The Museum Visit That Almost Wasn’t

After lounging around in the apartment for almost record-breaking length (except our month-long stay in Lisbon where we had horrible weather and then got awfully sick), we decided by noon that we should go grocery shopping for dinner and then perhaps tackle one the items remaining on The Spreadheet.

Except, that today was Liberation Day. No market, no alimentary/supermarket, no cheese vendor, no small stores…… ‘Tutto chiuso oggi’. Everything is closed today. Okay, so maybe we have to have dinner out again after all.

I flipped flopped about going to the Capitoline Museum even when I was compiling The Spreadsheet. Somehow, it was not appealing to me. I had read mixed reviews about it in the past, though lately I had encountered lots of positive feedback, so it had made it into the final itinerary cut.

This visit had actually been scheduled for the first week of our stay, and it had gotten bumped twice in favor of other sites. This was how much I was unenthusiastic about it. It somehow felt like a school assignment, something you just HAD to do if you found yourself in Rome for two weeks.

Not going would be almost….inexcusable. But it fit the description of ‘One Item’ and it is located within fairly easy walking distance of the apartment. C was game given these two premises. So that was how my Inner Hermoine Granger won. I admit that I was almost dragging my feet.

Out of Trastevere, over the Ponte Sisto, across the Jewish Ghetto, through the walkways of the Portico de Ottavia and Teatro Marcello, hazardously across the big road (over the crossway, of course, not that it means anything) and we found ourselves at the foot of the humongous set of stairs that precede the Capitoline Hill.

‘You want me to go up THAT!?!’ C exclaimed with more than a little exasperation. I was intentionally staring at the staircase leading up to the Ara Coeli. ‘No, we have already been up there and once in a lifetime is enough.’ Of course, that strategy made the stairs going up to the Campidoglio a lot less daunting.

Up we went, and into the biglietteria of the Musei Capitolini, the Capitoline Museum located in the Palazzo dei Conservatori on left side of the Piazza.

I will come out straight and say it: this will be rated as one of my Top 10 Museum Visits of all time. There are several reasons why I absolutely adored this museum….

First, it was not crowded. Matter of fact, besides a few big groups of young students, we had entire rooms to ourselves at times. Second, the staff does not seem to be hyper vigilant so you can get really close to the objects without anyone screaming at you. And last but not least by any means, the sculpture collection is a dream and so easy to admire within the ample settings. This museum is just manageable.

They even have lots of places where indulging but weary husbands can sit and wait for their overeager wives.

One of the first ‘biggies’ you encounter in the itinerary is the Lupa Capitolina, the She-Wolf Mother of Rome. The one outside in the piazza is a replica. Did you know that she was struck by lightning in 65BC and still bears the scars on her hind legs? Did you know that the statues of Romulo and Remo nursing from her are free standing and were ADDED during the Baroque period?!?!? I didn’t. I was LOVING this place.

The next headliner was Bernini’s bust of Medusa. The contrasting textures of her silky skin and the rough snakes are striking. The small 1stC statue of a boy picking a thorn from his foot, The ‘Spinnario’ is a delight.

The essedra di Marco Aurelio is wondrously spacious. Inaugurated in 2005 and build over the old garden, you can walk around the Lion Killing Horse sculpture as well as the original equestrian statue of the Emperor that stood in the Camplidoglio.

The Pinacoteca on the 2nd floor has a few noteworthy paintings, but make no mistake, this museum as all about the sculpture.

We made the mistake of exiting through the piazza in order to go to the other building, the Palazzo Nuovo. We got sent back to the Conservatori because you are supposed to go UNDER the piazza, through the tunnel.

From the underground you can access the Tabularum, where you will get the absolute best views of the Roman Forum. A lot of stairs, but totally worth the effort. C’s hip has been acting up a bit so we begin to notice these things….

In the Palazzo Nuovo, even more delights await. You enter and the huge reclining statue of ‘Marforio’ presiding over the fountain receives you. The statue was moved in the 16th C to this location at great cost from a nearby church, where he used to be plastered with satirical notes throwing jabs at the powerful.

Upstairs, the beauties continue: the Gabientto della Venere Capitolini; a 1stC marble of Venus emerging from her bath, modestly covering her lustrous body with her arms… Across the hall you then find the Drunken Old Woman, pleading in agony while holding for dear life to her big bottle of wine; the perfect contrast.

But the Dying Gaul! It is considered one of the most expressive and remarkable statues of antiquity, you see the strong man, knowing he has been deathly wounded, brought to the floor but still not ready to surrender. The statue of the Gaul Committing Suicide located in the Palazzo Altemps belongs to the same group and I personally think that is just as remarkable and even more full of emotion than this one.

Of course, C had to bring up that the Dying Gaul’s fame probably comes from being one of the few antique statues that still has its penis attached. Boy humor.

The red marble Drunken Faun is a joy to the senses. I wondered why he was called a faun until I saw his backside and found the short little tail springing from above his beautiful buttocks.

I guess it is obvious that I thoroughly enjoyed this museum and would absolutely recommend this visit. But the level of enthusiasm might depend on how much you enjoy sculptures from antiquity.

As we left the Capitoline, C asked ‘where to now?’ I’m sure he was hoping for a ‘home’ response but instead I said ‘well….there is this ONE church nearby that we have somehow missed….’.

The only positive thing about the navigational failure that followed was that we found an open 24/7 Carrefour Espress on Via dei Gesu after walking around a big circle from the church that was, in fact, only a few meters away from Piazza Venezia.

I don’t know why but, though the outside is a Renaissance masterpiece, I found the baroque interior of Il Gesu church to be a bit disappointing. Maybe my sense of aesthetic was still tuned into the clean lines of ancient roman sculpture or I was just museumed/art-outed for the day.

A quick trip to the grocery store to pick up the makings of dinner and we called it in, surprisingly early in the afternoon.

Dinner was a pork loin, fusilli in a tomato and butter sauce, and ‘chicoria saltata’ sautéed spinach pre made by Carrefour. Not bad for just having salt and pepper in the pantry. Another successful day in our trip to Rome which is rather shockingly rapid coming to its end. Just two more days….

— Notes from Tuesday, April 25th


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