Saturday was Galleria Borghese day. Every two hours the museum lets 200 people enter to view an intensely packed exhibition of art for two hours. Then they throw you out and let another 200 in.
Needless to say, you have to book in advance. I reserved our tickets online early in April. Ticket sales at the counter were for next Saturday at the soonest. You have to show up at least a half hour before your time or you may lose your reservation.
Sounds a lot like work, doesn’t it? But it’s worth it.
We got there a little past ten for the 11 a.m. admission. We got to taste a couple of interesting drinks while we were waiting.
One was an orange liquid in a small, almost conical bottle. I think the brand name was Amperol, or something like it. Sounds like medicine and tasted a lot like Campari, only without the alcohol. Many people think Campari tastes like medicine, but I love the stuff mixed with soda.
The other drink was a dark brown Pellegrino sparkling water that I hadn’t seen before. The flavor was called Chino or Chinoto, and it had a bitter herbal taste. Very refreshing.
Then we hustled in, because there was too much to see and too little time.
You enter from the basement and go up to the ground floor. This floor has a series of rooms, most of them dominated by a central sculpture—Apollo and Daphne, The Rape of Proserpina, and others, many by Bernini, the mastermind of Baroque.
The walls are painted and so are the ceiling vaults. Many of the illusions in the painting are damned near perfect. There was a ribbon running around one ceiling and Joanna was debating with herself whether the ribbon was really hanging from up there or was painted. The ceiling could have been 15 feet over our heads, so you didn’t get to see it up close. It was only from certain angles that you could see it was two-dimensional.
The same thing happened in another room where several statues came out of the ceiling. You had to stand under them to believe that they really were flat.
Of all the things in the museum that I wanted to see, top of the list was Pluto carrying off Proserpina. It’s a mythological fantasy. He has kidnapped the daughter of the goddess Ceres to live with him in hell. She doesn’t like the idea.
The lifelike detail that Bernini remembers to include is astonishing. The figures together are a violent spiral, a whirlwind. Proserpina is pushing against Pluto, shoving a hand into his face, but he is holding on. His grip indents the soft muscle of her thigh.
That detail alone is worth the price of admission. It raises so many questions. How did Bernini imagine that? How did he remember to include it? How did he carve it?
Proserpina even has marble tears.
One description I read of Apollo and Daphne said that the god’s back leg defies gravity. It does stick out there all by itself.
It’s another Bernini whirlwind, twining figures in conflict. But to me it looks like Apollo has finally caught up with her and is launching to tackle her to the ground.
She has already asked her father, a river god, for help. So of course, he does the natural thing and turns her into a tree.
Each in its own way, these works are as erotic as Bernini’s St. Teresa in Ecstasy.
So is Pauline Borghese as Venus. It has delightful voyeuristic elements. Maybe because the model is a real person. Napoleon’s sister, in fact. She is naked, save for a sheet, and sitting up on a couch. You can see how her weight presses into the upholstery. She has a serene, conquering smile.
This is by an artist named Canova. I may have heard his name before, but am not sure.
Pauline’s sitting for a nude created a mild scandal. Supposedly, somebody asked her, “How could you do that?” and she answered, “The room wasn’t cold.”
When we first walked into its room, I thought the Dancing Faun was Hercules admiring himself in a hand mirror. There was what appeared to be a lion skin behind the figure, and like keys for St. Peter, that usually means Hercules. But hey, Hercules doesn’t usually have a tail sticking out his back.
I checked the museum brochure and sure enough it was the Dancing Faun. That wasn’t a hand mirror, but one half of a pair of hand cymbals. I hadn’t seen the one on his other hand.
I believe the Faun dates back to Classical Rome.
Bernini’s David, concentrating with his grimly pinched lips, is another central piece of the collection. I have a small copy of this one that Nancy picked up years ago. It is made of a marble-mimicking material called parian. At a foot and a half high, it is not as impressive as the original. Nor does it take up as much room.
The painting galleries are also amazing. But one painting in particular just stopped me. It is a wall-size deposition scene. The faces are bright and detailed, and each one is a human portrait. In sharp contrast, the body of Christ is gray and very much dead. I can’t even remember now who the painter was. There was so much to absorb and no time.
I even forgot to look for the scar on Daphne’s nose, the result of a flaw in the marble.
Speaking of faces, one of the ground floor rooms is dominated by Caravaggio and his followers. The treatment of faces is photographically real, sweat, wrinkles, and all. In a representation of David, Goliath’s head looks like it was cut from a real person. Often the faces are highlighted and the rest of the composition recedes into darkness. The result is almost surreal, the kinds of things you see in dreams. Sometimes in disturbing dreams, which are often the most interesting.
When they pitched us out of the museum, we walked down a lane in the Villa Borghese, which is the park built on the grounds. This all belonged to a cardinal, Scipione Borghese. There are paintings and busts of him in the museum. There was also a Pope Paul V Borghese. I think the pope and the cardinal were two different people, but I’m not sure.
We passed back through the city wall. We must have been addled by the art, because we tried to do one of those Renaissance-like profiles with architecture in the background. If you blow up the picture and look close, there is another profile, in stone, sticking out of the wall in the distance.
Very clever, Joanna.
What we were headed for was the Via Veneto, which is stressed on the first syllable here. Vee-ah VEN-eh-toe. We knew roughly where to find it because the cab had taken us home that way from Ambasciata d’Abbruzzo on Friday night.
Joanna knew we had found the Veneto when she saw the awning for Harry’s Bar. As I have mentioned before, because of my unwavering support of the alcoholic beverage industry, they name bars for me all over the world. It was still early, so I had Campari and soda here. Maybe I was craving it after the Amperol.
We came to a Pandora store and bought a charm for Joanna’s bracelet, the wolf suckling Romulus and Remus, the symbol of the city.
When we got to the foot of Via Veneto, we came out on familiar place, the plaza where the Fountain of the Triton stands. Try as I might, I couldn’t get us lost. We knew the way home from here.
We sat in the cafe where I had wine the other day and watched the crowds and traffic roll by. A little vino, some gelato and fruit.
We went back to the hotel from there. I even took some odd turns. We stopped to buy a couple of bottles of wine and an opener. I’ve been traveling for days with no way to open a beer or wine bottle, and that had to stop.
OK. Now I don’t know where I am. I’m in the general neighborhood of Santa Maria Maggiore. Does this constitute lost? Am I traveling hard enough? I want to vote yes, but I am biased. Each of you must decide for yourself.
Joanna collects door photos.
Somewhere during our travels we were able to get this one. It isn’t often that Joanna gets to stand on a sill and touch the lintel.
We hit a small bar called Druid’s Rock to use the facilities. It looks like an Irish bar in New York and the background music station had a British announcer. I had a pint of something that was supposed to be Belgian, but was a lager not an ale.
A block from there we saw the church and that is two short blocks from the Contilia.
After brief rest, we took dinner right across the street at Trattoria Cecio.
The carbonara came with a creamy sauce instead of the tomato based sauce at La Stampa. It was all right, but I prefer the tomato, but then, I almost always do.
The rigatoni with oxtail ragu had a nice sharp and tangy edge. I don’t know if that was directly from the oxtail or due to something else in the mix. Very tasty.
I probably overdid with a bottle of Nero d’Avola. There was a short walk after the meal and then it was time for me to pack it in. Joanna, of course, was doing just fine.
Be well all, and eat your tomatoes. They’re good for you.
This is just delightful—and informative.
And yes you know the “ Canova” name. It’s in Stendhal’s “The Charterhouse of Parma.”
No, I don't read many nineteenth century novels, Beatrice.
I tried reading "The Red and the Black," but gave up on page five or so.
I had the same experience, but put it away with the intention of trying again. That was 20 years ago, when we moved to our current home. It's still in the box...