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Amber Paulen

Seeing Rome

To repeat myself:

It is the same in art as in life. The deeper one penetrates, the broader grows the view. —Goethe, Italian Journey

I’ve been thinking about that lately, Goethe’s approach to the world; his systematic stripping away so that an object is no longer the thing-in-itself but something wrought or formed with a thousand varying principles that have or have not come into play. One loses an innocent wonderment, but what has been gained?

This week I went to the ornate Palazzo Barberini with its Bernini staircase and elegant ballroom—what were parties like there, I can hardly imagine. I stood before Raphael, Tintoretto, Filippo Lippi, Caravaggio and others. Among so many Madonnas and Childs and gifts of magis and ascensions these painters stood out like open countryside would in a dense city. The colors of Filippo Lippi, the light, the blue, the Fornarina’s brown-eyed gaze, Judith’s curious disgust and the reflection of Narcissus’ reflection. I don’t have an “eye” for painting, I naively enjoy what I’m drawn to.

I’ve been on a Rome kick. I’m immersing myself in the city on more than a physical level. In addition to reading about Mussolini in Rome, I’ve begun on the Ancients, with a continuous curiosity in the Renaissance and the results are edifying. This city makes itself known to me in more ways than I have thought possible. If only I enjoyed talking to groups of people, I would think about becoming a tour guide.

Rome emerges as a single platform that has undergone and sustained a history so pervasive that it influences many Westerners on a daily basis: our language, our art. I would dare to argue that Rome is the most aesthetic city in the world, as Goethe called it, the “hub of the world.” Civilization, in a sense, was born here, with all its benefits and faults.

These new “eyes” with which I see Rome is changing the city for me. It has not stolen my wonderment—the joy when golden sun pours over umbrella pines on the Celian hill is still there—but has added to it ten-fold. Curiosity breeds curiosity. Column chunks are no longer column chunks, and if I really want to blow my mind I start thinking about cosmology.

(Anyway, I have made a short tour of Rome that will soon be available on the Rama app called Rooftops: Rome’s Foreign Literati. I will soon be able to lead you through Rome, albeit virtually.)


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