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Paintings, Stories and Details
We have two Italian grandchildren and therefore try to visit Italy once a year. I love Italy, its people, architecture and food. I also enjoy painting structures and there is an abundance of material available. Every once in a while, when I want to take a break from aircraft and wildlife, which is not often, I try my hand at some Italian scene that has captured my interest. Here I also mostly use my own photographs or Lida, our daughter’s, who is a professional photographer. These paintings are also normally smaller than my standard of 560mm x 760mm.
Ponte Sant’Angelo Bridging the Tiber
Rome, with its history and associated architecture, is a fascinating city, which I love to visit when we are in Poggio Nativo with our one Italian grandchild. Two of our children are married to Italians, but one now lives in London and normally tries to meet us in Rome, her hometown, which is always a lovely reunion of family!
To me, one of the natural features that adds to the beauty of Rome is the Tiber River that splits the city in two. Bringing the two sides together are some of the most beautiful bridges, designed and built by famous Italian architects. Between two of these bridges, Ponte Mazzini and Ponte Sisto I viewed the murals, a 500-meter frieze, Triumphs and Laments done by our own William Kentridge, what a proud moment as a South African!
In October 2021, we parked upstream from the murals at Ponte Umberto and I took some photographs towards the Vatican whilst standing on the bridge and also from the water’s edge below Ponte Umberto. It was a beautiful sight and I thought that it would make a nice watercolour, which I must paint. Now more than two years later, after more than a year on the easel, the painting has been completed.
Stefano, our son-in-law told me the story about the bridge, Ponte Sant’Angelo, and of the 10 Angels on the bridge. However, that was a while back and I called on Wikipedia to tell me more about the river, its surroundings, the bridge itself, and its architect. Following are extracts, which I found interesting from a very comprehensive Wikipedia research summary, that I would like to share in this post, starting with the Tiber.
Following the standard Roman depiction of rivers as powerfully built reclining male gods, the Tiber is derived from the god named Tiberinus, a figure in Roman mythology. Tiberinus was the god of the Tiber River. He was added to the 3,000 rivers, sons of Oceanus and Tethys, as the genius of the Tiber.
The Tiber is the third-longest river in Italy and the longest in Central Italy. The source of the Tiber consists of two springs 10m (33 ft) away from each other on Mount Fumaiolo, called le Vene. The springs are in a beech forest 1,268m above sea level and starts its 406 km flow in a generally southerly direction past Perugia, the capital city of Umbria and through Rome to meet the sea at Ostia and Fiumicino, where Leonardo da Vinci–Fiumicino Airport is situated today, the busiest airport in Italy and the eleventh-busiest in Europe. The water has a yellowish colour and due to this, known in ancient times in Latin as flavus, the blond.
According to legend, the city of Rome was founded in 753 BC on the banks of the Tiber about 25 km (16 mi) from the sea at Ostia. Legend also has it that Rome’s founders, the twin brothers Romulus and Remus, were abandoned on its waters, where they were rescued by the she-wolf, Lupa.
The Tiber was critically important to Roman trade and commerce, as ships could reach as far as 100 km upriver. However, the heavy sedimentation of the river made maintaining Ostia difficult, prompting the emperors Claudius and Trajan to establish a new port on the Fiumicino in the first century AD. Several popes attempted to improve navigation on the Tiber in the 17th and 18th centuries, with extensive dredging continuing into the 19th century. Trade was boosted for a while, but by the 20th century, silting had resulted in the river only being navigable as far as Rome.
The Tiber was once known for its floods and many people have died due to those. The river is now confined between high stone embankments, which were begun in 1876. Within the city, the riverbanks are lined by boulevards known as lungoteveri, (Italian for Tiber Waterfront) and is an alley or boulevard running along the river. The building of the Lungoteveres required the demolition of the former edifices along the riverbanks and the construction of retaining walls called muraglioni (massive walls).
In ancient Rome, executed criminals were thrown into the Tiber. People executed at the Gemonian stairs were thrown in the Tiber during the latter part of the reign of the emperor Tiberius. This practice continued over the centuries. For example, the corpse of Pope Formosus was thrown into the Tiber after the infamous Cadaver Synod held in 897.
In addition to the numerous modern bridges over the Tiber in Rome, there remain a few ancient bridges, now mostly pedestrian-only, that have survived in part, such as the Ponte Milvio and the Ponte Sant’Angelo, or in whole, Pons Fabricius, the oldest Roman bridge in Rome still existing in its original state.
This painting is all about the Ponte Sant’Angelo, originally named the Aelian Bridge or Pons Aelius, which was completed in 134 AD by Roman Emperor Hadrian who reigned from 117 AD to 138 AD. The bridge spans the Tiber from the city center to his newly constructed mausoleum, now the towering Castel Sant’Angelo. The bridge is faced with travertine marble and spans the Tiber with five arches, three of which are Roman. The bridge is now solely pedestrian and provides a scenic view of Castel Sant’Angelo. It links the rioni of Ponte, which was named after the bridge itself, and Borgo, to which the bridge administratively belongs. The bridge is 135m long and 7m high and was designed by Gian Lorenzo Bernini, who has his own story summarised below. Herewith some other interesting facts about the bridge mention in the Wikipedia summary:
- Starting with the early Middle Ages, the original name was forgotten; after the ruin of Nero’s Bridge, pilgrims were forced to use this bridge to reach St Peter’s Basilica, hence it was known also with the name of “bridge of Saint Peter” (pons Sancti Petri). The Google Earth snip below shows exactly where the bridge is and why at the time it was the access to the Vatican.
- In the sixth century, under Pope Gregory I, both the castle and the bridge took on the name Sant’Angelo, explained by a legend that an angel appeared on the roof of the castle to announce the end of the plague.
- In 1535, Pope Clement VII allocated the toll income of the bridge to erecting the statues of the apostles Saint Peter, holding a book, with the pedestal inscription Rione XIV, by Lorenzetto, and Saint Paul, holding a broken sword and a book, with the pedestal inscription Borgo, by Paolo Romano to which subsequently the four evangelists and the patriarchs were added to other statues representing Adam, Noah, Abraham, and Moses.
- For centuries after the 16th century, the bridge was used to expose the bodies of those executed in the nearby Piazza di Ponte, at the left bridge head.
- In 1669 Pope Clement IX commissioned replacements for the aging stucco angels by Raffaello da Montelupo, commissioned by Paul III. Bernini’s program, one of his last large projects, called for ten angels holding instruments of the Passion. He personally only finished the two originals of the Angel with the Superscription “I.N.R.I.” and the Angel with the Crown of Thorns, but these were kept by Clement IX for his own pleasure. They are now in the church of Sant’Andrea delle Fratte, also in Rome.
- At the end of the 19th century, due to the works for the construction of the Lungotevere, the two Roman ramps which linked the bridge with the two banks were destroyed, and in their place two arches similar to the Roman ones were built.
The gallery above shows the ten Angels with their instruments of passion. Source: Wikipedia
Gian Lorenzo Bernini – “Worthy successor of Michelangelo” – Architect of Ponte Sant’Angelo
Bernini born on 7 December 1598 in Naples and died on 28 November 1680 at the age of 81 in Rome, was an Italian sculptor and architect. While a major figure in the world of architecture, he was more prominently the leading sculptor of his age, credited with creating the Baroque style of sculpture. Katherine Eustace, a scholar, commented on Bernini as follows: “What Shakespeare is to drama, Bernini may be to sculpture …” He was also a painter and a man of theatre.
As an architect and city planner, he designed secular buildings, churches, chapels, and public squares, as well as massive works combining both architecture and sculpture, especially elaborate public fountains and funerary monuments and a whole series of temporary structures in stucco and wood for funerals and festivals.
His broad technical versatility, boundless compositional inventiveness, and sheer skill in manipulating marble ensured that he would be considered a worthy successor of Michelangelo, far outshining other sculptors of his generation. His talent extended beyond the confines of sculpture to a consideration of the setting in which it would be situated; his ability to synthesize sculpture, painting, and architecture into a coherent conceptual and visual whole has been termed by the late art historian Irving Lavin the “unity of the visual arts“.
Some interesting extracts on Bernini and his life, from the write-up in Wikipedia:
- Pope Paul V, who after first attesting to the boy Bernini’s talent, famously remarked, ‘This child will be the Michelangelo of his age.’
- In 1606 his father received a papal commission to contribute a marble relief in the Cappella Paolina of Santa Maria Maggiore and so moved from Naples to Rome, taking his entire family with him and continuing in earnest the training of his son Gian Lorenzo. Rome was Bernini’s city: “You are made for Rome, and Rome for you” said Pope Urban VIII to him.8
- By the time he was twenty-two, Bernini was considered talented enough to have been given a commission for a papal portrait, the Bust of Pope Paul V, now in the J. Paul Getty Museum.
- Howard Hibbard, an American art historian and educator, was Professor of Italian Baroque Art at Columbia University, proclaimed that, in all of the seventeenth century, “there were no sculptors or architects comparable to Bernini”.18
- To great protest from older, experienced master architects, he, with virtually no architectural training to his name, was appointed Chief Architect of St Peter’s in 1629, upon the death of Carlo Maderno. From then on, Bernini’s work and artistic vision would be placed at the symbolic heart of Rome. It is not without reason that Pope Alexander VII once quipped, ‘If one were to remove from Saint Peter’s everything that had been made by the Cavalier Bernini, that temple would be stripped bare.’
- Upon his accession to the Chair of St Peter, Pope Alexander VII Chigi (1655–1667) began to implement his extremely ambitious plan to transform Rome into a magnificent world capital by means of systematic, bold and costly urban planning. In so doing, he brought to fruition the long, slow recreation of the urban glory of Rome—the “renovatio Romae”—that had begun in the fifteenth century under the Renaissance popes. Bernini was appointed as his principal collaborator along with other architects, such as Pietro da Cortona.
- At the end of April 1665, and still considered the most important artist in Rome, if indeed not in all of Europe, Bernini was forced by political pressure, from both the French court and Pope Alexander VII, to travel to Paris to work for King Louis XIV, who required an architect to complete work on the royal palace of the Louvre. None of his designs were however executed because Louis and his financial advisor Jean-Baptiste Colbert considered them too Italianate or too Baroque in style.
- Bernini remained physically and mentally vigorous and active in his profession until just two weeks before his death due to a stroke. The pontificate of his old friend, Clement IX, was too short (barely two years) to accomplish more than the dramatic refurbishment by Bernini of the Ponte Sant’Angelo. Shortly after the completion of the latter project, Bernini died in his home on 28 November 1680 and was buried, with little public fanfare, in the simple, unadorned Bernini family vault, along with his parents, in the Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore.
While on the Easel
Matteo, our grandchild’s home. He has invited his parents, Lida and Stefano to share it with him, as long as they feed and bath him and allow his grandparents to occasionally visit him.
It was built in 1572 and still standing.
Via San Rocco, Poggio Nativo
This is Via San Rocco, a small street at the bottom of Poggio Nativo, outside the main town wall.
The walled town with the monastry visible at the top is a comune (municipality) in the Province of Rieti in the Italian region Latium, located about 45 kilometres (28 mi) northeast of Rome and about 20 kilometres (12 mi) southwest of Rieti.
Poggio Nativo is home to the Santacittarama Theravada Buddhist monastery. Economy is mostly based on agriculture (cereals, olives, vines, fruit) and cattle raising.
Among the main landmarks is the San Paolo church and former monastery. (Wikipedia)
It is the street where our daughter lives and I loved the view looking up at the town. There are hundreds of cats all over the place and Tietie (Afrikaans spelling) was in the photo as well as Mielies, formally baptised as Amelia, the street’s dog. They add the personal touch to the painting.
Ruin, Poggio Nativo
We visited our one grandson in Italy. They live in a small town, Poggio Nativo, approx 50km north of Rome. It is a beautifull little village in the Sabina Hills – “poggio” meaning hill.
We were here for a month and thought it to be the best time to practice free-hand drawing and doing small watercolour paintings.
This is my first attempt of a ruin, and there are many, three properies away from them.
Trullo in Cisternino
“A trullo (plural, trulli) is a traditional Apulian dry stone hut with a conical roof. Their style of construction is specific to the Itria Valley, in the Murge area of the Italian region of Apulia.” (Wikipedia)
When Lida got married to Stefano, we stayed in Puglia and she took us to Cisternino, where I took some photos of trullis. I decided to paint this one.
Who says you cannot have an Italian adventure in South Africa. We have a wonderful pizzeria closeby, Forneria Italia, which I highly recommend!
As part of the decor, it has some blocked posters on the wall that are well selected and creates a “little Italy” in Melkbosstrand. One of the posters, with a red Vespa scooter next to a typical Italian building, has always been my favourite.
One evening, after a grappa or two, quite late in the evening, I was challenged by Mauro, Michael and Amir to paint it. I took up the challenge and it was one of my lock-down activities that kept me sane. What a pleasure it was to do, but I must say, getting the red right, took some stern words from Izaan my daughter, support enthusiastically by Dainty, my wife.