Saturday, 12 May 2018

Three Days in the City of Angels

A taxi met us met at the airport and took us to an apartment I had rented adjacent to the walls of Vatican City.  Originally I had planned the holiday as a Christmas present for Mami but sadly Mami stayed behind to look after an old cat that needs a lot of special care.  I was accompanied by a lovely couple, Jung and Julie.  Together we styled ourselves as the three Jus; Jung, Julie and Julian!

We had arrived in the afternoon and the light was fading by the time we took a stroll down to the banks of the Tiber, we stood on the Pont S. Angelo savouring the view of the Vatican that was all lit up in the evening air and anticipating what the next three days would bring.  In the gloom far below us we could see a fisherman and in the even gloomier shade of some vegetation the silhouette of a huge rat. The rodent, which was swimming and feeding in the half light, was as big as a badger.  They are known locally as "the giant rats of the Tiber" but they are not really rats, they are S. American coypus that were originally imported by the fur trade.
If you look you can Coypu can be seen swimming in the Tiber

We walked the perimeter of the Vatican City on our way back to the apartment.  On our first evening in Rome we had walked around an entire country.

Jung had booked tickets online for us to have breakfast in the Vatican Museum, a good move as when we arrived at 8.30 am the next morning we walked to the front of huge queues of tourists to have a breakfast in the cafeteria of eggs, croissant and tea brewed with sacred water.

The first room I entered had a large collection of sculpture unearthed in the 1820's at Tor Marancia which was gifted to the Vatican by Princess Marianne of Savoy.  My attention was grabbed by a statue of Dionysus playing with an infant Bacchus who is teasingly dangling grapes above his brow.

This statue excited me because whilst drawing the holiday makers at Wiseman's Bridge I have become very interested in art that represents relationships, especially parent-child relationships.  We are all aware of the Madonna and child images that are the dominant theme in Roman Catholic art.  It has long disappointed me that Church and Western art seldom represents father child relationships, so I was delighted to discover the classical world had had a strong tradition for this sort of work that I had never known about. 

And here is another Roman sculpture of a bearded Silenius in a tender relationship with a very young infant Dionysus.

Silenius with Dionysus child in his arms

We are taught that Greek statues are a cradle out of which Western art was born.  Greek sculptures are thought to be superior to Roman statues.  I agree that many of Roman sculptures look as if the artist have stuck the heads of their patrons on crude copies of compositions lifted from ancient pattern books however there were many Roman artists who were better than this.  Rome had sculptors that were quite capable of equalling the extreme sensitivity and structural understanding of Greek artists, especially when they were copying Greek masterpieces.  This image of a satyr playing a flute is a Roman marble copy of a Greek bronze. 

The artist's technical achievement in maintaining overall harmonic structural integrity makes this work a masterpiece of the first order.  For instance there is a perfectly understood line of energy up the spine, through the shoulder blades along the arms to the hands and ending where the boy's fingers so lightly touch the flute......then along the flute, back through the fingers, back through the arms, back through the shoulder blades to meet again the support of the spine.  This is the art of elegance, an art form largely forgotten and rarely cherished by "modern" artists

I had never seen ancient sculpture that looked so fresh and with such finely carved detail.  I chose this sculpture of Diana and her hunting dog because the plaits of her hair reminded me of tribal dancers I had seen in the Caucuses. The delicacy of the detail and tone of this work reminds me of some of the best Italian neoclassical sculpture made in the late eighteenth and nineteenth century.   

Diana with Hunting Dog
In the same gallery I found this earthy late Hellenic representation of a Greek Goddess with grape like folds in her hair. 

Statue of the Muse Liber Pater
All too quickly the day slipped away.  At about 4.00 the crowds that had run like a river through the corridors evaporated leaving us space to enjoy many more galleries of sculptures and sumptuous rooms decorated by Raphael, an artist I had previously under-appreciated, as well as Michaelangelo's glorious Sistine Chapel.

After the Vatican Museum closed about 6.00 we went to an almost empty St Peter's Basilica to see what I believe is perhaps the most beautiful sculpture of a parent child relationship anywhere in the world.

Michelangelo's Pietà in St. Peter's Basilica in the Vatican
On the morning of the second day I took a bus tour of Rome with Jung and Julie.  The weather was unsettled and amongst the few drawings I made was this one of the obelisk outside the Pantheon.

I spent some hours in the Pantheon, one of the most complete Roman buildings crowned with a dome and an open oculus through which rain was drizzling in a shaft of daylight. 

Pantheon oculus with rain (photo; Tripadvisor)
The Pantheon is where the tomb to Raphael lies.  I tried to draw the passers by and make an image of the statue of the virgin Mary over Raphale's tomb, but I achieved little artistically.  This often happens whilst I am gaining a feel for a new city.

By the time the third day arrived I had an idea of what I wanted to draw. One of the images that had impressed me most on the previous day were the angels on the buildings of the beautiful memorial for the war dead of WWII.  Angels are everywhere in Rome and it seemed a good theme through which to meet the city.

My first destination was to draw the angels on the bridges over the Tiber.  This angel has the same forward movement of the memorial angels and carries the same laurel crowns in one hand.

Just a small distance along the Tiber was the Castel Sant'Angelo, a fortress built to house the tomb of Emperor Hadrian that was looted of its treasures in 410 by the Visigoths.  On top of the fortress is a statue of Michael the Archangel, the  angel from whom the building derives its name.  The Pont S. Angelo in front of the fortress is also lined with angels

I mingled a while with the tourists who were being hustled for money by fake Roman soldiers that looked as if they had been kitted out in the local pound shop. 

A child poses for a photo with Michael, a Roman hustler
There were musicians like this flautist from Ukraine

Eugene, a flautist from Ukraine.
At the bottom of the pile were refugees who had crossed from Libya in boats.  These people, who were sometime pitifully selling bottles of water, selfie sticks and African trinkets, were friendly but guarded. When I did get Billie to open up he showed me pictures of his beautiful wife and child to whom he said he was sending back money.  When I shook his hand to say goodbye I felt the lump in his palm, he was giving me a little resin tortoise he had been selling, but it was all very sad because he was crying.

Refugee from Senegal
Further along the banks of the Tiber I reached the Court of justice which is topped with an angle astride a chariot with four wild horses (The same sculpture is perched on the war memorial and several other municipal buildings).

In front of the palace were statues of local dignitaries dressed in Roman togas

This is where I crossed the bridge and made the sketch that heads this post.  I was on my way to the Piazza Navona, a long oval Baroque square on the ancient grounds of a Roman stadium.  The piazza's central feature are three fountains, the biggest being the Fontana dei Fiumi created by Bernini.  The four figures supporting the obelisk represents the four rivers then thought to be the largest on each of the known continents; the Nile, Ganges, Danube, and Rio de la Plata .

I settled at one of the cafés facing Bernini's fountain,

Opposite me were four girls chatting on a stone bench

 until it started to drizzle.  A little girl ran for her umbrella

and the square emptied.  We all huddle closer together under the awning of the cafe.  The Head Waiter, a garrulous and cheeky fellow, asked us loudly "who ordered the rain" and teased the Liverpool football fans who had just lost a match with "This is Roma, please take your rain back to In-ger-lando".  

Despite the rain I was still happy to have so many faces around me to draw.

There was my waiter Giuseppe

and a rather wonderful Roman lady with a glass of wine who giggled knowingly when she saw me drawing her

Regular readers will know that for the last decade I have been studying facial structure, this daily work has developed in me a facial schema that has at last begun to stabilise.  I am finding I am now gaining the ability to lay the hair of my subjects over the structure I have built in my mind.  During my Rome trip, with so many glamorous girls around, I made a lot of studies of how to add interesting hairstyles to my portraits.  The results are still archetypal faces and a bit lifeless, but I am expecting a new phase will follow with the emergence of subtle facial expressions. I have noticed these improvements cannot be forced because they only develop when the mind is ready to go up a step to a new level.


After the rain subsided I left the cafe to enter the oratory of Saint'Agnes in Agone which opens onto the square and marks the spot where she was martyred in 250 AD.  The church was full of the most beautiful sculptures.  I chose to draw an altarpiece dedicated to St Cecilia by Antonio Raggi, a contemporary of Bernini.  Sculptures like these celebrate caring relationships.

Sculpted Altarpiece depicting the Death of St Ceclia 1662 - 1665
After making this drawing I wandered back towards the Pantheon, visiting churches and drawing angels as I went.

I ended the day drawing the people in front of the Pantheon, like this child asleep on her fathers head

and this attractive soldier outside the Pantheon.  Rosella, who blushed when she saw me drawing her, has been in the army for six years.
The next day I spent my last few hours on my final morning in the church on the S. Maria at the Piazza del Poppello.  When I arrived the church was full of voices and music.  It was Sunday, a service was in progress, a nun was standing at the back. 

and when the service ended I was able to draw some of the sculptures

The Annunciation
and then another service began.  I remained seated drawing the angles presenting sacred pictures, angels looking down over the chanting priests,

Altarpiece in S. Maria at the Piazza del Poppello
angles watching the sacraments in a beautiful ancient place full of local worshippers and music. It was a fitting farewell moment to leave the Rome I had at last met.

As I left another service was about to begin, this time starting with a procession of children all dressed in white with lilies in their hands and flowers in their hair. 

Julie suggested we walk back past the Spanish Steps, this gave me one last opportunity to draw another monument, this time the Virgin Mary on top of a column, but before I could complete the drawing Julie and Jung were tugging at me, "we must go Julian, we have a plane to catch" 


This is the beautiful Altar of the Visitation, the pair to the one in my picture above in S. Maria at the Piazza del Poppello

The Altar of the Visitation in S. Maria at the Piazza del Poppello

Monday, 18 September 2017

Come Back to Sorrento

Come Back To Sorrento

We landed in Rome and travelled down Italy to just north of Naples where there is the birth place mozzarella cheese, pizza and the little town of Caserta with its palace built by the king of Naples.  The king's instructions to Vanvittali, his Dutch Architect, were to build a palace that would be bigger and more beautiful that Versailles.  The building has over 1,200 rooms and is a lesson in Italian good taste and style. I have never seen ceiling paintings so full of vibrancy.  I chose to copy this gilded Angel because it has so much to teach me.

From the front of the palace a pond runs for over two kilometres up into a craggy slope, along the way there are interludes for fountains and sculpted fish from whose mouths the water gushes into pools where sleepy carp swim.

Alas our half day visit was much too short to really see everything let alone give me time to make many drawings.

Later in the day we arrived at our villa in Sorrento which was the Ground floor apartment in conspicuously aristocratic house perched on a rock overlooking town.  It was built in 1889. This is a view of the driveway to the back entrance

In the garden we could drink wine in the cool September air whilst looking across the bay of Naples towards Vesuvius and Capri.

Sometimes we were visited by a feral cat with stripes on its legs that asked us for food and slept on Michael's bed.

The first days in Sorrento were cold, wet and windy, but it did not matter because we went on drives along the cliff hugging coast roads to Almalfi.  The rain and mist made the views very beautiful but gave me little opportunity to make many drawings other than this one small sketch of a grotto in a rock crevice high above the mountain clinging town of Positano.

One of the best excursions was to Paestum which is an important archaeological site that boasts three of the best preserved Greek temples in the world, lizards scamper over the ancient stones and there is a scattering of lovely trees across the hundreds of acres of ruin.  There is also an excellent museum that needs hours of attention and an ancient church.  

Towards the end of our stay the days were long and warm and I could walk the streets of Sorrento with my drawing pad.  Tasso Square is the small main square, on one side is a view that looks down the cliffs to the port below (I made this drawing on my last visit in 2015).

On the other side of the square is a statue of Torquaot Tasso

and in the area there are traps with elegant ponies waiting for tourists.

Around the square are several restaurants, Cafés and narrow alleyways full of boutiques selling lemoncello and hand made gifts.

Because the space is so limited the narrow roads get jammed with gridlocked cars through which scooters scuttle too and fro.  Scooter culture is a lot of fun to watch.  I only had time for one drawing

Unsurprisingly I spent more time making sketches of the lovely young women that sit with their boyfriends serenely sipping coffee and eating lemon cakes in the shade of palm trees and umbrella pines, 

and there was the added distraction of so many skimpily dressed teenagers,

which means one hardly notices the old men

For me the town is paradise because I can spend a lot of time in the churches where I can draw carved sculptures of Angels and Madonna's.  The theme of Madonna has always been a favourite subject for me, it has every challenge an artist wants; there are the problems of constructing the dynamic relationship of two bodies in space, expressing their relationship and the ephemeral  beauty of the moment.  Then there is the likeness.

In one church I found a black Madonna adorata  holding a handkerchief because she is weeping after the death of her son

When you start looking you find the Madonnas of Sorrento are very busy, every church have her doing different things.  Here she is blessing a little girl who has a sash with Sorrento written on it.

People come from all over the world to be married in Sorrento.  This Madonna is Julie Burge who came from Liverpool to attend her friends wedding.


It is a common site to find brides doing a tour of Sorrento posing with their new husbands in the doorways of Churches. This is how I met Terry and Emma Harkin who were also from Liverpool, I wondered if perhaps they were Julie Burge's friends.


When the Madonna is standing there is the extra problem of distribution of weight and balance 

This is a sitting German Madonna

The male Madonna is a theme rarely seen in Christian iconography.  This is a pity because the way fathers bond with their children is particularly subtle and beautiful subject, such as Georgia sleeping on her father's shoulders.

Another artistic test are children's faces.  Over the last two years I have put a lot of effort into understanding how they are different from adults faces, this is another drawing of Georgia

and these are studies Adele, a Russian child whose family now live in Milano

On the last day, as I was making my way to draw a Madonna in a church Mami had told me about, I met Angarina a Romanian Gypsy I had given money to the day before, she smiled at me and I could not resist to stop to make some drawings of her. 

Angarina was the most beautiful looking mother I saw in Sorrento

Her child was delighted that I had stopped and together they subjected me to the full force of Gypsy charm and cunning.  Whilst I made my drawings Angarina extracted money out of me with stories of her four starving children, meanwhile her happy child raided my bags for pencils and paper, pole danced round my legs and helped her mother beg of money from passing tourists.    As it was the last day I gave her one of our smart hessian Two Bad Mice bags, her child seemed to adore my gift and I helped them transfer their things from a battered carrier bag but as soon as my back was turned my gift was put in the bin and the plastic carrier bag was retrieved.  I ended up giving them a bone china mug which seemed to be an ideal replacement for the broken plastic cup they had been using to collect money and we parted friends.

Mami's church was preparing for a big society wedding, inside the church a small orchestra were playing music and a opera singer practising Ave Maria.  Instead of drawing the "dead" Madonna Mami had told me about I found myself sitting on the steps drawing the guests as they arrived.

The bride arrived in a black car and slipped into the church to sounds of Vivaldi, I had no time to draw her dress in detail, all I can say is that it was perhaps the most lavishly beautiful I have ever seen.

As I lingered  listening outside to the ethereal music coming from within a guest emerged with his child.

Danilo told me the bride's family came from near Naples, the bride was called Roberta.

My last moments in Sorrento were spent looking through the great church doors and down the nave to where Roberta and her husband were being blessed in front of  a huge cross flanked with six foot high Altar candles, and above it all and gazing down and blessing their future was one of their glorious carved and crowned Madonnas, it seemed a fitting end to my short stay. 

You will probably have noticed from my account that I get to know the people I draw, this is intentional.  On the one hand I always avoid people who pose or ask me to make drawings of them, on the other hand even when my subjects are across a crowded space they always pick up that I am sketching them.  It is very rare that they seem to mind and they mostly come to see what I have done.  I have learnt that it is good to conceal my scruffy disposition and dress up a little, my pink jacket and white hat did not look out of place at Roberta's wedding and the official photographers made me an object of extra interest in their photographs.   I expect one day Roberta will wonder to herself who this strange uninvited guest was, fortunately I have Danilo's email address and I rely on him to explain my unexpected occurrence. 


Caserta :
Paestum :

Villa Castenello

The villa we stayed in has four double bedrooms and costs about £200 per night.  There is so much I still want to do on the Almalfi coast and I am already planning my next trip!