Saturday, September 16, 2006

Art and History

When I had visited Agra two months back, I had lamented the fact that we Indians have no respect for our national heritage and have no qualms about desecrating historical monuments. After visiting Italy this week, I'm wondering if I can generalize this to the whole world. That may be a bit too much, but I witnessed exactly the same thing in Italy as I did at Agra. Whether they were the 2000 year old ruins at Rome, or the precariously tilting walls of the Leaning Tower of Pisa - all bore witness to the regrettable proclamation of love by irresponsible lovers.

Anyway, I had a great time at Italy. I have always been fascinated by history, and what better place to witness history than Rome. I can't think of any other city with such a rich treasure of history - from ancient to medieval to modern. Every street corner, every piazza is so steeped in history that you really need a lifetime to see everything that Rome has to offer. Given the fact that I had less then 3 days to explore the Eternal City, I'm sure there was a lot more I didn't see. However, I still managed to see the usual touristy stuff - Piazza del Popolo, Spanish Steps, Piazza Navona, Pantheon, Fontana di Trevi, Colosseum, Vatican city....

If I were to pick up a few of my favourite places in Rome, they would certainly be Fontana di Trevi and St. Peter's Basilica at Vatican. It was quite an experience to behold Michelangelo's Pieta at the church. The figure of Mary cradling the dead body of Christ is so real and lifelike, that it is sure to evoke the emotion of compassion even in a non-Christian.

It was a coincidence and my good luck that I was in Rome during one of the biggest events in Rome - Notte Bianca (White Night). On September 9th, the city refused to sleep. Shops were open all through the night, there were concerts at the major piazzas, and almost the entire population of Rome was on the streets. Nobody seemed to have any idea what they were doing on the streets....On Via Corsa (the main street in Rome) all you could see was a huge ocean of people just walking aimlessly from one end to the other. You had to be there to experience it.

I know for sure that I will visit Rome again (and that has nothing to do with the fact that I threw a coin at the Fontana di Trevi). And then I will hopefully get to see the one place I regret missing this time - The Sistine Chapel.

My next stop after Rome was Florence. Florence is very different from Rome. If Rome is all about history, Florence is nothing short of a huge art gallery. There are very few cities that can match Florence in terms of its art collection. Michelangelo's awe inspiring statue of David and Doni Madonna, Botticelli's colourful and allegorical Birth of Venus, Calumny and Primavera, Leonardo's incomplete The Adoration of Magi and visually deceptive Annunciation, Raphael's Madonna of the Goldfinch, Titian's erotic Venus of Urbino (which incidentally was dubbed by Mark Twain as 'the foulest, the vilest, the obscenest picture the world possesses')....the list is endless. I'm not much of an Arts person, but this visit to Florence has fuelled my interest in Art

Speaking of David, it's called the most perfect representation of human form on stone. And rightly so. You have to see to believe it. Every muscle, every nerve, every body part is so painstakingly and realistically sculpted on marble that you can't help but marvel at Michelangelo's brilliance. Actually, as I later found out, David is not really perfect in that it is not proportionate. The top half of the body is disproportionately larger than the bottom half. But there's a reason to it. It was sculpted with the intention of being placed on a high pedestal, so in order for it to appear perfectly proportionate to a person viewing it from the ground level, the top half of the statue had to be larger. Similar visual deception was also used by Da Vinci in his Annunciation. When seen from the front, it appears truly disproportionate. But then this painting is meant to be seen from the right at an angle because of the position it was to occupy on the wall when it was painted.

Apart from art, Florence seems to be a shopper's paradise. You can get everything from from inexpensive trinkets on the streets to unaffordable designer wear in swanky designer outlets. We visited the shops of all the major designers....I can't forgive Armani for burning a huge hole in my pocket :)

From Florence, we took an excursion to Pisa. To climb up the Leaning Tower and get a panoramic view of the city was an exhilarating experience, and to climb down the slippery and tilting marble steps was scary!

This trip to Italy is certainly one of my most memorable trips. How I wish I had more time!!