Ingrid D. Rowland teaches in Rome for the University of Notre Dame’s Rome Global Gateway. A frequent contributor to The New York Review of Books, she is the author of The Culture of the High Renaissance: Ancients and Moderns in Sixteenth-Century Rome and The Scarith of Scornello: A Tale of Renaissance Forgery. She has also published a translation of Vitruvius’ Ten Books of Architecture and a history of Villa Taverna, the US ambassador’s residence in Rome. Her latest book is From Pompeii: The Afterlife of a Roman Town.
For generations, drawing—disegno—had been the activity that best defined Florentine art. Long before they were allowed to apply color, apprentice artists were expected to hone their skills at drawing everything around them, from nature to people to works of art and architecture. Michelangelo’s advice to one member of his workshop was typical: “Draw, Antonio, draw, Antonio, draw and don’t waste time.”
The fortress of Machaerus in the Jordanian desert has stood in ruins ever since the Romans razed it in the year 72. But even in its heyday, Machaerus was nothing more than a grim hilltop fort overlooking the eastern shore of the Dead Sea, its four watchtowers keeping a wary …
The Greek hero Orestes killed his mother to avenge her murder of his father. His crime and its penalties fascinated ancient Greek dramatists as deeply as the myth of Oedipus, and for many of the same reasons. They are stories of families in chaos, but they are also stories of …
The lives of museum objects almost always span cultures, places, and times. On occasion, they stride across entire civilizations, continents, epochs: gigantic movements distilled in some little bit of matter worked by human hands. Like human lives, the histories of artifacts may end too soon, like the Caravaggio paintings incinerated …
Among the ancient world’s most famous bronzes there were images of gods, like the colossal Athena Promachos who guarded the Athenian Acropolis (the glint of her spear could be seen from Cape Sounion, more than fifty kilometers distant), an early work of the great Pheidias, designer and master sculptor of the Parthenon, and the still-larger statue of Apollo known as the Colossus of Rhodes. But bronze, with its warm sheen and its flexibility, lent itself above all to the portrayal of human beings.
What is its greater contribution to humanity at large: Greek theater or double-entry bookkeeping? Aeschylus or Keynes? This summer, in the ancient Greek theater of Syracuse in Sicily, Aeschylus’s The Suppliants, one of the world’s most ancient plays, turned out to be one of the world’s most timely, in the hands of an Italian actor-director who was once an immigrant himself, Moni Ovadia.
Architecture is an art form that often involves inordinately large amounts of other people’s enthusiasm, time, and money. If any one of these resources begins to run out, they all do; the creation of architecture is a balancing act that contends not only with physical forces like stress, resilience, and gravity, but also with psychic forces like confidence, inspiration, and, often enough, sheer persistence.
The world into which Gian Lorenzo Bernini brought his glorious visions was a harsh, violent world—to whose violence he had made his own contribution—but the effect of his work has been to bring people together, not only in his own time and place, but also in our own time.
A show on Pablo Picasso may seem an odd occurrence in Florence, but the exhibition Picasso and Spanish Modernism at Palazzo Strozzi makes a cogent case for its location. After succinctly opening with Picasso in his studio, the exhibition presents the artist in all his infinite variety, spanning more than fifty years, from 1909 to 1963, and various forms of media.
The last person to be hanged as a witch in Boston, Massachusetts, was an Irish laundrywoman named Ann (or perhaps Mary) Glover, put to death on November 16, 1688. A virtual slave who barely spoke any English, a stubborn Catholic in a city of stubborn Puritans, Goody Glover stood accused …
The presence of a woman director at the Old Vic means that women are running the business of theater more actively than they may have in the past. It is not hard to search for one toppling tyranny in Britain, a tyranny that continues to threaten elsewhere around the globe: the tyranny of male over female. Arthur Miller can rest assured that The Crucible is once again speaking at a crisis point in society.
A photograph taken in Argentina in 2007 shows two cardinals, Jorge Mario Bergoglio and Tarcisio Bertone, sitting side by side, although their chairs are on two different levels. Bertone, the Vatican’s Secretary of State, occupies his virtual throne with kingly complacency, with a sporty pair of aviator sunglasses to complement his gold-embroidered miter. Next to him, in Jesuit black under plain white robes, Cardinal Bergoglio, with his iron cross and his horn-rimmed spectacles, looks open-mouthed upon the radiant spectacle.
If El Greco is still an acquired taste for many people, the best place to acquire that taste is in Toledo, the city where his artistry reached its full development, from his luminous, phantasmagoric painting to the solid, surprisingly classical works of sculpture and architecture to which he also put his hand.
The French writer Marcel Brion subtitled his 1960 study of Pompeii and Herculaneum “The Glory and the Grief,” a phrase that captures the enduring mystery of these two ancient Roman towns, both buried by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in AD 79. The explosion itself was a majestic sight, if …
“Titian was a painter of astonishing versatility, a master of landscape, of portraiture, of sacred painting, historical painting, mythology, a magician who could turn a dab of pigment into a flame, a pleat, a thunderbolt, a twinkle in the eye, a Cupid’s wing,” Ingrid Rowland writes in the November 7, 2013 issue of The New York Review. Here she presents a selection of Titian’s paintings with commentary.
As crowds of visitors have been reliving an artificial version of ancient Pompeii at the British Museum, the real Pompeii is suffering visibly from age, climate change, and institutional neglect. Aside from a well-worn path tailored to the compressed itineraries of cruise-ship operators and packaged bus tours, much of the site is inaccessible. Many of the city’s side streets are blocked, as are significant stretches of its main thoroughfare, the Via dell’Abbondanza. At best, a handful of houses are open to visitors. Pompeii is not only the graveyard of an ancient Roman city; it is also, and especially, the graveyard of modern good intentions.
Writing an artist’s biography has never been easy, for one of the most significant elements of any artistic life, the passage of an idea from eye to hand, is virtually indescribable. Furthermore, the pioneer of the form, the sixteenth-century Tuscan painter and architect Giorgio Vasari, struck such a brilliant balance …
Just north of Naples, a smoldering ruin is all that remains of the museum called the City of Science. It was deliberately set on fire during the night between March 4 and 5, and it is not hard to read the message behind its destruction.
In its normal setting on a wall of the Galleria Palatina in the Pitti Palace in Florence, The Vision of Ezekiel, partly by Raphael, partly by Giulio Romano, is one small painting in a multitude of paintings, most of them clamoring loudly for attention: Titian’s Bella and Raphael’s Donna Velata …
Money comes in many colors: greenback dollars, Chinese “redbacks” (which are only figuratively red), euros in a range of pastel shades that might have been drawn straight from the Sistine Chapel ceiling. But for sheer evocative punch, for money that expresses the very Platonic idea of money, it is hard to beat that mighty and ubiquitous Renaissance coin, the Florentine florin.
I first went to Hadrian’s Villa, the incomparably beautiful rural residence of that most cultured of all Roman emperors, in 1967 with my father. I was a teenager for whom the long country road from Rome to the spa town of Tivoli seemed endless, and endlessly mysterious. We climbed over vaults and crept through tunnels, watched the swans and carp navigate the murky green waters of the imperial reflecting pools, drank in the quiet and the breezes that softened the summer heat. If local and regional officials get their way, however, the villa may soon be remembered less for its ancient pleasures than for the stench of modern refuse wafting through its ruins.
There seems to be a nearly universal agreement that the Costa Concordia, the gigantic cruise ship that lies wrecked at an 80 degree angle just off the Tuscan island of Giglio, somehow embodies the very essence of Italy, despite the fact that Aristotle would have recognized its story as a perfect Greek tragedy: a man, no better or worse than most of us, makes a mistake and thereby unleashes a cataclysm, and we look on the resultant disaster with a cathartic mix of pity and fear. But the hubris of captain Francesco Schettino (now under house arrest) has struck many Italians as a distinctively home-grown kind of hubris, and catharsis is not a sensation that anyone can feel when so many souls are still unaccounted for.
In the spring of 1959, a twenty-one-year-old Australian named Robert Hughes made his first visit to Rome. The young student of architecture, as it turned out, had a gift for writing as well as a ravenous, penetrating eye. Though he gained in sophistication, he never lost his initial brashness, and that is why, in the end, he has such an original, persuasive take on the Eternal City. The reasons for Rome’s staying power, Hughes argues, have to do with the city’s eternal embrace of crassness, as intrinsic to Roman grandeur as majesty, beauty, and spiritual transcendence.
On Thursday, my students and I walked along from the Colosseum to the Cathedral of Saint John Lateran in Rome. Two nights later, those same Roman streets became a battleground, as a group of about 1500 black-clad, hooded incognito street fighters succeeded in derailing one of the largest economic protests that has yet been staged in any western country. It had been planned as a huge non-violent demonstration by some 150,000 “Indignati”—outraged Italian citizens—to decry the Berlusconi government’s failure to face the global economic crisis, and it was meant to chime in with similar protests taking place in many other countries. But as the demonstration moved peacefully down toward the Roman Forum, the masked street fighters, both male and female, jumped into action, smashing shop windows, uprooting signs, burning cars, throwing bottles, cobblestones, fire extinguishers and petards, and brutally beating anyone in their way: journalists, peaceful demonstrators, and police.
Isaac Casaubon (1559–1614) was a stern, driven, French-Swiss classicist who may be best known now for having lent his name to the dismal Edward Casaubon of George Eliot’s Middlemarch. Eliot cast her Mr. Casaubon as an obsessive drone who spends his days slogging away at a Key to All Mythologies—as …
Italy, from many standpoints, is in dreadful shape. The news is out and inescapable. People in the rest of the world wonder why, in the face of a stagnant economy and pervasive corruption, the country continues to keep Silvio Berlusconi as its prime minister. The reasons are many, from inertia to resignation to the conviction that at last the man can stew in his own juices—and he certainly looks awful enough to suggest that he is no longer enjoying the position to which he clings with limpet-like tenacity.
The reasons for Italy’s inaction also, however, include a well-founded fear that the left will not be able to do much better. Take, for example, Piero Marrazzo, the former presidente (governor) of Lazio— the region (roughly equivalent to a state in the US) that includes Rome. A member of the Partito Democratico, the largest party of Italy’s center-left, Marrazzo gave an interview on August 15 to journalist Conchita de Gregorio of La Repubblica, addressing the scandal that pushed him out of office two years ago.
In the darkest days of winter, in a moment of deep darkness for my adopted country, Italy, and its garishly painted tyrant, the writings of a Polish poet have kept me company. Zbigniew Herbert died in 1998 at the age of seventy-three; like another compatriot, Karol Wojtyła, he lived through …
Caravaggio novels, as a knowledgeable friend has observed, are not only unrelentingly bad, but bad in the same way (this friend remains nameless in order to avoid the remonstrances of outraged Caravaggio novelists and Derek Jarman). A related case of badness afflicts The Borgias, the new Showtime TV series that bears the name of director Neil Jordan and improbably stars Jeremy Irons as the patriarch of the powerful fifteenth- and sixteenth-century clan. In forty-five-minute doses, The Borgias presents viewers with a veritable banquet of badnesses: the by-definition badness of bodice-ripping costume drama, the badness of the directorial ego-trip, the badness of Low Budget/High Pretensions, the badness of gratuitous violence, and that sovereign badness of not knowing where you want to go because you don’t know where you are in the first place.