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11.03.2015
12:56

Frescoes in a convent of a closed order of nuns

Janus, representing the month of January.

In the lovely convent of the Santi Quattro Coronati, in a quiet corner of Rome reached on foot in little more than ten minutes from the Colosseum, frescoes were discovered in a Gothic hall in 1995. Since this was in an area belonging to a closed order of Augustinian nuns (who have been in the convent for some five centuries), many years’ discussion ensued to establish how it would be possible to allow visitors to see the frescoes once restoration had been completed. The difficulties have at last been resolved and the hall is now opened on two days a month by a volunteer organisation which specialises in making accessible places in Rome not normally easy to visit.

 

Heralded as perhaps the most important medieval cycle of secular subjects to have survived in the entire city, it is indeed a remarkable sight. The cross-vaulted hall was part of a grand 13th-century residence reserved for the Cardinal. In fact a cardinal priest attached to the Carolingian convent became Pope Leo IV in 847 (a chapel from his time survives off the little cloister).

 

Up until now the most fascinating part of the convent open to visitors was the little Cappella di San Silvestro, approached just off the courtyard, with its charming fresco cycle of 1247 commissioned by Cardinal Stefano Conti and illustrating the life (and legend) of Pope Sylvester (324–35). The Gothic Hall is on the first floor, approached from the opposite side of the courtyard through the convent library. Frescoed at around the same time as the chapel, it was the most important room in the Cardinal's suite. It was where he would probably have received visitors, administered justice and given banquets. The decoration is divided into two distinct parts. The three walls of the first bay have illustrations of the Months, all with charming stylised trees. January is depicted as a seated Janus figure with three faces while a boy is supplying him with cured pork, and sausages can be seen hung up to dry. Trees are being pruned in February, and in March an eccentric scene shows a languid youth holding out his very long, thin leg to a lady so that she can extract a thorn from his foot. In April shepherds are shown tending their animals. The next wall has an idyllic scene in May, with a man on a horse smelling a bouquet of flowers while children up trees laden with fruit gather them into baskets. In June grain is being harvested with scythes, and in July it is being processed on a circular threshing floor. Figs are being offered to a seated old man in August. The last wall begins with September, with wine barrels being prepared for the grape harvest, depicted in October. November has a ploughing scene and in December pigs are being butchered. The upper register, which illustrates the Liberal Arts, is less well preserved: but a female figure representing Geometry can be made out as well as Music, illustrated by an organ operated by bellows.

 

The second bay has a frieze of female Virtues and Beatitudes dressed in armour carrying small figures (from the Old or New Testament or a Saint) on their shoulders and trampling under their feet pairs of figures representing the Vices. The qualities personified are explained in long inscriptions. Solomon, representing Justice, is given pride of place, flanked by a pair of exotic birds. Above them are lunettes with even more curious scenes:  a pair of figures suggesting Abundance, with cornucopia and baskets brimming with all sorts of good things (and their nicely rounded rear ends very much in evidence since their cloaks have fallen to their knees!). Another has the Sun (symbolising Christ) and the Moon (symbolising the Church) in chariots drawn respectively by horses and by bulls, separated by a giant ornamental vase.

 

All of the scenes are separated with delightful friezes: colourful geometric borders, trompe l'oeil patterns, little naked figures playing with ribbons, dolphins with their tails entwined, and a great variety of birds. Little genii with curly tails can be seen fighting each other on either side of flower pots, and amusing young telamones playing in the leaves and holding up festoons of flowers and fruit. A bright emerald green dominates the background of the entire painted surface.

 

The discovery of these frescoes has caused art historians to revise the entire history of painting in Rome in the 13th century.

 

by Alta Macadam, author of Blue Guide Rome.

 

The Gothic Hall (Aula Gotica) is at present open twice a month on a weekday by appointment; to book: archeocontesti@gmail.com; T: 335495248. Explanation in situ given also in English. An offering is expected for the convent. For information, see here.

The Chapel of St Sylvester and cloister are usually open 10–11.45 & 4–5.45; holidays 9.30–10.30 & 4–5.45, although—since they are part of the convent—the opening hours are subject to change according to the availability of one of the nuns. For admission, ring at the old wooden bell of the convent and ask the nun beyond the grille to press the door release. When the nuns are busy or at prayer it is sometimes necessary to ring more than once; if there is no reply, wait and try again a little later. Minimum donation of one euro.

Church open 9–12 & 3-5.30. Services (with sung Mass) are held frequently by the nuns, who are known for their musical talents.

05.12.2014
10:51

The Aventine and Turner in Rome

News in early December of the sale through Sotheby's of Turner's great landscape painting "Rome, from Mount Aventine" has been given much publicity because of the record price of £30.3 million it fetched: the most ever paid for a painting by Turner.

 

In preparation for a new edition of Blue Guide Rome I recently revisited the park on the Aventine hill beside the church of Santa Sabina, which must have been close to the place where Turner would have made his pencil sketches, or coloured drawings, in the early morning, on his second trip to Rome in 1828. The view is still remarkably similar, looking downstream at the Tiber beyond a solitary umbrella pine, with St Peter's on the skyline and the city of Rome spread out on either bank. When the picture was first exhibited in London in 1836 Constable commented: "Turner has outdone himself, he seems to paint with tinted steam, so evanescent and airy".

 

The Aventine remains one of the most peaceful places to visit in all Rome. In the little park, aptly called the Giardino degli Aranci because it is planted with orange trees (laden with fruit in this season), apart from the magnificent view from the balustrade, there are numerous tall umbrella pines with their eccentrically shaped trunks (so beloved of Turner, who frequently included them in his landscapes). Near the entrance—and just beyond one of the city's most delightful wall fountains—is the church of Santa Sabina, justly considered the most beautiful early-Christian basilica in all Rome. It is wonderfully illuminated by thirty-four windows in the nave and apse. It has classical fluted columns, with Corinthian capitals reused from a Roman building of the 2nd century AD, as well as ancient marble inlay in precious marbles and porphyry and a long mosaic inscription. But it also possesses one of the least appreciated works of art in the city still in situ: its original 5th-century carved wooden doors.

Miracles of Christ from the Santa Sabina doors.

These doors can easily be missed since the church is entered from a side door (you have to go round to the portico on the left to find them). A coin-operated light has recently been installed which is essential to examine the panels, eighteen in all, with stories from the Old and New Testaments. Although they are high up you can make out many of the scenes, including Elijah in his chariot of fire with Elisha tugging at his mantle; Moses while still a shepherd tending his five sheep, and then talking with God on Mount Horeb; the Egyptians being drowned in the Red Sea; and three miracles of Christ, who holds a 'magic' wand (shown healing the blind man; next to seven wine jars at the marriage of Cana; and perfomring the miracle of the loaves and fishes). An eerie Crucifixion scene, said to be one of the earliest in existence, with the Crosses hardly visible at all, has Christ and the thieves depicted with outstretched arms. The charming Ascension of Christ shows two angels struggling to lift Him upwards as four of the Apostles watch in amazement. One only hopes Turner took some time off from his sketching to have a look at these, too.

by Alta Macadam, author of Blue Guide Rome. Santa Sabina and its doors are also covered in detail in two other Blue Guides titles: Pilgrim’s Rome and Sites of Antiquity: 50 Sites that Explain the Classical World.

Artwork of the Month: August. Bust of Augustus Caesar from Aquileia

Augustus, ‘the revered one’, was the honorific title of Gaius Octavius, great-nephew of Julius Caesar and one of the most remarkable figures in Roman history. He has given his name to the month of August.

Having no legitimate heir of his own, Julius Caesar formally adopted Octavius, and he exploited this position ruthlessly when the Republic collapsed after Caesar’s assassination. His uneasy co-operation with Mark Antony soon turned to open conflict. Mark Antony had taken command of the eastern portion of the empire, and when he allowed himself to become entangled with Cleopatra, Augustus seized his chance to brand them both as enemies of Rome. In 31 bc their navy was routed at the Battle of Actium and both committed suicide.

Back in Rome, with wealth and success to his name, Augustus could easily have become a dictator. However, that was not his way. Despite the ruthlessness of his youth, he now showed himself to be measured and balanced. His favourite god Apollo was, after all, the god of reason. Knowing that the senate was desperate for peace, he disbanded his army and the senate in turn acquiesced in his growing influence. The title Augustus was awarded him in 27 bc and he gradually absorbed other ancient republican titles too, as if the old political system were still intact. Behind this façade he was spending his booty fast. He claimed to have restored no fewer than 82 temples in Rome. He completed the Forum of Caesar and then embarked on a massive one of his own, centred on a temple to Mars Ultor: Mars as the avenger of his adoptive father’s murder.

Augustus was keenly aware of the power of his own image. Not only was his temple adorned with a great bronze of himself in a four-horse chariot, but other statues, playing on ancient traditions, were distributed throughout the empire. Augustus appears in one of a number of stock guises: as military commander, veiled and pious priest, or youthful hero, as in the example shown here, a bust from the northern Italian town of Aquileia, where Augustus received King Herod in 10 bc and reconciled him with his two sons. One estimate puts the total number of statues of Augustus scattered around the realm at between 30,000 and 50,000.

The empire prospered under Augustus’ steady control: there was no challenge to his growing influence and poets such as Virgil and Horace praised his rule. A less lucky writer was Ovid, exiled to the shores of the Black Sea, allegedly for lampooning Augustus’ programme of moral reforms. In 2 bc the great leader was granted the honorary title Pater Patriae, ‘Father of the Fatherland’, an honour which left him deeply moved. He died in ad 14, and it was observed at his cremation that his body had been seen ascending through the smoke towards heaven. The senate forthwith decreed that he should be ranked as a god. By now the Republic had been irrevocably transformed into an empire, and emperors ruled it for the rest of its history.

This text extracted and adapted from Blue Guide Rome and Blue Guide Literary Companion Rome. ©Blue Guides. All rights reserved. For more on the town of Aquileia and its fascinating Roman and early Christian remains, see our e-chapter: Friuli-Venezia Giulia.

13.03.2014
10:37

Rome: seasonal stations

If you happen to be in Rome in early spring, it is fun to follow some of the ‘Lenten Stations’. For each day of Lent, a particular church is assigned, and Mass is celebrated there. The tradition of the stational church dates back to the early years of Christianity, when on certain appointed days the community of the faithful would gather in a designated church to celebrate Mass together. Today the tradition is kept up during Lent. Sometimes, the pope himself officiates (to find out when, check the Vatican website and click on ‘Liturgical Celebrations’).

The church assigned for the second Sunday in Lent is Santa Maria in Domnica, an ancient church on the highest point of the Caelian Hill. It is also commonly known as Santa Maria della Navicella, after the ancient Roman stone boat (probably a votive offering from soldiers at the nearby Castra Peregrina, a barracks for non-Romans) that was placed here by Cardinal Giovanni de’ Medici, the future Pope Leo X, when he rebuilt the church in the 16th century. It still stands outside the church today, and now functions as a fountain.

Inside the church all eyes are turned to the lovely mosaics on the triumphal arch and apse, dating from the 9th-century restoration of Pope Paschal I. On the arch sits Christ in Judgement, robed in gold with the orb of the earth between his feet, holding a scroll and flanked by angels and the apostles dressed in purple-fringed togas. Paul is the first apostle on the left, Peter the first on the right, with Moses and Elijah below them. In the conch are the Virgin and Child enthroned. Kneeling at the Virgin’s feet, with a square halo to indicate that he was still alive at the time that this mosaic was made, is Pope Paschal himself. The Madonna and Child are flanked by angels, the blue of their haloes creating a striking abstract pattern on either side. The whole is rendered against a lovely green ground, the colour of new spring grass, covered with white and red flowers. The monogram of Paschal is in the centre of the underside of the arch.

The coffered ceiling dates from the late 16th century. It was commissioned by another member of the Medici family, Ferdinando, later Grand Duke of Tuscany, who was titular cardinal of this church. Its central motif shows the Navicella, playing the part both of the Ark of Noah and of the Ark of the Host, the tabernacle which holds the Communion bread.

For more on the early churches of Rome, see Pilgrim's Rome, available in print or digital.

23.01.2014
12:50

Thoughts on Rome

Some thoughts and insights from Karl Audenaerde:

We just returned from our annual month in Rome, and as always were pleasantly amazed by all the new stuff there still is to discover.  You may be aware of most or all of it, but in case you are not, here are our five cents worth:

(1) Priorato di Malta: I never met anyone who had got in by calling the Cavalieri, but various Roman cultural associations offer guided tours.  We used www.info.roma, but there are others as well.  Interesting detail: a fountain in the magnificent gardens with an inscription referring to the Templars; it is supposed to be the only visible sign of them left in Rome.

(2) In the Castel Sant'Angelo the route has been completely changed, bringing the visitor to spaces that previously were not accessible.

(3) Santa Maria in  Cosmedin: the archaeological narrative seems to have undergone a major revision, and the newer version makes more sense, at least to us.  (When we're in Rome we belong to the Greek-Melkite parish there.)  Here follows what I wrote in our travel diary, immediately after the visit:
It all starts with the Invicti Herculis Ara Maxima, a huge 20x20m altar, built in the sixth century BC and related to one of the Greek myths (as opposed to Romulus and Remus) explaining the origin of Rome. In short: the area of the Foro Boario, near a fordable crossing of the Tiber, was halfway between the Etruscan North and the Greek South, and became a major meeting place for all kinds of merchants traveling the Mediterranean basin.  And since Hercules had roamed the entire area…
The enormous altar was located where now the front half of the church is.  Some of its tufa blocks can still be seen near the entrance of the current crypt. It was built where the hero was supposed to have slain the monster Cacus, and its construction was attributed to Evander in 495 BC.  Later it was embellished with a propylon that obtained its final form after the great fire, and of which a number of columns can still be seen, incorporated in the current structure of Santa Maria in Cosmedin. The theory that this building was the Statio Annonae has been abandoned.  The area had been inhabited by Greek expatriates for the longest time, and when Greek refugee monks from the Kosmadeion (Constantinopolitan convent devoted to Saints Cosmas and Damian) arrived, they chose to live where they encountered fellow countrymen. Whatever building was already there was adapted to their use, but together with everything else was destroyed by the Normans of Robert Guiscard.  Under Pope Hadrian II (867-872) the Eastern wall of the propylon (or what was left of it) was breeched and the church was expanded towards the East.  A crypt was dug into the tufa base of the Ara Maxima.  The niches in the crypt originally served as seats, more or less like stone versions of the later choir stalls.  The shelves that one sees now halfway up in each niche were added later to accommodate urns, likely from martyred Saints whose remains were removed from the catacombs during the Middle Ages.  Around 1123 Cardinal Alfano (camerlengo of Calixtus II, 1119-24) had the church rebuilt.  Except for the winter chapel all Baroque additions were removed in 1894-99.  
In parentheses, the church is trying to raise money (1.2 million Euro...) to restore the winter chape
l.

(4) Casino dell'Aurora Pallavicini: Aurora is invariably described as "scattering flowers before the chariot of the sun."  But I didn't see any scattered flowers, and came up with an alternative interpretation: a literal version of Homer's rose-fingered dawn with roses emanating from her finger tips.  I wonder if I'll make some converts...

(5)
The newly discovered and excavated Auditoria di Adriano off the Piazza Venezia.  It has been called the most important archaeological find of the last 80 years.

(6)
Santa Maria della Concezione (the Cappuccini) is closed for restoration.  They have a brand new museum detailing the history and spirituality of the order, and their infamous bone collection is now accessed through the museum of which it has become an integral part.

(7) San Paolo fuori le Mura:
the excavation to the south of the basilica is finished, and open to he public.  The excavated area contains remnants of various monastic buildings belonging to the abbey as it existed during the papacy of Gregorio II (715-731).  It is very well presented with labeling in Italian and English.

(8) Palazzo Valentini (the administrative seat of the province of Rome): below it is an excellent excavation of two domus and enough circumstantial evidence to conclude that the long-lost temple of Trajan has been found.  The whole thing is made exciting by a very sophisticated multi-media show with alternating presentations in English and Italian.  It is even wheelchair accessible!  They have some info on-line, but expect a book out by this spring.  It is one of the best things we've ever seen in Rome!  And so far no guide book mentions it.

(9) A few rooms of the Palazzo Lancellotti have been rented out to a Turkish cultural center.  Not much of interest there, but it gets you in the door at the Palazzo Lancellotti, and that is more than worth the effort.

25.02.2013
14:35

Pope Benedict: an unorthodox farewell


It didn’t take long. A mere twenty-fours hours after Pope Benedict XVI announced his abdication, portents were being seen in the skies above the Vatican. Jupiter, the great god of the Romans, began rattling his thunderbolts and lightning was recorded striking the cupola of St Peter’s—twice. This is the kind of thing that happened on the eve of Caesar’s murder. “Never till to-night, never till now,” says a trembling Casca, “did I go through a tempest dropping fire. Either there is a civil strife in heaven, or else the world, too saucy with the gods, incenses them to send destruction.” Is that what heaven is doing? Or is it a seal of approval? After an eight-year pontificate, Jospeh Ratzinger is volunatrily vacating the Throne of St Peter. It is not an unprecedented step, but it is a controversial one. It is something that is not “done”. But Benedict XVI has never been afraid of controversy. While he lacks the charisma of his predecessor John Paul II and while he never inspired such fervent devotion in people’s hearts, he has been, in his thoughtful, mild-mannered way, revolutionary.

Pope Benedict is eighty-five. Before him lie who knows how many years of increasing frailty. It takes a vigorous and resilient man to hold the Christian world together. His decision to abdicate was taken, he says, “for the good of the Church”. The same was said in 1406, on the election of Gregory XII, who was raised to the pontificate purely on the understanding that he would resign, “for the good of the Church”, in order to heal the Great Western Schism. He did resign (though not as easily as all that; he was a wily old Venetian) in 1415. And the Schism did eventually heal. But what was this Schism, and how could a papal resignation heal it?

For most of the 14th century, the popes had abandoned Rome for Avignon in the south of France. This so-called “Babylonian captivity”, when the popes were “exiled” from their homeland, began when Pope Clement V (a Frenchman) was persuaded (by the French king) to set up his court in France. Political disturbances in Italy made this seem a good idea to Clement, and in 1309 he decamped to the peaceful banks of the Rhone. Horrified Italians—notably the poet Petrarch and St Catherine of Siena—begged for the papacy’s return, but it was not until 1377 that Gregory XI (also a Frenchman) re-established papal government in the Eternal City. (Since this Gregory, incidentally, there has never been another French pope—but who knows what may happen next month; the Archbishop of Paris is a current contender.) But though the popes came back to Rome, all was not healed. Strife and confusion were to dominate the next four decades, in the form of the Great Schism, which lasted from 1378 to 1417. This represented a complete rupture of ecclesiastical unity. Rival claimants to the papal throne were simultaneously nominated and crowned by competing factions of cardinals. For almost all of this period there were two or even three popes at once, each claiming to be the anointed successor to St Peter. The true popes found themselves locked in combat with rivals known as ‘antipopes’. Gregory XII was elected under the terms of a deal whereby both he and his rival, the antipope Benedict XIII, would simultaneously renounce their claims, allowing for a single successor to be appointed to replace both of them. For the good of the church. The plan worked—admittedly not without plenty of shenanigans—and eventually, in 1417, the Roman-born Oddone Colonna became Pope Martin V.

The Church hopes to have a new pope in place by Easter. But how do papal elections work?

A pope is elected by the cardinals, who form the “parish clergy” of Rome. The complicated rules for the conclave (from the Latin con clave, referring to a chamber that can be locked “with a key”) are designed to ensure that the election is not unnecessarily delayed, nor unduly hurried, and that it should be free from any kind of external pressure. After the death (or resignation) of the pope, all the cardinals are summoned to the conclave, which must be held in whatever city the pope dies, not necessarily Rome. The cardinals are housed in specially prepared apartments and before the conclave begins, a Mass of the Holy Spirit is celebrated, to invoke divine inspiration. Voting takes place twice a day, in the Sistine Chapel. The practice of burning the ballot papers, so as to indicate by the colour of the smoke whether or not a pope has been chosen, is probably a 20th-century innovation. A two-thirds majority is required, and it is usually obtained fairly quickly, though in 1799 the cardinals took three months to make up their minds. The winning candidate must be formally asked by the Cardinal Chamberlain whether he accepts the nomination. Sometimes he is very reluctant to do so: the infirm Leo XII, in 1823, pointed to his ulcerated legs and said, “Do not insist, you are electing a corpse.” Once he has accepted, and has chosen his regnal name (the last pope to use his real name was Marcellus II, in the mid-16th century), the new pontiff is robed and the Cardinal Chamberlain makes the announcement to the waiting crowds: Annuntio vobis gaudium magnum, habemus papam: I bring you tidings of great joy, we have a pope.

Pope Benedict XVI is to renounce his duties on February 28th. On the day preceding, Wednesday 27th, he will deliver his final audience to the public. Papal audiences are held every Wednesday morning, either in the purpose-built Vatican Audience Hall, or, if the weather is fine, in the open air. If you are going to be in Rome on that day, don’t miss it. It will be an emotional occasion.

(With extracts from Blue Guide Rome and Pilgrim’s Rome: A Blue Guide Travel Monograph, and featured on Stanfords blog.)

14.02.2013
14:39

Obscure St Valentine and his famous Feast Day


‘St Valentine at the Milvian Bridge’ was an early Christian basilica situated outside the walls to the north of Rome. The true identity of Valentine, the saint to whom it is dedicated, is obscure, though one tradition makes him an early bishop martyred on the Via Flaminia, the continuation of the Corso which runs north from the city centre, on 14th February 273. His remains were buried nearby. The spot soon became a Christian burial ground, and the basilica was built in the fourth century. It flourished until St Valentine’s relics were taken to a more central location, to the church of Santa Maria in Cosmedin (site of the famous Bocca della Verità). This so-called ‘translation’ of relics became common practice after the emperor Theodosius I passed a series of acts between 378 and 380 declaring Christianity the official religion of the empire. Although at first loth to convert pagan temples into their own sacred buildings, the early Christians gradually overcame their aversion and began adapting structures in central Rome as churches, consecrating them with the bones of martyrs brought in from the old, outlying burial sites.

St Valentine’s original basilica exists only as a ruin today, attached to catacombs dug into the Parioli hill. Traditionally the site was open to the public on St Valentine’s Day, but the complex is extremely unstable: of the basilica that had been enlarged and embellished by that tireless beautifier of martyrs’ shrines, Pope Honorius I, nothing at all remains to be seen.

A little further north, however, in the Olympic Village built for the Games of 1960, there is the modern church of San Valentino, consecrated in 1986. This is a remote location, and on the feast day of the saint, few seek out his church. Millions are scurrying around with cellophane-wrapped flowers, and blood-red fluffy hearts are dangling in every gift-shop window. But in the church of St Valentine only a subdued Mass is taking place in a side room.

St Valentine with the attribute of his martyrdom, the axe. The book he holds bears a text from John 13: ‘Love one another as I have loved you’. The theme of love and faithfulness, with which Valentine is chiefly associated today, is taken up in the pair of mating birds upon the tree stump.

The spirit of the saint lives on in the tradition whereby lovers attach padlocks to the nearby Milvian Bridge as a symbol of their indivisible attachment to each other. Though the padlocks were removed by the municipal authorities in 2012, they are slowly returning. The association of St Valentine with lovers comes from the date of his martyrdom, 14th February, the day when, according to old lore, mating birds choose their nesting partners.

The basilica of St Valentine is one of twenty-three churches visited on pilgrimage by Sigeric, newly-elected Archbishop of Canterbury, in 989. You can follow in his footsteps in Pilgrim’s Rome: A Blue Guide Travel Monograph, from which the above text is extracted.

Hungarian pioneer of hand-sanitisation

How many of us today, while methodically washing our hands in the hope of staving off Covid-19, think of Ignác Semmelweis? How many of us have even heard of him? Semmelweis (1818–65) is not widely known around the world but he is a familiar name in Hungary. Budapest's medical school is named after him and he has gone down in history as the ‘saviour of mothers’ because his pioneering methods saved many women and infants from death by puerperal fever. Semmelweis’ theories were revolutionary for his time. And now, his insistence on the importance of disinfection to halt the spread of contagion has been brought once again under the spotlight as we are once again reminded of its importance. Semmelweis was ahead of the curve in his grasp of the importance of hand-washing: his hunch was borne out by significant decreases in the rate of mortality on obstetric wards under his supervision. Despite this, his idea was rejected by the established medical community, who were offended by the suggestion that a patient's death could be imputed to the medical staff's personal hygiene. What made things more difficult for Semmelweis was the fact that he was a practitioner, not a scientist. His theory could be explained as a hunch that seemed to work but he had detected nothing through a microscope that could furnish scientific explanation and proof. He never gained the reputation he deserved during his lifetime. In fact he suffered some kind of mental and emotional breakdown and began lashing out in print at the ignorance and obstinacy of the medical fraternity. In the end he was transferred to an asylum in Vienna, a move supported by his wife, who was no longer able to cope with his tantrums. He died very shortly after his admission, perhaps as a result of ill-treatment.

Semmelweis’s former home in Budapest is now a museum of the history of medicine (described in full in Blue Guide Budapest). His theory, of course, is fully recognised today. Named after him is the phenomenon known as the Semmelweis reflex, the human tendency to reject or ridicule new ideas if they fly in the face of accepted convention.

‘The Global Eye’, running at the Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana in Florence until the end of May, is an exhibition devoted to the collection of Dutch, Spanish and Portuguese maps purchased by Cosimo III on his second journey to Holland in 1667–9 (before becoming grand-duke). A conference in November 2019, organised by the Dutch Institute in Florence, illustrated the close ties between the Dutch Republic and Cosimo III, who took a great interest in cross-cultural issues. The 82 maps (a selection of which are on view, accompanied by remarkable digital supports) represent many areas of the known world including parts of Japan, Africa, and even a unique plan dated around 1660 of ‘New Amsterdam’, when still part of the Dutch colony that a few years later was renamed New York, when the British took over. The maps were kept for a hundred years at the Villa di Castello on the outskirts of Florence, seat of the Accademia della Crusca (Cosimo III was an academician of the Crusca and their first dictionary, published in 1691, was dedicated to him in its 3rd edition). The villa itself is not generally open to the public but its garden is one of the most important of all those attached to Medici villas in the surroundings of Florence (and is fully described in Blue Guide Florence). The maps were moved for safety to the Biblioteca Laurenziana in 1921; this is the first time they have been fully studied and a catalogue raisonné provided. Visiting this fascinating small exhibition also gives you the chance to see (off the cloister of San Lorenzo) Michelangelo’s reading room with its famous vestibule, one of the most extraordinary architectural works in Florence.


by Alta Macadam, author of Blue Guide Florence.

‘The Global Eye’, running at the Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana in Florence until the end of May, is an exhibition devoted to the collection of Dutch, Spanish and Portuguese maps purchased by Cosimo III on his second journey to Holland in 1667–9 (before becoming grand-duke). A conference in November 2019, organised by the Dutch Institute in Florence, illustrated the close ties between the Dutch Republic and Cosimo III, who took a great interest in cross-cultural issues. The 82 maps (a selection of which are on view, accompanied by remarkable digital supports) represent many areas of the known world including parts of Japan, Africa, and even a unique plan dated around 1660 of ‘New Amsterdam’, when still part of the Dutch colony that a few years later was renamed New York, when the British took over. The maps were kept for a hundred years at the Villa di Castello on the outskirts of Florence, seat of the Accademia della Crusca (Cosimo III was an academician of the Crusca and their first dictionary, published in 1691, was dedicated to him in its 3rd edition). The villa itself is not generally open to the public but its garden is one of the most important of all those attached to Medici villas in the surroundings of Florence (and is fully described in Blue Guide Florence). The maps were moved for safety to the Biblioteca Laurenziana in 1921; this is the first time they have been fully studied and a catalogue raisonné provided. Visiting this fascinating small exhibition also gives you the chance to see (off the cloister of San Lorenzo) Michelangelo’s reading room with its famous vestibule, one of the most extraordinary architectural works in Florence.


by Alta Macadam, author of Blue Guide Florence.

‘The Global Eye’, running at the Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana in Florence until the end of May, is an exhibition devoted to the collection of Dutch, Spanish and Portuguese maps purchased by Cosimo III on his second journey to Holland in 1667–9 (before becoming grand-duke). A conference in November 2019, organised by the Dutch Institute in Florence, illustrated the close ties between the Dutch Republic and Cosimo III, who took a great interest in cross-cultural issues. The 82 maps (a selection of which are on view, accompanied by remarkable digital supports) represent many areas of the known world including parts of Japan, Africa, and even a unique plan dated around 1660 of ‘New Amsterdam’, when still part of the Dutch colony that a few years later was renamed New York, when the British took over. The maps were kept for a hundred years at the Villa di Castello on the outskirts of Florence, seat of the Accademia della Crusca (Cosimo III was an academician of the Crusca and their first dictionary, published in 1691, was dedicated to him in its 3rd edition). The villa itself is not generally open to the public but its garden is one of the most important of all those attached to Medici villas in the surroundings of Florence (and is fully described in Blue Guide Florence). The maps were moved for safety to the Biblioteca Laurenziana in 1921; this is the first time they have been fully studied and a catalogue raisonné provided. Visiting this fascinating small exhibition also gives you the chance to see (off the cloister of San Lorenzo) Michelangelo’s reading room with its famous vestibule, one of the most extraordinary architectural works in Florence.


by Alta Macadam, author of Blue Guide Florence.

‘The Global Eye’, running at the Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana in Florence until the end of May, is an exhibition devoted to the collection of Dutch, Spanish and Portuguese maps purchased by Cosimo III on his second journey to Holland in 1667–9 (before becoming grand-duke). A conference in November 2019, organised by the Dutch Institute in Florence, illustrated the close ties between the Dutch Republic and Cosimo III, who took a great interest in cross-cultural issues. The 82 maps (a selection of which are on view, accompanied by remarkable digital supports) represent many areas of the known world including parts of Japan, Africa, and even a unique plan dated around 1660 of ‘New Amsterdam’, when still part of the Dutch colony that a few years later was renamed New York, when the British took over. The maps were kept for a hundred years at the Villa di Castello on the outskirts of Florence, seat of the Accademia della Crusca (Cosimo III was an academician of the Crusca and their first dictionary, published in 1691, was dedicated to him in its 3rd edition). The villa itself is not generally open to the public but its garden is one of the most important of all those attached to Medici villas in the surroundings of Florence (and is fully described in Blue Guide Florence). The maps were moved for safety to the Biblioteca Laurenziana in 1921; this is the first time they have been fully studied and a catalogue raisonné provided. Visiting this fascinating small exhibition also gives you the chance to see (off the cloister of San Lorenzo) Michelangelo’s reading room with its famous vestibule, one of the most extraordinary architectural works in Florence.


by Alta Macadam, author of Blue Guide Florence.

With the closure today of the museums and monuments in all of Italy, those of us who visit them also for work are left wondering how such a thing could have happened in our lifetime. We suddenly find ourselves facing a drastic shortage of culture: no libraries, no theatre, no cinema. However, the very direct explanation by Prime Minister Conte late last night made it all too clear how necessary such measures have become in a country where the dreaded Coronavirus is suddenly holding us all hostage. There is no doubt that Italy has trusted leaders in Conte and President Mattarella, and the country’s medical profession are displaying all their dedication and efficiency. There is an evident preparedness in those in places of responsibility and a feeling of teamwork and pulling together in times of emergency. Millions of other Italians have merely been asked to stay at home for the time being. A measure which seems eminently sensible and which should not be a great sacrifice. Who knows how this forced restriction might even foster closer family relationships and make the homes themselves more comfortable. My garden will certainly enjoy greater attention. And with all the benefits of the internet, no one need feel cut off. There is even hope that the closure of museums and monuments will give those great institutions a chance for practicalities impossible when they are open all the time—even if only some radical cleaning, but also perhaps some reorganisation—an almost welcome pause to ‘stand back’ and contemplate themselves and their ‘mission’. I look of course on the rosy side of things, the side for those fortunate enough to have families and homes, but there is a very ugly side of this ‘shut down’, such as the situation in the overcrowded prisons, or that of people cut off from their families who are in hospitals or nursing homes, and the extremely dire economic consequences. This situation is making us all wonder about how we should live our lives in the future, about how long we can expect to enjoy ‘normal’ life in our global world.

For my involvement in the Blue Guides to Italy (Blue Guide Rome has just been published) it means I cannot set off for Venice and the Veneto for work on a volume coming up for revision: a restriction which has been imposed on me for the very first time by circumstances beyond my control (the only other time this happened to me was when I had to cut short a trip for Blue Guide Northern Italy when I was staying in Trieste the day of the terrible earthquake which hit the Friuli in 1976).

We can but hope the virus will soon be dominated with the help of everyone round the world and that we will soon return to a life as we know it, if greatly sobered by what has happened to us all.

Alta Macadam. Florence, 10th March 2020

With the closure today of the museums and monuments in all of Italy, those of us who visit them also for work are left wondering how such a thing could have happened in our lifetime. We suddenly find ourselves facing a drastic shortage of culture: no libraries, no theatre, no cinema. However, the very direct explanation by Prime Minister Conte late last night made it all too clear how necessary such measures have become in a country where the dreaded Coronavirus is suddenly holding us all hostage. There is no doubt that Italy has trusted leaders in Conte and President Mattarella, and the country’s medical profession are displaying all their dedication and efficiency. There is an evident preparedness in those in places of responsibility and a feeling of teamwork and pulling together in times of emergency. Millions of other Italians have merely been asked to stay at home for the time being. A measure which seems eminently sensible and which should not be a great sacrifice. Who knows how this forced restriction might even foster closer family relationships and make the homes themselves more comfortable. My garden will certainly enjoy greater attention. And with all the benefits of the internet, no one need feel cut off. There is even hope that the closure of museums and monuments will give those great institutions a chance for practicalities impossible when they are open all the time—even if only some radical cleaning, but also perhaps some reorganisation—an almost welcome pause to ‘stand back’ and contemplate themselves and their ‘mission’. I look of course on the rosy side of things, the side for those fortunate enough to have families and homes, but there is a very ugly side of this ‘shut down’, such as the situation in the overcrowded prisons, or that of people cut off from their families who are in hospitals or nursing homes, and the extremely dire economic consequences. This situation is making us all wonder about how we should live our lives in the future, about how long we can expect to enjoy ‘normal’ life in our global world.

For my involvement in the Blue Guides to Italy (Blue Guide Rome has just been published) it means I cannot set off for Venice and the Veneto for work on a volume coming up for revision: a restriction which has been imposed on me for the very first time by circumstances beyond my control (the only other time this happened to me was when I had to cut short a trip for Blue Guide Northern Italy when I was staying in Trieste the day of the terrible earthquake which hit the Friuli in 1976).

We can but hope the virus will soon be dominated with the help of everyone round the world and that we will soon return to a life as we know it, if greatly sobered by what has happened to us all.

Alta Macadam. Florence, 10th March 2020

With the closure today of the museums and monuments in all of Italy, those of us who visit them also for work are left wondering how such a thing could have happened in our lifetime. We suddenly find ourselves facing a drastic shortage of culture: no libraries, no theatre, no cinema. However, the very direct explanation by Prime Minister Conte late last night made it all too clear how necessary such measures have become in a country where the dreaded Coronavirus is suddenly holding us all hostage. There is no doubt that Italy has trusted leaders in Conte and President Mattarella, and the country’s medical profession are displaying all their dedication and efficiency. There is an evident preparedness in those in places of responsibility and a feeling of teamwork and pulling together in times of emergency. Millions of other Italians have merely been asked to stay at home for the time being. A measure which seems eminently sensible and which should not be a great sacrifice. Who knows how this forced restriction might even foster closer family relationships and make the homes themselves more comfortable. My garden will certainly enjoy greater attention. And with all the benefits of the internet, no one need feel cut off. There is even hope that the closure of museums and monuments will give those great institutions a chance for practicalities impossible when they are open all the time—even if only some radical cleaning, but also perhaps some reorganisation—an almost welcome pause to ‘stand back’ and contemplate themselves and their ‘mission’. I look of course on the rosy side of things, the side for those fortunate enough to have families and homes, but there is a very ugly side of this ‘shut down’, such as the situation in the overcrowded prisons, or that of people cut off from their families who are in hospitals or nursing homes, and the extremely dire economic consequences. This situation is making us all wonder about how we should live our lives in the future, about how long we can expect to enjoy ‘normal’ life in our global world. For my involvement in the Blue Guides to Italy (Blue Guide Rome has just been published) it means I cannot set off for Venice and the Veneto for work on a volume coming up for revision: a restriction which has been imposed on me for the very first time by circumstances beyond my control (the only other time this happened to me was when I had to cut short a trip for Blue Guide Northern Italy when I was staying in Trieste the day of the terrible earthquake which hit the Friuli in 1976). We can but hope the virus will soon be dominated with the help of everyone round the world and that we will soon return to a life as we know it, if greatly sobered by what has happened to us all. Alta Macadam. Florence, 10th March 2020

With the closure today of the museums and monuments in all of Italy, those of us who visit them also for work are left wondering how such a thing could have happened in our lifetime. We suddenly find ourselves facing a drastic shortage of culture: no libraries, no theatre, no cinema. However, the very direct explanation by Prime Minister Conte late last night made it all too clear how necessary such measures have become in a country where the dreaded Coronavirus is suddenly holding us all hostage. There is no doubt that Italy has trusted leaders in Conte and President Mattarella, and the country’s medical profession are displaying all their dedication and efficiency. There is an evident preparedness in those in places of responsibility and a feeling of teamwork and pulling together in times of emergency. Millions of other Italians have merely been asked to stay at home for the time being. A measure which seems eminently sensible and which should not be a great sacrifice. Who knows how this forced restriction might even foster closer family relationships and make the homes themselves more comfortable. My garden will certainly enjoy greater attention. And with all the benefits of the internet, no one need feel cut off. There is even hope that the closure of museums and monuments will give those great institutions a chance for practicalities impossible when they are open all the time—even if only some radical cleaning, but also perhaps some reorganisation—an almost welcome pause to ‘stand back’ and contemplate themselves and their ‘mission’. I look of course on the rosy side of things, the side for those fortunate enough to have families and homes, but there is a very ugly side of this ‘shut down’, such as the situation in the overcrowded prisons, or that of people cut off from their families who are in hospitals or nursing homes, and the extremely dire economic consequences. This situation is making us all wonder about how we should live our lives in the future, about how long we can expect to enjoy ‘normal’ life in our global world. For my involvement in the Blue Guides to Italy ("Blue Guide Rome" has just been published) it means I cannot set off for Venice and the Veneto for work on a volume coming up for revision: a restriction which has been imposed on me for the very first time by circumstances beyond my control (the only other time this happened to me was when I had to cut short a trip for "Blue Guide Northern Italy" when I was staying in Trieste the day of the terrible earthquake which hit the Friuli in 1976). We can but hope the virus will soon be dominated with the help of everyone round the world and that we will soon return to a life as we know it, if greatly sobered by what has happened to us all. Alta Macadam. Florence, 10th March 2020

With the closure today of the museums and monuments in all of Italy, those of us who visit them also for work are left wondering how such a thing could have happened in our lifetime. We suddenly find ourselves facing a drastic shortage of culture: no libraries, no theatre, no cinema. However, the very direct explanation by Prime Minister Conte late last night made it all too clear how necessary such measures have become in a country where the dreaded Coronavirus is suddenly holding us all hostage. There is no doubt that Italy has trusted leaders in Conte and President Mattarella, and the country’s medical profession are displaying all their dedication and efficiency. There is an evident preparedness in those in places of responsibility and a feeling of teamwork and pulling together in times of emergency. Millions of other Italians have merely been asked to stay at home for the time being. A measure which seems eminently sensible and which should not be a great sacrifice. Who knows how this forced restriction might even foster closer family relationships and make the homes themselves more comfortable. My garden will certainly enjoy greater attention. And with all the benefits of the internet, no one need feel cut off. There is even hope that the closure of museums and monuments will give those great institutions a chance for practicalities impossible when they are open all the time—even if only some radical cleaning, but also perhaps some reorganisation—an almost welcome pause to ‘stand back’ and contemplate themselves and their ‘mission’. I look of course on the rosy side of things, the side for those fortunate enough to have families and homes, but there is a very ugly side of this ‘shut down’, such as the situation in the overcrowded prisons, or that of people cut off from their families who are in hospitals or nursing homes, and the extremely dire economic consequences. This situation is making us all wonder about how we should live our lives in the future, about how long we can expect to enjoy ‘normal’ life in our global world. For my involvement in the Blue Guides to Italy ("Blue Guide Rome" has just been published) it means I cannot set off for Venice and the Veneto for work on a volume coming up for revision: a restriction which has been imposed on me for the very first time by circumstances beyond my control (the only other time this happened to me was when I had to cut short a trip for "Blue Guide Northern Italy" when I was staying in Trieste the day of the terrible earthquake which hit the Friuli in 1976). We can but hope the virus will soon be dominated with the help of everyone round the world and that we will soon return to a life as we know it, if greatly sobered by what has happened to us all. Alta Macadam. Florence, 10th March 2020

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