Showing posts with label Piazza di Spagna. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Piazza di Spagna. Show all posts

16 June 2018

Pietro Bracci - sculptor

Artist best known for Oceanus statue at Trevi Fountain

Pietro Bracci's statue, Oceanus, is the  centrepiece of the Trevi Fountain in Rome
Pietro Bracci's statue, Oceanus, is the
centrepiece of the Trevi Fountain in Rome
The sculptor Pietro Bracci, who left his mark on the architectural landscape of Rome with the colossal six-metre high statue Oceanus that towers over the Trevi Fountain, was born on this day in 1700 in Rome.

The monumental figure is shown standing on a chariot, in the form of a shell, pulled by two winged horses flanked by two tritons. Bracci worked from sketches by Giovanni Battista Maini, who died before he could execute the project.

He also completed work on the fountain itself, built in front of Luigi Vanvitelli’s Palazzo Poli. This was started by Bracci’s close friend Nicola Salvi, who had been commissioned by Pope Clement XII to realize plans drawn up by Gian Lorenzo Bernini that had been shelved in the previous century. Salvi died in 1751, before he could complete the work. Giuseppe Pannini was also involved for a while before Bracci took over in 1761.

The work confirmed Bracci as a major talent of his time in the field of sculpture, one of the greatest of the late Baroque period, continuing in the tradition established by Bernini in the previous century that gave the city of Rome so many wonderful monuments.

Bracci’s most significant works in addition to the Trevi are considered to be four monumental tombstones, two of which are in St Peter’s Basilica.

The monumental tomb of Maria Clementina Sobieski in St Peter's Basilica
The monumental tomb of Maria Clementina
Sobieski in St Peter's Basilica
The most beautiful, and arguably the one that provides the fullest expression of Bracci’s talent, is the one that commemorates Maria Clementina Sobieski (1742), descendant from the Polish king, who was the wife of the "Old Pretender", James Stuart, one of the Catholic Stuart claimants to the thrones of England, Scotland and Ireland. The sculpture is in polychrome with an image of Maria Clementina in mosaic held aloft by Charity.

Bracci also sculpted the figures for the tomb of Benedict XIII (1734) in Santa Maria sopra Minerva, Rome, which was designed by the architect Carlo Marchionni, and for the tomb of Benedict XIV (1763–1770) in St Peter’s Basilica, completed with the help of his pupil Gaspare Sibilia, as well as the polychromatic tomb of Cardinal Giuseppe Renato Imperiali (1741) in Sant'Agostino in Rome.

The son of a wood sculptor, Bracci was an apprentice in the workshop of the sculptor Camillo Rusconi for six years. He became a member of L’Accademia dell’Arcadia in Rome and of L’Accademia di San Luca and opened his own workshop in the Piazza Trinità dei Monti in 1725.

He married Faustina Mancini, the daughter of the painter Francesco Mancini. They had a son, Virginio, who grew up to be a sculptor and architect, who was heavily involved with the construction of the town of Servigliano in the Marche, and gave much help and advice to the young Antonio Canova.

Bracci died in Rome in Rome in 1773 and was buried in the Pantheon, where his son had commissioned a bust of his father by Vincenzo Pacetti. 

The Trevi Fountain stands in front of the Palazzo Poli. It is  one of Rome's most visited tourist sites.
The Trevi Fountain stands in front of the Palazzo Poli. It is
one of Rome's most visited tourist sites.
Travel tip:

The Trevi Fountain takes its name from its location in the Trevi district of Rome. An earlier fountain on the site was demolished in the 17th century. Nicola Salvi’s design was chosen after entries were invited to a competition. The idea of incorporating the fountain as part of the front of the Palazzo Poli came from a project by Pietro da Cortona, but the central triumphal arch with its mythological and allegorical figures, natural rock formations, and gushing water was Salvi’s idea. The immense fountain stands some 85 ft (26m) high and is approximately 160 ft (49m) wide. Its water, from the ancient aqueduct called Acqua Vergine, was long considered Rome’s softest and best tasting. The water today is not considered fit for drinking. The coins that are thrown into the fountain are collected daily and donated to charity.

The Piazza di Spagna and the Via Condotti seen from the Piazza Trinità dei Monti, above the Spanish Steps
The Piazza di Spagna and the Via Condotti seen from the
Piazza Trinità dei Monti, above the Spanish Steps
Travel tip:

The Piazza Trinità dei Monti, where Bracci opened his first workshop, is a square in central Rome adjoining the Renaissance church of the Santissima Trinità dei Monti, at the top of the Scalinata di Trinità dei Monti, better known as the Spanish Steps. During Springtime, just before the anniversary of the foundation of Rome, April 21, part of the steps are covered by pots of azaleas. Recently, the Spanish Steps have included a small cut-flower market. The steps are not a place for eating lunch, being forbidden by Roman urban regulations, but they are usually crowded with people.

More reading:

How Nicola Salvi's designs were chosen for the Trevi Fountain

Gian Lorenzo Bernini - the architect, more than any, who conceived the look of Rome

The consecration of St Peter's Basilica

Also on this day:

1942: The birth of 15-times world motorcycling champion Giacomo Agostini

2008: The death of Mario Rigoni Stern, war hero who became bestselling novelist


28 May 2018

Caravaggio and a death in Campo Marzio

Hot-tempered artist killed man in Rome in row over a woman

Caravaggio was a brilliant painter but had a reputation for violence
Caravaggio was a brilliant painter but had
a reputation for drunken violence
The brilliant late Renaissance artist Caravaggio committed the murder that would cause him to spend the remainder of his life on the run on this day in 1606.

Renowned for his fiery temperament and history of violent acts as well as for the extraordinary qualities of his paintings, Caravaggio is said to have killed Ranuccio Tomassoni, described in some history books as a ‘wealthy scoundrel’, in the Campo Marzio district of central Rome, not far from the Piazza Monte D'Oro.

The incident led to Caravaggio being condemned to death by order of the incumbent pope, Paul V, and then fleeing the city, first to Naples, eventually landing in Malta.

It was thought that the two had a row over a game of tennis, which was gaining popularity in Italy at the time, and that the dispute escalated into a brawl, which was not unusual for Caravaggio. The story was that Tomassoni wounded the painter in some way, at which Caravaggio drew a sword and lashed out at his rival, inflicting a gash in the thigh from which he bled to death.

This was accepted by historians as a plausible story for almost 400 years until evidence emerged to challenge the theory in 2002, when papers unearthed in a search of Vatican and Rome state archives suggested a different explanation.

According to the English art historian Andrew Graham-Dixon, who revealed the findings in a BBC television documentary, Caravaggio killed Tomassoni in a botched attempt to castrate him.

Caravaggio among the narrow crowded streets of the Campo Marzio district
Caravaggio among the narrow crowded
streets of the Campo Marzio district
The evidence had been turned up by Monsignor Sandro Corradini, an Italian art historian with a particular interest in Caravaggio, who found a surgeon’s report written on the day of Tomassoni’s death.

Maurizio Marini, another historian, told Graham-Dixon in the documentary that the surgeon’s report described a fatal wound to Tomassini’s femoral artery and surmised that Caravaggio was probably trying to castrate him.

Such barbaric acts were relatively common in Rome at the time, part of a ‘code of honour’ that dictated that if a man was insulted by another man he would cut his face, but that if a man’s woman was insulted then the man delivering the insult could expect a different part of his anatomy to be under threat.

The woman at the heart of their row was said to be Fillide Melandroni, who had allegedly succumbed to Caravaggio’s charms after he was asked to paint her for an Italian nobleman. It is thought that she was a prostitute and that Tomassino was her pimp.

It is little wonder, after he had been found guilty of murder, that Caravaggio was not keen to hang around. The sentence was beheading. Worse still, from the artist’s point of view, the sentence allowed for any member of the public, on spotting Caravaggio, to carry out the sentence themselves, on the spot.

In the event, Caravaggio escaped, yet died only four years later in mysterious circumstances. Official records said that he fell victim to a fever at Porta Ercole, on the Tuscan coast, but no records exist of a funeral or a burial and it is suspected that he himself may have been murdered, either by relatives of Tomassino or representatives of the ancient order of the Knights of Malta, avenging the maiming of one of their members in another brawl involving the painter, in Malta.

Caravaggio's David with the Head of Goliath. painted shortly before he died in 1610
Caravaggio's David with the Head of Goliath.
painted shortly before he died in 1610
Shortly before he died, while lying low in Naples with the intention of returning to Rome to seek clemency, he completed his David with the Head of Goliath, in which the severed head of the giant bears his own facial features, while David is given an expression of compassion for his victim.

Born Michelangelo Merisi in Milan in 1571, Caravaggio became known by the name of the town, in the province of Bergamo, where his family settled after leaving Milan to escape an outbreak of plague.

His work became famous for his realistic observation of the physical and emotional state of human beings and for his dramatic use of light and shade, known as chiaroscuro, which gave his paintings an almost three-dimensional quality. This was a formative influence for the baroque school of painting.

Some of his major works, such as The Calling of St Matthew, The Crucifixion of St Peter and Deposition, can be found in churches in Rome, but his work is also well represented in the Uffizi gallery in Florence.

The Sanctuary of the Madonna in Caravaggio
The Sanctuary of the Madonna in Caravaggio
Travel tip:

In addition to its connection with the artist, another attraction of the town of Caravaggio is the Sanctuary of the Madonna di Caravaggio, which was built in the 16th century on the spot where the Virgin Mary is said to have appeared to a local peasant woman.  The Sanctuary was later rebuilt and completed in the 18th century and is now visited by pilgrims from all over the world.  The town did have a theatre named after Caravaggio that was held in high regard but it was destroyed during the Second World War.

The Piazza del Popolo is among the highlights of Campo Marzio
The Piazza del Popolo is among the highlights of Campo Marzio
Travel tip:

Campo Marzio is Rome’s 4th rione - district - situated in the centre of Rome, comprising an area that includes Piazza di Spagna and the Scalinata di Trinità dei Monti - otherwise known as the Spanish Steps - and Piazza del Popolo, as well as the fashion district with the Via dei Condotti at its centre, overlooked by the Pincian Hill.  During the Middle Ages it was the most densely populated quarter of the city. It is bordered by the Tiber, the Quirinal hill in the north and the Capitoline Hill.

More reading:

The mysterious death of Caravaggio

Also on this day:

1987: The birth of Leandro Jayarajah, former member of the Italy national cricket team

1999: Da Vinci's The Last Supper goes back on display after 20-year restoration


12 February 2018

Michelangelo Cerquozzi – painter

Battle scenes brought fame and riches to Baroque artist

Cerquozzi's painting Scena di battaglia is typical of the works  that earned him the nickname Michelangelo delle Battaglie
Cerquozzi's painting Scena di battaglia is typical of the works
 that earned him the nickname Michelangelo delle Battaglie
Michelangelo Cerquozzi, the Baroque painter, was born on this day in 1602 in Rome.

He was to become famous for his paintings of battles, earning himself the nickname of Michelangelo delle Battaglie - Michelangelo of the Battles. 

Cerquozzi was born into a well-off family as his father was a successful leather merchant. He started his artistic training at the age of 12 in the studio of Giuseppe Cesari, a history painter, with whom the young Caravaggio trained when he first arrived in Rome.

Not much is known about Cerquozzi’s early work, although he is thought to have been influenced by the Flemish and Dutch artists active in Rome at the time.

As well as battles, Cerquozzi painted small, religious and mythological works and some still life scenes.

Cerquozzi's Soldiers Playing Dice is now in a private collection
Cerquozzi's Soldiers Playing Dice is now in
a private collection
Cerquozzi joined the Accademia di San Luca in 1634 and, although he did not follow their strict rules, he started gradually gaining recognition for his work.

He secured commissions from prominent Roman patrons, including representatives of the Barberini and Colonna families.

His only public commission in Rome was for a lunette depicting the Miracle of Saint Francis of Paolo in the cloister of the Church of Sant’Andrea delle Fratte, which has sadly been lost.

He is also believed to have painted altarpieces for some churches in Sardinia.

The nickname Michelangelo delle Battaglie came from his paintings of battle scenes. He was considered to be one of the best of the Bamboccianti, the name given to the painters active in Rome in the 17th century.  

Many of them painted contemporary scenes featuring workers and soldiers, in action, in play and at rest.

A good example of this is Cerquozzi’s painting of Soldiers Playing Dice, painted in the 1630s and now in a private collection.  Despite featuring lower class subjects, many of his paintings went on to sell for high prices to collectors.

Cerquozzi's Rivolta di Masaniello can be seen at the Galleria Spada, near Campo dei Fiori in Rome
Cerquozzi's Rivolta di Masaniello can be seen at the
Galleria Spada, near Campo dei Fiori in Rome
His battle paintings were on small canvases and often provided a close up viewpoint of cavalry scenes showing the horses and men on the move.

One example is a work, simply titled Scena di battaglia – Battle Scene – which is housed at the Galleria Megna, in Via del Babuino in Rome.

Cerquozzi collaborated with the painter Viviano Codazzi in 1648 on a canvas depicting the Revolt of Masaniello, which is currently at the Galleria Spada in Rome. The painting shows the anti-Spanish rebellion of 1647 in the Piazza del Mercato in Naples with the leader, Masaniello, on a horse in the middle of the picture.

Cerquozzi never married and remained childless. He died, a wealthy man, in 1660 in his house near the Spanish Steps in Rome.

The Spanish Steps, and, on the corner,  Keats's house
The Spanish Steps, and, on the corner,  Keats's house
Travel tip:

Cerquozzi lived near Piazza di Spagna in Rome for most of his adult life. Piazza di Spagna gets its name from the Spanish Embassy to the Holy See which has been there since the 17th century. More than a century after Cerquozzi’s death the area at the foot of the Spanish Steps became popular with English aristocrats on the Grand Tour who stayed there while in Rome. In 1820, the English poet John Keats spent the last few months of his life in a small room overlooking the Spanish Steps and died there of consumption in February 1821, aged just 25. The house is now a museum and library dedicated to the Romantic poets.

The Church of Santa Maria del Carmine watches over Piazza del Mercato
The Church of Santa Maria del Carmine
watches over Piazza del Mercato
Travel tip:

Piazza del Mercato in Naples, where Cerquozzi depicted Masaniello leading the anti-Spanish rebellion, has long been the focal point of commercial life in the city due to its location not far from the port. Overlooked by the Church of Santa Maria del Carmine, it was the setting for the execution of Eleonora Fonseca Pimentel and her fellow revolutionaries in 1799. It was also the location for the beheading in 1268 of Corradino, a 16-year-old King of Naples.

More reading:

Also on this day:

(Paintings: Cerquozzi's Battle Scene and Soldiers Playing Dice both in private collections; Rivolta di Masaniello, Galleria Spada, Rome)

(Picture credits: Piazza di Spagna by Michael Paraskevas; Church of Santa Maria del Carmine by Luca Aless)

25 February 2017

Alberto Sordi - actor

Comic genius who appeared in 190 films

Alberto Sordi with Sophia Loren in the 1954 film Due notti con Cleopatra (Two Nights with Cleopatra)
Alberto Sordi with Sophia Loren in the 1954 film
Due notti con Cleopatra (Two Nights with Cleopatra)
Alberto Sordi, remembered by lovers of Italian cinema as one of its most outstanding comedy actors, died on this day in 2003 in Rome, the city of his birth.

He was 82 and had suffered a heart attack.  Italy reacted with an outpouring of grief and the decision was taken for his body to lie in state at Rome's town hall, the Campidoglio.

Streams of his fans took the opportunity to file past his coffin and when his funeral took place at the Basilica of San Giovanni in Laterano it was estimated that the crowds outside the church and in nearby streets numbered one million people.

Only the funeral of Pope John Paul II, who died two years later, is thought to have attracted a bigger crowd.

Sordi (right) in a scene from his 1954 film An American in  Rome, which established him as a comic character actor
Sordi (right) in a scene from An American in Rome 
(1954) which established him as a comic character actor
Sordi was the Italian voice of Oliver Hardy in the early days of his career, when he worked on the dubbing of the Laurel and Hardy movies.  He made the first of his 190 films in 1937 but it was not until the 1950s that he found international fame.

He appeared in two movies directed by Federico Fellini - The White Sheik and I vitelloni.  In the latter, he played an oafish layabout, something of a simpleton but an effeminate and vulnerable character to whom audiences responded with warmth and affection due to Sordi's interpretation.

It was Sordi's eye for the foibles of quirks of the Italian character that identified him as an actor of considerable talent.  His films often had the simple titles of the Italian stereotypes he was sending up, such as The Seducer, The Bachelor, The Husband, The Widower, The Traffic Cop and The Moralist.

Some were black comedies, some slapstick farces, others more serious dramas. Along with Vittorio Gassman, Ugo Tognazzi and Nino Manfredi, he made up a quartet that has been described as Italy's equivalent of the Ealing comedy school.

Alberto Sordi in the 1962 black comedy Mafioso
Alberto Sordi in the 1962 black comedy Mafioso
Born in Rome in June 1920 in the working class Trastevere district, Sordi came from a musical family. While his mother was a schoolteacher, his father played the tuba in the orchestra at the Rome Opera House.

His father encouraged an interest in music and by the age of 10 Sordi was singing in the Sistine Chapel choir. At 16 he went to Milan to study at drama school but was told he would never be successful unless he shed his thick Roman accent.  In the event, the accent and distinctive voice became part of his popularity.

Back in Rome, he became popular in radio shows and as a music hall act before landing the voice-over part for the Laurel and Hardy films, employing the bogus English accent he had used in a music hall sketch.

Eager for more work in the burgeoning movie industry, he hung around the cafes in Piazza di Spagna, where he befriended Fellini and his fellow director, Vittorio De Sica.  After working as an extra, he landed his first important role was as an air force cadet in Tre Aquilotti (Three Eaglets) in 1941.

Sordi (in the foreground) lounges outside a cafe in I vitelloni
Sordi (in the foreground) lounges outside a cafe in I vitelloni
The two Fellini movies brought him to the attention of the movie world as an actor of potential but it was his performance in An American in Rome (1954), directed by Stefano Vanzina - usually known as Steno - that established his brilliance in exaggerating the foibles and idiosyncrasies of his fellow Italians.

Poking fun at Italy's obsession with things American, Sordi played Ferdinand 'Nando' Mericoni, a young Roman who is so in awe of the American lifestyle he tries to make his room look like a Hollywood set, pretends he is from Kansas City and lives out everyday situations as if he were an actor in an American film. He makes up for his inability to speak English by making American vocal sounds.  Sordi would return to the theme years later, in 1968, with an Italian in America, which he directed himself.

In the opinion of the critics, the most accomplished performance of his career was as a middle-class Italian in Mario Monicelli's hard-hitting 1977 film Un Borghese Piccolo Piccolo (A Very Small Petit Bourgeois), who takes vengeance after seeing his child killed in a robbery.

Sordi never married but was the long-time partner of the actress Andreina Pagnani. Later in life, he lived quietly with his dogs and his two sisters in a splendid villa near the Baths of Caracalla, indulging his interests in opera, collecting antiques and supporting his football team, AS Roma.

Over a career that spanned five decades, he won seven David di Donatello awards for best actor - the most won by anyone in that category - and four awards from the Italian National Syndicate of Film Journalists. He also received a Golden Lion for lifetime achievement at the Venice Film Festival in 1995.

Less than a week after his death, the mayor of Rome announced that the gallery of shops opposite the Palazzo Chigi would be renamed Galleria Alberto Sordi in his memory.

The Isola Tiberina adjoins the Trastevere district
The Isola Tiberina adjoins the Trastevere district
Travel tip:

The Trastevere district has evolved from its working class roots into one of Rome's most fashionable neighbourhoods, certainly among young professionals, who are attracted by its pretty cobbled streets and the wealth of inexpensive but chic restaurants.  There are interesting attractions for visitors, too.  Apart from some fine churches, the area boasts the Botanical Garden of Rome, the lovely Isola Tiberina, an island in the middle of the river on which is built an old hospital and a church, and the lively Porta Portese Sunday market.

Rome hotels from

Travel tip:

Numbering John Keats, Mary Shelley and Casanova among its fans, the Piazza di Spagna is a beautiful square noted for the famous Spanish Steps leading up to the Trinità dei Monti church. Keats had a house next to the steps on the right looking up from the square. The steps tend to be crowded with tourists during the day but thin out after 10pm, when the square still looks glorious under the street lights. Leading off the square, Via Condotti has become home to Rome’s most exclusive shops, including Prada and Gucci. There are plenty of restaurants and bars around the square, although they can be expensive. However, inexpensive beer, ice creams and roasted chestnuts can be bought from street vendors.

More reading:

Giulietta Masina - Fellini's muse and wife of 50 years

Otto e mezzo - the greatest Fellini movie of them all?

How tough-talking Roman actress Anna Magnani became an Oscar-winning star

Also on this day:

1682: The birth of anatomist Giovanni Battista Morgagni

1707: The birth of Venetian playwright Carlo Goldoni

1873: The birth of the brilliant tenor Enrico Caruso

Selected books:

A History of Italian Cinema, by Peter Bondanella and Federico Pacchioni