Rome is–and I say this with utmost love and respect for this beautiful city–overwhelming. Just the other evening I went looking for whatever the Italian equivalent to Tums is at the local farmacia, took a wrong turn and ended up in Vatican City. As I stood staring at the impressive white dome, wondering how I had ended up in St. Peter’s Square, I realized this was a reoccurring issue. Multiple times, in pursuit of one landmark, my husband and I have wound up at a completely different piazza or statue, and just decided to accept our wayward providence. This is slightly problematic; neither of us want to become desensitized, but when there are literally monuments on top of shrines on top of ruins, how is anyone without multiple advanced degrees in history, anthropology, Italian literature, and art able to absorb even a fraction of what Rome has to offer?
I am learning to take it in slowly, piece by piece. I’m also finding that the topics brought up in my class, Vision and Rationality, help direct me to specific works that garner a greater appreciation and understanding of the significance of art in Rome. Yesterday’s lesson, a walking visit to Saint Maria sopra Minerva and Saint Ignazio Church, led by Penn State Professor Robert Cessario, was an excellent example of how just analyzing a few critical pieces of art can shed light on Rome’s complex history and culture.
The focus of Prof. Cessario’s lesson was to see how the art depicted in two churches, one of the Renaissance period and one of the Baroque period, was representative of the church’s role in each respective historical setting and the dialectics between each era.
The Carafa Chapel of Santa Maria sopra Minerva depicts the art of Renaissance painter Filipinno Lippi and features religious ideas personified with the human figure. This characterizes an implicit trust in our sense to connect us with the divine. The figure of Mary is depicted as ascending to heaven in a distinctly human body. Unfortunately, photography is forbidden, but you can check out the links provided to see the murals and frescoes of the Carafa Chapel.
Our second stop continued onto S. Ignazio’s Church, which includes work by early Baroque painter Andrea Pozzo. Prof. Cessario had us first examine the painted ceiling, which depicts the heavens as well a faux dome, from the center of the church and then again from further toward the altar. In this example, the viewer becomes aware of the unreliability of Cartesian perspective as they move from the center toward the deeper end of the church. The illusory distortion comments on the Renaissance beliefs; the Baroque period demonstrates the unreliability of our senses. The body is no longer considered a vehicle for understanding.
Notice how the image becomes warped when you move deeper into the church.
This dome is a trompe l’oeil. From the church’s center it appears to be a physical architectural feature, but shifting your perspective will reveal that it’s actually a flat painted surface.
Though I’ve spent a good deal of time looking at art and its influence on literature within my own studies, I tend to shy away from anything prior to the 20th century (total Modernist at heart). My husband, who has a BA in Art History and an MFA in Studio Art, focuses more on 20th and 21st art (total Po-Mo at heart). Both of us found Cessario’s lecture enlightening, engaging, and helped demystify a small, but significant portion of Rome’s cultural history.
After class, as per usual, without the reliance of Google Maps, my husband and I found ourselves lost again. Thankfully, it was one of those perfect tee-shirt weather evenings, so we wandered around Trastevere, Peroni in hand, and then made our way home along the Tiber. I remembered to stop ogling the beauty around me and managed to take a couple pictures.