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Amber Paulen

Two Exhibitions

This past week I visited two exhibitions in Rome, Caravaggio a Roma and the Palazzo Farnese.

I. Caravaggio a Roma

Caravaggio seems to be enjoying an upsurge of popularity lately, at least in Rome, with two simultaneous exhibitions: the one I visited and the Bottega del Genio in the Palazzo Venezia. It has been 400 years since his death and I wonder how such a man would take these compliments of immortality. What else could be so flattering?

This exhibition, housed in the Archivio di Stato near Piazza Navona, was less about Caravaggio’s paintings and more about Caravaggio’s time in Rome. The guided tour, obligatory and only in Italian, had me struggling to comprehend sentences while wishing to abandon myself to the beautiful library, the old documents and the paintings of Caravaggio’s contemporaries. I understood some of what the tour guide said and enjoyed looking at everything else.

The old ledgers and police reports filled with fancy handwriting, the death sentences of Giordano Bruno and Beatrice Cenci, her supposed portrait by Guido Reni, an Annibale Carracci. The only painting of Caravaggio’s was of Pope Paolo V, rarely shown to the public, his sardonic and smug expression sitting on that strange top of bright crimson. Caravaggio once threw a plate of artichokes at a waiter, he killed a man then fled to Malta. All of it plied at my imagination, elaborating on an already interesting portrait of the painter in my head. And I still wonder, what meticulousness did Caravaggio employ to bring such light out of such shadow?

II. Palazzo Farnese

Usually closed to the public, the Palazzo Farnese has temporarily opened its doors to show off its art collection partially reunited. For when the Farnese family was rich and powerful—after Alessandro was made Pope Paolo III—they lined their halls and walls with Roman statues and Renaissance paintings and painted their ceilings. Later all this was dispersed and later, the palace became the French embassy.

The edifice in itself is worth the entrance ticket, a supreme example of Renaissance architecture with one level designed by either Sangallo the Younger, Vignola or Michelangelo. Then the ceilings, O! the ceilings! Annibale Carracci painted the one seen from outside, at night in the Piazza Farnese. It is stunning for its colors and mythical figures and its size, the cycle of love and lust.

And the Roman statues I found especially fine: I tried to stare into the pupil-less eyes of wide faced Hadrian, thinner Antoninus Pius, the massive Hercules (a copy), Homer, the Venus and her buttocks, the crouching Atlas. The forms of these smooth marbles, emissaries who have time-travelled through thousands of years to stand before us so we too can witness the beauty of past ideas, beliefs and life, so similar to our own. Then the paintings O! the paintings! El Greco’s Christ Healing the Blind Man and Titian’s portrait of a woman were among my favorites.

These doors will only be open until 27 April. Go if you can!


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