Up before dawn after a restless night. Jet lag is no joke. Out by 8:30 with e-ticket printouts in hand. The streets were notably quiet except for seagulls** diving for discarded pizza scraps on the cobbled street. Uber dropped us off in the neighborhood of the Palazzo Colonna, we only had to scout around for a few minutes to find our way to the entrance. Crisply efficient uniformed staff took our backpacks in the entry vestibule and handed us substantial folders listing the paintings. We climbed up a narrow stair, through one anteroom into another, then BOOM. Shock & Awe. The main hall stretched before us and I had no words. A vaulted ceiling, broad expanse, antique statuary to the right and left, walls all but paneled in dozens of oil paintings, any one of which would be the pride of a provincial museum. Ceiling frescoes bristling with depictions of the victories of the Colonna patriarch Marc Antonio (not to mention the 22 cardinals, one pope, and military heroes galore), bronzes, benches padded with velvet at intervals, I suppose for those of us overcome with the sheer magnificence. Diplomats, visiting royalty, barbarians from the west, enter here and know you are outclassed and outgunned.
In the center of wide marble steps into the grand hall is a cannonball, half buried in the marble where it landed, just above a smashed lip of a tread. Way to keep it real, Colonna.My brain started chanting ohmygodohmygodohmygod on repeat. I looked like a goggle-eye fool but I didn’t care. The guards, dressed in well-tailored blue suits, were all as beautiful as the woman in the paintings. Polite, helpful, gracious. And the art! Oh the art. Even Robert was impressed. Everything from a rare image of Mary Magdalene repenting while clothed.
What to wear when you hang out with the Pope.
Tapestries, threads still bright with color. Busts of the Patron as Pope. Painted mirrors.Oh, how I wanted to draw. Not allowed. But I’ll be back. When we left at 11:30, two and a half hours had flown by in a blink. I comforted myself with the fact that my Context tour is already purchased.
We hurried down the streets, hoping to beat the rain to the Barberini. Again, finding the entrance to a building that takes up a city block requires patience and tolerance. Google will pinpoint the building but not the entrance. Painful experience has taught me that the best way is to go the website of the venue and use the map on that site for directions to the entrance. There are often helpful photographs of the outside which give you a clue. Every building in the center is next to another just as grand or ancient or imposing, or all three.
The first floor of the Barberini was a disappointment after the grandeur of the Colonna. The rooms looked so dated, like my 1980s kitchen. Dolorous Virgins and glum Christs hung on walls sponge painted in textured pastels. The floor was a utilitarian herringbone pattern terracotta brick. Meh.Robert nodded off in a chair while I prowled around. To see the upstairs you had to go outside and back in (don’t lose that ticket!). A wonderful carved bas-relief lion halfway up the grand staircase got my hopes up. I went from optimistic to eager, but that still did not prepare me. I turned a corner, entered a small room, clapped my hand over my mouth and shrieked. Before me was the painting of La Fornarina in all her glory. I likely stood the same distance away as Raphael did while he painted his darling. He caught it all – her charm, his lust, his affection, her allure. By some artistic alchemy, he found a way to show her off and keep her to himself at the same time. Nothing says MINE like a gold armband with your lover’s name on it. It made me shiver. I dropped everything, and just drew for a while so I could look and look. It was for a moment like this that I came to Rome.
I stopped at 1:30 and found across Robert a couple of rooms later near the famous Holbein portrait of Henry the VIII. Robert was flagging. I left, knowing I could and would revisit this place at my leisure.
We searched for one of the places I’d marked as decent, non-touristy restaurant that Google swore was ten minutes away. The rain was starting in earnest, and we nearly gave up, when Robert asked a shopkeeper where to find it. We’d walked by it twice. No sign, small door. Alrighty. But, sure enough, we dined well among happy, gesticulating Roman businessmen and families. He had the cod and potatoes, I had a pasta with cheese and orange rind (odd but good). He had tiramisu, I had chocolate and pear tart. It was 3pm and we both wanted nothing more than a nap. Uber found us and brought us back. We fell asleep and woke up in time to do laundry and think about dinner.