July 29, 2007

The Altar of Peace

Posted in Uncategorized at 11:58 am by classicalmusic

Ara Pacis in Rome – full name Ara Pacis Agustae – meaning the Altar of Majestic Peace, was built for the Roman emperor Augustus and consecrated in 9 BC.

A New House for the Ara Pacis

The Ara Pacis, built to honor Emperor Augustus for creating the peace and prosperity brought about by the supreme military might of the Roman Empire, was first located in the Campus Martius (Field of Mars).  Over the centuries it was buried by mud, silt and the buildings put up by Christians, Byzantines and Baroque occupants of Rome.  The first remnants of the sculptures were rediscovered in the 16th century, and, in 1938 Mussolini had it moved next to the Augustus Mausoleum with a protective building built around it.  In 2005, the mayor of Rome commissioned the renowned architect, Richard Meier, to design a new building to house this monumental remnant of the Augustan “golden age”.

Meier’s building is a gleaming white modern marble structure which, in my opinion, stands out like a sore thumb as it resides next to a very old church and the ancient Augustus Mausoleum.  Although the building, as a “stand alone” is very beautiful, giving a sweeping entrance into the large hall that houses the Altar, it does not at all blend in with its surroundings and has proved to be very controversial.

The Ara Pacis Itself

The Ara Pacis is one of those “pearls” of Rome that should not be missed.  I was passing through Rome from Perugia to Tel Aviv, and in the few free hours available to me, I made a point of going to see the Altar, mainly because of Meier’s new building.  I wanted to see what all the fuss was about.  However, I was thrilled with the Altar itself.  The bas relief sculptures on all four sides of the structures portray the climax of Roman sculpture in the Augustan period.  The original pieces have been pieced together with reconstructed parts which are missing after all these years, and the sum total is one of gleaming white marble beauty.  The elaborate sculptures display scenes of the Emperor and his family in traditional Roman religious piety.  All the figures are walking, approaching the gods to offer sacrifices.  The figures are not idealized or stereotyped but actual recognizable portraits of individuals.  The audio guide is extremely helpful in viewing all four sides of this beautiful construction.  Not to be missed!


July 18, 2007

The Tarot Garden

Posted in Uncategorized at 11:55 am by classicalmusic

The Tarot Garden in Tuscany, near the town of Capalbio, is a wondrous outdoor museum and a paradise for children.

Niki de Saint Phalle’s Tarot Garden

The artist and sculptress Niki de Saint Phalle and her husband, the sculptor Jean Tingley, created the most wonderful outdoor museum in southern Tuscany.  It is a huge park with lovely old trees, pathways and stairways to go up and down the gentle hills, and it is filled with huge and wondrous figures all based on the Tarot cards.

The figures are monumental.  They are basically made of iron and stone but totally covered with multicolored shards of glass, ceramics, plastic, stone – anything and everything in tiny pieces.  These tiny pieces give a mosaic like coating to the wild looking figures completely astounding the spectator.

A Child’s Playground Paradise

Because of their huge size, most of the figures are hollow inside and their inside walls are also covered with the mosaic shards, creating huge colorful rooms with columns, pools, benches, furniture – all wonderful places for children to run around and play.  Some of them are labarynthine and some of the figures can be climbed up and down.  It is the best “jungle jim” I have ever seen.

Though Niki de Saint Phalle obviously believed in the mysticism associated with the Tarot Cards and wrote her philosophies alongside each figure, one doesn’t need to go into all that to enjoy the garden.  Some of the fascinating figures are:  The Wheel of Fortune, the Devil, Death, the World, Adam and Eve, and the central and largest of them all The Empress.  A trip through Tuscany should always include a visit to this marvel of imagination and endurance.

July 12, 2007

The Los Angeles Getty Center

Posted in Uncategorized at 10:56 am by classicalmusic

A visit to the Getty Center in Los Angeles is a real happening.

Up and Up on the Tram

A visit to the Getty Center is much, much more than just a museum tour.  Built on the southern foothills of the Santa Monica Mountains, you can see the most gorgeous view of the city of Los Angeles, the Santa Monica and San Gabriel Mountains and the Pacific Ocean.  But half the fun of the visit is getting there.  From the parking lot the visitor takes a little tram ride up, up to the hilltop campus of the Center itself.  The ride unfolds vistas of the Center campus above, the city below and the beautiful scenery in between.

Designed by the well known architect, Richard Meier, the buildings are clad in rich Italian travertine, a form of limestone, which was specially treated to show a “rough” exterior on which the sunlight plays in ever-changing shows of brilliance.  The Center is made up of six buildings, some of which are research centers for conservation and other sciences.  The campus is 700 acres which allows for a wonderful feeling of space.  Meier used many forms of stone formations, piazzas and waterways to enhance this spatial feeling.

The Getty Gardens

More beautiful than any of the museum’s art collections are the fantastic gardens of the Getty Center.  It is worthwhile to take the guided tour at least once, to hear about the planning of the gardens by Robert Irwin.  The gardens take advantage of the natural ravine and cascade down terraced walls.  A stream runs through them ending up in a reflecting pool.  The flowers and trees are in a constant state of change with the seasons, the times of day and the changing light.  It is a wondrous, restful atmosphere high above the busy metropolis of Los Angeles, but does not lose its touch with the city.  A really great place to go!

July 9, 2007

A Thing of Grace and Beauty

Posted in Uncategorized at 10:48 am by classicalmusic

The Villa Borghese in the Borghese Gardens of Rome is not just a museum.  It is
a thing of grace and beauty to behold.

The Villa Borghese

The Villa Borghese, designed and built in the early 1600’s for Cardinal
Scipione Borghese, was restored to its original 17th century brilliance several
years ago.  The restoration took years and years, and when the Villa was finally
opened to the public, it was impossible to visit it without making reservations
weeks in advance.

It was built to house some of the great art collection of the Borghese
family, and, although many sculptures and paintings were sold by some of the
Borghese’s, the remainder which is now in the Villa is certainly a sight to

The Villa itself is a building which can only be described as containing both
grace and beauty.  The facade is a creamy white which glows honey-colored in the
sun, and the double staircase leading up to the entrance has an elegance all its

Two Magnificent Sculptures

On my short visit to the Villa Borghese (we were only allowed three hours
inside), I was most impressed by two sculptures:

-The first is that of Pauline Bonaparet, created by Antonio Canova in 1805. 
It dominates the first room of the villa.  The figure is partially naked and
partially reclining in the fashion of a Venus of antiquity.  The sheen and
patina of the marble makes her look as though in a moment she will begin to
breath.  The sight of her is absolutely breathtaking.  It seems impossible that
the hand of man could have fashioned such an exquisite work from a piece of

-The second sculpture is the statue of David, carved by that great Baroque
sculptor, Gian Lorenzo Bernini.  While Michelangelo’s David, created in the
Renaissance, presents a confident and victorious hereo, Bernini’s David shows
him at the peak of action:  just about to throw the stone from his sling.  There
is a deep and almost human concentration in his face, while the rippling muscles
of his arms and legs create the impression that in an instant he will move.  I
could have stood in front of this statue for hours, full of admiration.

The Villa has many more works of art which really should be seen:  more
Berninis, a Caravaggio room, and a gorgeous Roman copy of a Greek statue of
Hermaphrodite from the Second Century B.C.  If ever in Rome, this museum is a
“must see” item.

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