Wednesday, January 30, 2013

100 years of Renato Guttuso

Self-portrait, Renato Guttuso, 1975. Collezione Archivi Guttuso, Roma

Hello, lovelies!  I am determined to make up for the dearth of exhibit-themed posts on the blog lately. Hopefully you had a chance to catch Paul Klee in Italy before it closed on Sunday! Another exhibition that won't be around much longer is the Vittoriano's celebration of 100 years of Renato Guttuso, ending 10 February.

I funerali di Togliatti, Renato Guttuso, 1972. Museo d'Arte Moderna di Bologna.

Born near Palermo, Sicily in 1911, Guttuso was greatly infulenced by Socialist Realism but developed his own unique painting style that, late in his career, tended toward Surrealism. He passionately opposed fascism and the mafia, and joined the banned Italian Communist Party in 1940. He considered himself a political painter and his works often expressed his beliefs and positions, for example the above homage to the exiled leader of the communist party, Palmiro Togliatti.

La VucciriaRenato Guttuso, 1974. Università degli Studi di Palermo 

This is my favorite work in the exhibition. It transported me back to my solo visit to Palermo back in 2007, when I spent long days exploring every angle of that rich, fascinating city. One of the best ways to get to know a city is to visit its markets, and historic Vucciria is one of the most colorful, lively and authentic city markets in the country. Vucciria has come to mean 'confusion' in Sicialian dialect, although it originally derived from the French word boucherie or 'butcher shop'. Guttuso's depiction has captured the ordered chaos of this magical place where the flavors and scents of that magnificent island mingle together, mirroring the diversity of its people and its long history.

For visiting information, see my Exhibits on Now page.

All images are provided courtesy of Comunicare Organizzando and may not be reproduced without permission.

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Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Tullus Hostilius: The Hostile Third King of Rome

If I never become known for anything else, at least I can claim the honor of having written the most blog posts about Rome’s second king, Numa Pompilius, than any other blogger in the world. (Not that I’ve ever checked that. I just can’t imagine anyone else––save an actual scholar––coming up with so much to say about him). Now, whether anyone reads these posts is another story. Here’s hoping.

I started my [ahem] weekly history posts a good two years ago, with the legendary founding of Rome by Romulus. Two years later and I’m only up to Rome’s third king. Not very impressive. But it’s quality, not quantity, that matters, am I right?

Tullus Hostilius. Let’s see if we can dissect this guy’s reign with just one post (don’t count on it).

If our old––and by now very close––friend Numa Pompilius was the most religious of all Rome’s kings, and the most peaceful, then Tullus Hostilius was the most aggressive. The most bloodthirsty. The most hostile. Hostile Hostilius! Could that be where the word comes from? Oh, goodness, etymology gets me so excited! With but a moment’s worth of Google-powered research, I see that hostile comes from the Latin hostilis (of an enemy), which in turn comes from hostis (enemy). What do you think, was the word hostile derived from this king’s antagonistic behavior, or did he earn the name because of his behavior?

Actually, as it turns out, the name is at least a few generations older than Tullus. According to Titus Livy, during Rome’s war with the Sabines, Tullus’ grandfather Hostus Hostilius, a friend and comrade of Romulus, valiantly strode into battle ahead of the rest of the army to defend the Roman citadel against the Sabine invaders. (He died of course.) Was this hostile behavior the root of the word, then? We'll probably never know, but whatever the case, it does seem that this affinity for battle rubbed off on his grandson.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, during Rome’s regal period, succession did not necessarily pass from father to son. When pious King Numa finally succumbed, Tullus was elected by the senate and became king in 673 BC and ruled (supposedly) until 642. Although he may not have been the wise, pacific ruler his predecessor was, his skill on the battlefield led to conquests of Fidenae, Veii, and, most famously, Alba Longa (more on that in a later post).

The Victory of Tullus Hostilius over the armes of Veii and Fidenae, Cavalier d'Arpino, 1601. Musée des Beaux Art de Caen.

His successful military campaigns brought glory to the burgeoning backwater that was Rome, increasing its power dramatically. Its territory expanded and its population swelled (as the conquered peoples were absorbed into the Roman populace). Tullus was also credited with building the city's first senate house, the Curia Hostilia in the Roman Forum, (although according to archeological evidence, it was built closer to the year 600 BC, and Tullus died in 642, but let's not squabble over a silly thing like dates).

As in the case of Romulus, bad weather can be blamed for Tullus' unlikely demise. Near the end of his reign, a meteor shower pummeled the city, followed closely by an outbreak of the plague. Livy recounts that these omens were brought about by Tullus' neglect of the religious rites and observances that were so fundamental to the survival of the city. When the King himself caught the plague, he finally saw the light and tried desperately to mend his ways. But it was too late. After botching a sacred ritual to honor Jupiter, he was smitten by a lightening bolt and that was the end of Tullus Hostilius.

But we're not quite done with Rome's bellicose 3rd king yet (what did I tell you?). Tune in next week and I'll regale you with one of the most dramatic and improbable battles in Roman history. If you thought the Roman twins were exciting, wait to you read about the Roman triplets!

What have we covered so far?
Image sources: 1, 2, 3
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Sunday, January 20, 2013

Paul Klee in Italy at the GNAM

Crosses and columns, Paul  Klee, 1931. Modern Art Gallery, Munich.

I realize, dear bloglings, that I have been inexcusably remiss when it comes to posting about Rome's many delicious exhibitions. We Romans (native or otherwise) are incredibly lucky to have so many diverse, world-class exhibits on at any given time. It is truly a challenge to find the time to see them all (and to write about them, I must admit!).

Japanese-American, Paul Klee, 1918. Private collection.
Now, I am not going to pretend that Paul Klee, the Swiss-born German artist whose work was influenced by expressionism, cubism and surrealism, is my favorite artist. In fact, I visited the Paul Klee Museum in Berne in 2008, and I concluded that I had seen more than enough of his art to last me for the rest of my hopefully long life.

Mazzarò, Paul Klee, 1924. San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.

So I will admit that I didn't whoop with joy when I heard that an exhibit of his work was coming to Rome. But I have to give it to him, his works are incredibly diverse and contrasting from one another. You could not possibly be bored by an exhibition of his art. Overwhelmed, perhaps. Bored, no.

Portrait of Mrs. P in the South, Paul Klee, 1924. Peggy Guggenheim Collection, Venice.

This particular exhibit, held at the Galleria Nazionale d'Arte Moderna (GNAM), is titled Paul Klee in Italy. The majority of the works exhibited were inspired by Klee's numerous sojourns in Italy, where he traveled six times between 1901 and 1932. Here are a few highlights from the exhibit. It ends on 27 January 2013, so if you are a fan, do not delay! For opening hours and other info, visit my Exhibits on now page.

The Torso and her family with the full moon, Paul  Klee,  1939. Private collection.

Jester, Paul Klee, 1904. Zurich.

Night party, Paul Klee, 1921. Guggenheim Museum, New York.

With a gas lamp, Paul Klee, 1915. National Gallery of Modern Art, Rome.

All images are provided courtesy of Arthemisia Group and may not be reproduced without permission.
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Saturday, January 12, 2013

My secret Italian dream-job

Perugia, April 2005
I have a secret dream, dear bloglings. A deep, burning desire that comes upon me strongly almost every time I walk down a busy street in Rome, and often when I'm walking down a quiet one.

I want to be a vigilessa. A lady traffic-cop.

Now I don't mean that I actually think that it could happen, or that I would ever go through with such a thing--even if it were possible.

But every time I see someone double- or triple-parked, I long to flip out a ticket pad and write them a big fat multa, right on the spot. Or better yet, get their oversized (and completely unnecessary) SUV towed far, far away. Every time I see some unprincipled maniac swerve to avoid a tottering old lady on the crosswalk, coming perilously close to knocking her to the ground, my blood starts to boil and I wish I had the power to stop them. To make them see that what they are doing is not only a violation but a reckless endangerment of their fellow citizen. Every time I see someone riding in the front passenger seat with a baby in their lap, I want to shout, "You won't take your baby out on a sweltering summer day without a woolen undershirt, but you're fine with letting her fly through a windshield? For shame!" Every time an ambulance is blaring down the street, only to be held up in traffic because no one will pull over to let it pass, I wish I could make them imagine it was someone they loved in that ambulance, in desperate need of a doctor.

I know there are much more terrible atrocities in the world, but what bothers me is that these things are done with such complacence, such indifference, and so often. I see at least one of these things happen every single day. And no one seems to bat an eye; it is so utterly accepted.

How I long to bring these reprobates to justice. How I yearn to show these vile degenerates that there are consequences for their shameless, selfish behavior. How I would delight in their sputtering, indignant outrage at being expected to obey their city's laws, laws that were only designed to protect them and their community, their shock at being make to recognize that their convenience should not come at the cost of another person's safety and peace of mind.

I would write so many tickets I would get carpal tunnel and tendinitis. I would have the tow truck company on speed dial. I would be the nightmare of every double-parking, red-light-running, texting-while-driving, child-endangering person who dared to get behind the wheel of a car. I would inspire terror in every last rione.

But, no. It is not to be. I can do nothing.

Sure, I can glare at them until my eyes are sore. I can throw them a few local gestures so maybe they'll understand. I can even shout obscenities that they'll never hear. A friend of mine will happily testify that I once slammed my hands down on the hood of a car as I was crossing a sidewalk when the driver thought it was okay to inch so close to me that her bumper was actually touching my knees. I might even scribble down a license plate number when I see something truly heinous, but even if I reported it what good would it do?

As I walked from my bus stop back to my apartment yesterday, I witnessed a well-dressed businessman on a scooter with a small boy on the back and a toddler on the front. The toddler had no helmet. Maybe daddy's reasoning is that the smaller the head, the less it will be damaged if it smashes into asphalt. Mere seconds later I saw a man texting with his phone inches from his face as he sped down the street. And as if this wasn't enough to start me seething, the next car that passed had a friendly-looking mother and her little girl standing up in the back seat, leaning through the two front seats to chat with her mom. As I stared wide-eyed at the little girl, I noticed the mother smile at me. She probably thought I was admiring her child. This all happened in less than a minute.

As I turned to walk onto my own street, I could barely make it onto the sidewalk. My street has one of those imaginary sidewalks, where there is no actual curb, nothing to separate the pedestrian from the homicidal drivers but a faded blue line of paint. Nothing to stop those drivers from parking right on the narrow path we pedestrians rely on to avoid getting mowed down. Nothing to stop them from inventing parking spots that don't exist, blocking the end of the sidewalk so that anything thicker than the legs of Kate Moss would never be able to fit through, God forbid a parent with a baby carriage or someone in a wheelchair. Nothing to stop them, when their car won't fit in the parallel parking spot, from parking diagonally, with the nose of their car virtually touching the wall of the building, so that even Kate Moss would have to walk out into the street to get around it. Nothing, that is, except...


I see myself flying in to save the day, with a navy blue cape, white leather gloves, and a white, cone-shaped helmet (see photo above). With a flick of my whip I can yank cell phones out of drivers' hands, disintegrating them with a twinkle of my eye. I blow my whistle and drivers' brakes are instantly hit, so the little old lady can make it safely across the street without having to fear for her life. Any cars parked irresponsibly will be crushed with a single glace. I would have to wear a mask, because the percentage of villains (bad parkers/drivers) in this city is so extremely high, my life would be in constant danger. But I would be brave, and fight traffic crime to my dying breath. I would be the hero of every pedestrian whose only dream is to be able to use a crosswalk without getting crushed, or to open their front door without finding a parked car blocking it. Ah, I can see it all so clearly.

But it'll never happen. Because in Italy, the only thing more important that doing your job...let me rephrase of several things more important than doing your job is looking good while you're doing your job. So in Italy, when traffic cops are not posing for photographs in a sunny square in Perugia (see photo above) they are doing this.

It's lovely. Don't get me wrong. Very picturesque. That's why I took a picture of it. But it doesn't actually accomplish anything. It doesn't make me, a pedestrian, feel any safer.

I have to cross Via Ostiense at least twice a day, and every time I step onto those zebra stripes, I take my life in my hands. Or rather, I put my life into the hands of unscrupulous lunatics who, at best, don't give a damn how close they get to me as long as they manage to swerve around me as quickly as possible, and at worst, figure that even if they do hit me, they'll probably be able to get away, and if not, the consequences won't be too bad. It's not like they'll do jail time, maybe just a little fine.

And that's the root of the problem: no consequences. My staunchly law-abiding Maritino will often grumble about the double-parked cars on a street we often take, as it causes major back-ups because, although it's a two-way street, only one lane of cars at a time can fit down it, due to all the double-parkers. It makes him almost as angry as it makes me. This is when I smugly inform him that if his country's laws were actually ENFORCED, certainly not everybody, but most people would stop breaking them.

But that will never happen, will it?

Italy needs a Super-Vigilessa.... why can't it be me?

All photos by author
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Friday, January 11, 2013

Metaphysics at La Brèche

Passeggiata, Francesco Ferlisi

Just a quick post tonight, before I promise to start posting regularly again. Got to start those New Year's resolutions sometime!

Just wanted to let you all know that selected works of my favorite Rome-based contemporary artist, Francesco Ferlisi, will be on exhibit from tomorrow, 12 January, until the 18th at La Brèche Association with the theme of metaphysics. The opening takes place tomorrow at 6pm, and I highly recommend stopping by if you enjoy exploring the work of local artists. Ferlisi's work is dramatic, colorful, often ironic, and rich with hidden meaning. You can see a few other examples of his work here. Perhaps I'll see you there!

La Brèche Association. Via Virginia, 22 (Metro Furio Camillo).

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