When I left Lancaster the weather was damp and cold. In a typically martyred-housewife attitude, I had also done my usual massive chores before leaving. Consequently, I had terrible backache. I was unconsciously reproaching myself for having a week off abandoning my husband, who had to look after my autistic daughter Valentina. I had rewarded him by scouring the house.
Boarding the plane was straightforward except for an Italian family of four, at a loss. They tried to slip into the queue at the front entrance of the plane, then moved to the rear entrance and once inside battled the whole way against the crowd as their seats were at the front. I dozed off hoping my back would improve.
In Rome it was cold but sunny. I found my parents in a better mood than at Christmas, though my mother had had some heart problems a month before which didn’t seem a serious matter after some checks. They had planned all my week: supermarket the next day, an exhibition with my mum, shopping in Piazza Bologna, and a day at my sister’s with two cousins I hadn’t seen for a long time. They were overjoyed to see me. To fulfil all the tasks with such a painful backache I had to take pain killers and apply hot patches. Luckily I started to feel better after a few days and could try out new recipes with my mum. I will post them on this blog soon.
The exhibition Il principe dei sogni (Prince of Dreams) was at the beautiful palace of Quirinale where the President of the Italian Republic lives. I had a photo taken with a Corazziere, the tall, impeccable Italian guards who wear a helmet resembling the ancient, tailed Greek type. It was awesome. In the central yard a ceremony was going on. Certainly someone important was visiting the president but we didn’t know whom. I was with my mum and a group of her fellow students who attend an art history course for retired people. Their teacher was the guide. She introduced the tapestry exhibition with great enthusiasm, giving all the information on the restoration and repair of the ancient tapestries and the stories they represent. They narrate the story of Joseph from Genesis and were commissioned by Cosimo I de’ Medici in 1545 for the Sala dei Duecento in Florence. They are made up of twenty pieces which had been split in two in 1870 by the Savoy king to furnish the Quirinale (ten pieces in Florence and ten in Rome), now reunited after a twenty-seven year restoration.
The scenes from the Joseph story were drawn by Bronzino (16 scenes), Pontorno (3 scenes) and Salviati (1 scene). It was a great enterprise at the time because there wasn’t a tapestry tradition in Florence so two Flemish masters were hired to train skilled Italian workers. The aim was to establish the art of tapestry in Florence as well as complete the range of arts present in the city where great works of architecture, sculpture and painting were already produced. The exhibition was placed directly in the Corazzieri Hall, which has a rich golden ceiling with the Savoy coat of arms (a cross in a blue background) and the symbols of Pope Paul V, the eagle and the dragon.
Apparently Joseph was chosen as he represents the good, generous hero and a self-made man similar to Cosimo I and the Medici family. Like the new, rich middle class rising in Florence during the Renaissance, Joseph was shrewd, powerful and, like all heroes, pure and unselfish. An example to observe.
The tapestries are about twenty feet tall, covering more than two thousand square feet. They are richly coloured with marked chiaroscuro. The drawings reveal a great capacity for telling one of the most popular Bible stories in a clear, dramatic way, suggesting and showing at the same time, dividing the episodes in major and minor scenes, setting them in the background or foreground according to their importance. They are beautifully organized. The perfectly shaped bodies of the protagonists, completely absorbed in their actions, communicate the passion of their emotions to the viewer. Honestly, I never used to pay much attention to tapestries when I visited museums in the past, but I will from now on.