Everyone falls in love with Rome. Lord Byron, the most eccentric and romantic English poet said, “When falls the Coliseum, Rome shall fall; and when Rome falls – the World”. There is no argument. Rome is the most beautiful city in the world. The view from my room at the Hassler hotel on Monday evening with the first quarter of the rising moon is a moment in the history of my memories.
At a private visit to the Giacometti exhibition now at the Villa Borghese, another amazing sunset. The gardens here have an endless view to an infinity of beauty. The Gardens were started in1605 when Cardinal Scipione Borghese conceived the idea to turn his vineyards into the largest garden ever built in Rome since Antiquity. The house was his country house then at the edge of Rome, and inside the “villa suburbana” he kept his art collection that over time grew to include Bernini’s David and Daphne, and many other masterpieces, Caravaggio, Raffaello…
I am always a tourist in Rome. Every time I am here, I see things I had never seen, as though I had never been here before. The villa Farnesina, built in 1510 for the Chigi family as a country villa outside of Rome is considered one of the most harmonious villas of the Italian Renaissance. With ceiling frescoes by Raphaello and his workshop, The Marriage of Cupid and Psyche with dancing graces scattering flowers over the wedding table is breathtaking. The use of perspective, new to art, is seen in the “imitation” loggias on the walls of the ground floor. The illusion of space is seen throughout the renaissance and always fascinating to study.
To walk into the room of the painted summer garden of the Villa di Livia is like walking into Arcadia – every detail so real and perfect that we know it is a dream. The illusionistic fresco of a garden with birds, fruits, flowers and plants, now safely housed at the beautiful Palazzo Massimo museum, was found underground and was probably a summer dining room – triclinium – of the wife of Emperor Augustus. She brought this villa as her dowry when she married Augustus.
I simply cannot help myself. I always look at clothes, jewels, shoes, adornments on the statues and in paintings of antiquity. My great joy is to see flat shoes. Women could do everything – seduce, charm, betray, become empresses, always in flat sensual elegant shoes. And Ancient Roman sandals – sandalia – made of soft leather laced and strapped are the most beautiful.
Julia Flavia, the only child of the Roman Emperor Titus, was raised by him. Women were considered, and looked for, advantageous marriages to secure power and money. Her grandfather, the Emperor Vespasian, had offered Julia to his other son, Domitian as wife, but Domitian refused and married someone else, as did Julia. But after the death of Julia’s husband, and his brother Titus, the two became lovers even though Domitian was still married. At their deaths, it is said that Julia’s old nurse took her ashes and mingled them with his. Love or money? perhaps some of both, this was Imperial Rome.
Did Romans keep cats in their houses? Looking at this Pompeian mosaics, yes. Here two “Xenia”, a present of hospitality. There were many rituals of hospitality both for hosts and visitors, included giving little presents representing animals, fruits, or flowers. A Greek tradition adopted by the Romans, the idea of the Guest/Friend was a way to travel and have safe shelter. A Guest/Friendship was always honored, and the exchange of gifts was a bond of friendship and respect. The Romans, also like the Greeks, expressed affection for cats. Considered the guardian of spirit, and the spirit of liberty, Libertas (the goddess of liberty) was often depicted with a cat at her feet.
The sun has now set on Rome, and the eternal city shines like gold. All the monuments aglow in the warm spring light, a magnificent view for the eyes and the spirit, the beauty, the chaos – I pass Piazza di Spagna, happy to be breathing in Rome this evening.