Thursday, October 08, 2009

Rome Day 1 - Villa Borgese

Early arrival at Leonardo da Vinci airport then train to Termini and walk down past Maggiore to Hotel Palatino. Met with the rest of the lads and off for lunch before taking Metro to Villa Borgese, which we’d booked in advance.

Villa Borgese

Bernini’s greatest sculptures are here; David, Aeneus, Rape of Proseprine, Apollo and Daphne, each in the centre of a spectacular room. David Is frozen in that exact moment just before the release of the stone from his sling, so that all of the tension is in his twisted torso. Fantastic facial expression is one of extreme effort – way different from classical contemplative expressions.. Aeneus carries his father with the flame of the hearth in his hand and is a study of loss, not gain. Apollo embraces Daphne just as she escapes by being turned into a laurel. It is a surreal image but the metamorphosis is superb as the uniform colour and texture of the marble turns the transformation into a single blended form. The two Bernini busts of Pope Borgese are side side by side and you can see the crack in the head that led to the copy being made. Bernini gets his fat face in the round and the buttons strain in their button holes. Canova’s Pauline Borgese is sumptuous. She’s half naked holding the apple (Aphrodite’s prize) on cushions that sink with her weight. This is my second visit and it’s great to have the space to walk around these pieces, as the rooms are large and visitor numbers limited. One oddity is the sleeping hermaphrodite, a copy of a Greek original by Polycles.

The whole villa was given over to a major exhibition showing Carravagio’s paintings next to Bacons. Why? I have no idea. There is not real link, historical, aesthetic or otherwise. It’s one of those ‘sound like a good idea’ exhibitions that simply don’t work in practice. Nevertheless, gathering most of Rome’s Carravagios up into one place was too good an opportunity to miss.

Rome is a great place to put aesthetic theories to the test, as there’s a surfeit of art and experiences to savour. If, as I think, Geoffrey Miller and others, as evolutionary psychologists, have got a workable theory that has wide explanatory power as well as a causal explanation, then where better to reflect on it’s worth. They claim, like Hume, that the aesthetic response is embedded in human nature, a universal response to create, exhibit and enjoy beautiful things. This is die to it’s role in sexual selection, in attracting a mate and reproducing. Just as birds of paradise display their ornate wares, so do men and women. I like this as other philosophical explanations tend to focus on necessary,and sufficient, criteria for the definition of rat, or depend upon some notion of a community of practice that simple begs the question as to how that community defines art.

Walked back via a couple of Baroque churches then out to dinner at La Matriciana. This is roman food ‘old style’ with a waiter who looked as though he had been there for 50years. But good solid simple dishes that were perfectly prepared. Pasta is always perfectly al dente. Only flaw were the desserts, but Italian desserts are always a tad predictable.

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