Rome’s Palazzo Valentini, off of Piazza Venezia, was originally built starting in 1585. Throughout the centuries it was a residence, a library, a theater and eventually the seat of the Provincia di Roma. More recently, excavations under the palazzo have revealed various Roman “domus” or noble residences which have been turned into a “multimedia museum.” Visitors follow a set path and virtual reconstructions and videos recreate the past. At the end of the tour is an exhibition on the area around Trajan’s column and a video gives a close up view of the column and explains the story that is told in its bas-reliefs. The whole visit takes about an hour and is truly fascinating: technology aids the imagination in bringing the past to life.
Piero della Francesca (ca. 1416 – 1492) has long been one of my favorite artists, one whose works I’ve gone out of my way to view. (Finding the Madonna del Parto – a pregnant madonna – in the Tuscan village of Monterchi is not simple.) Piero was from San Sepolcro, on the Umbrian border of Tuscany. While he spent some time in Florence and worked in many cities in central Italy, San Sepolcro was always his home. He is probably best known for his frescoes in the Franciscan church in Arezzo but he also painted portraits and altarpieces. His works span a good part of the fifteenth century and his backgrounds evolve from flat gold to detailed scenery and clever use of foreshortening for perspective. There is a luminous quality to his art, a particular stillness that seems to highlight emotions and even, paradoxically, action. Last year the Frick, which includes four Piero works in its collection, had an exhibition with paintings Piero made in San Sepolcro, mostly panels from the San’Agostino altarpiece. Now, at the Met Museum, there is a small exhibit (four paintings) called Piero della Francesca Personal Encounters. Two paintings are devoted to Saint Jerome and two are Madonna and child. You can get very close to the paintings and it’s fascinating to see the detail in background landscape (reflections in water, shadows) and Piero’s use of light. There is a calm and apparent simplicity in these works that, for me, confirms Piero as one of the more moving painters of the early Renaissance.
Francine Prose writes about three quiet – and very different – Roman museums in an article in the New York Times’ travel section. Of the three, the most likely to have a few other visitors is the Galleria Doria Pamphilj on Via del Corso. It is housed in the family’s palazzo and gathers, in a baroque and sumptuous setting, paintings from the Pamphilij collections, including a very familiar Velazquez portrait of Pope Innocent X. Prose points out that even though the collection contains works by masters such as Caravaggio and Titian, one can discover many other artists with whom one is less familiar. Prose goes on to describe the strange and empty Museo delle Anime del Purgatorio in the church of Sacro Cuore which she finds affecting and powerful. Her final stop, in this article is at the Centrale Montemartini. It’s an old electrical power station from the early 20th century which now houses an amazing collection of Greek and Roman statues and mosaics. It’s an Art Deco industrial space with much of its original interior preserved and its juxtaposition with the ancient art is truly brilliant. As a bonus, it really is one place, that even at the height of the summer tourist season, is cool and where one is likely to be almost alone.
The Uffizi Gallery in Florence is presenting a special Valentine’s Day tour, available by reservation, that will also be repeated on February 16th. A brief article in Corriere della Sera explains that the tour presents art works dedicated to the theme of love. Included are Botticelli’s “Birth of Venus,” various portraits of Medicis and the sculpture of Eros and Psyche. Strangely, so is Artemisia Gentileschi’s extremely gruesome depiction of Judith beheading Holofernes: while hardly romantic, this is supposed to highlight the possible violent side of love. Hmm…