Flying visit to Formia
Last week we escaped for a few days to Italy. The lead reason was to see the exhibition on the emperor Augustus (the 2000th anniversary of his death) in the Scuderie del Quirinale -- which I am intending to review for the TLS. It makes a fascinating comparison with the Mussolini exhibition in 1937, to commemorate the 2000th anniversary of the great man's (or the wily old bugger's -- depending on your point of view) birth. Anyway, more of that in due course.
But we also able to take a couple of days reading time in a lovely spot just between Gaeta and Formia, on the coast roughly half way from Rome to Naples. That's the view from the terrace (thanks to Kiki, Jennifer and Ugo for great hospitality!). We broke up the reading with just 2 trips out: the first to Sperlonga and the Grotta di Tiberio, the second -- just before we left to go back to the airport on the train -- to Formia.
We gave the famous "tomb of Cicero" a miss (certainly isn't his tomb, even though he was killed nearby), but headed for the local Museum -- which turned out to be a real gem, if you're ever nearby.
Formia was obviously a pretty swanky place in the early empire. The whole coast was dotted with seaside villas, and caves and grottoes much on the lines of "Tiberius"s water installation. (I put "Tiberius" in inverted commas there because -- although the whole development at Sperlonga is so over the top that it really must be a "royal villa" -- we really dont know whether it was planned by Tiberius of not; nor, despite much false certainty on the question do we know if it was where Tiberius was when a cave roof collapsed and he was rescued by Sejanus.)
So the Museum, though it isnt big, has got some top of the range stuff on display. We were particularly taken with the small piece of wall painting (above), which looks as it if came from something close to Livia's Garden Room at Prima Porta.
Of the sculpture -- passing over a pricey but vulgar Leda and the swan (why DID the Romans like this particular coupling?) -- we couldn't help noticing a probably Augustan period figure, with loads of surviving paint, partly on the toga, which must have original been red or maybe purple, but also on the eyes . It's a really nice illustration of how Roman marble sculptures didn't originally appear so glazed over, so un-alive. Here he is (and you can see also that his head and over-the-head toga have been made separately, just like on the Via Labicana Augustus (currently on show in the Scuderie).
And here is the full version, and I think you'll be able just to pick out the red in the swathe of his toga across the chest.
It still raises the question of how many of these statues were painted like this -- I really cant imagine that those in very highly polished marble were (except for the eyes and other such details).
Anyway in guide-book speak, Formia museum is well worth a detour.