Natale Italiano | Rome – Day 3: The Mastery of Bernini
Boxing day was officially renamed “Bernini Day” on 26th December of last year, as we set about discovering the works of this genius which literally pepper the city of Rome with as much generosity as London is filled with red telephone boxes. Starting off with coffee opposite our beloved Pantheon in the Piazza della Rotunda, we only had to walk mere metres past the stunning Roman Temple to the Piazza della Minerva to see Bernini’s rather grand elephant sculpture, showing very little of the strain of the ancient Egyptian obelisk which it carries on its back. Meanwhile, a short walk to the West of the Pantheon took us to the even more spectacular Piazza Navona, where of course that incredible Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi (Fountain of the Four Rivers) by Bernini lords magnificently over the centre of the not so square Square. That incredible gushing fountain, which appears to bring the gods of the rivers to life before one’s very eyes, also carries at its centre an ancient obelisk, albeit that this time the obelisk is far grander, and one of the most impressible of the 13 major obelisks featured in Rome’s most prominent piazzas (although I understand that this once hails from ancient Rome, rather than ancient Egypt).
Minerva and Navona – two sights of Bernini’s mastery with marble
All this Bernini sightseeing had given us a taste for something a little more appetising to set our sights upon, and the proximity of the bustling Campo de’ Fiore meant lunch was not far at hand. The Campo, which translates as “field of flowers” is one of my favourite spots in Rome, particularly in the warmer weather when the encircling buildings are soaked with sunshine, and in the square below, market stalls selling the freshest produce and flowers burst into life. On this Boxing (sorry, Bernini) Day, the Campo was relatively quiet, but its restaurants happily open for business – the crispy Pizza with speck and zucchini which followed our entry into one such establishment was truly a delight worthy of this food-lover’s paradise.
Back to business in the afternoon, and after a sad farewell to my partner’s dearest Mama, we took advantage of the last dying hours of Roman light to make a visit to another of Bernini’s renowned masterpieces, The Ecstasy of Santa Teresa, contained within the Cornaro chapel of the Santa Maria della Vittoria. This stunning sculpture, which appears to show the figures of St Teresa and an angel floating on clouds made of marble, depicts an episode in the life of Teresa of Avila, a mystical cloistered Discalced Carmelite nun, who described a visitation by an angel who appeared to stab her with a golden spear filling her with the pain and ecstasy of god’s love. Lit from above by a little hidden window which reflects off the gilded stucco rays behind the sculptures, this work is truly a masterpiece of Bernini’s oeuvre, and perhaps the most theatrical of all his works.
For our final foray into the masterpieces of this genius of marble, we went to see Bernini’s mastery, not over sculpture, but over architecture. Yes, after a final Roman dinner in the atmospheric Ristorante Babette in the Via Margutta, we headed to a place whose structure is indebted to the genius of Bernini – St Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican. This central seat of Catholicism revels in the theatre of religious power and position, and for any visitor walking along the Via della Conciliazione towards St Peter’s imposing façade, there can be no doubting the monumental aspect of this approach. However, surely the most imposing and dramatic feature is the huge colonnaded piazza in front of St Peter’s, a piazza which provides ample space for all the visiting faithful, and further underlines the scale and magnitude of this centre of the Catholic Church. And who was responsible for the architectural design of the palazzo with its vast double rowed colonnades? Why Bernini, of course.
Nighttime walk to Vatican City
And with that monumental encounter with one of Bernini’s final masterpieces, we ended our last full day in the magnificent city of Rome, a city which provided us with such a rich festive experience, and whose streets and squares continued to buzz, despite the passing of the Christmas season. The following day, we would pack up our bags (and my little pop up Christmas tree) once again, and head further South – to Napoli.
All photos and written content are strictly the copyright of Nicholas de Lacy-Brown © 2014 and The Daily Norm. All rights are reserved. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.