Dwight Peck's personal website

A return to Italy after too long away

November 2022

You may not find this terribly rewarding unless you're included here, so this is a good time for casual and random browsers to turn back before they get too caught up in the sweep and majesty of the proceedings and can't let go.

We're not based in Europe anymore, and we've struggled through the covid-19 lockdowns like everyone else, so we haven't set foot in Italy since February 2019. Now we're making up for lost time with mad sightseeing, but still missing the cats.

The Galleria Spada in Rome

Our good friends Teny and Joe arrived last evening, and this morning we're off to see the sights (10 November 2022).

That's one thing about Rome: wherever you glance, there are likely to be funny bits on show.

We're crossing the Piazza Farnese seeking out the Galleria Spada, somewhere round here. We have faith that we're going in the right direction.

Here we are at the Piazza Capo di Ferro 13 -- many sources will try to convince you that the address of the gallery is Piazza Capo di Ferro 13, which is why we're here now, but that's either a typo or a cruel joke; all you get at that address is a policeman outside the Consiglio di Stato, or Council of State. What you really want, the nice policeman informed us, is down the Vicolo ('alley') del Polverone, a side entrance in the massive palazzo leading through the central courtyard and up the stairs to the four-room Spada Gallery.

Right down there, under the red sign, across from the gardens. We trembling with anticipation.

So the gallery is housed in a wing of the HQ of the Council of State in part of the Palazzo Capodiferro Spada, which was built from 1549 onwards for Cardinal Capodiferro and bought and enlarged by Cardinal Bernardino Spada (1594-1661) in 1632. The collections are built around the acquistions of this worthy prelate [that's him, in a portrait by Guido Reni, 1631 or so], but with additions by a bunch of other 17th century Spadas, including at least one other Cardinal.

The State acquired the palace and its art collection in 1926, and the art presently resides in the same four rooms as in the 17th century. It features, not only the portraits of the good Cardinal by Guido Reni and Guercino, but other works as well, by Titian, Artemisia Gentileschi and her dad Orazio, Lavinia Fontana, northerners like Jan Brueghel the Elder, and, along with a great many artists that some of us have never heard of, a distinguished list of notables and semi-notables, like Rubens, Annibale Carracci, one of the Bassano boys (Leandro), Jacopo Tintoretto's son Domenico, Albrecht Dürer's brother Hans, and 'School of Parmigianino', as well as Caravaggio and many of the 'Caravaggisti', the 17th century Mannerist painters who were his less well-known stylistic followers in the early 17th century.

That David with Goliath's head, for example, is attributed to Giovanni Domenico Cerrini of Perugia. The image is not very clear, and . . .

. . the problem for us today can be explained -- with as many as two hundred 16th and 17th century paintings, as well as an enormous amount of sculptures (like a bit of Bernini and a Borromini in the garden), period furniture, and things like early terrestrial globes, all wedged into four rooms, there's not much space to spread out in.

(That's Saint Cecilia, by the way, patroness of musicians, by Artemisia Gentileschi, done sometime in the 1610s -- one of the few photographs that have turned out to be recognizable for us.)

The result is that the paintings have been huddled close together straight up the walls and well out of the range of our aging Canon PowerShot, which is well past its best years, especially in 'No Flash' mode. Many or even most of the pictures are well worth appreciating, if you can get close enough or find the right angle -- no regrets -- but photographically speaking, the visit was a grand disappointment.

Nonetheless, we do have to include this one, because it's thought to be by Lavinia Fontana, 'Portrait of a Gentlewoman' (no kidding), from 1577-1579. Lavinia is said to have been the first female artist in the open art market, a generation prior to Artemisia Gentileschi. (Her dad, Prospero Fontana, is here, too.)

Cardinal Spada certainly had eclectic tastes, especially . . .

. . . in little kids, and . . .

. . . especially little boys. (That piece is described as Roman from the 2nd century AD.)

A 15th century Madonna and Child, attributed to 'Umbria Painter'

We'll progress to one of the gardens now, and get a view of . . .

. . . 'Borromini's Perspective', otherwise known as Borromini's Colonnade or 'the Perspective Gallery'. Commissioned by Cardinal Bernardino Spada in 1653, the artist consulted with a priest mathematician for the calculations to create the converging planes that make this illusion of a 'grand colonnade', which is actually only nine metres long. The imposing Warrior statue at the 'far end' is less than one metre tall.

The guide who explained to us how this works (and asked not be photographed demonstrating it) walked slowly to the statue at the end and pretty much towered over it.

Looking for a good place for lunch

And passing through the Campo de' Fiori again

Yum. Organic?

To musical accompaniment, with . . .

. . . Mr Bruno watching over it all

A lingering lunch in Ai Balestrari ('since 1862, typical Roman cuisine'), at Via dei Balestrari 41, next to the Campo de' Fiori.

[The Balestrari, or Balestrieri, were medieval crossbowmen, and maybe this was their neighborhood in Rome back in the day. The Balestrieri genovesi were a famous & expensive mercenary troop of crossbowmen, organized by Genoa's military captains but with members from all over NW Italy, that was hired by European armies from the Crusades of the 11th century to the domination of firearms in the late 15th.] One can recommend this establishment in any case, and we saw no crossbows here.

Back to the Palazzo Donarelli for a wee nap.

Next up: Santa Maria in Ara Coeli and the Palazzo Venezia museum

Feedback and suggestions are welcome if positive, resented if negative, . All rights reserved, all wrongs avenged. Posted 30 December 2022.

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