Closing in on grading…

I have been a lazy blogger. There has been a lot of activity in Rome, what with Easter, end of term, and the Canonizations! Not that I went to the Canonizations – I’ve been to one before, and in much better weather (it was showery yesterday).

Christine and I go this afternoon to get the Italian grades from the Scuola – and I hope to have finished my part of the grading by then!

The Final Presentation came with a view!

The last presenter wanted to visit Castel Sant’Angelo – so we finished with a great view of Rome!


Kim Giegerich, Katie Cornell, and Nic Stewart listen to Annabel Cryan describe the final scene of Tosca, when Tosca throws herself off the top of Castel Sant’Angelo. I’m glad Katie was there, because she gave the first of these presentations, and described the first act of the opera during her presentation at Sant’Andrea della Valle. Nice bookends – and a great place to finish the course.

Fixed Semester + Moveable Feasts + National Holidays = Problems

Easter is always a problem for the Rome semester. This year seems especially acute! We should have started a week earlier, I expect.

Here’s the problem – Easter Monday (Pasquetta) is a national holiday in Italy, but falls in different weeks every year. April 25th, which falls on the Friday after Easter this year, is Liberation Day – a national holiday (the end of the Nazi occupation). Next week is our last week counted by weeks of the semester – and we lose TWO days. Yikes. Now we can do some things, but not others. But nothing much will be open Monday. And a lot of our students – against our counsel – are using the 4 day weekend to travel (would you go to Spain the weekend before finals?).


San Carlino and Sant Andrea

S Carlino domeBorromini – San Carlo alle quattro fontane – dome. Teaching under this . . . life doesn’t get much better.

Tuesday I got to do one of the great comparison questions live. Borromini’s San Carlo alle quattro fontane and Bernini’s Sant’Andrea al Quirinale are a five minute walk apart. So we visited both of them. I prefer San Carlino, but there’s is lots that is great about Sant’Andrea – especially the broken pediment with St Andrew being carried up to heaven on a cloud. Still, the interlocking coffers in decreasing size as the eye runs up the dome at San Carlino? Magic.

S Andrea DomeThat second opening close to the bottom of the photo – a little cupola designed to light the altar. One of Bernini’s habits – and quite a good one.

A new bridge in Rome

Ponte Musica from P Duca d'Aosta


This is the Ponte della Musica, a 21st century pedestrian/bike bridge that connects the Flaminio neighborhood to the Foro Italico/Monte Mario area – and yes, that’s the dome of St Peter’s in the distance.

Ponte Musica toward FlaminioThe center is a paved bike zone, but most people seem to prefer the boardwalk sides. He’s pedaling toward Flaminio, MAXXI, and the Auditorium. This far up the Tiber there are lots of rowers and kayakers – if you look closely, one of those 4s is kayaking rather than rowing.

Ponte Musica rowersI was on my way to meet the class at Foro Italico to talk about Fascist architecture – it’s nice to see some other Modern work in Rome. Otherwise, Rome doesn’t have a lot of very interesting architecture since World War II.

There’s another 21st Century bridge about as far downstream from Tiber Island as Ponte della Musica is upstream – I thought I had blogged about it earlier, but evidently not! So I promise to rustle up some of those pictures and post them.

Busy weekend

And not the good way. I had a lot of grading to do, and it’s not done yet (though we will be able to hand back sketchbooks tomorrow morning). I had to preview the site for tomorrow – construction is all too frequent at Foro Italico! But that’s the good news. We’re going to Stadio dei marmi tomorrow, one of my favorite places in Rome to show people the neuroses of Fascism.

The stadium is a track venue surrounded by more than 50 monumental marble statues of athletes – most of the nude, like Skiing in the center of the picture. Ice Hockey, just beyond, is clothed. Go figure.

Skiing and HockeyThe big modern stadium to the right is where both A.S. Roma and S.S. Lazio play soccer. I’ll never figure that one out, either.


I like Milano

Well, I like Italy in general. I like scruffy Napoli. I like grandiose Roma. And I like Milano. It’s easy to think of Milano as Italia Lite – the way my sister once described Singapore as Asia Lite. She thought Singapore was a great place for an American family to live while the one of them works all over Asia. She spent a lot of time in Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, etc. – but her family was back in Singapore. Milano always looks like it would be a relatively easy place for an American to get used to.

But Milano is as Italian as anywhere. Their proudest moment is a 5 day uprising against the Austrians in 1848, le Cinque Giornate. But you still run into San Carlo Borromeo around every corner, or his cousin and successor Federigo. We  went into the library at the Brera Institute where Manzoni wrote I Promessi Sposi, the set text of Italian secondary education that teaches Italians to read and write Standard Italian, even if they speak dialect at home. But I also saw the Borsa – Italy’s stock exchange (I was wandering on my own). Milano really is Italy’s financial capital in very much the way NYC is America’s.

If I were rich I’d love to live in the Brera neighborhood.Brera Neighborhood glimpse

It was a great trip – more to follow, interspersed with Rome again.

Back from Milano with a few hundred pictures to sort

We had three fun-filled days in Milano and got back last night around 9 pm. I’m still tired!

Probably the best thing for me was the contemporary art fair – MiArt. But I have been to Milan before, so I was mainly revisiting (though I spent more time in San Lorenzo than before – pictures to follow!).

This could be a poster for Layers of Rome

Layered CapitolineWow am I happy with this photo – Saturday I was all over the Centro enjoying the sun and taking photos. This is a view from the via Fori Imperiali – street of the Imperial Fora. Mussolini called it the via del’Impero, the street of Empire, to celebrate the conquest of Abyssinia. So the name changed, but not much.

We’re looking across the Forum of Julius Caesar – the standing column is from his temple of Venus Genetrix. Then as we look up the Capitoline Hill, to the left we can see the back of Santa Maria in Ara Coeli. That’s where the Franciscan friars were singing vespers and set Gibbon off on his quest to prove that IT WAS ALL CHRISTIANITY’S FAULT. Nothing like a failed convert to write history, hunh? You do remember that Gibbon was a brief convert to the Church at Oxford who was shipped off to Lausanne for deprogramming, which left him at least agnostic, if not atheistic, for life.

It was Rome, on the fifteenth of October 1764, as I sat musing amidst the ruins of the Capitol, while the barefoot friars were singing vespers in the Temple of Jupiter, that the idea of writing the decline and fall of the city first started to my mind.

If you squint, in the upper left you can see an arch or so of Michelangelo’s Renaissance exterior for the pre-existing Palazzo dei Senatori on the Campidoglio – Medieval and Renaissance Rome’s re-setting for the Capitoline, turning its back on the Roman Forum to face papal Rome. Then over to the right is the Vittoriano – the monument to Victor Emmanuel II, Father of the Fatherland. It’s still fashionable to dislike it, but I take it as it is – an expression of the 1890s – that febrile fin de siècle. Italy’s was triumphalist, whatever was up in Vienna. And to bring us up to the 21st Century, the green glass extrusion on the back of the Vittoriano is an elevator up to a new viewing terrace with a 360 degree vista of Rome. They charge €7, and I’ve never bothered – but maybe this spring!

I’ve seldom taken a photo that sums up so well what I love about Roma.


Saint Agnes outside the walls

I took the class today to one of my favorite places in Rome – the Sant’Agnese complex on the via Nomentana. The mosaics are splendid – both these early Byzantine ones and the late antique mosaics in the mausoleum of Santa Costanza.

S Agnese flm apse Honorius Agnes 1The pope is a bit of a problem child – Honorius I (625-638), the possible monothelete. I tend to think with the Church on this one – he may have had erroneous beliefs, but he didn’t teach them ex cathedra.

Click here for more pictures.


Present friends

The Spring 2014 Rome Program has the pleasure of hosting Walter Bowyer, next Fall’s director, this week. He’s spending his spring break scouting for next semester.  He joined us this afternoon for a visit to an interesting (really interesting – I’m still thinking about it) multimedia-meets-archaeology site in the basement of the headquarters of the Province of Rome (really – Domus Romanae). This evening Christine, her family, and I took him out to dinner. Well, the budget took him out to dinner. Thanks, Tom!

Another thing that’s kept me busy is the Counter-Reformation Print

Also, over the last 2 weeks my partner Christine and I executed what I think is one of the most interesting class units I’ve ever devised. I worked it up for the 2011 program with my 2-time partner Nick. This time it went a little more smoothly (practice!).

Here’s the set-up. Nick and I taught Inventing Rome, Inventing Romans in 2008 and 2011. Not all of our units really worked in 2008 – including one close to my heart centered on Cola di Rienzo and the mid-14th Century. So for 2011, we decided to replace it – probably with something that engaged print making. It helped that Nick’s second medium is print making, so he can do a History Of lecture with ease. We flailed around looking for something to center the unit around – an article, a set of prints, something. I stumbled across (really, trolling JSTOR with search terms) Kirstin Noreen’s “Ecclesiae militis triumphi: Jesuit Iconography and the Counter Reformation.”* It may sound a little dry, but things get better.

S Stefano Rotondo Int

The Early Christian church of Santo Stefano Rotondo was, in the late 16th century, the site of the German Hungarian College, a Jesuit-run college for students attending the Roman universities. In 1585, the rector had the church redecorated, complete with a cycle of more than 30 paintings of martyrdoms circling the walls – all to encourage the young men to go back to Calvinist Hungary, for instance, and do battle with Protestantism – even at the risk of death. Within five years, the frescoes had been copied in a pamphlet of prints, completed with the addition of four Allegories (Vita, Mors, Peccatum, and Gratia – handy topics for getting at the differences between Catholicism and Protestantism).

All of this was interesting enough, and certainly on the right track. Then I noticed that the photo credits were to the Biblioteca Angelica – which is closer to the Scuola Leonardo da Vinci than Sto Stefano Rotondo! So we made some inquiries and the Biblioteca Angelica folks were happy to have us come see the pamphlet with our students.

Day one, we visit Santo Stefano, discuss the transformations the church has been through (handy for Layers, too!) and see lurid paintings like these.

Boil oil CatherineOn the left, a group of martyrs being boiled in oil; on the right, Catherine’s wheel breaking and killing some of her executioners. And in case you were confused, the painters included labels — the panels below have explanatory texts, keyed to capital letters in the paintings. They are especially handy for the assorted scenes of martyrdom and mayhem in the middlegrounds! So we also talk about the technology of fresco, the medium per se and as a communications device, the limits of things that are in only one location, the reliance on the memories of the students to carry the information back North of the Alps.

Day two, in the classroom, discussing Noreen’s article. She helps a lot by explaining the kind of practices Jesuit colleges followed and how they correspond to cycles of saints – like the regular recitation of the Litany of the Saints. She also reproduces a lot of the engravings.

Day three, we meet at the Library. The vice-director gave us a tour, including the splendid 18th century reading room (unfortunately, no pictures – they were busy filming a t.v. commercial and wouldn’t let us). Then she brought out a trolley of books and talked about the history of book-making as a medium for information. She showed us a 10th Century Evangelistary from Chur with gorgeous decorative pages; a 14th Century theology book with some elegant capitals (but otherwise in a very difficult to read gothic hand); side-by-side the first book PRINTED in Italy (a Cicero) and an almost contemporary manuscript Plautus; and our 16th Century pamphlet of engravings. She let the students TOUCH the pages – explaining rough (hair) and smooth (interior) sides of vellum. They could feel the impressions of the plates in the engravings, even after 400 years.

They really got a sense of the changing technologies, from hand made (manuscripts, frescoes) to multiples (prints) – and I suppose we will see how well they understood it when their assignments come in Thursday!

*The Sixteenth Century Journal, vol 29, no 3 (Autumn 1998), 689-715. .