Voyage en Italie - A Trip to Rome

March 21st-27th

Like painters in the 18th century, this is my trip to Italy - Rome more exactly. I am based at the Villa Palazzola, on the shores of Lake Albano, about 30 kms south of Rome. It offers stunning views of the lake and its surrounding nature while being close enough to Rome for day trips. Villa Palazzola is a 13th century Cistercian monastery. It still welcomes lots of people coming on religious retreats but seems just the right place to find the focus to paint. And somehow go back in time as the paints used on my watercolour palette this week are all 18th century colours: davy's gray, gamboge, azurite, ultramarine ash, woad, etc there are all plant or mineral colours.

Day 1 - 
After a couple of hours painting the Albano lake from the terrace of the villa - this is time to head to Rome. First visit is the Pantheon - temple of all the gods - a marvel of Roman engineering owed to the Emperor Hadrian (118-125 AD). The dome was cast by pouring concrete mixed with tufa and pumice (volcano ash) over a temporary wooden framework. The Romans first invented concrete by mixing lime mortar, volcanic sand, water, and small stones ("caementa," from which the English word "cement" is derived). The rotunda's height and diameter are equal (43.3m) - an extraordinary feat. Raphael - who died in 1520 - was buried here at his own request.

Second sight of the day is Santa Maria sopra Minerva - the only Gothic church in Rome dating from the 13th century. It was the traditional stronghold of the Dominicans whose anti-heretical zeal earned them the nickname of Domini Carnes (the Hounds of the Lords). Amongst other famous tombs, it contains the tomb of Fra Angelico, the Dominican friar and painter who died in Rome in 1455. You also find the chapel of the annunciation painted by Filippo Lippi in the late 1400s. On the way you pass the Obelisk of Santa Maria sopra Minerva originally meant to decorate the Palazzo Barberini : a sort of exotic elephant sculpture by Bernini supporting an obelisk.

The Palazzo Doria Pamphilj completes the visits of the day. The palace owned by the Pamphilj family hosts over 400 paintings from the 15-18th century : some work by Gaspard Dughet (Poussin's brother-in-law), Brueghel, Filippo Lippi and the famous portrait of Pope Innocent X painted by Velasquez which inpired Bacon his famous painting of the screaming Pope. Innocent X - born Giovanni Battista Pamphilj - was Pope from 1644-55. The painting was done in 1649-50 when Velasquez was in Rome. What is considered today as a masterpiece and admired for being so vivid was funnily enough disliked by the Pope who through it was too true.

Day 2 - 
The Basilica di San Clemente is the first visit of the day. This unusual church offers a fascinating story as you go down in time.  San Clemente is an early Christian basilica dedicated to Pope St. Clement (d. 99 AD). The church has a beautiful interior, but it is especially notable for its three historical layers. The 12th-century basilica is built on top of a well-preserved 4th-century church (with many frescoes), which was built next to a 3rd-century Mithraic Temple. Mithras was a sun god of Persian origin whose cult was for men only and involved secret initiation rituals in small, cave-like structures. It still feels today like visiting a secret place in Rome.

We then head to the nearby Colosseum, the largest ever built in the Roman Empire. Its construction started between 70 and 72 AD under the emperor Vespasian and was completed in 80 AD under Titus. Capable of seating 50,0000 spectators, the Colosseum was used for gladiatorial contests and public spectacles.

Day 3 -
Today's morning is spent wandering around the Forum and the Palatine hill. The ruins make you ponder about the Roman empire and how it all came to an end. We then head to the Villa Borghese which hosts an incredible collection of sculptures and paintings from Bernini, Titian, Cranach, Raphael, and Caravaggio one of my favourite painter.

Day 4,  5 and 6
Staying at the Villa Palazzola it now feels more like a retreat far from hectic Rome. The lake and the surrounding forest offer a nice source of inspiration. The lapping of the water is only disturbed by the croaking of toads. The sun is out and it feels like a painter's paradise. The site was already appreciated in the 18th century when Alexander Cozens, an English painter, created a few paintings inspired by the views around the Albano lake. You can find a bit more about his ideas here.

A few pictures taken during the trip:


Pierric said...

est-ce que tu as remarqué le petit cheval style Ferrari près de l'ouverture de la coupole dans le panthéon? Très mystérieux, j'ai essayé de trouver des choses dessus mais rien du tout, très intriguant...

Nadege Druzkowski said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Nadege Druzkowski said...

Ah non je n'ai pas vu, ca m'intrigue tiens. Je demanderai a mon prof au retour.