Tracking down Roman emperors
Being at the American Academy has given my Washington lectures a huge kick start. I've still been spending most of the time in the library, but have been tempted out a few times on the trail of some Roman emperors. Not just ancient ones, I've particulary wanted to track down some of the vast varity of modern ones, and those wonderfully enticing part modern, part ancient ones. You know, those that have some kind of ancient core, but have been refitted, recarved, polished and otherwise titivated into something even better: first century AD by way of Bernini.
So I started Satuday morning with a visit to the Villa Borghese, which must have the most spectacular collection of modern (or partly modern) busts. The marvellous extravagant Augustus at the top (doesnt look like a primus inter pares to me) is seventeenth century, and part of a whole set in the Sala degli Imperatori. And there is another set in the next door room, originally ancient but reset and mounted in the sixteenth century.
After that, I hoofed it to a new display space on the Via del Corso (the site of last week's burning cars and riots) to see a show on eighteenth century classicism at Rome: Cavaceppi terracotta emperors apart, my favourite object, at least for monarchical extravagance, was a classical architecture 'dessert service' designed by Luigi Valdier.
Though I have to say that I'm not sure how it worked or what it was exactly FOR. Dessert service? Is it for the drink or what?
In the afternoon it was Mussolini's turn. Tipped off by some of the young fellows at the Academy, I was off to see the imperial busts in what is known as the Ex-GIL building by that star of 1930s architects Luigi Moretti (he's just had a big retrospective show at the MAXXI here). It was the base of Mussolini's youth organisation -- Gioventù Italiana del littorio -- and is in the process of being renovated into an arts centre, it seems. It's deep in Trastevere, and I probably wouldnt have found it if a couple of friends who are here for a year hadnt agreed to come too (I spent my first 3 months in Rome 30 years ago with this Ian, and it felt fun to be still exploring the city together, decades later. . .).
Anyway the building itself is stupendous (stairwell above). And although the bust of Musso has been removed, the roundels of his emperors are still there, and a map of Italian conquests (and would be conquests) in Africa.. and a great modernist globe.
A brilliant find.
Anyway, on other fronts:
The daughter has started a blog, so do click on her and give her a hit and a comment.
And the Pompeii programme got the predictable review from A A Gill. I cant give you a link to it as it is behind the paywall on the Sunday Times, and I dont intend to look at it again to give you some exact quotes. But as I recall it is largely about how awful I look (16 from the back, 60 from the front, with terrible teeth and hair) and how if I was going to thrust myself into the nation's living rooms, I might have made the effort to smarten up (what he doesnt realise is that I had!).
The truth is that if you do thrust yourself into the nation's living rooms, you have to take this kind of stuff on the chin. But, heavens, if I hadn't had some great reviews and ratings already, I could have felt pretty thrashed by this.
I have a golden rule about critical reviews... that you should never write anything that you couldnt say to the victi to their face. So I am looking forward to meeting Mr Gill to put this to the test.
(Contrast Andrew Billen in the Times, who had some remarks on the sartorial side but did it much more efectively with wit not bile....! I really liked the idea that I had been on my way to a disco in the 1970, called by the library and found Gibbon, and never got out...)