Trionfale, near my apartment, is fantastic. Among its 273 stalls is a porchetta place (I love that roasted pig); and butchers and pizza places as well as plenty of fruits and vegetables.

Here's Roman food historian Katie Parla's take on the place.

Also, I'm near one of Rome's best pizza places - a tiny, takeout joint called Pizzarium. Yum - good eating for long winter nights in Rome!