Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Farewell from Rome

“Even though I may not, like them, be able to quote other authors, I shall rely on what is far greater and more worthy: on experience, the mistress of their Masters” (Leonardo Da Vinci, Selections from the Notebooks, ITR 188).

            I realize that it is perhaps a bit paradoxical to start this, my 15th and final blog post from Rome, with a quote from an author who admits that he himself “may not…be able to quote other authors.”  However, after spending more than a month in Rome, I really agree with Da Vinci’s defense of experience as a teacher.  Before coming here, I did quite a bit of research about the city and the sites I was scheduled to visit.  I even printed out pictures of the famous landmarks so that I’d recognize them on first sight.  But the pictures, and the words I typed up in preparation, simply do not – CANNOT – do the city justice. 

            Seeing is just one small aspect of the full sensory experience; the secondary senses are essential to truly understanding the living, breathing atmosphere of Rome.  It’s about hearing snippets of Italian being thrown around on the cool morning breeze.  It’s about tracing a warm, soft aroma to the pizza parlor on the corner.   It’s about feeling the rough, imperfect texture of the cobblestones underfoot.   

            I threw around the phrases “globally-minded”, “well-rounded”, and “worldly” a whole lot on paper in order to get here – on scholarship essays, justification statements, and the like.  Now that I’m here though, I realize, yes, I have become a more worldly person over the course of this experience, but also that the word “worldly” has taken on a whole meaning for me now that I’ve lived outside the United States.

            Being worldly isn’t JUST about being able to spout off specifics on foreign buildings, cities, and States.  It’s also about flexibility.  It’s about patience.  It’s about losing yourself in a crowd of people who don’t speak your language, and finding the courage to not feel alone.  It’s about making plans on the go, and not getting upset when they don’t work out.  Above all else, it’s about exploration – of the landscape, of the society, and of yourself. 

            After being here for a month, I feel that I’ve had the chance to thoroughly explore the cityscape of Rome and the local Italian culture, and yet I still haven’t lost my sense of wonderment at it all.  I still have to stop on my walk to class every morning to admire the dome of St. Peter’s as I walk across the Ponte Sisto; I still look up in amazement at Michelangelo’s bridge over the Via Giulia; and I still stop in Campo de Fiori to look up at the dark, brooding figure of Giordano Bruno. 

            Today, I went with some of my best friends here – Jacob and Christine – to the Galleria Borghese Gardens, which are effectively Rome’s “Central Park”.  After a bit of an arduous climb up to the park from Piazza del Popolo (which is the northernmost square in the old city of Rome), we ended up renting a multi-person bike to ride around the gardens.  I feel like the relaxing experience of biking around the park was a great way to cap off our experience here.  It wasn’t as exhilarating as being inside the Sistine Chapel, looking out over Rome from St. Peter’s, or walking the halls of Uffizi gallery, but it felt good.  It felt good to soak up the Roman sun with other Romans, to live and experience the serenity of the park alongside them.

Biking through Villa Borghese!  Photo Cred:  Christine Carroll

My plans for the next two days include visiting the Da Vinci museum tomorrow with our class, bidding farewell to all the friends I’ve met here at a group dinner tomorrow night, and packing up on Friday.  I leave for the States bright and early on Saturday morning. 

I’d like to end this post by thanking everyone who made this study abroad trip possible.  I would like to thank the University of Arkansas Honors College for funding my travels – and specifically Kelly Carter for walking me through the application process.  I would like to thank the University of Arkansas Rome Center Staff for working out all of the complicated logistics that it took for some 70 or so U of A students to participate in this year’s program.  I would like to thank Professor Bill Quinn for situating the Renaissance authors and sites that we visited in a relevant, modern context.  I would like to thank all of the wonderful friends I’ve met here at the Rome Center for keeping me company on this journey.  And, last but not least, I would like to thank all of the friends, colleagues, and family back home who have been kind enough to read my blog these past few weeks.  It really means a lot to me. 

            As soon as I get home, I will probably start researching further study abroad opportunities, and I will no doubt be blogging about it just as soon as I get the chance!

Thanks again for supporting me on this journey.

Grazie mille,

Brock J. DeMark

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

The Three Italian Crowns

There’s a lot of Italian literary names just swirling around in my mind right now.  Cellini, Machiavelli…Castiglione, Da Vinci……Dante, Petrarch, and Boccaccio.

I’ve been reading a book of Italian Renaissance literary selections for class here these past few weeks that includes excerpts from the writings of all these great men, and I have to admit, it’s a lot to keep up with.  So today, I want to take this post here to attempt to untangle the relationship between just the last three characters in the short list I’ve italicized above – Dante, Petrarch, and Boccaccio.  These three are referred to collectively as the “three Italian crowns.”  What I’m most interested in is what these three Italian literary greats had in common from an inspiration standpoint.

The "three Italian crowns" in the courtyard of Uffizi gallery in Florence (from left: Dante, Petrarch, Boccaccio)

Dante came first, so we’ll start with him.  Dante Alighieri (1265-1321) was born in Florence to a politically active family.  He held several political office positions as a young man prior to his exile in 1302 by the Black Guelphs (a political faction that supported Pope Boniface VIII).  It was during his exile from Florence that Dante wrote his most famous and influential work, The Divine Comedy. 

The Comedy is an epic poem that consists of three parts – Inferno, Purgatorio, and Paradiso.  The first part is by far the most famous, as it depicts what has now become the pop culture version of hell that we all know and love – fire and brimstone! 

Inferno also inspired the Capital Sins and Hell frescoes that line a part of the interior of Brunelleschi’s famous dome of the Florence Cathedral.  At one point during my climb to the top of the dome a few weeks ago, I was briefly sandwiched between the gruesome painting of hell on the one side and the dizzying drop to the bottom on the other.  Yikes.

Capital Sins and Hell fresco just visible on the left side of the dome.  Picture taken from the narrow walkway that runs along the inside of the cupola.

Anyways, Dante’s Divine Comedy has frequently been referred to as the major catalyst for establishing Italian as a distinctive literary language.  So…Dante is pretty important all by himself, but what does he have to do with the works of Petrarch and Boccaccio?

Well, to start with, these three men shared an intense interest in classical Greco-Roman literature and culture.  I mean, Dante puts the Roman poet Virgil in The Divine Comedy, for goodness sakes!  Virgil physically leads Dante through hell and purgatory in the poem.  Hello!!  It’s ALL about the classics here!

Petrarch actually spent a good deal of his life engaged in “…tireless efforts to locate and edit the major texts surviving from the ancient period” (ITR 1).  And Boccaccio is famous for reviving the Troilus and Cressida story in Il Filostrato (the setting for which is ancient Trojan), a work that would go on to influence the writings of Geoffrey Chaucer and William Shakespeare. 

So, we’ve already established that the “three Italian crowns” shared a love for the classics.  However, in the case of all three poets, it is their works in the vernacular – Italian – that are probably the most widely celebrated today.  For Dante, it’s his epic poetry in The Divine Comedy; for Petrarch, it’s his lyric poems in Il Canzoniere; and for Boccaccio, it’s his short stories (novelle) in the Decameron. 

Whereas the three Italian crowns contributed to the revival of classical antiquity in similar ways, their contributions to the formation of the Italian literary vernacular, and the Italian literary canon, are much more unique.  Take Petrarch, for example.  His lyrical style in Il Canzoniere was quite a marked departure from Dante’s epic poetry in the Comedy. 

Alright.  So let’s get some background on Petrarch here for a moment.  Francesco Petrarca (1304-1374) was born in Arezzo, Tuscany, but moved to Avignon as a young man (as his father held a clerical position tied to the exiled Papacy).  He became an authority on classical literature in his young twenties, and his Latin writings served to further his fame and reputability.  All this led to Petrarch receiving two different invitations to be crowned poet laureate – one from Rome and one from the University of Paris.  Petrarch chose Rome, “thus symbolically asserting for future generations of Renaissance humanists who flowed his model the primacy of Rome and the Latin classics…” (ITR 1).  

The work that I am most familiar with on the Petrarch front is Il Canzoniere, also known as the Rime Sparse.  This collection of 366 poems – the vast majority of them sonnets – is dedicated to Petrarch’s love, Laura.  There has been some debate in the academic world as to whether or not this Laura actually existed, but the general consensus seems to be that she did exist.  However, some skeptics still maintain the notion that Laura was only ever an idea – a figment of Petrarch’s imagination.  So, the question remains, why?  Why does it matter if Laura existed, and why would Petrarch dedicate all these poems to her…or it; the idea?

Well, maybe Laura’s physical being isn’t actually that important to Petrarch’s themes.  The introduction of my edition of the Rime Sparse situates Laura on the periphery from the outset, by stating,

“…Laura herself is not the central focus of the poetry.  Her psychology remains transcendent, mysterious (perhaps even miraculous, but that is evaded), the subject of conjecture and bewilderment except at moments represented as virtually total spiritual communion.  Rather it is the psychology of the lover that is the central theme of the book” (PLP 7)

Okay.  So Il Canzoniere is really more about the psychology behind the emotion of love, and NOT just about the romantic struggles of one pretentious Italian poet. 

Here’s where I think the second major parallel (the first being an interest in the classics) between Dante, Petrarch, and Boccaccio can be drawn.  The vernacular writings of all three writers serve to shed light on the inter-workings of their minds.  In the case of Dante’s Divine Comedy, it’s the layered structure of hell – and who is present at each layer – that allows us access into the correspondent layers of Dante’s psyche.  In Petrarch’s Il Canzoniere, we get to know the poet through his emotions, and specifically how he deals with the emotion of love.  In Boccaccio, it’s the dynamic between male and the female characters in a group setting where the author’s opinions shine through.

Whew.  Okay, so let’s get a really quick bio on Boccaccio here:  Boccaccio was born in 1313 in or near Florence.  He moved to Naples as a young man to become a banker, but returned to Florence in 1340.  He probably began writing the Decameron in the late 1340s, around the same time that the Black Death struck Florence.  The plague is central to the 100 novella in the Decameron, as Boccaccio uses it as a  framing device to explain why the ten storyteller main characters are together in the first place (for they have fled to the Florentine countryside to be away from the infectious cityscape). 

The Decameron is entirely fictional, but, similar to Dante’s Divine Comedy, it is based on the author’s pre-conceived notion of how human beings do treat, and should be treating each other.  Boccaccio is particularly concerned with, “…the place of religion in society and a critique of the church’s human failings; the acceptance of a hearty sensuality; the admiration for wit and intelligence; and the role of women in Renaissance culture” (ITR 61). 

I would argue that the master works of all three “Italian Crowns” are intimately tied to at least one of the four major themes listed above.  Petrarch is surely concerned with “the acceptance of a hearty sensuality”, in that he attempts to come to terms with his own sensual attachment to Laura.  And Dante is interested in “the place of religion in society”, in that varying degrees of virtue and religious acceptance on Earth give way to a hierarchically organized society in the afterlife.  So what do all of these broad themes have in common?

They’re all humanist ideals.  OKAY!  Soooo what is a humanist, exactly?  The introduction of The Italian Renaissance Reader states that as a humanist, Petrarch “showed [the people of his Age] that an individual life was significant and that a person could play many roles in the world” (ITR).  So, a humanist, it seems, is a highly involved and multi-faceted individual who is concerned with the here and now.

One of the most “in-your-face” humanist proclamations comes from Giovanni Pico della Mirandola’s Oration on the Dignity of Man, a work that I quoted in my very first blog post as being an inspiration to me as I set out on my journey to Rome.  Mirandola proclaims man to be the master of his own destiny, in that “whatever seeds each man cultivates will mature and bear their own fruit in him…” (ITR 182).  So, a humanist is not only highly involved, but also highly SELF-motivated.  Interesting. 

Now, Dante, Petrarch, and Boccaccio were nothing if not self-motivated individuals.  They were motivated by their own love of classical literature, use of the written word as a means of expressing the inner psyche, and the humanist ideal of individual worth. 

At this point, I would like to digress for a moment and go back to Petrarch’s idealized maiden of desire, Laura.  I briefly mentioned earlier that Laura was probably real, but we can’t know for sure.  What most definitely IS real is the EMOTION – and specifically the emotion of love – that saturates Petrarch’s poetry.  Petrarch spends about two-thirds of Il Canzoniere yearning for Laura in life, but the mood changes around sonnet 264.  Laura has died, and Petrarch must now let go of his desire and transition to a holy state of acceptance in the finality of death.

So what in the world does this digression have to do with humanism, and the ‘three Italian crowns’ for that matter?!  Well, to me, the last third of Il Canzoniere is an acknowledgement by Petrarch that humanistic ideals are just that – ideals created for the fleshy, mortal, human world.  Individualism is a consolation for the living. 

As humanists, the “three Italian crowns” lived very productive lives, and left a lasting legacy on the Italian language and literary canon.  They resurrected classical Greco-Roman literature and culture, they helped cultivate a strong belief in the potential of the individual, and finally, they explored human emotion at its source – by intimately weaving their words together with their own psycho-emotional experiences.  Though they’re no longer physically here with us today, the emotion – the passion – of the “three Italian crowns” lives on.  And perhaps that’s all that really matters; perhaps individual emotion is what truly makes us…human.   

.          .          .          .          .

I’ve only just scratched the surface here on the ideals that bind “the three Italian crowns” together as founding fathers of the Italian vernacular and modern literary canon.  If you would like to learn more about the topic, or simply experience a “who’s who” snapshot of Italian Renaissance literature, I highly recommend checking out The Italian Renaissance Reader (ITR), edited by Julia Conaway Bondanella and Mark Musa (ISBN: 978-0-452-01013-0).  If you are interested in Petrarch specifically, I recommend you check out Petrarch’s Lyric Poems (PLP), edited by Robert M. Durling (ISBN: 0-674-66348-9).

These two books, along with notes I culled from Dr. Quinn’s classes here at the Rome Center, and some supplemental biographical info from, are what I used to synthesize the information in this post.

As always, I appreciate anyone who read this and made it to the end!  I plan to post one more time here in the next few days before departing for the States on Saturday! 




Monday, June 27, 2016

Last Weekend in Rome


The man on the platform slowly mimed the letters to me through the steamy glass window of the train.  Oh.  A Strike.  It took me a moment to realize what was going on, but once the pantomimed letters registered in my mind, I knew we were in for a long day.  You see, we had meticulously planned a weekend trip to Cinque Terre – a grouping of five scenic northern coastal towns – weeks in advance.  It was going to take us three trains and close to six hours to get to Cinque Terre on Friday afternoon, but the Italian train labor union had other ideas.  We never made it out of Rome.  

            We spent seven hours in the train station trying to get on other trains, but we eventually settled for a refund on our original tickets.  We still had to pay a little bit of money to the hostel that we had booked in advance, but it could have been a whole lot worse.  We left Roma termini on Friday evening feeling very tired, but not defeated. 

            After some discussion Friday night, we decided we had to do something to make up for the bad experience at Termini, so we settled on trying for a whole new day trip – this time to Sorrento – on Saturday.   

Our Sorrento Crew:  Myself, Lindsay, Kristin, Jacob, and Alex.  Post Beach.

            Sorrento is a southern coastal town on the bay of Naples famous for its rich history, delicious citrus fruits, and scenic cliff-side views of the Mediterranean.  It took us two train rides and more than four hours to get there, but it was completely worth it.     

            We arrived around 1pm, and very hungry at that.  So, after stopping at a tourist office to get a map, we walked straight to the center of town – Tasso Square – and found a place to eat lunch.  The pizza I ordered turned out to be one of the best I’ve had so far on this trip.  The thin-crust Roman style pizza is good, but the thicker-crust, wood-fired Naples style is the best!  The latter is what I had on Saturday afternoon – topped with bacon, zucchini, and copious amounts of cheese. 

            So a little bit of history here on Tasso Square.  It actually used to be called Piazza Castello, as a large castle used to sit on the very spot where the square is today.  The fortification was centrally located, and controlled the main entrance into and out of Sorrento.  Walls have been present on the site since ancient Roman times, though they were mostly destroyed by the Saracens in 1558.  The walls were rebuilt following this attack, however, and became quite extensive by the 19th century before they were destroyed again – this time by Napoleon. 

            So why is it called Tasso Square today?  Tasso is the name of a famous 16th century poet who was born in Sorrento.  He is most famous for his epic poem about the battle for Jerusalem in the first Crusade, Gerusalemme liberata (1581), which was widely read and circulated in Europe up until about the early 20th century.                  

            After lunch on the square, we climbed down a steep set of steps from the square to a narrow street that led to the beach.  This street was originally the main point of access from the Bay to the centrally located castle.  We followed it straight out to the sea, which was just visible in the distance – a deep, sapphire blue swath of frothy sea-surf fabric.

Access to the Bay of Naples below Tasso Square

            Once arriving at the beach, which was a narrow, rocky, black-sand (thanks to the volcanic activity of Mt. Vesuvius nearby) stretch of cliff side water access, we spent a few Euros to lounge on a deck that jutted out into the bay.  I quickly jumped into the water, however; as I had been sweating all day and was in desperate need of a cool down.  The water WAS cool, very salty, and very refreshing. 

            After spending about three hours lounging in and out of the shallow water, we climbed up another steep cliff and started heading back toward the train station.  On the way back through town, we stopped at a small restaurant/bakery, where I got a delicious lemon slushy.  Citrus fruit - and specifically lemons - are the name of the game in Sorrento. 

Cliff-side stairs

            We arrived back at our apartment just before midnight on Saturday evening, and I slept for the next eleven hours.

            Rest has been a rare commodity for me this past month, and for good reason, but I desperately needed some extra shuteye after the long trip to Sorrento.  Anyways, when I finally did get up, I ventured out on Sunday with my friends Jacob and Christine to check out the Basilica of John Lateran in Rome.
            On our way over, we stopped at the Altare Della Patria Monument, which is a late 19th century white "wedding cake" structure (the Italian nickname for it) that serves a dual purpose – it commemorates both King Victor Emanuele’s role in the unification of Italy, and houses Italy’s Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

After climbing about halfway up on foot, we took a lift the rest of the way.  Once we made it to the roof, we were rewarded with an excellent panoramic view of the city.  We didn’t stay up very long though, as it was 96 degrees here on Saturday and the sun was beating down on us!   

Top of Altare della Patria.  Colosseum in the center of the background, Roman Forum to the right.

            From the monument, we took a bus out to John Lateran, which is south of Roma Termini on the southeastern outskirts of the old city.   

The façade of John Lateran

Doors of John Lateran - which were originally a part of the Roman Imperial Senate building.

            The Basilica of St. John Lateran is the ecumenical mother church for all Roman Catholics, as it is the oldest of the four Papal Major Basilicas in Rome (the other three being St. Peter’s, St. Maria Maggiore, and St. Paul Outside the Walls).  In fact, it is the oldest church IN Rome. St. John Lateran has been the seat of the Bishop of Rome, that is to say the Pope, since the early 4th century. 

The original church burned down twice – in 1308 and 1360.  It was rebuilt in each instance, and in 1377, after the Popes returned from their exile in Avignon, a renovation project was initiated that wouldn’t be definitively finished until 1655.  The author of the baroque-era renovation that is still visible today was the architect Francesco Borromini.

            Borromini also did some of the interior design work at St. Peter’s Basilica, which is where I started my day off this morning. 

           This weekend was ALL about getting some good views of the city. We started off with the climb to the top of Altare della Patria on Sunday, and capped it all off today (quite literally) with a trek to the top of the St. Peter's Basilica dome.  It took 551 steps to get to the top, and luckily we were able to take a lift for about a third of the way.  The Basilica is 132 meters tall from the crown of the dome to the floor. 

Half way there!  Our dome-climbing crew at the bottom of the cupola before making our final descent.

          The climb to the top was not unlike the climb of Il Duomo (Florence Cathedral) that I made a few weeks back.  I felt a little bit claustrophobic at times, as the walls started slanting drastically inwards when we got towards the top, but, as per usual, the view was phenomenal once we reached the top.  

View from the top of St. Peter's.  Altare della Patria is visible center right in the distance.

St. Peter's Square from the top of the dome

         After climbing back down from the top of the dome, I made a quick stop at the Vatican gift shop with my friends before heading back to Trastevere - where everyone was already gearing up for the Italia vs. Spain soccer game this evening.  Spoiler alert:  Italy won!!  It was an incredible game. 

          This weekend didn't go the way I expected it to at the outset, but everything worked out just fine in the end.  There's just SO MUCH to see here in Rome.  I'm glad I had one more weekend here to take it all in - and from a different angle!  It was really neat to be able to look down from above on all the sites we've been visiting as a class the past few weeks.  There's so much history here just crammed into the buildings, the walls, and indeed the very cobblestoned streets I've grown so accustomed to these past several weeks.

          This weekend was all about the beach, the big churches, and the beautiful panoramic views.  I'll never forget how it all went down.  It started with a S-T-R-I-K-E.....and it ended with a.........GOOOOOOOOOOOAAAAAAAALLLL!!!!!  Two of them, in fact!

I've enjoyed every minute of it



Thursday, June 23, 2016

Galleria Borghese

                How could such a lavish palace – full to the brim with priceless artwork – ever have been the PRIVATE possession of one man? 

            This is the thought that kept running through my mind as I walked through the halls of Villa Borghese this morning.  The original owner of the place, Cardinal Scipione Borghese (1577-1633), was a PROLIFIC art collector and patron of several famous artists – most notably Bernini and Caravaggio.  His private collection was not opened to the public until the early 20th century (it was sold to the Italian government in 1902).  Imagine relaxing in the morning with Bernini’s David or Apollo and Daphne looming large over your morning coffee.  Cardinal Scipione Borghese was a high roller.

Exterior of the Galleria Borghese

                Thankfully, today the Villa is open to the public, as well as the spectacular gardens that surround it – which have effectively become Rome’s “Central Park”.  Our class arrived this morning at 11 am sharp, and stayed in the gallery for about two hours before exiting to the gardens.  What we saw inside was overwhelming to say the least.

The Borghese Gallery is all about transitions.  Every room has a theme – and not much attention was paid to chronology when organizing the collections.  It’s possible to glide seamlessly from an Egyptian-themed room to a Venus-themed room to a Caravaggio-themed room, just like that.  AND it’s often hard to tell if the works you’re looking at are classical or Renaissance in origin.  Every room is a new piece of the art and culture puzzle that has to be examined individually.

The first work we saw upon walking up the spiral staircase into the main gallery was Bernini’s Rape of Proserpine – which is based on the ancient Greek story of the Underworld god Hades (Roman Pluto) kidnapping Persephone (Roman Proserpine).  Bernini’s mastery of the marble is all in the fine details.  The depth of Hades’ fingers digging into the thigh of Persephone was particularly impressive.

The Rape of Proserpine

So who was Bernini anyway?  He was a Baroque-style sculptor, architect, city-planner, painter, and actor who lived from 1598-1680.  He is perhaps most famous for decorating the interior of St. Peter’s Basilica (which included the creation of the gargantuan bronze baldacchino canopy over the central altar), as well as sculpting the 140 Saints that peer over the colonnade on St. Peter’s Square.  He also designed many fountains in Rome – including the famous Four Rivers fountain in Piazza Navona.  

Bernini’s style is characterized by drama and emotion.  The Rape of Proserpine is an excellent example of this mobile realism, as is Apollo and Daphne.  These two pieces, along with David, garnered Bernini widespread fame – and all three were completed under the patronage of Cardinal Scipione Borghese.

Apollo and Daphne.  Daphne is half woman, half tree at this point (notice her leg is turning into a tree trunk)

Bernini's David.  Particularly impressive is the detail in the rope of the sling shot

There are many more Bernini pieces in the Borghese collection, most notably Aeneas, Anchises, and Ascanius, but for now I will move on to Caravaggio. 

Whereas Bernini was relatively tame and rule-abiding, Caravaggio (1571-1610) was a bit of a loose cannon.  He was frequently involved in fights, and he apparently once killed a young man – possibly over a gambling debt, though the circumstances remain obscure.  Caravaggio was always in trouble with someone as a result of his erratic behavior.  His style of artwork, however, was NOT erratic in the slightest.  Virtually all of Caravaggio’s works are characterized by a stark contrast between the light and the dark, and a masterful manipulation of light sources to illuminate the subjects in his paintings. 

Caravaggio's Boy with a Basket of Fruit.  The sensual figure and light-dark contrast are characteristic of the artist.

            Caravaggio’s paintings bridged the gap between the Mannerist and Baroque movements.  Mannerism was characterized by highly stylized poses, but not necessarily clear perspective.  Caravaggio’s subjects are no doubt “highly stylized”, but the perspective is clear – the subjects are literally spotlighted through Caravaggio’s manipulation of light.   His work is seen as having a profound influence on the style of countless other painters who came after him, most notably Rubens and Rembrandt.  

Alright.  Enough history!  So the major take-away for me today was that transitions – in this case we’re talking about art, but the theory applies to literature, music, and theatre as well – transitions between “stylistic periods” are not fluid.  They’re chaotic.  And individual artists – not time frames or abstract intellectual ideas – are who shift the style dynamic.   

            In this post, I highlighted a transitional artist in Caravaggio (Renaissance to Baroque), and a high Baroque artist in Bernini.  Both men were incredibly talented, and both shared a patron in Cardinal Scipione Borghese.  Seeing the master works of both men juxtaposed in one space made the contrasting artistic periods come to life – not as distinctive, jagged time frames – but rather as interlocking pieces in the beautiful mosaic of art, and history, and time.      

Grazie per aver letto,


Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Papa Francesco

            He’s the first Pope from the Americas.  He’s the first Pope from the southern hemisphere.  He’s the first Jesuit to be a Pope.  And he’s the first Pope to have studied and worked in the chemical engineering field.  Whew.  Heeee’s kind of a big deal.

            Papa Francesco was born Jorge Mario Bergoglio on December 17th, 1936, in Buenos Aires, Argentina to a family of Italian immigrants.  He earned a Chemical technician’s diploma after attending Escuela Técnica Industrial Hipólito Yrigoyen Secondary School, and he briefly worked as a test chemist in a food laboratory before being called to become a Jesuit Priest in 1960.  Following the Jesuit mission of education, he taught literature and psychology at a few different Argentinian high schools while finishing his own education in theology.  He was ordained as a priest in 1969.  From there, he went on to become Auxiliary Bishop of Argentina in 1992, Archbishop of Buenos Aires in 1998, Cardinal in 2001, President of the Argentine Episcopal Conference in 2005, and, finally, he was appointed the 266th Pope in 2013.  And I got to see him today!


            I saw the Pope this past Sunday from a distance, but today was a totally different story.  Pope Francis passed within about ten feet of where I was standing in Vatican Square!

Pope Francis blessing the crowd as he rode by our position on the square

            I woke up at 5:30 AM this morning, and made it to the Vatican by 6:45 in order to get through security and secure a seat as close as possible to the pavilion where the Pope would be speaking from.  My classmates and I were not able to get front row seats, but we did arrive early enough to get seats along the edge of the large central aisle, which the Pope would later ride through on the Pope mobile.  Prior to the Pope’s arrival in the square, bishops started announcing visiting groups to the square.  And, to my great surprise, the University of Arkansas - we - were actually announced!  To a crowd of thousands. In Vatican Square!  We cheered and cheered  

Early morning Selfie with the class (feat. Jacob)

            The Pope came riding in on the Pope mobile around 9:30, and he was driven around the edges of the square first.  I watched his progression on one of the big flat screen TVs that were positioned towards the front of the square.  He mostly stayed in his vehicle and waved, but he did get out periodically to shake hands, bless children, and greet the elderly.  He came up our aisle last.

Another up-close pic of the Pope.  On the left side, one of the colorful Swiss Guards is just visible.

Mid-morning class selfie.  It got busy in a hurry!

The audience started with a reading from the Gospel of St. Luke.  Various bishops welcomed the crowd and did the reading in 8 different languages!  Italian, Spanish, English, French, German, Portuguese, Arabic, and Polish were all spoken during the program.

 Following the reading, Pope Francis gave a short sermon in Italian from his central location underneath the white Papal pavilion.  The topic of the sermon was compassion, and the Pope was joined under the pavilion by a group of African refugees - which I think added a lot of weight to his message.

Summaries of the Italian sermon were given in the eight languages after the Pope was finished.  The Pope then blessed the crowd, friends and family of those present, and any religious articles in the square.  The entire audience lasted about an hour.   

View of the Papal pavilion from our aisle seats

             The Pope is an incredibly inspiring figure.  His ability to touch the lives of so many people from such a wide array of backgrounds – and to do so positively, through a message of universal love and compassion – is simply amazing.

I don’t think I’ve ever been in a situation in my entire life where English is not the first or the second most popularly spoken language in any given crowd.  Italian and Spanish were probably number one and number two today, and yet they didn’t dominate by any means.  Hearing each group cheer when they were greeted in their own language was a beautiful thing.   

Diversity is the name of the game today.  Everyone is connected through the internet and social media, and Pope Francis is well aware of it.  I’d like to end this post with a series of two quotes from Pope Francis’s twitter account – which he posted yesterday.  In the spirit of working together in this world, Pope Francis tweeted out:

“People are the primary artisans of their own development, the first in charge!"
"We are all on a journey to the common house of heaven, where we will be able to admire with joyful wonder the mystery of the universe.” 



Monday, June 20, 2016

A Park, a Pope, and Three Poets

Parco Gianicolense.  I had never heard or seen the name before I spotted it on my paper map of Rome last Saturday afternoon.  I was looking for sites in my neighborhood to check out, as I really hadn’t explored Trastevere as extensively as I had other parts of Rome.

It turns out Gianicolense is a public hilltop park that offers spectacular views of the entire city of Rome.  And it was right in my backyard!  It took me less than ten minutes to walk to the park from my apartment here in Trastevere. 

            What I saw when I got to the top of the hill blew me away.  The view from the top was nothing less than a picturesque panorama of Rome.  Looking out at the city, I was able to pick out many of the landmarks that I’ve already visited, from the Pantheon (wide grey dome on left side of the picture) to the Altare della Patria “wedding cake” monument of Vittorio Emanuel II (big white structure on the right side).  My favorite aspect of the view, however, was the dark outline of the Apennine Mountains that frames the whole scene from a distance.

View of the city from near Parco Gianicolense

            The park’s name, derived from the Italian name for the hill it sits on, Gianicolo, is translated into English as “Janiculum”.  The name derives from “Janus”, the two-faced Roman god, as the hill was once used as a pagan shrine.  Interestingly, The Janiculum Hill is not one of the legendary “Seven Hills of Rome”, as it is west of the Tiber River. 

After taking plenty of pictures of the city, I started to explore the park’s interior.  To my surprise, I found rows and rows of stone busts depicting famous Italians from throughout history lining the interior walkways of the park.  I found the coupling of the busts with the beautiful views of the city a very potent combination.  It seems fitting to me that many of Italy’s great minds and military leaders are now immortalized in a spot that overlooks the city they fought so hard to defend. 

Finally, I crossed to the opposite end of the park, where I was rewarded with this glimpse of the dome of St. Peter’s Basilica through the trees.  This view of the Basilica was a very unique angle for me, as I’m used to seeing the dome of St. Peter’s on my walk to school or on my way to other site visits – in the context of the cityscape.  It was really neat to be able to see the dome all by itself, framed by the beautiful greenery of Gianicolense.    

St. Peter's through the greenery of Parco Gianicolense

            This view of the Basilica dome is a perfect place to end my narration of the park visit on Saturday, as St. Peter’s is where I would start my day on Sunday. 

I woke up early on Sunday morning in order to walk to St. Peter’s square and receive the “Angelus Domini” (Sunday blessing) from Pope Francis.  Pictured below is a panorama of the square I took while waiting for the Pope to appear.      

Panorama of the "welcoming arms" of Bernini's St. Peter's Square

            The Sunday blessing is a noontime ritual that the Pope performs each Sunday when he is in Rome.  He appeared from a high window on the right hand side of the Papal apartment complex and spoke for close to twenty minutes.

I listened carefully from my spot near the center of the square, trying to translate the handful of Italian words I recognized in my mind.  The Pope started his message by asking Chi è Gesù per ognuno di noi? (Who is Jesus for each one of us?)  The Pope then put his question into the context of the Gospel of St. Luke, and finally transitioned to a reflection on the meaning of the question in the modern world. 

The Pope ultimately instructed the crowd to let go of any unwarranted fears and uncertainties, and to find the strength to carry on through Christ.  He then blessed the crowd and recognized a few special visiting groups – who subsequently cheered, flew banners in the air, and jumped up and down.  The Pope is a ROCK STAR! 

The throngs of people leaving St. Peter's after the Angelus Domini

             Many have dubbed Francis “the people’s Pope”, and for good reason.  The Pope mentioned the Italian word for love, amore, several times during his short speech, and it was an incredibly liberating experience to see that love embodied in the diverse crowd that gathered in St. Peter’s Square to attend his blessing yesterday.   

            The Pope draws a lot of pilgrims to Rome.  The pilgrims come to see the Pope, just as people interested in history come to see the historical sites, but no one – or at least not many people – feel the need to actually live in Rome just to be close to the Pope or the history here.  The main reason why some people do come from abroad to live in Rome – and I’m specifically talking about non-Catholic ex-pats here – is because of the nice weather. 

The Mediterranean climate is what brought a sick John Keats to Rome in 1820.  The reason why I mention Keats now is because I spent this afternoon (Monday) in the Keats-Shelley House, a “British Museum Abroad” as I was told by a dapper-looking Prince Charles in the Museum’s introductory video.   

 And so just like that I transition from an afternoon spent in St. Peter’s square to an afternoon spent in the Roman residence of a second generation Romanticist.  QUITE a contrast there.   

The Keats-Shelley Museum borders the Spanish Steps.  The second window from the top on the left side is Keats's bedroom

The Keats-Shelley House, which is located adjacent to the Spanish Steps (and maybe 3-4 km northeast of the Vatican), is where John Keats took up residence in November, 1820 with his friend, the artist Joseph Severn.  Keats was already suffering badly from Tuberculosis at this point, and he died in the house just three months after he arrived, in February of 1821. 

Room where John Keats lived, and died, in Rome

Today, the Keats-Shelley house is home to a collection of letters and manuscripts written by Keats, Percy Bysshe Shelley, and Lord Byron.  It’s only fitting that the legacy of these three writers should be preserved together in one house, as the fate of these three writers was also tragically intertwined in life. 

Keats met Shelley briefly in 1816, and the two corresponded by written letter for some time afterwards.  When word of Keats’ death reached Shelley, who was living in Pisa at the time with Lord Byron, Shelley was moved to write the famous Elegy, Adonais, for his friend.  Stanza 49 of the Elegy perhaps best captures Shelley’s despair:

“…Go thou to Rome, – at once the Paradise;

The grave, the city, and the wilderness; …

Where, like an infant’s smile, over the dead

A light of laughing flowers along the grass is spread.”

In a tragic twist of fate, Shelley drowned at sea just four months after the death of Keats.  Now the despair shifted onto the shoulders of Lord Byron, who would elope to Greece and die one year later of fever.  Only the good die young.  Byron was 36.  Shelley was 29.  Keats was 25.  Yeesh.  That’s all the tragedy this blog post can handle.

So anyways, I have to admit that I was a little apprehensive about being all alone here in Rome this weekend (as my roommates have been in Florence), but I’m glad that I got the opportunity to rest my legs, and still do a little bit of exploring at my own pace.  In the spirit of being alone though, I’d like to end this post with an excerpt that takes me back to my first adventure in Parco Gianicolense on Saturday – from John Keats’s O Solitude

“O SOLITUDE! If I must with thee dwell,

Let it not be among the jumbled heap

Of murky buildings; climb with me the steep, –

Nature’s observatory – whence the dell,

It’s flowery slopes, its river’s crystal swell,

May seem a span; let me thy vigils keep

‘Mongst boughs pavillion’d, where the deer’s swift leap

Startles the wild bee from the fox-glove bell. 

But though I’ll gladly trace these scenes with thee,

Yet the sweet converse of an innocent mind,

Whose words are images of thoughts refin’d,

Is my soul’s pleasure; and it sure must be

Almost the highest bliss of human-kind,

When to thy haunts two kindred spirits flee.”