Sunday, January 2, 2011

(1) Il Musico

Ciao a tutti and Happy New Year! I have decided to reactivate the Sights of Rome blog for calendar year 2011. Some posts coming up in 2011 will be new; others will be updates on topics from the two "Sights" books: The Sights of Rome and Rome: Sights and Insights. Although the basic, historical information in the books obviously will not change, I often see articles in the Rome newspapers or features on Italian television which deal with these subjects. So when I see something which I think will be of interest to our readers I'll write a short summary of it and send it on to you.

Today's photos:

1. The Victor Emanuel Monument, sparkling clean and now free of scaffolding, this year celebrates the 100th year since its dedication in 1911.

2. Il Musico by Leonardo da Vinci. (No photos allowed. This one was taken from the internet).

3. The official poster of Il Musico is seen above the entrance to the Capitoline Museums where the painting is on display.

4. This photo shows how Marcus Aurelius is temporarily sharing his special space with Leonardo's masterpiece.

Bad news for visitors to the Eternal City

A new city tax which will affect visitors to Rome went into effect on January 1, 2011. It is called la tassa di soggiorno (sojourn tax). The amount of the tax depends on the rating of the hotel the visitor stays in, as follows:

Four and five star hotels: 3 euros per person per night up to 10 nights.

All other hotels, B&B's, convents, etc.: 2 euros per person per night up to 10 nights.

If you are staying longer than 10 nights, you stop paying the tax after the tenth night. The hotels, etc. are obliged to inform their guests and to collect the tax. This is a city tax, so it applies only in the city of Rome.

Unfortunately, the bad economic news does not stop here. The entrance fee at city museums has increased by 1 euro for residents of Rome, and by 2 euros for non-residents. For example, in the Capitoline Museums, the cost of a ticket for a resident of Rome has gone from €6.50 to €7.50. The ticket for non-residents has gone from €6.50 to €8.50. When you enter a museum now, if you claim to be a resident of Rome in order to have the lower priced ticket, you will have to show an Italian i.d. card.

The book signings

I do want to take this opportunity to thank those of you who turned out for our book signings in Louisiana (New Iberia and New Orleans) and Mississippi (Jackson). The three signings were a big success, but the best part was that I had the opportunity to see lots of family members and friends whom I had not seen for several years, some of them for MANY, MANY years!

Celebrating the unification of Italy: 1861-2011

I remember the excitement in the United States in 1976 when we celebrated the 200th anniversary of the founding of our country. This year I will celebrate with my adopted country as it commemorates its 150th year of unification. Prior to 1861 the term Italia served to designate a peninsula rather than a nation. Italy has always existed as a geographical entity, but it did not become a political reality until 1861. It required another nine years, however, to complete the full unification of the country because the city of Rome still remained under the control of the papacy, even after 1861. It was not until September 20, 1870 that the Italian forces of unification breached the papal walls near Porta Pia, thus ending the temporary power of the pope. Rome was then declared the Capital of Italy. (For more on the breach of the walls see Rome: Sights and Insights, Chapter 17, Porta Pia).

Despite the fact that Rome was not seized until 1870, Italy has always considered 1861 as the year of its unification because that is the year of the founding of the Italian State. In fact, the monument to Victor Emanuel II in Piazza Venezia was dedicated in the year 1911, long before it was completed, in order to make the dedication coincide with the 50th year of unification. So the year 2011 will also mark the 100th year of the dedication of this important national landmark in Rome. (For more on this monument see The Sights of Rome, Chapter 35, Il Vittoriano).

I hope to include in most of the "Sights" throughout this anniversary year a short historical note relating to the unification of Italy and this patriotic year of celebration. And as you have already seen above, I'll also be referring you to various chapters in my two books which relate to this and other topics we discuss. But now let's move on to the main subject matter of this first "Sights" of 2011 entitled Il Musico (The Musician). Buona lettura!


When you visit a museum especially to see one particular item, there is always a chance that you will come away disappointed. The reason is that you may find that the item you so badly wanted to see is no longer there. In its place you find a picture of it along with a notice indicating that this work of art is on loan to another museum or to an exhibit in some other part of the world. The art works in the museums of Rome are much in demand elsewhere and important pieces are often loaned out. However, this works both ways, and often a museum in
Rome is on the receiving end of a loan of an important work of art. And this is the case with a very famous painting currently on loan to Rome's Capitoline Museums.

A curiosity

Since I live in Rome, I have the luxury of being able to choose what I believe will be the best day to visit a museum. For this particular visit I tried to pick a day and time when there might be fewer people present. I chose Tuesday, December 14, arriving at the museum a few minutes after the 9:00 opening time when the temperature happened to be 28° Fahrenheit. My expectation was that there would not be a big crowd present due to the early hour and the bitter cold. As it turned out, the reality infinitely exceeded my expectations. I was in the Capitoline Museums for an hour and a half, and in all that time the only other people I saw were the custodians!

The work of art in question is a portrait called Il Musico (The Musician) by Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519). It is on display in the museum from December 11, 2010 to February 27, 2011. During its two and a half month stay in Rome, the painting will reside in what is probably the most important room in the museum: the Exedra of Marcus Aurelius, a room bathed in sunlight and home to the famous bronze equestrian statue of this Roman emperor. (For a discussion of the museum in general and this statue in particular see Rome: Sights and Insights, Chapter 4, The Capitoline Museums). The portrait has been placed in a niche especially built for it to protect it from the direct rays of the sun and to enhance its viewing by visitors. Leonardo himself provided the lighting by use of the chiaroscuro (light and shade) technique of painting.

There are very few works of Leonardo da Vinci in Rome, so the presence of this painting is creating a lot of excitement here . . . even though you wouldn't know it by the "crowd" I saw during my visit! This is the only male portrait the artist ever painted in his long career. It is dated to 1485 when Leonardo was only thirty-three years old. This is the first time in its over 500 years of existence that the painting has left its permanent home, the Biblioteca Ambrosiana in Milan.

A curiosity

Like most Americans I am always struck, and even humbled, by the long history of this country. When you stop to think about it, the year 1485 is seven years before Columbus made his first voyage to the New World in 1492. To put it into perspective, the painting was done almost 300 years before the United States of America came into existence! We Americans, in general, don't have the same deep "feel for history" which the Italians seem to have naturally. Just to give you another quick example, Italy's oldest bank, Monte dei Paschi di Siena, still in operation today, was founded in 1472.

As is the case with some other works of Leonardo, this painting is enveloped in mystery. For one thing, we do not know who commissioned the work, but more importantly there is a question about the subject of the portrait. Whom does it represent? It depicts a young man with long, blond, curly hair flowing out from beneath his red hat. He is dressed in black with a red shawl over his shoulders. He appears to be staring out in the distance at nothing in particular, but the experts say he is really looking down at what seems to be a document in his right hand.

Most art experts today agree that the portrait represents Atalante Miglioroti, a musician-friend of Leonardo who had followed him from Florence to Milan. However, even though I am most definitely NOT an art historian, I prefer an alternate identification of the character, based on the following curiosity.

A curiosity

A cleaning of the painting in 1904 revealed that the "document" in the man's hand was, in fact, a musical score displaying the letters Cant . . . Ang . . ., invisible before the cleaning. There was a composer, a contemporary of Leonardo, a certain Francesco Gaffurio, who had written a piece of music entitled: Cantum Angelicum. So it is very possible that this portrait represents Gaffurio holding in his hand a copy of his musical composition.

There should be no surprise that the character in the painting represents a musician, whatever his name might be. Leonardo's love of music is well known. In fact, among the many amazing machines designed by him, we can find several examples of musical instruments.

No matter who the character might be, and despite any mysteries and secrets about the painting, the most important thing is the excitement and awe one feels when standing in front of a masterpiece of Leonardo da Vinci . . . especially when you have it all to yourself!


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