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narrativa e di portafoglio

narrative and portfolio of Ian Siegel

It’s late and sleep sounds great right now—the past two days have been long and tiring. I’ll try to sum up highlights briefly, since it’s 3am right now and I’m just starting.

I just finished stitching together a sweet panoramic photo of the skyline, taken from the Villa Medici two days ago:

Yesterday (Monday) morning I finally got around to buying shaving cream and razors, I wandered some of the streets around the hotel until I found a pharmacy. It shouldn’t be, but when you find yourself in an unfamiliar city on the wrong side of the language barrier, mundane tasks like that feel like accomplishments.

A barbarian is “one who does not understand.” I suppose I’m less barbaric than I was a few days ago.

A tourist, however, is somebody who visited Piazza del Popolo (again), Piazza Navona, the Pantheon, Monument of Vittorio Emanuele, the Column of Trajan, the Campidoglio (!!!), Palazzo delle Esposizioni, the Quirinale, and Fontana di Trevi all in a day.

Before I forget, I’d like to make a correction to my last post—I wrote that in the Piazza del Popolo are two identical churches which stand on opposite sides of the street. They’re not identical, but they’re definitely close. If you look closely, the one on the left is visibly wider than the one on the right.

After a series of major streets were cut into the existing urban fabric in order to connect key public spaces in the city together, these churches were designed to ease the effects this change had on the Piazza—one of the streets enters the Piazza almost on axis and centered on what had once been the north entrance to the city (a gate designed by Michelangelo, with which I started to fall a little bit in love while sketching it from across the street), but the second street is clearly off-axis. These almost-mirror-image churches shift focus back toward the axis extremely well, and are slightly different just because they deal with slightly different site conditions created by the streets and their relation to the axis across the Piazza.

I liked that Piazza Navona contained both a church (San Agnese di Agone) by Bernini and a dramatic fountain sculpture at the base of an obelisk by his arch rival Borromini—the two works were probably 30 feet from one another. I don’t know which was built first, probably San Agnese, but I wonder how it feels to watch your enemy build his design at your front door.

The Pantheon was breathtaking…I was with a small group when we went to visit it and one of them stopped at the side street RIGHT before the piazza to exchange currency. Eager to see it I said I’d be right back, I’m just going to make sure we’re where we think we are. Alone I walked to the end of the street to find myself in front of the only ancient Roman temple built to honor all of the gods. Yep, we’re in the right place. Half of the front was obscured by scaffolding, I guess they were doing preservation work, but the beautiful soaring space of the interior made up for it. I probably took close to fifty photos but I’m sure even the best ones can’t do that space justice.

Detail in the Pantheon -- the space was so large it would never fit inside a photo frame. Details were the next best option

The concrete--not stone, concrete--dome and oculus of the Pantheon. Aside from making the dome beautiful, the rectangular recessions in the dome reduce the weight of the concrete. Those ancient Romans sure knew what they were doing.

From there we made our way over to the Campidoglio, which is one of the things I had been looking forward to seeing the most because of the simple genius behind its master plan. Just by building one building that mirrors an existing one, and a sort of face-lift façade redesign, Michelangelo turned the capitol building of ancient Rome to face the new, modern city toward the river and the Vatican; rather than the ruins of the ancient city. It’s so simple, but makes so much sense…beautiful. I had expected it to be a lot larger than it was; closer in size to Piazza Navona. Nonetheless, it was surreal just being there.

Michelangelo's Campidoglio

Saw a lot of churches yesterday too, they were all pretty sweet. I especially liked Bernini’s San Andrea al Quirinale, a church that was oval in plan, mostly because of the application of sweeping curves to classical elements. Bernini tended to “modernize” classical architectural orders mostly by bending them into ellipses and curves while still preserving the integrity of the orders themselves, as opposed to other architects of the time (including his rival, Borromini) who would collage or hybridize classical orders.

Rereading the previous paragraph, I find myself somewhat amazed at how little that means to anybody who doesn’t study architecture.

Today we visited two villas in the countryside north of Rome with some really cool gardens and fountains.

Hillside town of Caprarola

The interiors of Villa Farnese consisted of frescoes on almost every wall and ceiling surface, which kind of blew my mind to think about how much labor went into it—frescoes are different from painting in that in a fresco, pigment is painted onto a plaster surface while the plaster is still wet and setting, and as it dries the pigment is absorbed into the plaster like water a sponge. It seems like a stressful job; you only have one shot and a limited time to cover the surface. While I could certainly appreciate the sheer quantity of frescoes that covered the walls and ceilings of this villa, they frankly didn’t impress me as much as most of the other things I have seen, for two main reasons. From an architectural standpoint, it’s just surface—sometimes columns or classical orders were painted onto the walls among scenes depicting members of the house’s affluent family of owners, but the form of the room itself was often a simple rectangle. Occasionally a ceiling would vault or something, but for the most part, it was all about the flat surface of the fresco—and after a couple of frescoes, they all kind of start to look the same.

Something to think on: we frequently think of the past as “behind us” and the future “before us.” However, tonight at a lecture by Stalker, a group of urban design/artists, the lecturer mentioned that we can consider the past as in front of us because we know it best, as if it is all laid out on a table before us to refer to and look upon. The future is to our back because we cannot see it, it is unknown.

I’ve never thought of it like that…does that mean that I’ve been going through life backwards?

It’s 4:20 now. So much for making it quick. Photos coming soon, buonanotte


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