Rome is an incredible city. I ponder this every time I enter her storied walls; every time I arrive at the train station I think, Rome is una citta incredibile. Truly, I feel almost giddy every single time. This city makes my heart dance and my senses sing.
Yesterday we went to Rome. I flushed as usual, but we were on a mission…an amazingly incredible mission. We had discovered, barely in time, that there was an exceptional exhibition for four days only. A palazzo in the heart of Rome – historical and noteworthy by itself – was putting on display a painting by Caravaggio, the famed artist, my favorite Baroque painter, no less. The Conversion of Saul is one of those rare and priceless works still held in a private collection and the Principessa was throwing open the doors of the palazzo to allow us mere mortals the chance to view this masterpiece. For free. (I told you it was a chance of a lifetime.)
We arrived to a line about halfway down the short block. It was humid and hot, and people in line were strangely quiet (Italians are not known for their quietude). While waiting we gazed at the architecture of the Palazzo Odescalchi - the façade of the monumental building designed by Bernini; at the church across the street; at the people passing by clutching their guidebooks, enroute to the Trevi Fountain without a clue as to what they were passing and missing. To think that we could have missed it ourselves. It was sheer good fortune that Bryan picked up a free newspaper one day on the bus into the Anzio, apparently left behind by a commuting Roman. He perused the cell phone ads, the TV schedule and was about to lay it aside when I caught a glimpse of the photo and the caption saying “Caravaggio”. Whoa, wait a sec. Take that home! Later, I translated it and discovered that an organization whose aim it is to open splendid homes to display rare works of art was sponsoring this event for four days only. It is an annual event each June. Last year they displayed a Botticelli and a Fra Lippo Lippi. This year, fortuitously, this particular Caravaggio. I couldn’t believe my eyes, but we had to hurry! It opened the day the newspaper was printed…that left us with Sunday for the trip to Rome.
So there we were, in that magnificent city, in a famous palace. After about forty-five minutes in line, we were ushered into the inner sanctum – the one room of the palace we were permitted to enter, to gaze upon the glory of one lone picture with lighting designed just perfectly to best permit the incredible luminescence by the hand of the artist to shine forth. Powerful, incredibly realistic…this is why I so admire Caravaggio’s work. A troubled, temperamental man with incredible vision, skill, and profound insight into scriptural events, he presented the conversion of Saul into St. Paul in vivid, muscular, dark-edged and light-ensconced brilliancy. I was moved. Only ten of us were permitted to enter at a time, so the room was uncrowded and we were able to view it up-close for detail before moving to the back of the room for the “full view” as it was intended to be seen in the original setting in the church of Santa Maria del Popolo.
Truly incredible, I thought. I could not believe we had the opportunity to see a priceless work such as this, that few people even in this city of art have the chance to view. We strolled out smiling, thinking, “and people really wonder why we want to live in Italy?”
copyright2006 Valerie Schneider