Sunday, July 27, 2014

Rome's talking statues - the Abbot, the waterseller, and the baboon

Rome, 1572

It's threes all the way:  In Part 3 of this three-part post on the Talking Statues of Rome, we will talk about three statues -- Abate Luigi, Il Facchino, and Il Babuino.  For the background to this post, see the first post here and the second post here, or if you're in a hurry, make do with

The Short Recap: 

In Renaissance Rome, poetry was a weapon.  Free speech was not exactly a commonly-held value in those days – at least not by the people in charge – but the Roman people had plenty on their minds, and it tended to come out in the form of scurrilous, anonymous verse  

Around the beginning of the 16th century, these entertaining but not-very-polite poems started appearing on a statue.  In time, this first “talking statue” was joined by five others in various parts of town.  Together, they became known as the “Congregation of Wits.”  The messages were posted in the dead of night, and next morning people would cluster around to read them. 

For all those hundreds of years, the people in charge have wished they could silence the talking statues, but at least some of the statues are still finding ways to “speak,” and their barbs have been felt by leaders as recent as Berlusconi and beyond.

Abate Luigi



He's a tall, imposing, handsome kind of guy, and he used to be no less than an emperor of Rome (though since he was wearing a different head at the time, nobody seems to know which emperor). 

Now he's known as Abate Luigi (Abbot Luigi), and he hangs out near the Basilica di Sant'Andrea delle Valle.  Centuries ago, he used to get involved occasionally in three-way conversations with Pasquino and Marforio (see previous two posts).  

His plinth bears a plaque that says:
I was a citizen of ancient Rome.  Now I am known as Abbot Luigi.  Together with Marforio and Pasquino, I achieved eternal fame for civil satire.  I have endured insults, disgrace and interment, but here my new life is finally secure.
This habit of losing his head, though, was not a one-time occurrence.  Some say that the one he's wearing now is a concrete cast of a previous version.  One writer observes that even though the head keeps disappearing, "it finds its way back."  It, or another that will do just as well.


Il Facchino



Il Facchino ("the porter") should perhaps have been known instead as L'Aquaiolo (the water-seller), as the latter is the profession he represents.  He stands patiently, dribbling water from his cask into the fountain he tops, on Via Lata.

Il Facchino is the only one of the six talking statues who was created in the Renaissance, rather than in classical times.  It must have been before Pope Sixtus V (there's that name I love again!) started putting the ancient aqueducts back into service, in the days when water sellers roamed the streets bringing water to people's homes. 


Il Babuino



I've saved my favorite for last.  Il Babuino ("the baboon") guards his fountain on the street named for him:  Via del Babuino.  In the statues' heyday, this area was relatively unpoliced; thus, people could affix their most outrageous comments to the Baboon, safe from the authorities.  

Il Babuino is probably a statue of a silenus, companion to Dionysus, usually represented as an old man with the legs and ears of a horse.  I've seen him described as a "superb representation of a lecherous drunkard on the prowl."   The Roman people, however, were apparently less impressed; they nicknamed him "The Baboon," and it stuck.  

His turf is what used to be the Strangers' Quarter.  A large community of foreigners lived there, and they used him to lampoon members of the Roman community - perhaps even the ones who were posting their own pasquinades on the other five statues.  

In one of the recent crackdowns on the statues (Gianni Alemanno, recent mayor of Rome, was not a fan, for example), the powers-that-be hit upon the idea of painting the Baboon's backdrop with graffiti-proof paint, as you see it above, and here at a greater distance:

Il Babuino in his pristine environment
But it was not always thus.  Look at him here, in all his former glory:



Talking statues today


They're not the daily entertainment they used to be, back in the day, but once in a while a political comment still turns up on one of the statues.  Most often it seems to be Pasquino.  And when Alemanno cracked down on posting things directly on Pasquino, most of the posts that appeared on the board over to the side were digs at Alemanno for that new policy.

But whatever the Gang of Six was or wasn't doing in recent years, the spirit behind them lives on.  One night during the period when Berlusconi's lurid private life was under legal investigation and public scrutiny, a group calling itself Nessun Dorma ("None shall sleep" - also the name of an aria from Puccini's Turandot) posted messages overnight on no fewer than 150 statues throughout Rome, with messages such as "Italy is not a brothel," and "The body of Italy is not for sale."  

And that concludes my brief series on Rome's talking statues.  I intend to visit them all next spring, take my own photos, and see for myself if any of them still have anything to say.


Images in this post are in the public domain, with the exception of the photo of Il Babuino with graffiti, which is licensed to Jerzystrzelecki via the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license, Wikimedia Commons.








Sunday, July 20, 2014

Talking Statues 2: Marforio and Madama Lucrezia

Marforio, in the Musei Capitolini

In Part 2 of this three-part post on the Talking Statues of Rome, we will talk about Marforio and Madama Lucrezia.  For the background to this post, see the previous post here, or if you're in a hurry, make do with

The Short Recap: 

In Renaissance Rome, poetry was a weapon.  Free speech was not exactly a commonly-held value in those days – at least not by the people in charge – but the Roman people had plenty on their minds, and it tended to come out in the form of scurrilous, anonymous verse  

Around the beginning of the 16th century, these entertaining but not-very-polite poems started appearing on a statue.  In time, this first “talking statue” was joined by five others in various parts of town.  Together, they became known as the “Congregation of Wits.”  The messages were posted in the dead of night, and next morning people would cluster around to read them. 

For all those hundreds of years, the people in charge have wished they could silence the talking statues, but at least some of the statues are still finding ways to “speak,” and their barbs have been felt by leaders as recent as Berlusconi and beyond.

Marforio

 


This elegant reclining statue, known to the Romans as Marforio, was the conversational partner of Pasquino, the first of the talking statues (discussed here in last week's post).  Somehow these two, although distant from one another, got into the habit of exchanging comments or asking each other questions.  In one famous exchange, Marforio plays straight man to Pasquino as they poke rhyming fun at Pope Clement XI (1700-21) and his obsession with revitalizing the city of Urbino:

Marforio:  Dimmi, che fai, Pasquino?

Pasquino:  Eh, guardo Roma, che non vada a Urbino.

(Tell me, Pasquino, what are you doing?  I'm watching Rome, so it doesn't get moved to Urbino.)

Marforio, a colossal statue of -- possibly -- a river god, has had quite a variety of homes in Rome.    Originally found near the Arch of Septimius Severus, he was already a landmark in Rome in the late 12th century, but once he started speaking his mind, he wasn't going to be allowed to stay there.  Too accessible, too public.

Marforio's original neighborhood
In 1588, Pope Sixtus V (I've always loved that name...) moved Marforio to Piazza San Marco.  Then in 1592, our loquacious hunk of marble moved on to decorate a fountain in the Piazza del Campidoglio, on a wall of the Basilica di Santa Maria in Ara Coeli, facing the Palazzo dei Conservatori.

But even then there was to be no rest for a talking statue.  Finally, in 1679, Marforio moved one last time, inside the Palazzo Nuovo di Campidoglio, where now he languishes, an inmate of the Musei Capitolini.  The excuse was preservation, but many believed it was to remove him from Rome's lively street conversation.

Marforio's name, by the way, may have derived from an inscription near where he was originally found, which said "mare in foro" (the sea in the forum).  It may also have derived from the Marioli (aka Marfuoli) family, who owned property in the area.  And at various times he's been thought to represent Oceanus, Jupiter, Neptune, and the Tiber. 


Madama Lucrezia



The only female member of this chatty Gang of Six is the redoubtable Madama Lucrezia,  the colossal bust of a statue of a priestess of Isis (or possibly of Isis herself, or, some say, of the Empress Faustina).  The lady is located in a corner near the Basilica di San Marco and the Palazzo Venezia.  

She emerged from the ground near a Temple of Isis, in the vicinity of the Chiesa di Santa Maria Sopra Minerva (near the Pantheon).  Dating from about the 3rd century BC, she fell into the hands of King Alfonso V of Naples, who then presented her to his mistress, Lucrezia d'Alagno, and it was for this lady that the statue was named.

Alfonso
Lucrezia (if it isn't Vittoria Colonna)
 After Alfonso's death in 1458, Lucrezia found it prudent to relocate to Rome, where she lived in the neighborhood where her namesake now dwells.  

Pie di Marmo
Some say this rather large foot, the famed Pie di Marmo (foot of marble), may once have supported Madama Lucrezia when she was whole, but no one is sure.

In the 18th century, May Day celebrations involved decking Madama Lucezia with necklaces of onions, garlic, carrots, and ribbons -- a perfect mix of festive and edible.  The poor people of the neighborhood then danced the Ballo dei Poveretti (dance of the poor people) around her.

 Madama Lucrezia took an unfortunate tumble in 1799 (perhaps that's what happened to her nose), when unrest among the people over Napoleon's invasion of Rome toppled her from her plinth.  To add insult to injury, she was promptly given a sign that translates, colloquially, to "I just can't stand it any more."  

Pantheon
But her most famous comment was a dig at Pope Urban VIII, of the Barberini family (pope from 1623-1644).  He had used the bronze tiles of the Pantheon for the canopy of St. Peter's, apparently not a popular choice in Rome, and this was the result:

Quod non fecerunt Barbari fecerunt Barberini.
 (What the barbarians did not do, the Barberini did.)

This couplet is sometimes ascribed to Pasquino, as if a female statue was not capable of coming up with such wit.  That reminds me of a little verse by Dorothy Parker, which goes like this:

Oscar Wilde
If, with the literate, I am
Impelled to try an epigram,
I never seek to take the credit;
We all assume that Oscar said it.
***

Next time, we'll finish up with the final three talking statues:  Abate Luigi, Il Facchino, and Il Babuino.


Images in this blog are in the public domain, thanks to the generosity of their creators or to expired copyright, except for the Pie di Marmo photo, which is licensed to Lalupa via the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license, Wikimedia Commons.




Sunday, July 13, 2014

A Congregation of Wits

Pasquino

In Renaissance Rome, poetry was a weapon.  Free speech was not exactly a commonly-held value in those days – at least not by the people in charge – and it was not a very good idea to complain about politicians or popes in such a way that they knew you were the one saying those things about them.  But the Roman people had plenty on their minds, and it tended to come out in the form of scurrilous, anonymous verse.   In those days, a poetry “slam” really was a slam. 

Marforio
And right around the beginning of the 16th century, these entertaining but not-very-polite poems started appearing on a statue.  In time, this first “talking statue” was joined by five others in various parts of town.  Together, they became known as the “Congregation of Wits.”  The messages were posted in the dead of night, and next morning people would cluster around to read them (or listen to them read aloud, in the years when not all were literate). 

Madama Lucrezia
For all those hundreds of years, the people in charge have wished they could silence the talking statues, but they have never completely succeeded in doing so.  Despite such 21st-century innovations as anti-graffiti paint, at least some of the statues are still finding ways to “speak,” and their barbs have been felt by leaders as recent as Berlusconi and beyond.

Il Facchino
In this post I'm going to talk a little about the history of that first statue, the redoubtable Pasquino.  In subsequent posts, I'll tell you a little about the other five:  Marforio, who used to hold conversations with Pasquino; Madama Lucrezia, the only female statue in the bunch; Il Facchino, the only one of the statues originating in the Renaissance rather than in classical times; Abbot Luigi, who has a habit of losing his head; and finally Il Babuino – The Baboon.

Abate Luigi
Il Babuino













Pasquino



Pasquino doesn't look like much, but he's got a good excuse.  He's been around since the 3rd century BC, though he spent a fair bit of that time underground.  He emerged during a spate of road construction in 1501, while the Parione district was being paved.  It is thought that the statue depicts Menelaus with the body of Patroclus. 

In the year in which the statue emerged, Cardinal Oliviero Carafa placed it in a small square close to Piazza Navona, a much-trafficked area.  Every year on the Feast of San Marco (April 25) the cardinal chaired a Latin poetry competition in which people posted their poems on the statue, which was often painted and dressed in different guises.  These poems were not scurrilous affairs; many were written by scholars and high-ranking Roman citizens.  (This was true even after the tone became less lofty.  Many a political point was scored by someone close to the powerful by posting an anonymous gibe at a rival or a political foe.)


And why was he called Pasquino?  Accounts differ, but one that recurs is that the original Pasquino was a tailor (or possibly a barber) in the neighborhood whose work often took him to the Vatican, where he picked up a lot of gossip and then proceeded to spread it around, adding his own acerbic comments and observations.  It's said that after the flesh-and-blood Pasquino died, his neighbors named the garrulous statue after him, in fond memory.  In fact, the little square where he resides is now called Piazza di Pasquino. 

Pasquino even has a type of literature named after him:  the pasquinade (Italian pasquinata), which is defined, naturally enough, as a satire or lampoon, originally one displayed or delivered publicly in a public place.

Pasquino's first known political post – the first that we remember, anyway – had to do with Pope Alexander VI, the Borgia pope, and was posted in August of 1501.  Pasquino may well have been the first to “utter” the famous bon mot referring to Giulia Farnese, the pope's mistress, as “the Bride of Christ.”  He also sported a venomous dig at Giulia's brother, a cardinal, effectively calling him a pimp and brother to a slut.

Pope Alexander VI
Giulia Farnese












 It was Pope Hadrian VI (pope for only a year and a half, from 1522-1523) who inadvertently turned one talking statue into a whole congregation.  He fervently wanted to get rid of the troublesome statue, but something prevented him.  Some say it was his early death, others that he feared ridicule if he did as he threatened and tossed poor Pasquino into the Tiber.  Some said Hadrian was convinced when someone told him that like a frog, the statue would only croak louder from the river.  The pope – whoever it was at that precise moment – settled for creating draconian laws forbidding the posting of anonymous screeds, and enforced this by posting a guard at all times.  It kept Pasquino under control (for a while), but it's hard to keep a good idea down, and soon more statues, elsewhere in the city, began to find their voices. 

(Poor old Hadrian really did have to put up with a lot, though, considering he was only pope for a year and a half.  During the conclave where he was elected as successor to Pope Leo X, Pasquino managed to satirize Leo, Hadrian, and the cardinals doing the electing.)

Pope Hadrian VI
But Pasquino wasn't done talking yet.  Some of his best known remarks are from later centuries, including a famous pun during the papacy of Alexander VIII (1689-1691).  Pope Alexander's name had originally been Pietro Ottoboni, a Venetian.  Pasquino's comment was this:

“Allegrezza!  Per un papa cattivo abbiamo Otto Boni!”

Or, “Rejoice!  For one bad pope we have Eight Good Ones [Otto Boni]!”

Maybe you had to be there.

His comment on the twenty-year reign of Clement XI (1700-1721) was this:  “Dacci un papa miglior, Spirito Santo, che ci ami, tema Dio ne' campi tanto.” (“Give us a better pope, Holy Spirit, who will love us, fear God, and not live so long.”

Pietro Aretino
Pasquino associated with some famous people.  The 16th century poet, playwright, and satirist Pietro Aretino made use of Pasquino to broadcast his message, and the eminent 17th century sculptor Gianlorenzo Bernini is said to have remarked that Pasquino was the finest sculpture he had ever seen – one suspects, given the statue's condition, that this judgment was made on other than aesthetic grounds.

But what of the others?  Ah, that's grist for another blog post.  Tune in again next time to learn about Marforio (the River God) and Madama Lucrezia (a priestess of Isis, but named after a king's mistress).


Images in this post are in the public domain (1) because of their age, in the case of reproductions of two-dimensional images; and (2) in the case of photos, thanks to the generosity of photographers who have removed restrictions from their work posted on Wikimedia Commons.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

A Potted History of Sudeley Castle and some thoughts on the people who lived there (guest post by Judith Arnopp)



Today I'd like to welcome Judith Arnopp, author of many wonderful historical novels, who is introducing her most recent book, Intractable Heart:  The Story of Katheryn Parr.  She has prepared a most interesting post about the history of Sudeley Castle, the last home of the queen who survived Henry VIII.

 Besides this tale about the woman who was the last of Henry VIII's six wives, Judith has written two other novels set in Tudor times,  The Kiss of the Concubine:  A Story of Anne Boleyn, and The Winchester Goose:  At the Court of Henry VIII.  She is also the author of other books set in the British Isles in earlier times:  Peaceweaver, The Forest Dwellers, and The Song of Heledd.  All are available on Amazon and on Barnes & Noble (see buy links below).

Judith Arnopp

Here's a little biographical information, in Judith's own words:

I live on a smallholding in West Wales with my husband, John.  We used to do the whole self sufficiency thing but ill health put a stop to that and now we just care for our daughters elderly pony and enjoy our naughty Jack Russell, Bryn.

My greatest loves have always been writing and history.  Since I was very small I have had a book in one hand and a pen in the other. These days I am able to write the sort of books that I love to read. Historical settings with a strong female lead. 


A Potted History of Sudeley Castle and some thoughts on the people who lived there.


      Near Winchcombe in Gloucestershire, a little north of Cheltenham, lies Sudeley Castle. A comparatively small place in the scheme of things, set against the backdrop of the Cotswolds. Sudeley is and has been many things; today it is a family home, a beautiful garden, a historic jewel, and the last resting place of an English queen.

      Sudeley Castle is steeped in history and was first mentioned in a 10th century charter. King Ethelred hunted deer in the park and later, when the castle passed to Goda, her distant relationship to William the Conqueror, saved it from Norman take over.

      Sudeley remained in the hands of Goda’s family until the reign of Henry V when the castle was gifted to Thomas Boteler in way of repayment for his action in the war with France. It was Boteler who began to transform Sudeley into an enviable home, enlarging and updating the existing fabric of the building to create a place fit for royalty.

Sudeley Castle

      When the Lancastrians were defeated and Edward IV took the throne the Boteler family were forced out and Sudeley’s new owner was no other than the king’s brother, Richard of Gloucester, later King Richard III of car park fame.

      When the tables turned again and Richard was defeated at Bosworth, Henry VII took it over, bestowing it on his loyal uncle Jasper Tudor. After Jasper’s death Sudeley once more became crown property.

      Henry VIII visited once with Anne Boleyn. They met with Thomas Cromwell there to discuss the reformation of the monasteries and took a keen interest in the Blood of Christ housed at nearby Winchcombe Abbey. At this time the castle was run down and unoccupied for much of the time.

Thomas Seymour, 1st Baron Seymour of Sudeley

Katheryn Parr

      On his accession to the throne Edward VI made his uncle, Thomas Seymour, Lord of Sudeley and after his marriage to Katheryn Parr, Seymour and his new wife made their home there.

       The Seymours implemented many improvements and Katheryn took great care in choosing the d├ęcor of the nursery for their expected child. Unfortunately, to Thomas Seymour’s sorrow, Katheryn died scarcely a year later, having given birth to a healthy daughter, whom they named Mary.

      With Thomas’ ward, Lady Jane Grey, acting chief mourner Katheryn was laid to rest in St Mary’s church adjacent to the castle. Today visitors to Sudeley can view a love letter and portrait gifted to the queen by her husband.

The church at Sudeley Castle

      Katheryn’s step daughter and friend, Elizabeth Tudor, later Queen Elizabeth I, visited Sudelely on three occasions during her reign. It is easy to imagine her walking in the garden, remembering her stepmother, recalling conversations, small personal details of their shared life that are now lost to history.

      Sudeley’s history doesn’t stop with the Tudors. During the civil war Prince Rupert made the castle his headquarters, and Charles I stayed there for a time during the campaign to take Gloucester.

      During the course of the war Sudelely passed back and forth between Royalist and Parliamentarian hands until Parliament ordered the ‘slighting’ of Sudeley making the house indefensible. The roof was removed, and the rest of the building fell swiftly into decay. The fine worked stone was quarried by locals until the grand castle became nothing more than an attractive romantic ruin. For the next two hundred years it was left to the mercy of the elements, a trysting place for lovers, or a hideaway for thieves.

      In 1782, Katheryn Parr’s grave was rediscovered. The lead casket was opened the body found within reported to be 'uncorrupted'. She was reinterred in 1817 by the Rector of Sudeley and a plaque copied from the original inscription on the lead coffin placed upon it. Today there is an effigy on the tomb but this was made in Victorian times.

Tomb of Katheryn Parr

      Sudeley remained in elegant decay until the nineteenth century when it was bought by two brothers, John and William Dent, who embarked upon a restoration project. They employed architect Sir Gilbert Scott to restore the chapel. The walls and large parts of the castle were restored. Finally Lady Emma Dent spent almost fifty years putting the finishing touches, filling Sudeley with fine art and historical artefacts.

      Yet, of all the people mentioned in this potted history; the Lords, the ladies, the kings, the politicians; it is Katheryn’s memory that lingers. Visitors flock there, not just to see a splendid house and a magnificent garden; they go there because of Henry VIII’s last queen, Katheryn Parr.

      The Tudor style parterre is only a reconstruction but, although Katheryn may have gone it is easy to imagine her there, inhaling the scent of the flowers, the kiss of summer rain on blush pink petals.

      While you move quietly between the roses, or pass through the old yew hedge, you can imagine a footstep on the gravel behind you, the sweeping red skirts of her kirtle as she joins you. And as she follows you around the flowerbeds, you may feel the brush of her hanging sleeves.

You can learn more about Katheryn and the sort of woman she may have been in my book Intractable Heart: The story of Katheryn Parr. Click here to buy (Amazon.co.uk) or here (Amazon.com, US).

***

Many thanks to Judith for that fascinating history!  To learn more about Judith and her work, visit her website, her blog, or see all her books on Amazon.


Images in this post:  Pictures of Sudeley Castle and of the church at the castle are both licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license, the former to Gordon Robertson, the latter to Jason Ballard.  The picture of Katheryn Parr's tomb is licensed to TudorQueen6 via the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.  The portraits of Thomas Seymour and Katheryn Parr are in the public domain due to expiration of copyright.