Friday, December 03, 2010

A Touch of Paint To Brighten Up The Place

Yesterday (December 2) I was part of a group on a day long outing in the Terre Etrusco (Etruscan Lands) just a few kilometres outside Roma. It was a day spent tasting the wines and food products of the region, visiting the area and learning a bit about a civilization that predated the Romans by several centuries. I'm planning to post something on the excellent wines and wonderful local produce we experienced in the next few days - after we return from the Christmas Fairs in Bologna - but in the meantime I thought I'd share a look at one of our stops on the way.

Since the Etruscans people in the Lazio region have been decorating their walls with scenes from life (and death) around them. You only have to go 17 kilometres from Roma to Cerveteri to see the Etruscan Necropolis with its tombs painted with scenes of daily life - one of the few indications we have of how that ancient civilization lived. Closer to home the centre piece of Palazzo Massimo (my favorite museum here in Roma) is the dining room from Livia's Villa at Prima Porta. The room gave Livia and her guests a wondrous garden to banquet in - the unknown artist transferring the flora and fauna of her above ground garden into this underground room. And today it gives us an glimpse of the level of sophistication of the woman behind the Emperor and the plants, animals and birds that populated her world. As we move into the Renaissance fresco painters turned more to religious or allegorical subjects to praise both their God and their Patrons. But still scenes of daily life and familiar landscapes crept in as reminders of hearth, heath and home.

The fresco tradition is so much a part of the culture here that it came as no surprise to see the same themes repeated several centuries later at the Castello di Torre in Pietra: daily life around the Castello, religion and the outdoors brought in for the enjoyment of hosts and guests.
The main courtyard of the Castello has remained almost unchanged from this fresco which adorns one of the sitting room. The hexagonal church was the work of Ferdinando Fuga in the early part of the 1700s and is a popular spot for weddings today.

This salon was used for entertaining guests - they could sit in the comfort of the large armchairs and enjoy the cooling shade of a copse of trees and a view of the Castello.

When it was painted Prince Falconieri insisted that a fence had to surround the room - to stop animals from breaking in and disturbing his guests!

In the mid-1700s the Prince commissioned Pier Leon Ghezzi to paint the Grand Salon on the Piano Nobile and most specifically to laud and praise his family and the Papal visit during the Jubilee of 1725 by Pope Benedict XIII. The room is surrounded by the great, the good and others of both the Falconieri and the Papal families and retinues. There are also representations of Falconieri properties in Roma and the region - just so you know that this was merely the summer place.

Pope Benedict XIII, pictured amongst assorted Cardinals and clergy, looks down on the room and gives his papal blessing during a visit during the 1725 Jubilee.

Various members of the household watch the banqueting and festivals taking place below them. Interestingly there are no women seen amongst the crowds celebrating the occasion.

The important members of the family have place of honour over the marble fireplace and almost seem to be ignoring the Holy Father and his retinue at the other end of the room.

A reminder that this was but one of the properties of the Falconieri family - others included a palazzo in Roma and the beautiful Villa Falconieri in Frascati.

The Salla San Francisco is frescoed with scenes from the Saint's life but there was once scene in particular that had nothing to do with him that I found fascinating.

This looks just like a typical landscape painting of the surrounding area - bucolic greenery and a few figures, possibly peasants, framed by gilt columns. But one of the columns has a notice taped to it.
Closer inspection reveals that it is an invocation to the Madonna and slyly it bears Ghezzi's signature.
And those figures - a closer look reveals the Holy Family on the Flight into Egypt. An angel points the way to Joseph and one cherub helps lead the donkey while another gives comfort to the Virgin and child.

Even the corridors of the Piano Nobile are frescoed with allegorical and landscape scenes - many of them reflecting the historical importance of the family.
And the ceilings have been painted to mimic the sky and filled with birds in flight to give a more open feeling to a room. And often the decoration is just a light and fanciful landscape created to give a room needed colour and light.

It's really remarkable how a little paint can brighten up a room!!!

03 decembre - San Francesco Saverio