Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Siena, Rome and Everything in Between

Steve and I have been back in Dallas as of late Saturday night, but I am just now getting over the jet-lag and attempting to catch up on things. I have one last post to share about our wonderful trip before I move on to other things. Thank you everyone for your comments and support - I took so many of you on this trip with me in my heart. :-)

On June 6 (Monday), we left Florence in our rental car and made the short but scenic drive south to Siena. This beautiful hilltown seems preserved in time. In fact, it hasn't changed much since the Renaissance, when it was controlled by the Strozzi family, which was constantly at war with its neighboring city of Florence under the Medicis. The emblem of Siena can be found in sculptures, reliefs, and images all over the city, and depicts the she-wolf suckling infant brothers Romulus and Remus, the legendary founders of Rome.

Steve and I stayed outside the city, hoping for some beautiful drives around Tuscany and the Chianti region over the next few days. Our first day in Siena was gorgeous and we had a lot of fun exploring the city and walking down every single street (it's not hard to do, as long as you can handle hills!).

The famous Duomo, completed in the 13th century. One of the most distinctive things about this cathedral is its white and greenish-black marble stripes.

A gorgeous view of the city and city walls.

Steve and I with a view of the streets and tower of the Piazza del Campo behind us.

Tuscany and the Chianti wine country were absolutely breathtaking, but after our first day there, I was disheartened somewhat by the cloudy and unpredictable weather, so I didn't really get a chance to paint. You know that what that means... I'll just have to come back. :-)

Here was a happy sight, as we left Siena and were on our way to Rome: acres and acres of sunflowers!

In order to return our rental car, we had to drive it into the heart of Rome to the central train station. For future reference, we will plan on finding a way to AVOID driving in Rome! After that experience, Dallas traffic looks like a cakewalk. I was so proud of my husband as he navigated the crazy streets without denting the car or running over one of the many mopeds and cyclists that zipped in and out of traffic on their way to the front of the pack. Whew!

Once we had returned our car, we took a cab to our hotel. We stayed at the Hotel Abruzzi, which was right across the square from the Pantheon. As soon as we arrived, I flung open the shudders and the view took my breath away. From our room on the third story, I could look down upon all the foot traffic and honking taxis alike as they passed through the square or loitered near the fountain. And of course, the magnificent building itself stood before me in all of its ancient glory, its dome, cornices and triangular pediment casting blue shadows in the early evening sun. Without unpacking, I whipped out my paint box and got to work.

I ended up working on this painting for two evenings in a row, but will probably have to finish it in my studio if I want the architecture to look more true to life. Still, it was exhilerating to have such a famous building at my disposal.

The rest of our time in Rome consisted of an excellent guided tour of the Vatican, Vatican Museums, and Sistene Chapel (which I had seen once before and nearly cried when I saw it!), long walks around ancient Rome (the Coliseum and Forum, among other historical sites), and hunting down Michelangelo sculptures, Bernini sculptures and fountains, and Caravaggio paintings scattered throughout the city. We walked nearly eleven miles on Friday alone! With so much to see, it seemed impossible to do Rome in just two and a half days, but Steve and I felt pretty good about what we accomplished. Here are some pictures to show for it:

Our view of the Vatican on our way there, the morning of our tour.

A tapestry of the resurrected Christ that displays an optical illusion similar to that of the Mona Lisa, where the eyes follow you as you move around the piece. In this piece it's meaningful because Christ is watching over us always - in our past, present, and future.

Details from Raphael's "School of Athens" fresco. Pictured above is Euclid.

Raphael did this enormous commission while still a young man. He included a self-portrait in the fresco; he is the second to the right, making eye contact with the viewer.

Our tour guide asked the group, "Have any of you been to Milan?" I nodded my head. He then asked, "Have you been to the Pinoteca Ambrosiana?" I nodded again (I had just been there!). He then said, "So you know about the drawing that's there that is of great importance to this painting..." he then asked me to relate to the rest of the group about the full-sized cartoon, or preparatory sketch, that I had seen of Raphael's "School of Athens." I happily complied and would have prattled on about it had he not cut me off for the sake of time. But from then on till the end of the tour, he called me his "assistant" or the "art historian," which pretty much made my day. Moments like this, ever so rare, help me feel like all of my nerdy studies in art history have not been in vain!

A larger shot of "The School of Athens (above)." I mentioned the cartoon for this drawing in a previous blog post, but failed to post a picture. As you can see, the central figure in the foreground (the man leaning on a short pedestal), is not in the drawing (below). Raphael added him later, and painted him as Heroclitus in the form of Michelangelo, a contemporary Renaissance artist whom he had recently come to admire.

There was much to see on our tour of the Vatican and Vatican museums, and sadly I wasn't allowed to take pictures of the Sistine Chapel, but that was definitely the highlight. Second to that was being able to view Michelangelo's "Pieta," one of his earlier works and the only work he ever signed.

Here we are in front of the Spanish steps, an enormous set of stairs built in the 1700s to link a church to a piazza in a way that would be both functional and pleasing, while dealing with the enormous geographical slope that separated the two. The steps have become an icon in Rome, as well as one of the top tourist attractions. We happened to miss the "peak" season, when the azalias all around are in full-bloom.

Coffee at a local caffe.

A view of the Roman Forum.

Our last day in Rome. Not only did we walk nearly eleven miles, but I also got a two-hour painting session in, while sitting under the blazing sun. I think this little study of the Coliseum is one of my strongest though.

Here's the view from my perch.

And with the finished painting.

More ruins. I'm fascinated by them, and I know many artists before me have found inspiration among the ruins of Rome. I guess it reminds us of our own finiteness and the fact that no culture, country, or empire -- no matter how great -- will last forever.

One of the Bernini sculptures we hunted down. Bernini's Baroque style, alive with movement and energy, was highly sought after in Rome. This sculpture, "Ecstasy of St. Theresa," is located at the Church of Santa Maria Della Vittoria. The statue is famous for its vivid and sensual representation of St. Theresa's account of being visited by a seraph: "I saw in his hand a long spear of gold, and at the iron's point there seemed to be a little fire. He appeared to me to be thrusting it at times into my heart, and to pierce my very entrails; when he drew it out, he seemed to draw them out also, and to leave me all on fire with a great love of God. The pain was so great, that it made me moan; and yet so surpassing was the sweetness of this excessive pain, that I could not wish to be rid of it..."

We also saw this sculpture of Moses, by Michelangelo. Housed in the Church of San Pietro in Vicoli, the sculpture was the only one fully completed for the commission of the tomb of Pope Julius II, and depicts Moses with "horns," due to the Latin Vulgate translation of the passage in Exodus. The passage describes Moses as having come down from the mountain, after receiving the Ten Commandments, with his face "horned from the conversation with the Lord." The Greek translation says this (and I believe this is the more conventional translation!): "Moses knew not that the appearance of the skin of his face was glorified."

There is so much more I could share, but I must get going. In the mean time, here is a picture we took at our dinner table, on our last night in Rome before heading home. I hope to post many more pictures on Facebook, and eventually have better pictures of all the paintings I completed on this trip. All in all, I did 16 oil paintings, averaging 1/2-hour to 2-hours apiece. I learned so much, and had a wonderful time. I hope that every artist gets an experience (or MANY) like this to explore their media, see the world, and fall more in love with what they do.


1 comment:

  1. I loved this post :) It reminded me of the brief but wonderful time I got to spend in Europe a few years ago. I look forward to seeing your works! This also inspired me to dig out some of my photos from my trip and maybe revisit them :)


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