Postcard from Nervi, Genoa, Italy: Two modern art museums near the seaside

There was a little girl,
Who had a little curl,
Right in the middle of her forehead.
When she was good,
She was very good indeed,
But when she was bad she was horrid.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-1882)

With one wall depicting sweets and attention lavished upon a good child and another the unpleasantness awaiting a naughty boy, Antonio Rubino (1880-1964) transformed a child’s room into illustrations seemingly plucked from the pages of a collection of nursery rhymes. The 1921 bedroom with a “City of Dreams” is but one of the unusual galleries encountered in Wolfsoniana, located in the seaside suburb of Genoa, Nervi. Here, among other things, we learned the Battle of Flowers is not unique to San Antonio; Ventimiglia is known for its Battaglia di Fiori.

The collection of art dating from 1880-1945 in this new museum reflects the interests of Miami-born Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. He opened the first museum showcasing his passions in 1995 in the Art Deco District in Miami Beach. As Wolfson became increasingly attached to Genoa, he moved some of his immense personal collections there. He considers himself, according to the Wolfson Collection website:

…a conservationist because of my desire to discover, but not possess. The challenge is to save endangered objects that are ignored or not held in admiration by others….

Before I decide to buy an object I think whether it belongs to the narrative or not. Truth and beauty don’t interest me particularly. I am interested in the language of objects….

It is the goal of my collection: “to make people think.”

…but I’m not interested in what you think: I shall simply be happy to have stimulated the birth of an idea within you, of a souvenir, a dream.

Mitchell Wolfson, Jr.

Nearby in the 15th-century Villa Saluzzo Serra, the Galleria d’Arte Moderna focuses on artwork from the beginning of the 19th century to contemporary. The base of the museum’s holdings came from Prince Oddone (1846-1866) of Savoy’s collection. The avid collector, a son of King Vittorio Emanuele II (1820-1878), was sickly and died at the young age of 19. The City of Genoa actively acquired art between 1912 and 1950 from the Venice Bienniale and Rome Quadriennale exhibitions, and some of Wolfsoniana’s overflow is on display in the villa as well.

Postcard from Rome, Italy: Cleaning out remaining museum photos

Three months ago this blog took you to MACRO, Museo d’Arte Contemporanea Roma, to view the “mortal remains” of Pink Floyd, but totally neglected to invite you into the men’s room. The long bank of illuminated wash basins offering multiple reflections of your cleanliness habits in both the men’s and women’s bagni are must-stop spots in the museum housed in a former Peroni Brewery.

Apologies. The strange introductory photo is offered as a distraction because this grouping of museums makes no sense, aside from their location outside of the main tourist grid.

As this begins with the contemporary art scene, we might as well hop over to MAXXI, the National Museum of 21st Century Arts. Even were the museum devoid of art, people would make the pilgrimage to MAXXI to view the striking design of the late Iraqi-born British architect, Zaha Hadid.

Following Hadid’s 2016 death, Michael Kimmelman of The New York Times wrote:

She was not just a rock star and a designer of spectacles. She also liberated architectural geometry, giving it a whole new expressive identity. Geometry became, in her hands, a vehicle for unprecedented and eye-popping new spaces but also for emotional ambiguity. Her buildings elevated uncertainty to an art, conveyed in the odd ways one entered and moved through those buildings and in the questions her structures raised about how they were supported.

The other trio of museums belong together, as they are all located within the 33-acre park of Villa Torlonia. The property originally was a farm and vineyards owned by the Pamphilj family, whose palace we visited earlier.

At the end of the 18th century, a banker to the Vatican, Giovanni Torlonia (1755-1825), transformed the former farm into a luxurious garden-like setting for his newly acquired mansion. The elegant Casino Nobile was renowned for lavish parties thrown by the Torlonia family. The palatial residence attracted the attention of Benito Mussolini (1883-1945), who purportedly paid the princely sum of $1 per year to acquire it for his residence from 1925 to 1943.

With parties often occupying the main villa, princes in the Torlonia family needed a villa to escape the throngs. An underground passageway connected the Casino Nobile to the smaller Casino dei Principi, or House of the Princes, guarded by a stately pair of sphinxes.

The third of the Villa Torlonia Museums is the Casina delle Civette, or House of the Owls, possibly because of the owls depicted in the stained glass above the entrance. Originally designed to resemble a rustic Swiss chalet, later architectural alterations added an assemblage of small balconies and turrets, more of a petite medieval hamlet look.

The entire Villa Torlonia compound was purchased by the city of Rome in 1978, which subsequently restored numerous of its buildings and opened the grounds as a public park.

Postcard from Rome, Italy: Insertion of banker’s mistress in Raphael fresco a cheeky move

When Pope Julius II (1443-1513) slipped on the papal “ring of the fisherman,” the banker from Siena who helped with the Pope’s expenses prior to his election was not forgotten. Pope Julius II appointed Agostino Chigi (1466-1520) treasurer and notary of the Apostolic Camera, the Papal Treasury. Forging strong financial ties throughout Western Europe, Chigi’s financial operations employed up to 20,000.

On his way to becoming the richest man in Rome, Chigi needed suitable quarters on the Tiber on the Vatican side of the river. He commissioned a painter from Siena, Baldessare Peruzzi (1481-1536), to design his palace on Via della Lungara in 1508.

With Pope Julius II (1443-1513) summoning Michelangelo (1475-1564) to Rome in 1508 to cover the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, frescoes were in vogue. Peruzzi turned to mythological themes for inspiration for Chigi’s main hall, named Galatea after a sea-nymph. Astrological scenes in the ceiling were surrounded by golden stars reflecting the position of constellations on the date of Chigi’s birth.

Raphael (1483-1520) was hired to finish the frescos there and in the loggia of Cupid and Psyche. The lives of putti fluttering about the ceiling appear perilous, demanding defensive maneuvers against ferocious beasts. And there, almost within the shadow of the Vatican, Chigi’s mistress brazenly posed in the buff as one of the Three Graces, the one on the left above perched atop fluffy cloud. I believe her flip side is captured as part of the same trio in another triangle in a photo below.

Invitations to parties hosted under these scenes were among Rome’s most desirable, with the guest list combining the pope and cardinals, princes, the wealthy elite, poets and artists. To demonstrate his wealth, the flamboyant Chigi was known to cast silver dishes over the wall toward the Tiber at the end of feasts; although the frugal banker in him would prearrange to have servants with nets down below to catch the falling tableware for recycling at the next soiree.

In 1579, the palace was purchased by Cardinal Alessandro Farnese (1520-1589), who evidently saw no need to interfere with the frolickers in the frescoes. Farnese’s career was launched when he was only 14 with his appointment as a cardinal by his grandfather, Pope Paul III (1468-1549). Lucrative appointments within the church allowed the cardinal to accumulate great wealth under several popes. Chigi’s villa became known as Villa Farnesina and is now a museum.

Directly across the street from the gardens of Chigi’s villa, Cardinal Domenico Riario commissioned construction of a palace in 1510. Presumably the neighbors coordinated their party schedule so the extremely narrow street was not impossibly clogged by guests’ carriages. This palace was rebuilt completely in 1736 for Cardinal Neri Corsini (1685-1770), named a cardinal by his uncle, Pope Clement XII (1652-1740).

Among the notable occurrences in what is now known as Palazzo Corsini was the death of Queen Christina (1626-1689) of Sweden. Christina was only six when her father, King Gustavus Adolphus (1594-1632), found himself lost in thick smoke behind enemy lines while leading a cavalry charge during the Battle of Lutzen during the Thirty Years’ War. The Protestants won the battle, but not before the King suffered fatal wounds.

Christina’s mother did not handle the loss well, demanding that her husband’s coffin be kept open in a room in a palace so she could visit it often and saving his heart in a separate keepsake box in her room. Officials were not able to bury the decomposing king until 18 months after his death. Not surprisingly, her mother was deemed unfit for the regency or for raising her daughter.

Instructions left behind by King Gustavus Adolphus were for his daughter to be educated as a boy would be. An excellent student, Christina mastered nine languages. But, with all her studies, Christina failed to pick up many of the prevailing attributes of femininity, often dressing as a man would. Her refusal to marry and her close relationship with a lady-in-waiting sparked continual rumors.

While Sweden emerged as a major European power following the signing of the Peace of Westphalia ending the Thirty Years War in 1648, Queen Christina seemed tired of the weight of the crown and abdicated in favor of a cousin in 1654. She secretly had converted to Catholicism, so Rome would be more to her liking than her Protestant homeland. Rome celebrated her arrival and conversion, with Pope Alexander VII (1599-1667) confirming her in the Vatican Basilica.

In Rome, she rented the palace from the Riario family and plunged herself into attending and hosting social affairs, collecting art, meddling in papal politics and even conspiring to wear the crown of Naples. Alternating between masculine attire and gowns with daring décolletages, she kept Rome guessing as to who reclined with her in her chambers under the fresco of “The Judgement of Solomon.” A cardinal frequenting the palace was chastised by the pope. Christina never married, and, when she died, her sole heir was her steadfast friend, the cardinal.

The Corsini family sold the property in 1883 and donated the entire art collection to the state. The Corsini museum is operated in tandem with another palace (more later) as the National Gallery of Paintings. The extensive gardens behind the palace are now the Botanical Gardens of Rome.