The semester has fully begun…

The semester is fully underway and students have lots of assignments! They had an exam for the intensive portion (5 days a week, longer hours) of their Italian language and culture classes yesterday and today. The ones in digital photography are taking pictures of St. Peter’s, the ones in my class are writing about portraiture, and everyone’s reading Marshall McLuhan – and three museums this week!
Monday we went to the Vatican Museums – utter overload, of course. I concentrated on the huge sarcophagus set-up in the Pio-Gregoriano collection, trying to prepare them for the Mathews book. The advantage of a big load of real things is that it sometimes helps students to understand two important things. First, that ancient art was not all one-off pieces of creative sculpture, but was often semi-industrial production customers bought off the shelf – in other words, if you see 27 Jonah sarcophagi (and I only exaggerate slightly) you begin to believe what your medievalist professor keeps hammering on, that art is not always about self-expression. Of course, if they actually went to a Cezanne blockbuster and saw dozens of paintings of exactly the same thing they might understand that they’ve been lied to by the world about the Romantic Artist as Genius of Expression. You don’t paint a dozen haystacks and mean anything particularly expressive by them. Second, they come to understand the art historical study of iconography a bit more clearly. Very often when our students see only the tiny selection of images in a textbook they learn to parrot our idea of iconography, but they don’t really understand how the profession worked out the patterns. A BIG dose of realia helps there.
Tuesday we went to the Museo Nazionale Romano Palazzo Massimo al Therme (you can click on Flickr and see my pictures from my preview visit last week). Again, we ran through the traditional narrative of Roman sculpture – verism, naturalism, idealism, and back. I was especially pleased with the sudden introduction of the carved iris and pupil in the galleries of the 150s – they saw that novelty clearly! So then I set them free to choose two busts to analyze in terms of patronal intentions. We’ll see how that turns out. We also got to run through the Rosso Pompeiano show. They liked the garden room – and then we elevatored it up to the top floor for Livia’s garden room! It’s hard to do comparison on the hoof, but these two are physically close enough to pull it off, I think.
Wednesday, Nick took the photo class to the Museum of Rome, the Palazzo Braschi, where there is a great exhibition of photos of St. Peter’s from 1850 to the present. There are splendid photos – everything from very early work to stereo cards (three set up with viewers!) to things taken last year. More than that, though, the photos make a great starting point for a course whose secondary concentration is how photography is used to construct a sense of identity and a sense of place. I tagged along just to look!
Today, we’re using the tickets from the Pal. Massimo to get into the Palazzo Altemps. The tickets are good for 3 days for a couple of buildings in the city, and since we already have them I added an optional come-along-if-you-want-to session. I know I have 3 takers already!


Tonight I am one cranky professor.
The landlord called this morning about the DSL…he finally had the modem/router. So this afternoon he calls and he’s going to be late – but after all, the first word I learned in Italian was dopo, so that was no surprise.
So he shows up. We can’t get it to work. We finally call the phone company. They can’t get it to work. Someone finally asks if we’ve tried the phone line – there’s no regular phone connected to it. So the landlord goes next door to borrow a land line phone from a neighbor. No, it doesn’t work. So now the 2nd word I learned comes into play – domani. And in combination, dopo domani, meaning ‘day after tomorrow.’ As in when the service call might happen. Speriamo.
Ah, Italia . . .
So, no DSL. I’m back at Giulio passa me l’olio having a glass of wine and enjoying some free wireless.

Everything’s better in Rome . . .

When, during the fall of 2006 I was deciding about whether or not to apply to co-direct the Rome program this year one of my concerns was that right about now I feared I would be losing my mind because of – um – anticipating certain news. My colleague the baroquista convinced me to go ahead by reminding me that, after all, everything’s better in Rome, even waiting to hear the final tenure decision.
She is right.
And I survived the final hurdle – the Board of Trustees decided not to reject various and sundry recommendations and the decision of the president of these Colleges.
I would like very much to thank everyone who helped me and pushed me and prayed for me and such.
Oh – and I got to kiss the arm-bone of St. Thomas Aquinas this evening, too! It’s his memorial and I made it through solemn vespers and mass at Sta Maria sopra Minerva without coughing too much and got to venerate the relic – everything’s better in Rome!

The most amazing thing I saw on Saturday

Roman Garden Room

Originally uploaded by Michael Tinkler.

I went to the Palazzo Massimo building of the Museo Nazionale Romano to preview for class next week. Gosh it’s going to be a mess. I already know the permanent collection well enough to walk through with them, but it’s somewhat disarranged for a travelling show from Naples, Rosso Pompeiano. They’ve hauled a bunch of paintings up from Naples.
The most splendid thing is what my horrid photograph shows – the garden room from the House of the Golden Bracelet at Pompeii. I had never seen it live. I had no idea. Here are some clearer photos, but no context. Here’s some context, but the paintings have already been removed. The room is amazing and amazingly intact. I’m in love with the herms carrying pictures on their heads – one of them is on the right of my photo. The composition of elements is wonderfully complicated – what a neat room! It was worth the price of admission by itself.
Pal. Massimo doesn’t have any space set aside for changing exhibitions, so they just scooted things around and jammed the Pompeian things in. It doesn’t work all that well, but it’s probably about the best solution to the problem.

Friday church going

I spent most of Friday afternoon at Sta. Pudenziana, Sta Prassede, and Sta Maria Maggiore, 3 of my favorite churches in Rome. At Sta Pudenziana I got to take this picture of the apse mosaic from the organ loft – it pays to chat up tour guides!
This is the earliest surviving apse mosaic in Rome and quite interesting. Christ is seated on an elaborate, gemmed chair which is NOT an imperial throne (well, if you believe T. Mathews The Clash of Gods argument), but a divine throne similar to the one the Phidian Zeus sat on at Olympia. My students are going to learn it that way, since they brought Mathews with them – one of the big course threads is looking at how unstable and diverse the early images of Jesus are and how they settle down at the end of the period.
Then there’s the text in the mosaic, which is also appropriates soemthing from Jupiter/Zeus, this time one of his titles. The pages of the codex Jesus is holding read:DOMINUS CONSERVATOR ECCLESIAE PUDENTIANAE (sorry it’s a little hard to read – my details from Friday didn’t come out well enough to post). A really clever article a while ago argued really convincingly, and in advance of Mathews on iconography, that the use of CONSERVATOR is a lift from Jupiter conservator urbis and helps us date the mosaic to just after the 410 Visigothic sack.* Someone is paralleling Christ’s preservation of churches, which were not sacked, with Jupiter’s earlier title. In the context of conservative, pagan Rome that was quite a pointed usage.
*Schlatter, F.W. “The Text in the Mosaic of Santa Pudenziana.” Vigiliae Christianae, Vol. 43, No. 2. (Jun., 1989), pp. 155-165. I didn’t pull that out of my head – JSTOR is my friend.

The best analysis of Italian politics I’ve read all week

ME: There’s no government?

Barman: Right.

ME: So what are we going to do?

Barman: God willing it’ll last until January and we won’t pay taxes…

I only wish I’d read this before lunch, when one of my students asked me the same question in a worried tone of voice. My explanation was much wordier, but not all that different.
Reading the following almost made me wish I’d stayed home this afternoon to watch the coverage. All in all I preferred Sta. Pudenziana – pictures to come tomorrow.

The fiery session later included one senator being spat on, fainting and being carried out on a stretcher, The Associated Press reported.

Fascist city planning is – um – big

It was a LONG walk from the Metro Station to the museum. It didn’t help that I missed the turn – but the main problem is that E.U.R. was designed for cars instead of people – and that’s an incredible contrast to the city center. I think everyone got that point!
The Museo della Civiltà Romana is south and east of the city – towards the airport – in EUR, Esposizione Universale Roma, a region of development planned to host a world’s fair in 1942 in conjunction with the 1942 Olympics Mussolini didn’t get to host because of that World War! I believe he opened EUR anyway to celebrate year XX of the Fascist regime.
The whole zone is a monument to Rationalist City Planning, though the museum itself is in a stripped classical style, and there’s no better way to feel the difference in planning scale for people who’ve been walking around Rome for two weeks than to walk from the Metro station to the museum.
So, the museum is a triumph of oddity – it has almost nothing ‘real.’ The collection is made up of high quality plaster casts (surely some of the little pottery things are authentic, but I’ve never slowed down to look) of some of the most important Roman statues and reliefs. They were assembled for two purposes – a 1911 exhibition celebrating the 50th anniversary of the unification of Italy* and a big 1930s exhibition about Augustus. Given that you could see almost all the real things in Rome, about the only reason to go see the casts is that they have the complete Column of Marcus Aurelius frieze arranged at eye-level, which is handy. In general, though, the collection is a fine example of creating national identity with the art of the past, certainly a topic of our BiDisciplinary course this semester. I wonder if that 1911 show travelled around the country?
But then there’s the model of Rome! If you took Latin in high school you’ve seen photos or posters of it – it’s omnipresent: Rome c. 300 CE. Click on the picture, go to my Flickr page, and look at the students admiring the model! Whereas their experience of EUR was a piece of embodied analysis, feeling the scale, here they get a bird’s eye view of the City they’ve been trying to piece together for 2 weeks. I think it’s the perfect conclusion to the Armature Project, and I heard enough of the right kind of reactions to think it worked again this time, things like “Ohhhh! That’s where that is! Ah! There’s the Servian Wall!”

*The defeat of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies by the Garibaldini and its absorption by the Savoys, at least – they didn’t get Rome until 1870.

Radio silence

Well, it’s better to get sick earlier (during intensive Italian and relatively low-stress art history academic work) than later. I’m taking antibiotics after posting a 102 fever on Tuesday. Nick reported yesterday that one whole apartment of students was feeling sickly enough to stay home for bed rest – which is a good idea at this stage. I hope everyone’s healthy for next week, though – we have museums on Monday and Tuesday!
I’ve got some great pictures from the Museo del Civiltà Romana to upload when I get to a less heavily secured router!

Freedom of Speech – yes, for popes, too

Zadok has photos from yesterday. Some of my students complained that they couldn’t get a bus down Gregorio VIIo. I explained the source of their problem – an extra 200,000 or so people for the weekly Angelus.
Adult Italy really is united behind the Pope against the clearly ideologically motivated suppression of religious speech by the protesters – especially the 60-odd professors who signed the letter. I mean, when Dario Fo agrees with the Pope, that’s pretty much a sign that the folks on the other side of an argument are wackos.
Me, I wimped – I went to the canonization of Padre Pio and have no particular interest in mass demonstrations in the Piazza San Pietro any more. On the other hand, I failed to make solemn vespers at the Chiesa Nuova because I misread the notice. Ah, well – next week.
By the way, the Rome Oratorians picked up 4 novices this year – sounds supportable. That fact I picked up from a parish magazine.


Whew – one of the messiest jobs of the season is out of the way – the students are moved into their apartments.
You see, we put them in a hotel in the Centro for 10 days or so every year for orientation and to build group ties. Then we break them up – this year into 4 apartments scattered around the city (though two of the apartments of William Smith students are in the same building, which will be convenient). Unfortunately, given the logistics we ended up making 4 trips from the hotel, one for each apartment-full. The van was packed each time! Nick rode with two of them and got them settled, then I went with the last two. So, we met landlords, got pointers about how to run the washers, stern talks about no noise after 22:00 (pray for me!), and keys for everyone.
Everyone was remarkably pleased on walk-through, and no one has called to complain yet. Pray for me some more!

The Mad dash.

Yesterday we started with Bridge I at Tiber Island, walked through the Ghetto to Largo di Torre Argentina, took a bus to Termini to the piece of surviving chunk of Servian Wall for Walls I to talk. Then we metroed to Spagna and the Spanish Steps where we looked down the via Condotti with the Streets group (see below). Then we walked to the Trevi Fountain for Aqueducts I.
Today we started again with Bridges (II) at Isola Tiberina (different link), cut through the Ghetto again to get a bus – this time we got off at PIazza Repubblica to hear from Aqueducts II, since it’s a piece of the Baths of Diocletian, after all. Then it was on foot for Roads II to tell us about via XX Settembre, one of those places a long, straight Roman road (the via Nomentana) comes into town. Then by metro and bus we trecked off to the Porta San Sebastiano, where Walls II showed us the Aurelian Wall.
I’m a little tired. But in a good way.

4 Present to 11 . . . and I photograph

The Streets Group (day one) chose to present about the Via Condotti at the Spanish Steps (not exactly an ancient street, but the name at least comes from the ancient water conduits – it worked). I

It POURED until just before the first presentation started, and then it started to clear. By the time we got to the Trevi Fountain (an outlet for the Aqua Virgo) the sun came out and all was white and gold and beautiful.

So, all in all a good start to the students’ academic work!