When in Rome… Palazzo Massimo alle Terme

“The boxer” – Museo Nazionale Romano (Palazzo Massimo alle Terme). IV cent B.C. My pic

For a lover of Ancient Rome entering this museum is like opening the gates of paradise. Furthermore, of an uncrowded one. As I wrote in the previous post I’m quite fond of peaceful spots and this is one indeed. Palazzo Massimo alle Terme hosts an extraordinary collection of Roman statues, mosaics and frescoes discovered from the XIXth century during works in the city.

The boxer

My favourite statue is “the boxer”, a greek bronze from the IV century B.C., probably work of Lisipo, and discovered in the Quirinal Hill when excavating the Therms of Constantine.



In this close-up you can see the details (check out this vid for more close-ups) with which the artist has portrayed the fighter. The wounds (the blood is represented using copper) in his face, the swollen eyes, the broken lip, the mashed ears. The athlete is resting, it is not the usual image of victory; maybe he’s gathering his strength to continue the fight, or has been defeated and turns to an unknown referee, waiting for mercy or the victory veredict. Waiting, as the statue had for hundreds of years. This picture, taken when the statue was discovered in the XIXth century, touches me deeply.


Livia’s triclinium

In the third floor of the museum you can see the frescoes and mosaics that decorated the rooms in some patrician villas. My favourite place is the reconstruction of the “summer dinner room” in the Villa of Livia Drusilla, wife of the first Roman Emperor, Augustus.

The villa was in the Flaminian road, ad gallinas albas (“where the white chickens”). When Livia married Octavian, a prodigy occurred. An eagle dropped a white chicken in her lap; the bird had a twig of laurel with berries in its beak. Following the soothsayers advice, the chicken and its offspring were raised in the villa, and a forest of laurel oaks was planted around its perimetre. The leaves of these trees were used as crowns in the imperial triumphs, and the withering of the plants was considered an ill omen. It is said that before the death of Nero, the whole forest and all the chickens in the villa died.

It has always fascinated me how superstitious the romans were. The days were divided in favourable and ill-fated ones. No public activity could take place during the second ones and a serious military defeat or a disastrous event turned some days from fasti to nefasti. For instance, July 18th was the day of the Clades Gallica (the Gallian disaster), to commemorate the defeat, near the river Allia, of the Roman army against the gauls in the year 387 BC.

Soldiers are an extraordinary race of men: tough as shield leather, superstitious as egyptians, and as sentimental as Sabine grandmothers.

Robert Graves, “I, Claudius”

To come back to the Museum, what makes this room special (I usually sit for half an hour in the central couch and I like to hear the Ah! and Oh! of people entering) is the illumination.


Lights increase and decrease in intensity to reproduce the real light during different hours of the day, from dawn to sunset, that Livia’s dinner guests witnessed a couple of thousands years ago. The effect is absolutely marvellous; the paintings in the dining room were ripped off from the original walls, transferred and reconstructed in this area. Although I have seen several times the process of tearing off frescoes it keeps son sounding like magic to me.DSCN1605 DSCN1602DSCN1603There are many other masterpieces in the Museum. The remaining bronzes of Nemi’s ships, reproductions of famous greek sculptures…DSCN1655

Yes, the Discobolo himself, for instance…

A beautiful Antinous…

DSCN1617… right beside Hadrian…


An edition I made a couple of years ago of the above pictures to celebrate the anniversary of Hadrian’s death (July 10th 138 AD)

… and some quite known mosaics, as these one representing the four teams of the chariot races: green, red, white and blue. The charioteers conducted the horses with the reins, not only with the hands, but also with the movement of their body check this relief. They were taller and bulkier than nowadays jockeys, for instance. One of the main dangers during the races was to remain trapped under the horses or the chariot while tied to them, that’s why they had a knife between the leather strips of the bodice. If they were quick enough they could save themselves cutting the reins, but it’s no wonder that charioteers, even if well paid and adored by the masses as modern football players, often died very young.


All this and many more in my favourite museum in Rome. Another of my favourite pieces is this ivory mask. The pic is not mine (click for source) as it is very delicate is held in very particular light conditions. It was recovered by the Carabinieri group specialized on Art smuggling.

When in Rome

A few days ago, the NYT published a very critical article about Rome and her many problems, starting with the dirt. I will not deny something that is obvious. When I cross the city in bike, two words come out from my mouth quite often: “che schifo” (what a filfth). Rome is more a cynical step-mother than a caring one; she is a little bit mignotta, or like Anna Magnani in “Mamma Roma”, insulting you while laughing and singing.

This is a city of contrasts, where the “che schifo” can be followed with the blink of an eye by a “oh che bello!”. A couple of days ago, at 7.30 in the morning, all the backstage doors of the “Teatro dell’Opera” were open because they were moving the set to Caracalla’s for the summer season and we had to stop the bike while some pieces of the stage were loaded in a truck. I turned my head and I saw this:

While the workers and technicians were moving and fixing the stage, the whole theatre was lit. I opened my mouth and gasped like a red fish out of water. I felt absolutely happy during those two minutes. Coming back home that afternoon I thought to write about my favourite spots of the city.

I advice friends who want to visit Rome to come if they can between end January and early February. It is not the best time of the year if you’re looking for warm weather or clear blue skies, but it’s the only low season period in a town invaded by hundreds of thousands of tourists every year. The ideal months to visit the city in the best weather conditions are May or October, but get ready to feel a little bit like a sheep on a flock. Or maybe don’t; my favourite spots are usually the less crowded ones. My intention is to write several posts about them but most probably this will be the first and only post on the matter.

The Caravaggios

Rome is the city where you can see some of the best known Caravaggio paintings for free. Three of them are in the church of San Luigi dei Francesi, France’s National Church in Rome. Fortunately the Spanish consulate is at only five minutes walk, therefore everytime I have to make some bureaucratic paperwork I carry with me a few coins (for the lighting), and I can watch this:

Michelangelo Caravaggio 040.jpg
Michelangelo Caravaggio 040” by Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio – The Yorck Project: 10.000 Meisterwerke der Malerei. DVD-ROM, 2002. ISBN 3936122202. Distributed by DIRECTMEDIA Publishing GmbH.. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

Or this:

Michelangelo Caravaggio 047.jpg
Michelangelo Caravaggio 047” by Caravaggio – The Yorck Project: 10.000 Meisterwerke der Malerei. DVD-ROM, 2002. ISBN 3936122202. Distributed by DIRECTMEDIA Publishing GmbH.. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

Another two are in the church of Santa Maria del Popolo (St. Peter’s Crucifixion and the stunning St. Paul’s conversion):

Caravaggio-The Conversion on the Way to Damascus.jpg
Caravaggio-The Conversion on the Way to Damascus” by CaravaggioWeb Gallery of Art:   Image  Info about artwork. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

And in the church of Sant Agostino, the “Madonna dei Pellegrini”, or Pilgrim’s Madonna. In the same church where is buried the famous courtesan Fiammetta Michaelis, lover of Cesare Borgia. Roma mignotta, saints and sinners, virgins and whores

Michelangelo Caravaggio 001.jpg
Michelangelo Caravaggio 001” by Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio – The Yorck Project: 10.000 Meisterwerke der Malerei. DVD-ROM, 2002. ISBN 3936122202. Distributed by DIRECTMEDIA Publishing GmbH.. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.




Lucas-John and London beauty

lastI was to write another word after “London”, but google would bring quite a few people devoted to some recreational activities that have very little to do with this blog.

I bought the DVD’s of Spooks season 9… Last year. In December 2014, more precisely. The DVDs lingered for months without even opening the plastic wrap; I preferred to watch other things, hear radio dramas and audiobooks, watch the last Hobbit film twice, read a little… Every time I found a good excuse not to see it. I’ve needed about a month to watch it, but finally I did it.

I am glad that Richard Armitage’s career made an incredible quality jump after this, with the exception of something dealing with water, that I have seen… a complete waste of time, never of money (I never consider it when I purchase original dvds, even in that case). As talking of the faults of Spooks season 9 is something quite easy (can we talk about the bullet that kills Maya? The most improbable trajectory in the history of tv and cinema), let’s focus on the positive ones: Richard Armitage’s interpretation (a typical example of what being above the script means) and London, the guest star of the series.

vlcsnap-2015-07-25-20h30m43s227 vlcsnap-2015-07-25-20h31m51s119

Acting in a fishbowl

The Silvano Toti Globe Theatre – Villa Borghese (Rome)

I knew that the first time I would go back to a theatre in Italy after the London experience I shouldn’t make comparisons. As far as the stage experience is concerned, compare Rome to London is like pretending to have the same gastronomic experience in the restaurant round the corner and in a three starred Michelin. Therefore yesterday night I was in Rome’s “Globe” ready to enjoy the show.

As the lights went down (yes, that’s one of the differences with the English Globe, in the Roman one lights go down and groundlings do not stand but sit on the floor) and the first actor appeared I said to myself “oh, no”. There it was, glued on his face… the microphone. I don’t know why here in Italy we must suffer most of times on stage actors inside a fishbowl, whether if it is because they lack the tecnique to reach the audience with their lungs (I doubt it) or if audiences pretend the tv-like audio (most likely). For me it is like watching a film dubbed, and I find it really, really, irritating. I will go back in August to see King Lear, also microphoned, according to these images. I sincerely hope that times of actors playing in a fishbowl will be over soon.


Open letter to a “stultus”

STULTUS (latin): foolish, fatuous, stupid, ill-considered.

This afternoon I was in the subway coming back home. After watching a very beautiful video about a bike trip through the States, I’ve scrolled twitter and I saw a tweet that left me breathless. And pissed me off very, very, very, much. A fellow RA fan posted in her Twitter account a screenshot of season 3 chapter 2 of Hannibal. First I thought that there was something wrong in my glasses when I realised that I was not wearing them. Then, that the beauty of the landscapes that I had just seen in my phone had provoked a weird collateral effect in my mind and I could not focus (literally).

What was what I saw? Botticelli’s Spring censored. The breasts, buttocks and genitals of the female figures, blurred. That image hurts me so much that I will not even post it, enjoy the original:

I will not make an statement about the absurdity to censor the human body in a show dealing with serial killers that eat their victims, my indignation goes beyond that, let’s say, minor incoherence. It’s the gesture that awakens the sans culotte in me.

Dear stultus (I think the latin word is the most appropiate in this case), let me tell you something: your ignorance is so abnormal, huge, gargantuant (go and find a dictionary, you moron), that cannot be summarized in a post, not even in three million. THAT is ART, with capital letters, not porn. I assume that according to your bigotry, documentaries about the Vatican Museums should be broadcasted in the adult channel or at 3 am, or completely blurred from the beginning to the end. You maybe even felt outraged when you saw in tv someone in the East destroying some sculptures. I will tell you something: you are just LIKE THEM.

And now… censor this.

Or this