Sunday, May 9, 2010

2 Day Itinerary for Caravaggio in Rome: Day 1

As promised, here is a suggested itinerary for a tour of the Caravaggio paintings currently on display in Rome. With the "Caravaggio" exhibition at the Scuderie Quirinale as a foundation, for the next month, it is possible to view half of the entire oeuvre of the great Master who, with Bernini is called the "Inventor of the Baroque." With his radical interpretation of biblical events, his use of light to define his subject and intensify the emotions evoked, his inclusion of the details of everyday life and characters who were neither glorified nor idealized, and his use of dramatic foreshortening to blur the line between the canvas and the viewers' space mark him as one of the most influential painters of the seventeenth century, if not in the history of art.

Here is an itinerary I designed for my personal trip to Rome to conduct my Caravaggio survey. This post contains Day 1 and Day 2 will follow in the next posting. It is possible to complete the entire itinerary in two days - I have done it. The traveler with more time may want to take the information from the itinerary and use it as needed in planning a longer trip to the Eternal City. Judging from its nickname, Rome be there as long as you need, but unfortunately, the wealth of Caravaggio there will not. The exibition at the Scuderie Quirinale closes June 13, 2010. But take heart, the rest of the paintings in the following itinerary are there as eternally as Rome itself.

In the following posts is my personal guide to the Caravaggios currently in Rome, but there is one which is there, but not available to be seen. Caravaggio's only fresco is in the Casino Boncompagni Ludovisi, but the casino is aprivate residence, belonging still to the Ludovisi family. If anyone can prcure an invitation for me to see that fresco, I would be most appreciative.

I will start the first day's tour from Termini Station, as this is where I began the day, and it's as convenient a starting point as any, at least for my purposes.

Day One

The "Caravaggio" Exhibition does not open until 10 am. Reserve your ticket for 10:00, but avoid the crowd a little by hanging back until about 10:10 or even 10:15, and the huge rush of people waiting to get in will already have their audioguides and be well ahead of you. Get up early, nonetheless, because the churches in Rome open by 7:45 or 8:00 am, so you can see one or two early, before the galleries open, and before most tourists have finished their Cappucino.

Stop 1 :Santa Maria Del Popolo

Exit Termini Station from the front exits, toward the bus stop zone. As you leave the station, head to the right, to the Metro entrance. Take the Metro to Flaminio-Piazza Del Popolo (4th stop/Red A Line, in the direction of Battistini). As you exit the station, follow the signs to Piazza Del Popolo. The Metro exit will leave you just outside a big arch. This is actually the Porta Flavinia, an important entry point into ancient Rome, which the reader may wish to research further. Step through the arch, into Piazza del Popolo and enjoy its scale and Baroque symmetry. No, those lovely twin churches acorss the Piazza are not your destination. Once you cross through the archway into the Piazza, (if it's raining, just try to avoid the vendors selling umbrellas) the Church of Santa Maria Del Popolo will be on your immediate left.

Inside you will find it hard to keep your focus on Caravaggio. There are so many other highlights. As one of Rome's titular churches , it is very richly decorated. If you are interested in Raphael, you find a treasure trove to study here: the dome is a Raphael mosaic of the creation of the world, and the Chigi chapel was designed by Raphael. A couple of wonderful Berninis, and some Pinturiccio frescos are also here, but we are here to see the Cerasi Chapel, where the Carracchi "Assumption" over the altar greets us as we approach the open chapel. It is when we get close that we see Caravaggio's magnificent side panels, The Conversion of Paul on the right and The Martyrdom of St Peter on the left. We can't get the best angle in the world for viewing, and that's exactly the way they were designed to be seen. The space is tight and the figures overwhelm their frames almost spilling out into the chapel itelf. The light is so dramatic in both canvases that you recognize Caravaggio immediately.

In The Conversion of Paul, young Saul is lying on his back, on the ground, eyes closed, blinded by the flash which threw him off his horse. Above Paul is a forest of horse and human legs and an attendant who seems completely unaware of the life-changing event occuring next to him, or is he coming to the rescie? Paul tumbles from the frame, nearly on top of you in this tiny space,
and you are easily swept into the drama.

The Martyrdom of St. Peter is another moment of intense drama and another inverted figure. Here we are almost confronted with the rear end of the man helping to lift the saint's cross to an upright position for his crucifiction. Peter was crucified upside down because he claimed he was not worthy to be crucified in the same manner as his Lord.

Here we see in graphic detail how brutal the scene was. We see the Saint's faith, resolve and agony clearly, as we are struck by the details which make the scene so real: the filthy feet of the man pushing the cross up with his shoulder, and the rocks on the ground, which refer St. Peter being the "Rock" on which Christ would build His church. Meanhile, the divine light of the Holy Spirit beats down on St. Peter, letting the mystery of the shadows work their magic in this tiny space.

The church is open from 7 am to noon, then again from 4 pm to 7 pm, so if you visit about 730-800, the church is virtually empty and you have plenty of time to explore all its treasures and time to grab a breakfast before your 10:00 ticket for the show at the Scuderie Quirinale. Take your time in Sta. Maria del Popolo, and once you are finished, you can visit any number of little spots for a cappucino and a sweet to restore your blood sugar. After your coffee, go back through the Porta Flavinia (the arch you came through earlier) and go back on the Metro, Line A Red again, in the opposite direction. You are heading back toward Termini Station, but will exit at Pizza della Repubblica, one stop before Termini. Come out of the Metro and walk between the 2 curved, colonnaded buildings, up Via Nazionale, until you reach Via della Quattro Fontani, where you will turn Right. (St of the 4 Fountains--If you are in Rome for a few days, there are fascinating churches along this street which I promise to write about later, and which the reader may wish to research independently, but we are focused here on getting the the exhibition by about 10:10).

Walk up Via 4 Fontani for 3 blocks, where you will turn Left at the Via del Quirinale. Walk past the Palazzo Quirinale (the palace of the Popes!) on your right and notice what a very long building it is indeed. At the far end of the building, you approach Piazza Quirinale with its obelisk and tons of Carbinieres. Just past the Piazza on the right is the Scuderie del Quirinale, originally the Popes' stables, where you will find the exhibition.

Stop 2: The Caravaggio Exhibition at the Scuderie Quirinale. Book your tickets online in advance and see 26 Caravaggios in one stop. Show up a few minutes after your ticket time and avoid the big entry crush. See my previous post about the exhibition.

As you leave the exhibition, stop by the bookstore and the little coffee shop in the Scuderie for a boost of Capuccino, you still have a couple of more stops to go.

Exit the museum and go to your left, back the same way you came, up the Via Del Quirinale, back to the Via della 4 Fontani, where you will take a Left, and half a block up, on your right, you will see the Palazzo Barberini, your next stop.

Notice the Palazzo before you enter. Until this home was built, all Renaissance palaces had flat fronts. This was the first to have wings built on the front, enclosing the entrance courtyard, a model for palaces for centuries, resulting ulimately in the overkill called Versailles, where there are three progressively smaller entry courts. But again, I digress.

Enjoy the beautiful exterior of the Palazzo Barberini, the inside is even better. You may want to walk past the Palazzo before entering, to the Piazza Barberini, just beyond, where there are many options for lunch, and where you may notice on the extreme right of the Piazza a large yellow Bus Stop sign, which you will want to find later after your lunch and your visit to the Barberini.

While the catalogue of the Barberini Palace reads like the index of an Italian Renaissance textbook - all of your favorite masters are here and plentiful - it is the Caravaggios we are most interested in seeing. The Judith and Holofernes which belongs to the Palazzo Barberini has been loaned to the exhibition at the Scuderie Quirinale, and its Saint Francis to a different exhibition, but Caravaggio's Narcissus is there: another single youthful male figure.

Though very dark, and perhaps in need of a gentle cleaning and a review of its lighting, the viewer can still make out Narcissus gazing into his own reflection. What is extremely dynamic and interesting about this otherwise still and contemplative painting, is that Caravaggio has structured the compostion as a circle, the arc of Narcissus's body on the upper part of the canvas and its reflection in the lower section. In typical fashion, Caravaggio has to make a part of the canvas project toward us and blur our space with that of canvas. He does it with the knee, which is brightly illuminated and is the center of the circle. A beautiful composition.

As mentioned above, there are many treasures in the Barberini Palace, and perhaps I will soon write about its treasures (like the Hans Holbein of Henry XIII!), but for now there is one more stop on our itinerary for Day 1.

When you leave the Barberini Palace gates, walk to your right to the Piazza Barberini, where you may have had lunch, and you may notice Bernini's fountain with the Barberini family symbol, the Bee. Entering the Piazza, turn to your right and walk forward past the big hotel and you will find the large yellow bus stop sign, where you will hop on the #116 bus to the Palazzo Borghese, the last stop of the day, and one of the best of the entire tour. Be aware that the bus is quite a small one, and likely to be very crowded. Get a ticket at a Tobacconist (shops marked with a green "T" sign), and validate it on the bus by sticking it in the slot of the little yellow machine - if you can reach it through the crowd. The bus stop is just in front of rather plain looking brick church, The Church of the Immaculate Conception, the Church of the Capuchins. This is the church with the macabre displays of the skeletons of its former members, and you may find in researching online that there is a St Francis by Caravaggio in its Sacristy, however, the painting is currently on loan to an exhibition in Helsinki. While it is an interesting church, and many readers will find the display of skeletons worth a look, we are waiting for the bus to the Borghese Gallery.

Located in an immense park which was once its private garden, the Borghese Gallery is one of the glories of Rome. In order to enter, you absolutely must and I repeat MUST book your ticket in advance. They admit visitors every two hours for two hours only and they clear the place after each group. I suggest booking your ticket for 5 pm, and getting there about 430 to claim your ticket and check your bag. You MUST check all cameras, bags - anything that you carry, and absolutely no photography is allowed. Be ready for that, beacuse you have no option if you want to enter. As you go in, after the first 2 rooms of the audio tour, find the stairs and go up to the picture gallery, where you will find the Caravaggios (and the magnificent Titian). All of the rest of the visitors admitted with you will be occupied with the downstairs rooms, and you will have the painting galleries to yourself, then, by the time the others make it upstairs, you can go down and enjoy the incredible Bernini, Canova and ancient sculptures in peace. The history of the building is as fascinating as the collection, so do rent the audio guide to learn about Scipione Borghese, a wild man, and rich.

Of the six Caravaggios in the Borghese collection, three are included in the exhibition at the Scuderie Quirinale (Boy with Basket of Fruit, St. John the Baptist and David with the Head of Goliath). St. Jerome is in conservation, at the moment, so is not on display, but the very early work called Self Portrait as the Sick Bacchus and the Virgin of Palafrenieri are each worth the price of admission.

The appropriation of The Sick Bacchus is its own story with which the audio guide will entertain the interested, but just to look at the canvas, its greenish pallor, its study of the play of light and shadow over a human form, is to see the mature Caravaggio's Head of Goliath, already hinted at here in 1593, 17 years before the ghoulish masterpiece. He paints in a ghoulish palette and explores many of the themes we see constantly in his later work. Is this a satirical self portrait, as some opine, mocking the divine inspiration of artists? The reference to wine is here, and the forward projecting sash of his belt on the table is a precursor to the later use of objects projecting forward to blur the line between the painting and the viewers' space.
The light in The Madonna of Palafrenieri really marks this as one of Caravaggio's mature style, though its composition is less dramatic and interesting than most of that period. This canvas has it all. The nude Jesus, who is not the infant we are accustomed to, but a toddler or even somewhat older, stamping out the snake, overcoming evil, with St Anne, his grandmother standing by. The sweet expressions and serenity of the scene seems at odds with the snake writhing at the bottom of the canvas. The painting caused a stir because the Virgin's racy neckline seemed out of place to contemporary viewers.

You will have no problem filling your two hours at the Palazzo Borghese. Enjoy my personal favorite: Titian's Divine and Profane Love. I am sure I will write about it some day.

This concludes Day 1 of the Caravaggio Tour of Rome. As you leave the Borghese, walk straight from the palace through the gardens to the first intersection, where you will find signs directing you to Piazza Venezia and many other places where you can take a bus or taxi back to your hotel. By now, you could probably use a rest or a drink. As you can see, as I left the Borghese Day 1 of my tour, I did!
I will leave you with Daphne and Apollo, David, and The Rape of Persephone, all by Bernini and all at the Galleria Borghese. I will return to them in another post.

No comments:

Post a Comment