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.  We had rented a small apartment adjacent to the walls of Vatican City.  Originally I had planned the holiday as a Christmas present for Mami.  Sadly Mami stayed behind to look after an old cat that needs a lot of special care and instead  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 dusky gloom far below us we could see a lone 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.  I later discovered they are known locally as "the giant rats of the Tiber", and 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 then 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.  In side the Vatican museum we had a breakfast 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 immediately grabbed by a statue of Dionysus playing with an infant Bacchus who is teasingly dangling grapes above his brow.

This statue excited me one of my favourite subjects whilst drawing are the relationships I see between people.  I am particularly attracted to making drawings of  families, especially parents with their children.  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 the equally touching 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 tender Roman sculpture of a bearded Silenius with a very young infant Dionysus.

Silenius with Dionysus child in his arms

Art critics can often be snooty about Roman statues.  We are taught that Greek statues are a cradle out of which Western art was born, and that many of the sculptures that have survived from Ancient Rome are crude copies of compositions lifted from ancient Greek pattern books.  In the worst cases the sculptors ruined the delicate Greek compositions by sticking the heads of their patrons on Greek masterpieces.  There were many Roman artists who were much better than this.  Rome had sculptors that were quite capable of equalling the extreme sensitivity and structural understanding of Greek artists, as has happened in this masterful copy of a Greek bronze of a satyr playing a flute. 

The artist's technical achievement in maintaining overall harmonic and structural integrity makes this work a masterpiece of the first order.  For instance there is a perfectly understood line of energy from the pelvis 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 the energy is dropped along the flute, but picked up through the fingers of the second hand, back through the arms, back down 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 of the Vatican Museum evaporated leaving us space to enjoy many more galleries of sculptures and sumptuous rooms decorated by Raphael, an artist I had previously under-appreciated. I finished my day admiring Michaelangelo's glorious Sistine Chapel.

At about  6.00pm, after the Vatican Museum closed, we strolled to an almost empty St Peter's Basilica to see what 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. I later visited Rosella's facebook page where I saw stylish pictures of a very pretty girl with her long dark hair flowing over her shoulders and looking elegant in chic Italian dresses.
I spent my last 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

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