…from her melodious lay

April 20, 2011

If you take the time to read the diary entries of Christopher Columbus after he found land in the “New World“, you notice a distinct lack of awe. There is no language describing in detail the land itself. This is a continent that no European had ever step foot on before, and Columbus spends almost the entire length of his journals, telling posterity that he expects to find gold any time soon. He speaks of all the marketable goods this new World could offer. The first group of people who meets, are the Taino’s. He describes them as:

They are very gentle and without knowledge of what is evil; nor do they murder or steal..Your highness may believe that in all the world there can be no better people ..They love their neighbours as themselves, and they have the sweetest talk in the world, and are gentle and always laughing.

This admiration for the Tainos does not foreshadow the devastation that the arrival of the Spanish would cause to the Taino people, who by 17th Century, were all but wiped out. After noting their friendly natures, Columbus regained his European nature, and wrote to the Spanish government:

The Tainos could all be subjected and made to do all that one might wish.

Suddenly, the people became a commodity.
Columbus’ diaries show that the mode of thought that Europeans had in the 15th Century was aimed exclusively at commerce. Columbus obsession with finding gold was entirely because his financiers would demand it back home. The lack of description of the landscape is echoed in the lack of descriptive language in their vocabulary. Gonzalo Fernández, the Spanish historian proves this decisive lack of language, and leads me onto the point of this blog, perfectly:

Of all the things I have seen, this is the one thing that has most left me without hope of being able to describe it in words. It needs to be painted by the hand of a Berruguete, or some other excellent painter like him, or by Leonardo de Vinci, or Andrea Mentegna, famous painters whom I knew in Italy

To understand my favourite era’s in art – the Renaissance and Pre-Raphaelites – we have to understand the context of the time period in which they were created. The vast majority of people were supremely materialistic and beauty was largely ignored unless it had some sort of commercial value in the 14th, 15th and 16th Century. The way Columbus spoke of the Taino people in Hispaniola was not malicious for the time period. Through 21st century specs, Columbus’ words regarding the subjugation of an entire group of people seem heartless, especially given that he had already noted just how gentle those people were. But through 15th Century European specs, they were common.

Renaissance and later Baroque artists managed to convey a World both lost to antiquity, and contemporary but free from the constrains of a deeply materialistic World that they inhabited. That is their genius. The beauty of the World is somehow missed when it is overshadowed by the need for “things”. We ignore objects that the artists amplify. The natural World is just “there“, it becomes both a commodity and entirely ignored because there are apparently more important things to focus our attention on. If we get very little pleasure from seeing a tree because we’re so used to it, but we note the beauty of Giorgione’s (or Titian’s… no one is sure which one of the two painted it) pastoral scene in which the trees have an almost dreamlike quality, for no apparent reason, we have heightened our sense of reality. That is what art is supposed to do.

I cannot put my finger on what it is I love so much about Renaissance art. But I suspect it is because the artist takes an everyday object and makes me take note of that object in a painting, despite the fact that I wouldn’t normally take note of that object in reality. It heightens my sense of reality. If we jump forward to another favourite time period in art, of mine, to 1829, and to the Pre-Raphaelite Sir John Everett Millais (which is odd, given that the Pre-Raphaelites really hated Renaissance concepts), and more specifically, to his work “Ophelia” (one of my all time favourite paintings), this heightened sense of awareness becomes apparent:

We sense calm, we sense perhaps spring, we sense the contrast between the strong colours of nature, and the grey, lifeless colours of Shakespeare’s dying Ophelia. Her face does not stand out among the very allegorical choice of flowers. Pansies were also known as hearts-ease, meaning peace in feeling. The poppy has always signified death. Daisies signified innocence. The plants and flowers Millais included were not at the scene in which he painted, he added them himself for a reason. The poppy doesn’t appear in Shakespeare’s description either. Ophelia’s expression contrasts with the madness of the character Shakespeare created. She looks at peace. The flowers she holds signify the peacefulness of her death, despite the madness of her life. Her hair looks peaceful, it is not all over her face. She is not face down in the darkness of the water, she is holding flowers. The Victorians had a little bit of an odd obsession with the “language of flowers“. Her face is white and her clothes flow into the river at the end of the painting neatly. There is no madness to her death. That is why Millais’ Ophelia heightens my sense of a reality I am blissfully unaware of in my every day life.

In his book “The Florentine Painters of the Renaissance”, Berenson sums this up perfectly, by stating that:

… the chief business of the figure painter, as an artist, is to stimulate the tactile imagination

– That is to say, the artist is there to point out the World that we are unaware of, and say “look, this is it, enjoy it!!” Art is a reminder of what is real.

The 15th and 16th Centuries needed the Renaissance painters to convey a World that was beyond the imagination of the every day person looking for material gain. Columbus is the epitome of that obsession for material gain. When faced with a brand new World, his only thought was material wealth. Conversely, without that obsession with material wealth, art is pointless.


Render unto Caesar…

January 22, 2011

As you walk down the Rue de Souffle in the Latin Quarter of Paris, looking straight ahead of you, it is impossible to ignore the pure beauty of the Pantheon as it towers above everything else surrounding it. The road, named after the Architect of the Pantheon; Jacques-Germain Soufflot, is at first glance a fitting tribute to the French master of Neoclassical architecture. Voltaire, who is buried in the Crypt at the Pantheon, is said to have been taken in the funeral procession to the Pantheon, alongside a crowd on the Rue de Souffle, of over a million people.

Inside the Pantheon, you will have already past the huge columns forcefully holding up the entrance. You are then greeted by an amazing inner dome, which reaches to the sky, and is just as wide as it is tall. In the centre, is a giant piece of scientific brilliance, by the scientist Léon Foucault, erected in 1851 with the intention of being the first to demonstrate the rotation of the Earth on its axis. I cannot explain the experiment, because it hurts my head to think about it too much; needless to say, it is a work of beauty.

An equally as beautiful work of art stands at the back of the main hall. I stood in awe for a while at the incessantly attractive sculpture, depicting the “heroes” of the French revolution. The realism is romanticism at its finest, surrounded by neoclassicalism at its finest.

The Crypt is now the resting place of some of the greatest French artists, writers, philosophers, poets and politicians that ever lived. Voltaire, Mirabeau, Victor Hugo, Rousseau, Soufflot, Braille, Curie, Dumas; are all buried in the Crypt at the Pantheon.

And yet, despite all of this, there is a sign within the crypt at the Pantheon, letting people know, that actually, the structure is in constant need of restoration because its falling apart.

The successful failure, as i’m naming the beautiful yet slightly shoddy craftsmanship of the Pantheon in its attempt to resurrect the architectural genius of the Pantheon still standing strongly in the centre of Rome, is mirrored in 19th Century France when it comes to the death of the Monarchy, an attempt at Republic, and the falling into Empire. Rome experienced much the same structure of governance.

The last King of Rome; Lucius Tarquinius was driven to exile by Lucius Brutus in 509bc, and the Roman Republic era began. The end of the Roman Republic arguably ended with Julius Caesar being proclaimed Dictator for life in around late 45bc. Caesar was considered the hero of the common people. His face was stamped on coins, he sat on a throne-like seat in the Senate which had no one had dared to do since the fall of the Kingdom, he then had a statue of himself erected. This aroused suspicion that he intended to overthrow the beloved Republic and establish himself as King (which is probably true), and so a group of Senators lead by Brutus (an apparent ancestor of the Brutus who established the Republic 450 years previous, though it isn’t provable) murdered Caesar in the Theatre of Pompey (not in the Senate house, as most people think), underneath the statue of Pompey; Caesar’s old friend turned enemy. In killing the people’s hero Julius Caesar, his adopted son Octavian soon became the people’s hero, and used his popularity to hunt down and kill all of Caesar’s killers, to do away with Marc Anthony and to establish himself, cunningly, as the first Emperor of Rome; Augustus.

Similarly, as King Louis XVI was killed off by revolutionaries set to form a Republic, the aspirations of a young general who had visions of expanding the territory of France, as Caesar had done as General of the Roman Legions during his expanding of the Roman territory into Gaul (modern day France, Austria, Switzerland); Napoleon Bonaparte. After his success as a General, Bonaparte became First Consulate of the French Senate in 1799. Effectively, granting himself the right of Dictator for life, as Caesar had done. Following Caesar’s lead, Bonaparte started to wear the crown of laurel leaves. Caesar took the idea of wearing a laurel wreath from the old Greek tales of the God Apollo, who was always depicted wearing one. Caesar was putting himself on a par with the Gods. Napoleon was trying to emulate Caesar. It is almost scientific. The violent change from Kingdom to Republic to Empire is almost the necessary result of socio-historical processes that have been seen in Rome, France, and to some extent, the USA. Whilst personal characteristics of people like Caesar and Napoleon, and their lust and arrogance for absolute power are important in the narrative, they are merely one part in a much larger narrative of history that leads from Kingdom to Empire. When Republic is faltering, it is amazing to see, throughout history, an overbearing and maniacal personality appears on the scene almost right on cue, to force his way into the seat of power. Empire is inevitable at that point, and Empire is necessarily imperialist by nature. Napoleon and Caesar were both not popular with the nobility of their respective Country’s before in their younger days. Napoleon felt he was of social inferiority in comparison to the French nobility, he was an introvert and a loner by nature. Caesar’s family had very little political influence and he was a bit of an outcast. Napoleon saw, as did Caesar, that the State was falling, and a strong political and military mind could quite easily fill the gap. Napoleon once remarked:

“What a great people were these Romans, especially down to the Second Punic War. But Caesar! Ah Caesar! That was the great man!”

Napoleon, had himself crowned Emperor, emulating Caesar’s adopted son, Octavian (Augustus) in 1804. The French Empire expanded at first, but soon crumbled under his leadership. He successfully defeated coalition partners of Europe five times, before tempting fate with an ill conceived invasion of Russia in 1812, and was forced to abdicate and exiled in 1813. The strong and mystifying exterior of Napoleon, soon crumbled, like the walls of the Pantheon.

One could argue that Napoleon is actually not at all the personified mirror of the Pantheon, and actually far more successful than Julius Caesar given that Caesar was murdered before he could become Emperor, whereas Napoleon was successful in turning France into an Empire, taking control of most of Western and Central Europe in less than twelve years, and lasted a decade more than Caesar after taking power. Napoleon was a genius. Although, one would have to take into consideration the lasting legacy of both Caesar and Napoleon. For example, every Emperor of Rome was referred to as Caesar, for over 400 years after his death. The name Napoleon has long since died, other than Orwell’s use of the name for a horse in Animal Farm. After the fall of the Roman Empire, Europe was plunged into centuries of the Dark Ages; a truly regressive era in our history. When Napoleon fell, France thrived. The people adored Caesar. The people did not adore Napoleon. Caesar was proclaimed a God, and worshipped as such for the next half a millennium. Napoleon never came close to such accolade. The model of Rome during the Empire has been the inspiration for great artists, architects (such as Souffle’s Pantheon, and even as far as the Capitol building in Washington D.C), sculptors, writers, and people like Napoleon have tried to copy the system of governance for centuries since the final collapse of Rome in the fifth century. I cannot imagine the short phase of French Empire is going to be the inspiration for any such renaissance. The greatest poets during the Renaissance in Florence and Milan were crowned with a laurel wreath, in the style of Caesar to show that they were the masters of the poets. The legacy of the Roman Empire is far stronger and has a greater romance attached to it, than Bonaparte’s France.

The brief revival of the French Empire under Napoleon III was arguably more successful in terms of policy successes and the modernisation of France as an industrial power. And yet Napoleon III is often overlooked as a key figure in French history. His taking of power from the 2nd Republic which was established after the fall of his uncle, Napoleon, was largely a result of the fact that the new Republic was not a Republic at all, having abolished Universal Suffrage and a left over from the political upheaval of the fifty years previous. Stable government had not been known in France by the time Napoleon III took control, for around sixty years.

By the time Octavian became Emperor Augustus in Rome, the Republic had been dead for a long time. Whilst Augustus’ reign was far superior to Caesar’s and Napoleon’s and most Emperors with perhaps the exception of Trajan, he only managed to become Emperor – albeit cleverly and shrewdly – by building on the groundwork laid by his adoptive father, Julius Caesar. The political instability and the uncertain population was crying out for leadership; Octavian provided it.

Rome has a proud tradition. It, along with Ancient Greece certainly spawned Western Neoclassical art and architecture that has produced, with inspiration from the Ancient World, some spectacular works of art. The library in Helsinki is a great example of a Neoclassical building with a modern twist. Le Petit Trianon at Versailles in Paris, has a White House-esque look to it, fundamentally Neoclassical, but modern in feel. St Peter’s in Vatican City, is beautifully designed, and looks back across the Tiber and across history, to its Roman and Pagan ancestry for inspiration. Rome is the father of such brilliance. As it is politically….

If the line of history is to play out again and again, then surely it is not a coincidence that the Republic of the United States of America, which emerged as a result of the violent revolution against Kingdom, is often considered to now be an Empire. But, why is there no Emperor? Why has the Republic not collapsed as History would proscribe? Is America a new kind of Empire? A purely economic Empire, that is a product of advanced Capitalism? A Capitalist American Empire that requires a Napoleon-esque strategic mind, not for Statism and the old conception of Empire, but for ruthless business, coupled with aggressive foreign policy; the new Empire. And so no longer requiring of an overbearing, too powerful Centralised State with a single powerful person at its helm, because that would be contradictory to its “free market” economic purposes and so does it transcend the part of history that would proscribe the fall into the hands of a single person, because the Emperor, is no longer a human being, but instead the excessive power of capital? Or is it destined, after a period of prolonged success, to follow an inevitable path of history?


The Tudors

May 16, 2010

Showtime Productions can’t fool me into believing that Jonathan Rhys Meyers plays an accurately aging interpretation of King Henry VIII in ‘The Tudors’ simply by making the side of his hair a little bit grey, and giving him a bit of a beard. He still looks about 18.

I wouldn’t usually blog about a TV show, because there are no shades of grey with TV for me. It’s either great, or shit. And so I can’t really write much on it. I’ll show you………. Have I got news for you, is great. The Sopranos, is great. The West Wing, is great. One Tree Hill, is shit…….. You see?

The Tudors is an oddity. It is both great and shit at the exact same time. I don’t know how this has happened. I cannot explain why it’s so great, apart from saying that it brings the tumultuous time period to life in quite a creative and modern way. By making Henry some sort of male model, and his wives; sex crazed power hungry venom, they have simultaneously distorted the truth so much so that Fox News should consider taking tips, but also made it easy to look past the horrendous inaccuracies and just watch it as a piece of entertainment, rather than historical fact. However, if it were that simple, then I could just say that it’s a great TV show. It isn’t that simple. Which is why it’s also shit, for me.

I studied the reign of Henry VIII for A-Level, and half of my book collection are studies of that time period. Not necessarily just Henry VIII, but also studies on Henry VII, Thomas More, Thomas Cromwell, The Wars of the Roses, the Reign of Mary Tudor, the Reign of Edward VI, the Reign of Elizabeth I, The English and European Protestant Reformation, Kett’s Rebellion, Renaissance Florence, Emperor Charles V, and the rise and fall of the Medici. I have taken a greater interest in 16th Century England and Europe, than I did when I actually studied it. I know the subject pretty well. And so, when presented with a TV show that tries to commit itself to the subject, throwing thirty years worth of reality into four seasons of Americanised TV, I get horribly frustrated, yet can’t stop watching. I then get frustrated with myself, for continuing to bother watching a show, that makes me frustrated in the first place. But there’s the paradox; whilst it makes me frustrated, I absolutely love it. WHAT IN GOD’S NAME DO I DO!!!!! ARGH!!!

I will give you a few reasons why The Tudors frustrates me.

  • Charles Brandon, in the 1530s, was in his 50s. He was married four times previously. He married a girl who was then just 15. It is true that he was perhaps the King’s best friend, and most trusted confidante. But in the show, he is about 25, for about thirty years, and marries early on, and doesn’t get divorced at all.
  • Henry had two sisters, not one.
  • There are an entire two episodes based on Pope Paul III signing off on an assassination attempt on Ann Boleyn. This never happened. Totally invented by Showtime.
  • George Boleyn, Ann’s brother is depicted as gay. Sleeping with Mark Smeeton. This never happened. There is no evidence that George was gay. Someone at the production meeting must have said “I know, let’s make George Boleyn into a raving homosexual.”…. “why?”….. “We’ve made the fattest monarch in history into a toned male model, so making an easily forgettable character gay for a couple of episodes isn’t going to be much of a problem.” Oh, and they made him a rapist. George Boleyn, was not a rapist.
  • Imagine in 500 years from now, someone depicting Elvis as making his rock n roll debut, in 2010, or the first moon landing in 2019. It’d be ridiculous right? In an episode of The Tudors, Thomas Cromwell shows a few people the Printing Press and introduces it as a new invention that will change the World. The Printing Press was brought to England about fifty years before the date depicted, and everyone, even the commoners who got by in life from burning witches and pooing in holes in the ground, would have heard of it.
  • The Vatican in the show, has Bernini’s statues in front of it. Bernini was born in 1598. Sixty years after the time depicted. Pope Urban VIII commissioned Bernini to work on the Basilica in 1626, almost 100 years after the time depicted in the show. That’s the equivalent of someone saying “Titanic DEFINITELY sunk in 2012.” Why even go that far? Bernini’s statues around St Peters are not essential to the show. Surely you’d just leave them out, for continuities sake?
  • By Season 4, we are well into the 1540s. Henry died in 1546. He was morbidly obese, brought on from a horrible leg injury some years prior. His weight supposedly prevented him from even getting out of bed, without assistance. In the show, Henry is still a lean, well toned, very good looking, 20+ man, with a few grey hairs and a beard.

    Having said all of that, I still love the show. It’s shaming. I’m actually magnificently disappointed that they are ending it after season 4. It’s epic sets, and it’s costume designs are incredible. I particularly love the sweeping sky shots of 16th Century London. The acting is enticingly top class, and the storylines, whilst distorted factually, are captivating. I would like to see it carry on, into Edward’s reign. The last few years of Henry’s life were not even half as interesting as the entire reign of his son, Edward VI and the Protectors Somerset and Northumberland. I’d even quite like to see Mary’s reign portrayed. The actress who plays Mary is fantastic. It should end, at the coronation of Elizabeth; considered the greatest Monarch England has ever had. Watching a time period you adore, come to life, makes for exciting viewing. The makers of The Tudors have certainly found a winning formula. It’s just a pity they made ridiculous, unneeded historical mistakes. I do think more could have been made of the Reformation Parliament, and the massive and swift change it would have brought to ordinary people. To gloss over in two or three episodes, a part of our history that set the course for the religious settlement of England for the next five hundred years, was weak and disappointing. Also, the portrayal of Thomas Cromwell is acted brilliantly, but I would have liked to have seen him more involved. Cromwell, according to pretty extensive research by one historian in particular, changed Government forever. He introduced a bureaucratic style of government, with departments, and auditors, rather than a one man strong council that existed previously. Crowell was massively important for his political and religious reforms. He wasn’t depicted this way at all. But even then, I am still enticed by the show.

    I hope next, they depict World War II, and how the tall, skinny Winston Churchill; the compassionate, articulate truth teller George W Bush, and tall, definitely-not-crazy, magnificent actor Tom Cruise defeated the evil Nazi’s in Russia, using the giant moon laser. Surely, that’s next? I’ll probably love it =(


  • The English Renaissance

    April 29, 2010

    The European Renaissance was a breeding ground for absolutely magnificent Italian painters and sculptors. Carravagio, an early Rembrandt, is a particular favourite of mine, his macabre use of shadowing is stunning. Bernini’s sculptors in the centre of Rome, define the city for me. But the likes of Da Vinci, Michelangelo, Titian, Donatello and Botticelli are synonymous with fantastic art work. Especially when you view them up close. Standing in the centre of the Sistine Chapel and gazing at Michelangelo’s handy work, is simply incredible.

    So one wonders, why were there no great English Renaissance artists? Why did we miss out? I honestly cannot name one great English Renaissance artist up until the Hellenism of the Eighteenth Century; but even then, our artists were nothing in comparison to our Poets who invoked Antiquity when speaking of paradise. Lord Byron and John Keats among those.

    Oscar Wilde wrote of this particular brand of English Renaissance as:

    “of the vision of Homer as of the vision of Dante, of Keats and William Morris as of Chaucer and Theocritus. It lies at the base of all noble, realistic and romantic work as opposed to the colourless and empty abstractions of our own eighteenth-century poets anti of the classical dramatists of France, or of the vague spiritualities of the German sentimental school”

    He shows here that 18th Century Romanticism, and Hellenism of the pre-Raphaelites were essentially the English catching up to the methodology of the Italian Renaissance artists two centuries previous. The essence, being a passionate romantic humanism. You can see this very essence, in the works of Millais and Rossetti. Works that take their inspiration from Antiquity, and Renaissance Europe. If you go to Tate Britain, you will see “Ecce Ancilla Domini” by Rossetti. You could be forgiven for thinking it was created in Ancient Greece or Quattrocentro Italy, or Renaissance Florence; it was produced in 19th Century England. And whilst these works certainly take inspiration from the Italian Renaissance (despite the Pre-Raphaelite’s apparent disdain for Renaissance artistry), they still have a wonderful individual quality of their own, that separate them into something entirely new, yet I can never quite figure out what that quality is. It is simply there. The Pre-Raphaelites represented a lost idea of spirituality, in an age of enlightenment. We can safely say, that England gained it’s Renaissance, two or three centuries after the rest of Europe.

    But that still begs the question, why wasn’t England producing any art of any worth during the 15th, 16th, and 17th Centuries. I’d suggest, it was all because of Religion.

    The Italian Renaissance artists of the 15th-17th Centuries, were all Roman Catholic. They followed the Catholic tradition to it’s very fundamentals. And whilst the art itself may have presented Holy figures as mere mortals, the grandeur of those Holy figures, was supremely Catholic; colourful and striking, romantic backdrops and visions of the Divine with human emotion and imperfections. The artists were commissioned by Popes and grand Catholic nobles like the Medici. Renaissance art in Italy, was Catholicism on canvas.

    England, around that same time, had spent the 1530s breaking with Rome, and separating ourselves entirely, from the Continent. Catholicism became a dangerous practice. Even the Catholic Queen of England, was lucky to have survived it. Queen Catherine just so happened to be a close relative of the powerful Holy Roman Emperor, who was a staunch Catholic. She had his support. If it wasn’t for that relationship, she would have been almost certainly executed during the English Henrician reformation. Catholicism was dangerous in England in the 16th Century. Catholic extravagance, including it’s art, were not appreciated in England. The Reformers considered them to be the same sort of anti-Bible sentiment, as idol worship. The Pope, the great art work commissioner, was considered an anti-Christ, in the eyes of the English reformers. And so, by that logic, i’d argue that any attempt at such elaborate and extravagant art works used for the eminence of the Catholic Church, would have been utterly obscene, to the English Court.

    The Court painter, the man behind the great portraits of Thomas More and Jane Seymore, was Hans Holbein, a man who followed the writings of Luther, and Erasmus. Holbein was a humanist, and gradually became very anti-Catholic. Perfect for the Tudor Court.

    Catholicism, whilst it has been rather violent, and has a history of very unchristian-like viciousness, has undoubtedly produced some of history’s most beautiful works of art. One wonders what great works of art may have been produced throughout England, had the break from Rome not happened, and had Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon produced a son and heir in the first place.


    Rome

    April 18, 2010

    As you stroll down the rather beautiful Via Del Circus Massimo, you are presented with churches on your left, and the Circus Maximus on your right with the ruins of the palaces of antiquity looming on the Palatine overhead. If you take a left at the end of the famous arena that is now simply a big field, you are on Via Dell’Area Massima di Ercole, and on your left is a large building that now houses theatre props and equipment. It stands as a rather ordinary building in the centre of the City. Not many people realise that underneath it, still stands an old Pagan temple built by the cult of Mithra around 200ad.

    Much of what we see in Rome today, left over by the Roman era, is a teardrop in the ocean of what actually still exists underground. Since the end of the Roman Empire, their successors (the Byzantines among others) have preserved the old city of Rome and simply built on top of it. Vast Roman streets and slums have been preserved under ground. Archeologists predict that only 10% of the underground Rome has been found, which is incredibly exciting for those of us who have an interest in Roman history.

    I have been to Rome twice. And whilst I haven’t yet been to cities like Milan or Venice or Paris, I cannot imagine any City being greater than Rome. You get the instantaneous feeling that you are standing in a truly eternal city. The epicentre of two great empires; Rome and Catholicism. It is a surreal feeling.

    Sat at a little Italian cafe, with violinists playing in the centre of the complex, looking out at the architecture of Bernini at the Piazza Navona is quite honestly indescribable. Beauty and history are two very complementary subjects.

    As you walk through the centre of the Roman World; the Forum, you get a feeling that you have been transported back through history. You start to feel that you are standing in the spot where Sulla struck fear as a much hated tyrant. Where Cicero would have stood. Where Caesar would have strolled arrogantly, proclaiming himself some sort of God. Where Octavian would have rode gallantly through the main area draped in robes and cheered through the streets by hundreds of thousands of supporters, having defeated Marc Antony and “saved” Rome. And later, where the people would have almost hero worshiped Claudius and Trajan and Hadrian. It is so seeped in history, it is almost like walking onto a film set because it doesn’t seem real.

    The Catholic section of the City is just as amazing. I am always in two frames of mind about Catholic Rome. On the one hand, it is beautiful. The Sistine Chapel, the Raphael rooms, and the architecture again by Bernini among others, is simply stunning. It is unrivaled anywhere on the planet. The atmosphere as the sun sets behind St Peters is something I don’t think I will forget any time soon. However, the very foundation of the Catholic Church is built on oppression and quite horrendous violence. I cannot imagine Jesus would be proud of Catholicism, if he stood in the centre of St Peters square and viewed with astonishment the great wealth they have accumulated in his name.

    The Trevi fountain is locked away in Trevi Square, a tightly boxed area surrounded by cafes filled with Italian businessmen on cell phones, and lovers surrounding the fountain itself having their memories recorded on camera. It lights up at night. The Baroque Architect Nicola Salvi is responsible for the fountain. Although his work mimics that of Bernini whose undertaking of the creation of the fountain died with him (as you can tell i’m quite the fan of Bernini) The fountain depicts the Roman god of the sea, Neptune on a chariot made of shells being pulled by two horses. The horses’ moods reflect the moods of the sea directed by Neptune. One is angry and abrasive, the other is calm and uninterested. Whilst built about two hundred years after the Renaissance period, the statue seems to adhere entirely to Renaissance architecture, ignoring the common Baroque use of Neptune as a servant to City state propaganda (see “Neptune offers the wealth of the sea to Venice” by Tiepolo for typical Baroque depictions of Neptune). When it comes to the Trevi Fountain, Neptune is always in control, as in Roman myth. The myth comes to life, when you stand in front of the fountain and visualise the statue as if it had come to life.

    I cannot describe in words just how I feel when i’m in Rome. I owe it to my love of Roman and Catholic history. Words on a page in books on the subjects that I read, suddenly become reality when stood in the City itself. It is a wonderful feeling. I cannot recommend Rome enough.

    GO!!!!!