February 2016
More photos here

On last year's February art-fest trip to Rome, run by Art Pursuits, tourmeister Joachim Strupp promised a more baroque-centred tour for 2016. So here I am - visiting Rome for the second time in as many years, having only previously been here once before in the early 1990s. I must admit that recent courses and reading have seen my own interest slip back to the Early Christian period and thereabouts, but Joachim gives good Baroque and there are enough limited-access palazzi, stunning ceilings and works by Carracci, Caravaggio, and Bernini promised to whet anyone's expectations.

Saturday 20th February
I had decided to stay overnight near the airport, to make things less of an early-rising rush, so after an eventless journey across late-evening London I'm in the Hilton Garden Inn in room 137, which is comfy, with two double beds, for some reason, and a fine view of the car park and lots of the soulless airport-related non-landscape, but lots of sky too. So I leave the curtains open hoping for a sunny morning.

Sunday 21st February
But at 7.00am full day had yet to dawn. The night had been plagued by a loudly talking Chinese couple, who also decided to listen to the radio at 2.30, and a screaming baby briefly. Let us all praise earplugs yet again. The shuttle bus made it to terminal 5 in 15 minutes. It costs £5 paying the cheerful driver but would be
£4.50 from the grumpy machine in the foyer, if it was working. Meeting Joachim, bag drop, security, and the consuming of a coffee and almond croissant all followed in tidy order. In-flight snack was a miniature cheese and chutney roll and a matching orange-iced chocolate bun.
Patrizia, our tour manager, met us at Fiumicino and then we were minibused to our hotel, the Ponte Sisto like last year. My room is courtyard-facing and this afternoon as I unpacked I had the windows open, the light shone in, and the seagulls made a racket. Nothing like seagulls to make you feel you're on your holidays. Joachim took us on an acclimatising afternoon walk, taking in a visit to the Chiesa del Gesú - a good jaw-dropping bit of baroque ceiling decoration by Pozzo to get us started
(see photo right). And the perfect late-afternoon light did good work too.

The first-night d
inner at the Ditrambo was less special food-wise than last year. The starter was mound-shaped things supposedly of chicory and pumpkin but tasting a bit generic. Whilst the carnivores tucked into veal and suckling pig (a gross and somewhat medieval combination, I thought) I was offered pasta al funghi, vegetarian lasagna, or ravioli. From that somewhat unimaginative Surrey-pub-lunch selection I plumped for the latter, expecting an imaginative filling, maybe, but it was spinach and ricotta, and in a starterish portion.

Monday 22nd February
Breakfast featured good fresh pastries, and
they were small, so having many seemed advisable; and the orange juice was better than last year.

We began by walking to Sant'Ignazio, in its lovely little piazzetta, which got our day of ceiling painting off to a spectacular start, with another one by Pozzo. We then took minibuses to Santa Maria della Vittoria to look at Bernini's famously erotic Ecstasy of Santa Theresa (see right) in the Cornaro Chapel there. After coffee we admired Santa Susanna's exterior and then made for San Carlo alle Quattro Fontaine, after admiring said four fountains. The church amply demonstrates the way Borromini had with the baroque, in ways not obvious but enlighteningly explained and appreciated by Joachim.

After a substantial lunch in a joint called Berzitello we walked to the Casino dell'Aurora Boncampagni-Ludovisi for a specially arranged visit, guided by the Principessa Rita, the American wife who's led a somewhat racy life. She showed us ceilings by Guercino,
Tasso (aka Artemisia's rapist) and Carravaggio (recently uncovered) and digressed muchly, but charmingly, with that American way of stressing the superlatives. Minibuses then took us to the Casa Professa and so back to St Ignatius (his cell is preserved here) and our man Pozzo, who painted a corridor here - walls and ceiling - with as much boggling illusionistic trickery as this morning's ceiling.

ay 23rd February
First visit this morning was the Palazzo Colonna, which had bigness, many ceiling paintings and much stunning art - a Cosme Tura altarpiece side panel and paintings by the likes of Pisanello, Tintoretto, Veronese, Bronzino, and Annibale Carracci. And ending with a Great Hall with another boggling ceiling painting. Verily a collection with no noticeable duds, and refreshingly expertly shown to us by Dottoressa Barberini. There was a small view painting of Venice which, smarty-pants that I am, I noticed had been mis-titled. It said Campo San Rocco, but was plainly San Salvador.

After coffee we took in the the Trevi Fountain, the Piazza di Spagna and the Spanish Steps. For lunch we went independent and me and Michael found a place nearby to eat panini outside and watch two fire engines, one with a ladder, attend a fire up the street. This excitement we followed with a gelato (mine ricotta, honey and nut combined with coconut).

The afternoon took us for a walk to Palazzo Barberini, the Galleria Nazionale, to see works by Carravagio, Baglioni, Saraceni and Carracci. And a ceiling by Pietro da Cortona. Our visit was nicely rounded off by a Borromini staircase and two ginger cats, one friendly one not. Then minibuses took us to Santa Maria del Popolo for a couple more dark panels by Caravaggio, in the Cerasi Chapel either side of a glowing Carracci, and then we were minibused back to the hotel and some well-earned collapsing.

In the evening Patrizia and Joachim took a bunch of us to a fish restaurant. I am the sole vegetarian this trip, and another two of us didn't eat fish. But fried potatoes (which turned out to be more crisps than chips), fried battered vegetables and some acceptable spaghetti in tomato sauce kept us happy. As did the (for me) good and fresh cannoli, my first experience of the real thing.

24th February
The return of the old (and still puzzling to me) gout this morning, which I've not had even a twinge of since last year's trip to Verona. Why does it always strike me on trips? I've drunk a deal more prosecco and wine in the past few days than my more usual none-at-all, so that might be it. So, painful around the right big toe joint, it was first by minibus to Sant'Andrea al Quirinale, also known as the one by Bernini that's ellipse-shaped and wider than it's long and the architect's own favourite. It also has a creepy memorial to a young Polish priest in the
ornate chapel upstairs. The minibuses then took us to the Palazzo Doria Pamphilj, a palazzo gallery a good bit more ramshackle than we've been used to, and with a winningly mixed bag of art on show. We concentrated on the baroque, of course - Caravaggio (the impressive Rest on the flight into Egypt), Carracci (the same subject but with more landscape) and the highlight Velazquez terrifying Pope Innocent X portrait. This latter is so overpowering it gets a room to itself and first becomes visible in a mirrored door as you approach - a detail Velazquez himself would have appreciated. I managed to slip off period to commune with the little Memling Pieta too, and a sweet small Filippo Lippi Annunciation. Titian's sexy head-carrying Salome is another highlight.

Lunch was independent -  pizzas in the sunshine and gelato in Piazza Navonna - fior di latte and an oddly orange cinnamon for me. The group met outside Sant'Ivo alla Sapienza, before going inside to admire a central-planned and tall space so oddly shaped (made from triangles and circles) that its plan has no name. Then a stroll to San Luigi dei Francesi and the scrum in front of a chapel with the Caravaggio panels, dominated by the spare and famous Saint Matthew being visited and inspired by the angel. We then had time for a brief visit to Sant'Andrea del la Valle and a comfortable coffee before a visit to the Palazzo Farnese. It's the French embassy now, runs a desultory few tours in English in proportion to those in French, and has airport levels of tedious security. In fact the guide's commentary was so French-accented, fast and practiced as to be incomprehensible, so the French tour would have been no loss, comprehension-wise, methinks. The bright and stunning ceiling by Carracci makes the faff and fussing worth it, though. It was painted for a Pope but depicts mythological subjects, clever visual tricks, and many penises.

Left to our own devices this evening, I decided on solitude, a search for ibuprofen, and a bath.

Thursday 25th February
More pain and painkillers this morning. And as one of the triggers is supposedly acidity I decided to lay off the pineapple at breakfast. Minibuses took us to the Vatican to get took around the Papal Gardens with a guide provided. This two hours was interesting if not, for me anyway, fascinating. There was a pavilion, fountains of various sizes, a shrine, sculpture (some of it donated and nasty and modern) and some fine views of the dome of St Peter's and other Vatican buildings from behind and high up. Also two stalking cats and lots of noisy parakeets. We only saw the papal railway station (with train) from afar, but we were told that it now houses a glitzy tax-free shopping centre for residents. The guide also gave us a look down through dusty windows into a modern gallery full of  mosaics of athletes taken from the library of the baths of Caracalla. They looked impressive, but are not open to the public.

Coming back indoors Joachim took us into the Vatican Pinacoteca to see the fine Caravaggio Entombment. I was going to soak up some earlier stuff, but there is just too much to do justice to in less than three hours. So we went to lunch (gnocchi al pesto). Joachim's trick of the tour guides joining the queue for St Peter's early to get a head start for the group coming later was unnecessary this year, it turned out, as the security queue was short and the crowds in St Peter's sparse too. I'm coming to like the place more with each visit, but I'm not sure I'll ever love it. Bernini's work was our focus this time, what with the theme of the tour, but you can't miss out a gawp at Michelangelo's Pieta. And today I learned that all (not just some) of the painted altarpieces were replaced by mosaic versions, made larger because the place is so huge.

Buses back to the hotel, a good long rest, and then our last group meal at Renato and Luisa. Which for me included the week's highlight item - gnocchi filled with ricotta in a tomato sauce with cherry tomatoes.

day 26th February
After all the checking out and luggage loading we were driven to visit the Casino dell'Auroro Pallavicini Rospigliosi by special appointment. A cute little garden with a little, well, casino with a Guido Reni ceiling. Then to the Galleria Borghese for coffee, bag-leaving mayhem and a visit featuring some wonderful scheduled baroqueness by Caravaggio and Bernini, followed by some off-menu Renaissance from Raphael (The Entombment) and Titian (Sacred and Profane Love). But it was Joachim's well-shared enthusiasm and knowledge of the Bernini statues that was revelatory, for me. The visiting pattern imposed here is weird - limited to 360 people every 2 hours and you have to leave when your time period is up.

When we left the gallery the group split between those for the buses and those for a walk down through the Borghese Gardens to the Piazza del Popolo. My stupidity, given the toe agony, in choosing the walk was confirmed as my companions became dots in the distance as I hobbled pitifully far behind. A pizza helped a bit, then buses to the Airport and fast and queue-free progress through check-in, security and passport check. Amazeballs! We had hugged farewell to Patrizia before boarding as she was heading home to Venice.

An undelayed flight, a chick pea, carrot and aubergine salad, a read of AGD's biog of Caravaggio and another weirdly swift progress through automated passport check and baggage reclaim, and one was on the tube in no time. But nothing will ever make the Piccadilly line's trawl through the infinity of the many Hounslows and the one Acton a fun ride. Although skipping Turnham Green and finding oneself suddenly in Hammersmith is always mildly heart-warming.

Catalogue Corner
These are all medium-sized paperbacks.

Palazzo Barberini
Lorenza Mochi Onori and Rossella Vodret translated by James Harper             2015

A design match for the Borghese Gallery guide below, this has a well-written and elegantly translated introduction telling the story of Urban VIII, his ambitions for the palazzo and it's messy mix of architects involved. Then around 120 paintings get excellently reproduced - sometimes with details - and good solid academic paragraphs, with a bibliographic reference for each. These paragraphs lean towards provenance and history rather than technique, appreciation or subjective waffle, which is very fine by me.
A Tour of
Palazzo Colonna

This one's more of a souvenir than any sort of detailed catalogue. They do produce a catalogue of the paintings but it doesn't seem to have been translated into English, although its title on the website book list has been. In fact there's a bewildering array of different books on This book has 20-odd pages of the history of the house, eccentrically translated, and then 50-odd of glossy photos of the rooms, with a painting or two for each with just artist/title captions.


Galleria Borghese

Kristina Herrman Fiore                 2015

After a detailed introduction this devotes a chapter to each room, with the first page listing all the works in the room and having a monochrome image of the ceiling explaining what each panel contains, which is useful. There's running text for each room, rather than paragraphs for each work - the sculpture downstairs and paintings upstairs - and sometimes the text refers to a painting not illustrated, but not too often. It's more useful as a visit-accompanying guide, then, but not useless as a souvenir, a memory-prompt, and a wallow in fine works.

Galleria Doria Pamphilj
Masterpieces: Paintings
Eduard A. Safarik
translated by Christopher Evans    1993
In keeping with the gallery's somewhat down-at-heel feel this one was first published 20-odd years ago. It's almost A4 size and deals with 24 paintings from the collection in academic detail over around a quarter of a page with good reproductions and the occasional detail, on unfashionably glossy paper.

Masterpieces from the
Vatican Museums
Barbara Furlotti  2011
I am sure that we are none of us without guide books to St Peter's and the Vatican galleries, but this one is rather irresistible. It has the style of an Eyewitness guide and details 38 highlights. They are mostly from the Picture Gallery, but it also includes the Sistine Chapel, Raphael's Stanze, Fran Angelico's decoration of of the Chapel of Nicholas V, and some statues. The scholarship is sound, and each work gets well illustrated, with good large details and pages of annotated small details and comparison pictures.


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