A recent series of lectures on the Renaissance and the Baroque sent me back to the art books again and connections to travel in Italy, transformative encounters with a slew of great artists and masterpieces, travel notebooks a storehouse of references, finding old photos to retrace the experience.
Arrived in Brindisi from Greece, part of my first trip overseas, a ten week trip around Europe in the northern Spring 1980. Caught a late evening over night train to Rome. Next day walked around, the Forum, Colosseum, Piazza Vanessa, the Pantheon sun shining brilliantly into the huge dome, Piazza della Rotonda, Trevi Fountain, everything shut between 1-4 pm for lunch and siesta, very civilised back then, then onto Via Veneto and later tour of Rome by night with some locals, best way to escape tourist hordes. St Peters Square at 2 am and a full moon, the Orange Garden overlooking the Tiber, magic. The next day the Vatican, and Sistine Chapel. Apparently Michelangelo insisted he was a sculptor not a painter and took on the commission begrudgingly1 but “in the final work, that would take four years, encompassed over 300 figures.” The Vatican Museum so overwhelming had to give up and move on. Then in the following days onto the National Museum, Basicilica of Santa Maria deli Angeli, Baths of Diocletian, Villa Borghese, Piazza del Popolo, Piazza di Spagna, Piazza Navona, Piazza Barberini, Cemetery of the Capuchins with elaborate artwork made from monks’ skeletons, weird but with artistic flare and flair.
Train from Rome to Florence, three and half hours through the countryside in Spring, vineyards, snow on the mountain peaks, brilliant green. Florence packed with people and nowhere to stay, spent most of the night at the railway station along with hundreds of other travellers, people in sleeping bags, playing cards, harmonicas, even a banjo, it was a long night. Luckily found lodgings early the next day, then onto Pointe Vecchio, Pitti Palace. The Florence Cathedral overpowering, almost oppressively ornate, onto Galleria dell’Accademia and Michelangelo’s David and the Prisoners, the Uffizi, Academic Di Belle Arti, Piazza St Croce.
Next day train to Pisa and the Leaning Tower. Back then you could walk up the very worn marble stairs to the top with a view of the snow capped mountains. From there caught the train to Nice. In some ways it was a relief to escape the high art theatricality, celestial geometry, the swirling swooning vortices of saints, angels, putti, and the damned, an overload of masterpieces. Returned to Italy by train via Vienna in May. Arrived in Trieste, in the far north-east, and then train to Venice and the obligatory ferry ride down the main canal and onto Piazza St Marco, but, as always the place was overrun with tourists. After the onslaught of Renaissance art in Rome and Florence, it was a relief to find the explosion of modern art at the Guggenheim Gallery. Peggy Guggenheim had a colourful personal reputation and major achievements, she was a “visionary, art patron, collector, philanthropist, had a crucial role in the careers of Robert Motherwell, Jackson Pollack, Mark Rothko, and Clifford Still. The collection embraces all major movements since 1910 including Dada, Suprematist, Cubist, Surrealist and Picasso, Kandinsky, Klee, and sculpture by Brancusi, Archipenko, Calder. Giacometti, Arp, Henry Moore”2 among many others (the website has the full list of works). It was an introduction and major educational experience in modern art all wrapped up in one gallery. After that art blast, a break via a day trip to Murano and huge range of handmade glass ware. Then travelled onwards down the Adriatic Coast to Ravenna, where our room was opposite an amusement park so caught the train to Bari the next day. It was pouring with rain so kept moving, to Brindisi to catch the ship to Corfu. Returned to Rome in September 1983, strolled around and revisited the major sites, including on my last day a trip to Capitoline Hill, and then it was Arrivederci, Roma.
Memories of Time and Place
Cemetery of the Capuchins, 2nd Chapel, Rome (postcard copy), 5/4/1980
View from the bell tower, Pisa, 10/4/1980
Spanish Steps, Rome, 16/9/1983
Trevi Fountain, Rome, 16/9/1983
Piazza Navona, Rome, 17/9/1983
Piazza Navona, Rome, 17/9/1983
Bridge of Angels, Rome, 17/9/1983
The Vatican, Rome, 17/9/1983
Colosseum, Rome, 18/9/1983
St Peters in the Field, Rome, 18/9/1983
The Forum, Rome, 18/9/1983
Villa Borghese, Rome, 18/9/1983
Leonardo da Vinci, Annunciation, c1472
Leonardo da Vinci, Annunciation (detail), c1472
Michelangelo, The Libyan Sibyl, Sistine Chapel, 1511
Francesco Mazzuola, called Parmigianino, Women Carrying Baskets and Amphorae, c1530, Janos Scholz Collection
Parmigianino, Profile di donna, Uffizi
Titian, Landscape with St. Theodore Overcoming the Dragon, ca. 1550s
Giovanni Francesco Barbieri, called Il Guercino, Landscape with Volcano, ca. 1635-40
Claude Lorrain – drawings and paintings of the Roman Campagna (the countryside around Rome)3.
Canaletto – Venice became a ‘pictorial genre’, he surveyed the city to create memory of place, for the British grand tourists (starting arriving around 1726)4
Turner made several trips Italy, including Venice first trip in 1819, second in 1833
Turner, Venice: San Giorgio Maggiore – Early Morning, 1819
Turner, Venice, a Storm, 1840
Italian Futurists – light, movement and speed.
The Guggenheim Collection, Venice
George Braque, The Clarinet (La Clarinette), 1912
Marcel Duchamp, Nude (Study), Sad Young Man on a Train, 1911
Vasily Kandinsky, Landscape with Red Spots, No. 2, 1913
El Lissitzky, Untitled, ca. 1919–20
Giorgio de Chirico, The Red Tower, 1913
Kurt Schwitters, Merz Drawing 75, 1920
Joan Miró, Seated Woman II, 1939
Henry Moore, Three Standing Figures, 1953
Jackson Pollock, Eyes in the Heat, 1946
Robert Motherwell, Personage (Autoportrait), 1943
Arshile Gorky, Untitled, 1944
- A window on to heaven: Optical illusions and allusions in Baroque Rome (Speaker: Steven Miller, Head of the Archive and Research Library), 30 May 2018
Geometry and Light in San Carlo alle quattro Fontane (Speaker: Michael Hill, National Art School), 11 April 2018
- 1 Sistine Secrets: Michelangelo’s Torment and Triumph (Speaker: Lorraine Kypiotis), 4 April 2018
- Rebirth in Caravaggio’s Conversion of St Paul (Speaker: Michael Hill, National Art School), 21 March 2018
- Clues, Hidden Symbolism, and Early Renaissance Art (Speaker: Anne Dunlop, Herald Chair of Fine Arts, University of Melbourne), 14 March 2018
- Not just a pretty picture: understanding gesture in Renaissance Madonnas (Speaker: Louise Marshall, Art History, The University of Sydney), 28 February 2018
- Balancing the (heavenly) books: Giotto’s Arena Chapel (Speaker: Louise Marshall, Art History, University of Sydney), 14 February 2018
- 4Canaletto (speaker A/Professor David R Marshall), 22 February 2017
- 3Claude Lorrain (speaker Dr Lisa Beaven), 15 February 2017 – Drawings and paintings of the Roman Campagna (the countryside around Rome).
2The Peggy Guggenheim Collection Venice, Catalogue, July 1979
Italian Master Drawings 1350-1800 from the Janos Scholz Collection, Janos Scholz, 1976
Leonardo da Vinci, Bruno Santi, 1975
Leonardo The Artist and the Non-Artist, Cecil Gould, 1975
Turner, Michael Lloyd, NGA, 1996
150 Masterpieces of Drawing, Anthony Toney, 1963
How the Italian Futurists shaped the aesthetics of modernity in the 20th century, The Conversation, Selena Daly, 3 March 2017