nel blue, dipinto di blu, felice di stare lassu...

by Ellen in ,


So, I am still missing Italia, AND I'm trying to see if I can take a photo class from my favorite photo professor at Memphis. The class is from 5:30-8:35pm MW. Church always happens on Wednesday evenings in the South. Everyone goes. Bummer. Maybe they will have one on a TR next semester.

Here are the things about Rome that may have had a significant impact on my life:
I saw the series by Caravaggio, the Life of St. Matthew. No matter how hard I try, I can never get enough Caravaggio. Yes, he is very popular to like now, but he definitely was despised when he was alive. A crazy fact about him: he was a drunk, a thief, and a murderer. He was constantly on the run, and seemed to care little about others. It Stupefies me to think that this man has painted some of the most beautiful, poignant, and famous pieces of art the world will ever know. He lived an entirely different life on canvas, and towards the end of his young life, included his own face as the figure that most needed to be redeemed. For instance, he painted himself as Goliath, AND the guy who is in the act of murdering St. Matthew. I'm pretty sure I love Matthew for the same reason I love Caravaggio. The one I would wait my entire life to see is the Conversaion of Paul on the Road to Damascus. Paul and I have our issues, but there is something about this painting that is more alive than any human I know. One day, I'll get to see it and camp out in front of it. So far in my life, I have seen 5 real paintings by this complex artist, all of them within a week of each other, and not long enough to process what my eyes were actually doing. However, it was just long enough for the parts of himself with which Caravaggio laced these paintings to exist within me by entering through the two blue windows at the top of my face. Oh, and my third eye, the camera, my trusty sidekick. Sometimes it has a life of its own.
The series the Life of St. Matthew lives in the Contarelli Chapel in the Chiesa San Luigi dei Francesci (the church of Saint Louis of France),

which is huge and beautiful, but easily overlooked. When we went in, it was the only place we had been in Italy where there were hundreds of people in one place and completely silent. We weren't so struck by the beauty of the place (if I'm being honest, it was a little too gilded and gaudy for me. The French really enjoy that stuff, and they seemed to vomit it all in this one place), but we were enchanted by the quiet Taize music. When we walked in, it was Ubi Caritas, and then changed to Watch and Pray, which are two of my favorites. This church was the only place where I suddenly felt like I was the only one there, that this place was made just for me to walk into. I remember sort of hating the gold everywhere, but I marveled at the high ceilings. Then my eye gravitated to the place that my favorite Dr. Purtle had spoken about so many times, because every time she would show us her own photograph of a painting, she would give us directions on how to get there, and the exact location within the building. Naturally (nerdily), I always wrote them down, but this one place, I made sure I knew exactly where I was going so I would waste no time in getting there by being sidetracked by other marvelous objects. I didn't wait for anyone to follow, and I headed straight for the left corner of the San Luigi. It was dark, and a lot smaller than I had imagined, and I was a little frustrated because I couldn't see anything. I wondered why the lights would be off, figured it was an attempt to keep the paintings in their best condition, and strained to see what I had been waiting for since I started my career as an art history student. As my eyes were straining, trying desperately to make this whole venture holy with the beautiful music and this foreign land, I was disappointed. Then, in my right ear, I heard the clink of a coin and suddenly, this is what was revealed to me:
I almost crumpled to the ground in awe, and looked to see who had magically made it all appear. And of course, there was Eyleen, silently laughing at my tunneled vision, casually leaning on the vending machine of light into which she had just dropped a 50 cent coin. She understood this great moment in my life (because it also counts as one of hers), and together, we stood and wept at the scenes before us. At some point, I took these photos.

The Calling of St. Matthew


The Inspiration of St. Matthew

The Martyrdom of St. Matthew

Then, as the light vending machine hummed to its end, Jim dropped another coin in and told our group that I would now be discussing this particular series. I hadn't even noticed that all the kids and adults had gathered around behind me, and as I turned around, there they were with expectant expressions (don't be fooled; they are not all engaged by my abounding wisdom. Lots of eyes were wandering). So I explained to them as best I could with my tear-streaked face about how the middle painting, the Inspiration, has like a million underpaintings because the priests kept being unhappy with what Caravaggio was doing: he was always making Matt too dumb-looking, or the angel too weird/demon-looking. Caravaggio was either trying to be tongue-in-cheek, or funny, or a smart-ass, and it didn't please the priests (or the Contarellis, I'm guessing), although they loved his work and wanted him to finish the series. I'm sure I used the word tenebrism a few times trying to sound smart, told about his self-portrait, and blubbered my way through the similarities between Jesus' hand in the Calling and Michelangelo's hand of Adam in Creation at the Sistine Chapel, completed about 100 years earlier. For the last time, the lights went off, and I'm not sure why I didn't put more money in, but it just seemed like my time was up with Matthew and Caravaggio for the time being. The three of us shared a lingering stare, and Eyleen and I were the last to depart, remaining a few feet behind the group we were supposed to be leading, and basking in each others' experience and the blinding Roman sun that has been making people hot since the streets were built 3000 years ago.

There are a thousand more things I saw, felt, and smelled in Rome like the Colosseum, San Pietro in Vincoli, San Iganzio, the Pantheon, the Vatican Museum, the Vatican, the Pieta, the bones of St. Peter, the Sistine Chapel. I stole some great photos of all these places, except the Scavi, where you can ruin the environment of the 2000 year-old mosiacs just by breathing out too roughly. I loved that my very first view of Bernini's Baldachino was from underneath the Vatican, and I loved our nuns at the convent where we stayed. Somehow, I ended up with my own corner room with a full-sized bed. I slept with the windows open.

However, my absolute favorite thing about Rome is all of the faucets. There is one in every piazza that is always spewing clean, fresh, COLD, delicious water straight from the ancient aqueducts. Magnifico!