Rome: Saturday – Part III

The Galleria Borghese. (We got in for two Euros instead of eight, because it was a Cultural Week. Another small blessing.) A brief moment to savor the secular before we went and got thoroughly Church Drunk (The Wife’s term). Photos were not permitted, so I’m going to work from Google images and just hit a few highlights for us. (Not that photos or Google images will do the pieces justice. Seeing the professionally shot postcards in the gift shops just minutes after leaving was enough proof of that. Something to this pilgrimage business – the necessity of presence…)

The Wife very much admired Canova’s Venus, modeled on Pauline Bonaparte Borghese. The first Google image result of any decent size brings up the following caption: “This is the petrified ‘corpse’ of his former mistress that a horrified Soliman encounters in the Borghese Palace in The Kingdom of This World.” For whatever reason, we were not horrified. I was especially taken with the incredible work done on the cushion upon which the lady reclines. So supple were its lines, so seemingly yielding its surface, that it didn’t even register to The Wife as marble until I started in marveling at it. I suppose this makes me a sad, modern soul, sighing over marble made to look like cotton while remaining woefully ignorant of the aesthetic dynamics involved in the piece as a whole (why was Soliman horrified?) But I’ve never pretended otherwise. Here ’tis:

And as long as we’re the subject of my aesthetic barbarism, I should say that my favorite piece was Caravaggio’s St. Jerome:

I tried to prefer other things. I tried not to be a pious pilgrim, unable to delight in good, honest pagan images because I was forever flitting after Jesus and death instead of full-blooded life. I stared goggle-eyed at Bernini’s Apollo and Daphne, and marveled at the fingers of Pluto gripping the thigh of his prize in the sculptor’s The Rape of Prosperina. I pondered the mosaic floors depicting gladiators plying their bloody trade, killing ferocious animals and each other. I wished that the 17th-century (I think) busts of the Caesars had some basis in fact, that I could imagine I was staring into the face of Julius, or Augustus, or Claudius, or even Caligula. I was at first fascinated, and then disturbed, by a black stone relief depicting a bacchanal of plump little children.

But in the end, I was a sucker for Caravaggio’s light, and for the skull on the desk. Over at The Lion and the Cardinal, Daniel Mitsui points to this comment on Caravaggio by Nicholas Poussin, whom Mitsui terms a “perceptive contemporary” of the artist: “I won’t look at it. That man was born to destroy the art of painting. Such a vulgar painting can only be the work of a vulgar man.”

Sigh. I am, it seems, a B-movie Catholic.


  1. I am so enjoying hearing about your trip. Between you and my pastor – whose trip was about simultaneous with yours – I am reassured to know that it’s all there. Should I be able to make my escape…

    (Have you mentioned the feral cats? My oldest daughter went to Rome about 12 years ago and came home with about 1000 pictures of ‘all those cute kitties.’)

  2. Matthew Lickona says

    Thank you, Ellyn. I will admit to a sort of creeping terror that I am becoming tiresome. But I’m not about to stop – this was too grand a thing for me. So it’s a puzzlement.

    I heard that about the cats before I left, but saw only one or two. Lots of dogs, though.

  3. Cubeland Mystic says

    Poussin and Cardoucho are a couple of tossers. You could paint three panels on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel with Superman rescuing Lois Lane and no one would notice for 200 years that something had changed.

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