Atlantis Alumni

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Rome: Day Three

Dan prepares to enjoy the famous chocolate tartufo at the restaurant Tre Scalini located at the Piazza Navona

View of the Roman Forum from the Capitoline heights

The main altar in St. Peter's basilica...St. Peter is believed to have been buried below.

St. Peter's Basilica

Thursday morning we slept in—a well deserved rest—and then headed out to the largest Christian church in the world, St. Peter’s Basilica. Though originally designed by Bramante in the 16th century, the Pope’s main church was later modified by many others, including della Porta, Vignola and Michelangelo, who crowned the great edifice with his magnificent dome. The spectacular interior includes such impressive sights as the Baldacchino of Bernini, over the high altar, and Michelangelo’s famed “Pieta,” one of his earliest sculptural masterpieces. Unfortunately, due to the maniacs who have tried to damage the marble statue, it is now located far from spectators behind plastic screens.

After leaving San Pietro, we took a cab to the Capitoline, or Capitol Hill where the 16th century Palace that houses the mayor is located. This building, and two others, were designed by Michelangelo at the request of one of the Renaissance popes. The unity of the three buildings is beautifully matched by the pavement stones and gigantic stairs, also planned by the great Renaissance master. Inside of the Capitoline Museum are such treasures as Caravaggio’s sensual “St. John the Baptist”, a Titian “Baptism of Christ” and many ancient Roman statues. They include the gigantic equestrian statue of Marcus Aurelius in bronze, the small bronze of the Spinario (a boy removing a thorn from his foot), the bronze she-wolf nurturing Romulus and Remus (the legendary founders of the city) and the gigantic head of the first Christian Emperor, Constantine.

Before lunch we visited the French church in Rome, San Luigi dei Francesi (St. Louis of the French.) It features a lavish Baroque interior, but its crowning glory are the three paintings that made Caravaggio a famous artist in Rome. The great inventor of the Baroque style of dramatic painting created three masterpieces on the life of St. Matthew for the Contarelli Chapel. Most famous is “The Calling of St. Matthew” which quotes a pose of Michelangelo, and combines realistic and mystical spaces and figures within the same masterpiece. Being the eternal innovator, Caravaggio made his St. Matthew a believable tax-collector, as he was before he became an Apostle. And in the painting, he is surrounded by young men and other tax collectors dressed in clothing from the time of Caravaggio’s 1601 Rome. Opposite these figures are Christ and St. Peter, dressed in ancient Roman togas. They seem on one level, to appear from another world, and Christ stretches his hand to call Matthew into his next life. A strong use of light and dark, or chiaroscuro, highlights all the figures and an extremely dramatic diagonal thrust of light from an unseen window. It’s an unforgettable masterpiece, a painting to rival those of Michelangelo and Raphael. The other two paintings in the series show other scenes from the life of St. Matthew. In one he is seen writing his gospels, inspired by a curvilinear angel. In the third painting Caravaggio depicts the martyrdom of the saint, when all the prisoners surrounding the apostle are astonished by an angel bearing his reward, a palm frond symbolizing martyrdom.

As a reward for traipsing through the hot streets of Rome, we treated ourselves to a lavish lunch at the Tre Scalini Restaurant in the Piazza Navona. We had just visited Borromini’s elegant church of St. Agnes, and we dined on crustaceans, various pastas, grilled fish, a white Sicilian wine and the restaurant’s signature offering, the tartufo. The tartufo is a rich chocolate ice-cream concoction filled with chunks of dark chocolate and cherries, topped by fresh whipped cream. You might wonder why we weren’t counting the calories, but after all our walking for the past three days, didn’t we need to replenish our tummies and tired feet? Ah well, such is the life of tourists in Roma.

- Dan

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