June 23, 2015

Italy - a bit of reflection from my journal

I write every day in my journal, a discipline I’ve maintained since I did The Artist's Way after high school. I has served me well over the years in getting out what may hinder me throughout the day taking up precious mental real estate. I would recommend it to anyone to try for themselves. It does mean I have to pack a book around when I travel. I keep a daily odometer of how many days I’ve been alive to remind myself daily of my mortality and the preciousness of each passing day. I also keep an active sketch book practice. If I were to stack my collection of both they would be taller than me. This is a collection of ideas and points distilled from both sources after I returned from my trip. I hope you enjoy getting inside my mind.

Day 1 – Monday May 11, 2015 – Spectacle

What a big day already. I have never flown for this long before.  We landed after a long arduous journey into the new surroundings, hot sun and new language. Welcome to the chaos that is Rome. My first impression on arriving is pure delight and awe at the sheer scale and grandeur of the sights.

Fortunately we take a quick pit stop giving me a chance to set down my backpack and collect myself before an adventure.  In order to optimize our time and avoid the jet lag we keep on going and get an initial orientation, we are within walking distance of the coliseum, how advantageous.

The walk was long, the air, hot and humid.  I’m overwhelmed with visual stimuli, a bit delirious and elated to be here.  I am so elated to see Trajan’s column as it is part of my course curriculum and I’ve never had a good image for slide presentations, that is until I took some!

I had no way of preparing for this epic spectacle. It’s the “wedding cake” that causes my jaw to drop, imagine every other building since ancient times, this white with marble, excessive, impressive, decorative, amazing!

Day 2 – Tuesday, May 12, 2015- Ancient Rome: Forum, Coliseum, capitolini museum

Bright eyed and busy tailed, I arise excited to travel back into history.  We arrive at the site of the earliest temple built on tuffa, the volcanic rock found all around the area what would soon be ancient Rome.  For a time, these ruins were buried under cow pasture. Little remains, but there is enough and continuing archeology to piece together the past. At the forum, our guide, Liz, describes the history and uses of the many spaces that developed with time.   So much to see and Liz’s guidance was so dynamic, interesting and informative. She had a book with her with vellum fold overs to help explain what the ruins we were seeing were and what was once standing. The death of Caesar signaled the transcendence of man, immortality, the period where man could become a god.

Site has meaning. The intense story of the founding of this city makes you wonder why its intention at birth did not drive people away. It celebrates cunning fratricide, Romulus, Remus and the she wolf. The birth of a city whose god, Vesta, the mother of all, takes on wayward sons. Giving men without rank a chance to be part of something bigger than themselves, all wanting to be great, orphans to become sons of Rome.  I was amazed at the sheer scale, cost and number of skilled men it would take to build something so impressive. Architecture = immortality. Men becoming gods.

Once Nero’s personal residence and manmade lake was here, it angered the people of Rome so it’s fitting that later the Coliseum would be erected here, a political move to entertain the masses. For a time it was for theatre, with elevators as a means to create special effects, later a place for wild animals and gladiators. So many movies have been set here, it feels surreal to be standing in this place. I get the sense that the residents are indifferent to the history that surrounds them. Things in your vicinity do eventually get taken for granted. 

Day 3 –Wednesday, May 13, 2015 - Vatican, Sistine Chapel, St. Peters

Upon entering we are given whispers and see a copy of Michelangelo’s Pieta in plaster. It was beautiful and we were able to get much closer to it than the original which was further away and encased in glass. I can’t believe he was only 25 when he made this, puts my work in perspective, in a painful way.

I pick up the last copy of Liz’s book in English at the Vatican book shop. (I read it that night). We enter the collection and I’m floored. Works of beauty I did not expect. Gorgeous, intricate tapestries by Raphael. I learned that he was an artist ready to take on any medium. I fully admit that I was brought to tears inspired by the beauty of the work of Raphael.  I went to the back of the group to gather myself and really take it all in. I felt vulnerable admitting this but glad that I did, learning that the same moving reaction was had by Martinho.

Seeing Raphael’s school of Athens for real and in print, I was surprised that the work was hard to see in reality, in the room to the side adjacent to accompanying frescos that were never mentioned in my Art History text but equally masterful. It was great to hear about the back and forth competition between the artists of the day and the conjecture my question about their relationships brought, no one really knows the answer. 

The Laocoon and other notable sculptures are in a beautiful outside garden. It is so impressive to see these works in person. Once more my love for marble sculpture is validated. Inside it is so hot and crowded, I have no idea how anyone could do this during summer. Seeing the modern collection after all the great master works really left me feeling as flat, dark, ugly and uninspired as the works appeared.
The pace is grueling, yet I can’t possible stop taking it in, my eyes and soul are fueled by beautiful artworks.

I was surprised by the scale of the work in the Sistine Chapel, but also on how it was a completely enclosed space. No stained glass, no windows, it felt like a gymnasium. I was humored how the silence of the museum goers rose to cacophony so quickly then over a loud speaker a voice boomed “silence please’, then the chapel was once again still in silence which slowly rose once more in a crescendo of cacophony and the voice boomed again and the scene repeated once more. 

It was easy to see the greatness of Michelangelo’s depiction of scaled figures and riving bodies in the last judgment over the alter. All of this makes me question my existence and the validity of my art practice.

I didn’t want to leave the splendor of St. Peters. It is magnificent, I am amazed and in love with the feeling in this holy place as well as Bernini’s creations within. Imagine the span of the dove in the stained glass is nearly 6 ft. across, implying the floating chair in the air must be close to 40 ft. from the base. 

Day 4 –Thursday, May 14, 2015 – Piazzas, Trevi fountain, Pantheon

Outdoor adventures, ate like a king. I wish I had more time for sketching, for now I’ll have to let my camera replace it as we quickly breeze through mountains of content. We toured the piazzas, fountains and Pantheon. It was amazing to see the scale of the dome and quite different to be in a round building. 

Day 5 –Friday, May 15, 2015 – Santa Cecilia

Breathtakingly beautiful, fragile and delicate the marble of St. Cecilia represents how her body was discovered when they opened her tomb. I picked up a replica for the home alter. She is the saint for music I later learned and enjoyed her life story as we went through the basement, the church built on top on the location where her home was.

At this point it sinks in how I feel that the lifestyle of the Italians is superior. The rest at lunch is seemingly more humane. The unequivocal quality of the food, the pleasure taken it, the sharing around a table together and the real connection people appear to have. I have always questioned the pace and hectic stress here in Calgary. How I’m constantly working, improving or chasing after the next thing. It seems there is not time to rest or reflect and here I see how it works without the society crumbling. And yet they are so centered around capitalism, or at least buying fashionable wares. The women look amazing and take the risk of high heels on uneven streets, somewhat comical but they do it with style and grace. 

Day 6 –Saturday, May 16, 2015 – Basillicas and Masterpieces

Today got turned into a free day, but I still want to hit the stuff on the itinerary that will be closed on Monday.  I got lost looking for the Barbarini Palace, 2 hrs of walking in circles, but eventually found it, totally worth it. I’m not going to miss a thing, I had to lone wolf it in order to do it. Here I saw the full spectrum of my favorite painters from Caravaggio to El Greco. I also got a chance to see Michelangelo’s Moses. Afterwards I walk back to the Piazza Venezia. I aim to get a bit of drawing done on my own, I just sat and ate lunch while sketching. The birds were aggressive and came close in multiple attempts to steal my lunch. I got one good watercolour out of it fortunately.

Day 7 –Sunday, May 17, 2015 –Gallery Borghese Piazza, Catacombs

I walk around the huge park on the estate while waiting for the Gallery to open. This would have been an extravagant suburban party place, full of gloriously decorated rooms for entertaining and showing off their power.

The catacombs were interesting and cooling off below the earth was a real treat after being in the hot sun all day. The early Christians came way out here to bury the deceased. They dug down into that same soft tuffa that was the foundation for ancient Rome.  I was surprised at the sheer number, and how many were tiny, presumable for babies and children. Later that evening we visited two practicing artists studios, it really inspired me for what my bohemian sensibilities think an artist’s life should look like.

Day 8 –Monday, May 18, 2015  

Rodolpho Papa’s lecture about the New World Order and how the CIA brought about the fall of great figurative Art, it was interesting but we ran out of time. Tomorrow we leave Rome, so I plan to get as much in today before its too late. I spent the final night photographing and hanging out with Dan to do some sketching of the columns. Finally a chance to get in some sketching. Martinho’s B-day is quickly approaching so I’ve been working on a suitable card signed by everyone in the group.

Day 9 –Tuesday, May 19, 2015 – Travel to Florence/orientation

Today we leave Rome and head to Florence on a high speed train, I’ve never been on a high speed train before, the landscapes out the window were gorgeous and I am surprised they don’t just whiz by like I expected.

Brunelleschi’s Duomo in the heart of Florence is amazing, the cathedral is white and highly decorated. There is a sculpture of its creator looking up nearby, the gaze a time portal in between. We headed on over to a sculpture park near the Uffizi filled with copies of the David, work by Donatello and a copy of the Rape of the Sabine Women. The copy of the David left me feeling unimpressed, I expect little of the real thing. Later, we visited a real marble sculptor studio where a lot of the magic was revealed. I was always under the impression given in school of the pure genius of sculptors “releasing” the figures from the rock, but that is not so. There is a process to the technique. A Maquette is made then a full size version in clay, and then a measuring apparatus guides the sculptor in marble. It kind of took the wind out of the sails in one sense and enhanced my reverence for the craftsmanship and technical skill involved as well.

Day 10 –Wednesday, May 20, 2015 – Martinho’s B-day

Martinho’s B-day we took on the Florentine steak, never have I feasted on such blue flesh, but it was good. For years I was vegetarian, I wonder if I have the enzymes to digest such a heap of nearly raw meat. 

Day 11 –Thursday, May 21, 2015 – Pitti palace, Angel Academy

Slept like a rock and rose early to see the doctor then meet up with the group at the Pitti Palace.  I didn’t think we’d cross paths so I took my time going through the extensive collection and eventually caught up to my group. Donatello’s David, a Mercury bronze cast, Michealangelo’s ability to bring riving figurative forms forth carved in from the front of the stone, the cast room was immensely enjoyable as were the icons on the hard to find access to their floor. A quick word on the breathlessness caused by seeing the real David, it is truly epic. It is the largest sculpture from one block since antiquity, soft massive and cartoony.

I got to see my friend Nicole who is an instructor at the Angel Academy. It was great to see the process and teaching method at a classical Atelier. Part of my reason to come to Italy was for reconnaissance to see if Angel Academy could be a good next step for me, deciding after seeing it in person that it was not. Glad I checked it out before diving in.

 Day 12 –Friday, May 22, 2015 – Ravenna in the rain

I’m glad we are taking this out of town trip, even though it’s pouring and clearly the cheap umbrellas are useless.  I love the rain, I refer to it as “liquid sunshine”. I took a hilarious picture of Martinho with his destroyed umbrella kind of covering his bald head while he speaks to the group. Warrior Christ and the Easter calendar were important historical marks I was glad to see. Byzantine era mosaics in ancient reclaimed spaces like a roman bathhouse turned baptistery. The glinting and gleaming of the gold is mesmerizing. In some way these meticulously made mosaics are far more impressive than frescos, they have a real life to them in their cartoonish representations. 

Day 13 –Saturday, May 23, 2015 –Uffizi gallery

We visit a Franciscan monastery filled with gorgeous frescos by Fra Angelico in each of the monk’s rooms and a surprising selection of illuminated manuscripts. My questions about the process of icon painting where answered with a display at the back showing the tools and materials involved.

Botteccelli, was ruined when Martinho pointed out what was being done in oil at the same time frame, like the works by Flemish artists. Or haow about  Da Vinci’s Annunciation. It is clear when you see the work in the flesh. His angel to the left is so much more masterful than his teachers. It was said that he quit never painting again after seeing his pupils angel. Clearly.  Some of us stay behind in the gallery in order to make sure we see everything else in the collection, there was an entire floor with walls painted a soft blue filled with Dutch works, notable Rembrandt portraits plus tons of still life and landscape paintings.

  Day 14+ –Sunday, May 24, 2015 – Group leaves, I continue on

Highlights – Brishigehlla and Favena – medieval town, natural waterfalls, and gypsum mine, Natural Park with pet wolf, and “the best” gelato. Everywhere you go in Italy everybody’s opinion is that what they have is “the best”. I’m starting to expect it. Rather, what I hear now is what I have is the best and therefore what you have is sh*t, it’s becoming almost comedic.

I take a day to myself to visit the Specola, natural history museum. I have had the Encyclopedia Anatomica book for reference for my art from this very museum for so long it was breath taking to see them in person. Wax replicas of every single layer of human anatomy, so realistically rendered so that real bodies were unnecessary for dissection and education, yet creepy and tragically beautiful as their sublime, angelic Botticelli like faces are frozen in time with the contrast of their bloody entrails exposed. They are wax works of art in their own right, maybe more suitable today for a death metal bands CD cover. 

I was advised by the doctor to extend my stay, with much self reflection I eventually decide it’s not in my cards. I need to go back to finish up projects and to do the required work for the class. C’est la vie. I will miss Italy. Much more to come...

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