We again made judicious use of alarm clocks on Halloween Day for another appointment at another treasure trove of a museum. And no, we're not getting bored with THAT routine, thanks for asking....
This time, it was to see the Galleria Borghese, formerly a Borghese family palace (well, one of them) with the usual history -- you know, cardinals, Popes, Bonapartes, the usual stuff. In addition to the scandals of a century or two ago, the Galleria has recently undergone a somewhat scandalous restoration which took nearly 15 years, and only in the past few weeks has it reopened for business with its most valuable possessions back on display after being "temporarily" displayed (or not) at other venues around town. So we will be among the first groups to see it in its newly restored splendor, and due to expected demand there is a strict reservation system. We have an appointment to enter at 9 AM sharp, and will have two hours to see everything we can see before we must vamoose to make room for the next group at 11 AM.
The Galleria Borghese already has to its advantage one of the best settings in Rome (if you can believe that such a determination is possible):
At 9 AM sharp the doors opened and all two dozen-plus of our group entered, along with several dozen other early risers who had gone through the routine of calling in advance to secure a limited reservation for a two-hour visitation. We All Love Bureaucracy, as well as Art. And what's not to love? The Borghese is home to many masterpieces, including some of the greatest sculptural works of Gian Lorenzo Bernini, the creator of the Fontana di Quattri Fiumi as well as the colonnade surrounding Piazza San Pietro, and fast becoming not just my favorite Baroque artist but perhaps my favorite Italian genius of this entire trip thus far. Plus, his self-portrait graces the 50,000 lire note (about 30 US dollars), so his is a common face to just about anyone spending money in Italy, tourist or native.
Ah, yes, Italian money. European bank notes are far more interesting than those of the United States -- but then just about any country's is. I think the mathematical designs and color scheme of The Netherlands takes the prize for the most visually compelling paper money I've ever seen. But Italy isn't far behind, maybe because they have so much compelling history to draw on when it comes to finding a representative portrait for a denomination: educator Maria Montessori is on the 1,000 lire note; inventor Guglielmo Marconi, the 2,000 lire; composer Vincenzo Bellini, the 5,000 lire; inventor Alessandro Volta, the 10,000 lire; and another fast favorite of mine for his emotional paintings and life story, Caravaggio, adds surprising intellectual depth to the 100,000 lire note. For the record, Raphael gets the 500,000 lire prize, but seeing as how that's about $300 in one shot, I don't get to see his face on my money very much. I have not yet even seen a 1 million lire bank note, so I'm not sure if it would be Michelangelo or Leonardo who would look back at me from its face.
But back to the art at hand. Bernini is everywhere in the Borghese; there is Apollo and Daphne, showing the moment frozen in time when a surprised Apollo caught up with and reached out to touch a horrified Daphne, who as a result has begun morphing into a laurel tree. There is David, with a concentrated gaze (a self-portrait of Bernini, it's said) just a moment before launching the fatal shot toward Goliath -- who is not seen at all, thus adding to his perceived strength as an enemy while also allowing the viewer to admire his opponent's devotion to the battle.
There is the 100,000 lire man, Caravaggio, represented by his painting of Bacchus, whom I have decided would be a fine character for my Halloween costume for tonight's party at the American Academy. And there is the serenely beautiful Pauline Borghese (neé Bonaparte), naked as a jaybird and in the round, every sculpted curve of her body recently restored to a pearly perfection. Rumor has it that when this lady of culture, Napoleon's sister no less, was asked if she felt uncomfortable posing nude, she replied, "No, the room was quite warm!"
And, on display in public for the first time in a couple of decades, is Titian's Sacred And Profane Love -- the Sacred Love being the nearly nude figure raising an arm heavenward, and the Profane Love being the well-dressed harlot looking your way. And if you want to take this priceless and timeless image home with you, there's the gift shop featuring the Sacred And Profane Wristwatch, for the price of about one Caravaggio banknote. I passed.
Two hours up already?! That was fast. A bit of wandering through the Villa and surrounding gardens, then onto a tiny, overcrowded city bus, through the freshly-christened Piazza Federico Fellini, named after the Italian movie director who died on this day in 1993 at the age of 73, thus today's honorary ribbon-cutting ceremony currently in progress with city officials in attendance...
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