Postcard from Rome, Italy: When you start zooming in on the ‘wild things’

We stayed in Rome 30 days and 30 nights. A church a day. A museum a day. We never came close to exhausting them. But it really hit me on a day toward the end. Temporarily, I was museumed-out. And you probably are as well because I have been dragging you through all of them.

The major symptom of this over-exposure was focusing on bizarre details like an adolescent, and I was stricken with this illness almost immediately upon entering the stunning Palazzo Barberini, the Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Antica. It was Lorenzo Lotto’s fault. Right there at the bottom of his “Mystic Marriage of Saint Catherine of Alexandria” was an escapee from the “wild rumpus” of Maurice Sendak’s “Where the Wild Things Are.”

I went downhill from there, as though viewing art through Max’s eyes. Or through the eyes of the bad-behaving putti in Poussin’s “Baccanale.” There was a cute little rooster perched under Jesus’ feet nailed to the cross. Those limbo-like babies awkwardly cradled in Saint Michael’s scales, and the devil’s head spilling out over the frame under his red slippers. The devil wears polka-dots? Were those seemingly anachronistic stretch white undies added to Saint Sebastian later?

Those are the strangest little pink-winged angels catching cupfuls of Jesus’ blood. Who would park Baby Jesus naked on the bare ground of the manger, without even a bed of hay, with everyone else around him was comfortably clothed? How low did I sink? I am sorry, Lippi, but that plump little man in your Madonna’s arms appears trying to and capable of choking her. And, Caravaggio, Holfernes appears to be bleeding red plastic straws as Judith beheads him.

Forgive me for this major lapse. Maturity returned. I recovered my sense of cultural appreciation by the time we stood in the grand salon under Pietro da Corona’s “Triumph of Divine Providence.” On our way out, a velvet rope prevented us from getting more than a glimpse of Borromini’s spectacular oval spiral, or helicoidal, staircase.

About the bees. You might have noticed images of a trio of bees appearing off and on in earlier posts of photos taken in Roman churches. The bees are the symbol of the Barberini family.

In 1623, Maffeo Barberini (1568-1644) emerged as the candidate selected by the conclave, taking the name of Pope Urban VIII. Customs of the times dictated a pope’s family needs a palatial presence in Rome, so Pope Urban VIII purchased a villa on the Quirinal Hill that had been owned by the Sforza family.

Incorporating the original villa into the design as one side of an H-shaped palace, architect Carlo Maderno (1556-1629) began work in 1627 with assistance from his nephew, Francesco Borromini (1559-1667). Barely two years into the makeover, Maderno died. Despite Borromini’s presence on the job, the pope commissioned a younger rival, Gian Lorenzo Bernini (1598-1680), as the lead architect for the project.

Some time during his two decades as pope, Urban VIII most have incurred the wrath of the future Pope Innocent X (1574-1655) of the Pamphilj family, whose palace we visited quite a few posts ago. Pope Innocent X confiscated the both the Palazzo Barberini and its artwork. The family feud must have reached a truce, with Innocent returning the palace to the Barberini family two years before his death.

The companion museum that is part of the National Gallery of Paintings with Palazzo Barberini is the Palazzo Corsini, also visited in an earlier post.

Postcard from Bologna, Italy: Climbing to visit the Madonna of Saint Luke

“It’s just up this flight of stairs,” the Mister said. But not quite. What appeared to be the top of the mount, it was merely a sharp turn near the bottom of the route leading to the Santuario di Madonna di San Luca.

The Byzantine-styled painting of the Madonna reputedly was brought to Bologna from Santa Sofia in Constantinople during the 12th century. Some devotees claimed the painter was Saint Luke himself, but that probably adds a large number of centuries to her actual age. A chapel was built atop Monte della Guardia to safeguard the icon.

The icon’s popularity in Bologna led to the construction of a massive basilica in her honor during the 1700s. A sheltering arcade, supported by 666 arches, also was built to guide pilgrims up the hill from the city at its feet.

By the end of the day, the Mister’s Fitbit claimed we climbed the equivalent of 79 flights of stairs and walked about nine miles to see her. But, alas, the Virgin was not home. The views of the surrounding countryside and the opportunity to work off some of that pasta were our only, although worthwhile, rewards.

As it turned out, the Madonna was on her annual spring break below in a church about a block or two from our apartment. The Bolognese faithful who are unable to visit her Basilica are rewarded as she spends about a week-long residency rotating among three churches downtown.

A day or two after our climb to visit her we bumped into a long parade of priests in garbs signifying their order and rank – surely, the Vatican must have been emptied – returning her to her basilica. The Madonna was framed beautifully with flowers as she was borne aloft on an ornate litter.

We did not follow along but did notice some practical members of the clergy elected to sport contemporary comfort shoes for the long climb ahead.