Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Biblioteca Casanatense

The Biblioteca Casanatense welcomes curious visitors into this perfect example of a grand, early 18th century library.  Cardinal Casanate began the public library in 1701 over the stables of a Dominican monastery. The library grew over time from 25,000 to 400,000 volumes, including about 6,000 manuscripts, 2,200 incunabula (books printed between 1451 and 1500), banned books from the Inquisition, and even some of Albrecht Durer’s woodcuts.

Biblioteca Casanatense

Durer's Rhinoceros Woodcut

Dürer's Rhinoceros is the name commonly given to a woodcut executed by German painter and printmaker Albrecht Dürer in 1515. The image was based on a written description and brief sketch by an unknown artist of an Indian rhinoceros that had arrived in Lisbon earlier that year. Dürer never saw the actual rhinoceros, which was the first living example seen in Europe since Roman times. In late 1515, the King of Portugal, Manuel I, sent the animal as a gift for Pope Leo X, but it died in a shipwreck off the coast of Italy in early 1516. A live rhinoceros was not seen again in Europe until a second specimen, named Abada, arrived from India at the court of Sebastian of Portugal in 1577, being later inherited by Philip II of Spain around 1580.

Dürer's woodcut is not an entirely accurate representation of a rhinoceros. He depicts an animal with hard plates that cover its body like sheets of armour, with a gorget at the throat, a solid-looking breastplate, and rivets along the seams. He places a small twisted horn on its back, and gives it scaly legs and saw-like rear quarters. None of these features are present in a real rhinoceros. Despite its anatomical inaccuracies, Dürer's woodcut became very popular in Europe and was copied many times in the following three centuries. It was regarded by Westerners as a true representation of a rhinoceros into the late 18th century. 

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Luca Palermo, Botanical Illustrator

At the home of Luca Palermo, Botanical Illustrator

Luca became interested in botanical illustration in 1979. After graduating with merit in medicine and surgery,  Luca started to work professionally as a botanical artist, exhibiting his works in London, Oxford, prior to Italy. He also started to teach painting in a variety of institutions including ‘Naturalistic illustration and painting’ at l'Università Popolare di Roma U.P.T.E.R and Centro Studi Arti Floreali. He gave seminars on ‘Botanical Illustration’ at Rome Botanical Garden at the La Sapienza university and taught ‘Painting Techniques’ at L’accademia di costume e Moda in Rome. In 2009 Luca finished 175 paintings for the project “Dioscoride Napoletano” under the direction of Naples Botanic Garden; a monumental work of translation, classification and iconographic reconstruction of vegetables described by Pedanio Dioscoride di Anazarbo  in “On medicinal material.” His work can be found in The Royal Collection at Windsor Castle (his Taraxacum was purchased by Queen in 1985), The Hunt Institute for Botanical Documentation, The Shirley Sherwood Collection, The Fitzwilliam Museum, the collections of Parco Nazionale d'Abruzzo, and COINOR, Ateneo “Federico II” di Napoli and Mapes Monde at St. Thomas, Virginia. Luca holds a gold RHS medal for his series of Chinese peonies.

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Delicious Pastiera with Ricotta and Orange Flower Water

Palazzo Massimo alle Terme

The "Palazzo Massimo alle Terme" houses part of the National Roman Museum, one of the world’s greatest collections of ancient art. It provides a magnificent showcase for some of the most beautiful paintings, mosaics and sculptures of the Roman age.


Fresco from Villa of Livia

An 1863 excavation of the house of Livia Drusilla (58 BCE–29 CE), wife of the Emperor Augustus, in the Roman suburb of Prima Porta uncovered a series of four magnificent frescoes decorating the walls of an underground triclinium, or dining room. These illusionistic wall paintings are filled with images of exotic birds and a variety of flowers, plants, and trees. The flora and fauna were, in fact, depicted in such great detail that scholars have been able to identify many of the species represented. Among the vegetation, for instance, are strawberry trees, oleander, Italian cypresses, date palms, and English oak. These images were surely intended to provide visual entertainment for guests and likely contributed a sense of comfort and openness to the subterranean space. 

The Basilica of Saint Mary of the Angels and Martyrs and the Baths of Diocletian

Santa Maria degli Angeli, is a unique Renaissance church in Rome. Designed by Michelangelo, it was built inside the Roman walls of the Baths of Diocletian. It is dedicated to the Virgin Mary, to the angels, and to the Christian slaves who died building the baths.

The Baths of Diocletian were the largest thermae ever built in Rome. The complex, constructed in the early third century, could accommodate an estimated three thousand people.  Parts of the bath complex have survived thanks to their incorporation into newer structures. The baths were built between 298 and 306 AD by Maxentius who had the complex named Thermae Diocletiani, after Emperor Diocletian.

For Romans, bathing was a social event and the huge bathing complexes reflected their importance in Roman society. A visit to a bath complex like that of Diocletian started in the apodyterium, where visitors stored their clothes. They then progressed to the frigidarium (the cold water), the tepidarium (warm water) and the caldarium (hot water). Some visitor went to the sudatorium (sauna) before going to the caldarium. Men and women bathed separately.

But a visit to the baths was more than just about getting clean and relaxed. People came here to socialize, discuss politics, recount daily events and gossip. It was also a fitness and leisure center: there was a swimming pool, a massage room and complexes like that of the Baths of Diocletian boasted amenities such as sporting facilities, libraries and meeting halls.

The Baths of Diocletian measured 356 meters long and 316 meters wide (about 1200 x 1000 ft) and were the largest of the approximately nine hundred bath houses in Rome. The enclosed complex was structured similarly to the Baths of Trajan and Baths of Caracalla, with a central axis around which the actual baths were located. Water was led to a large water basin via the Aqua Iovia, a branch of the Aqua Marcia aqueduct.

The transept of the basilica is located in the tepidarium (luke-warm bath) of the Baths of Diocletian. It was first adapted by Michelangelo, and then altered by Lo Duca and Vanvitelli. The cross vault is 29 metres high, and the columns 17.14 metres including bases and capitals, with a diameter of 1.62 metres. Eight of the columns are from the baths, while the other eight are imitations covered with stucco. The eight large paintings that decorate the transept were originally in St. Peter's Basilica and were moved here in the 18th century. The floor was laid in the 18th century by Giuseppe Barbieri.

On the left side is the Meridian Line, a sundial laid down along the meridian that crosses through Rome, at latitude 15º. At true noon, about 12.15 pm (1.15 pm in summer time), the sun casts its light on this line. Part of the cornice on the right side of the transept wall has been cut away to provide the effect. The markings were made by the astronomer, mathematician, archaeologist, historian and philosopher Francesco Bianchini. Bianchini had been commissioned by Pope Clement XI to make them for the Holy Year of 1700. It took a bit longer; they were completed in 1703 with the assistance of the astronomer G.F. Maraldi.

Basilica of Saint Mary of the Angels and the Martyrs
La Meridiana di S. Maria Degli Angeli
La Meridiana di S. Maria Degli Angeli

Monday, April 6, 2015


Arrived in Rome, the Eternal City, today.  Beauty everywhere!

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Reading Museum and the Bayeux Tapestry Replica

The Reading Museum Town Hall is a fine example of Victorian gothic architecture, it is here that we came to see the replica of the Bayeux Tapestry.  The original Bayeux Tapestry is preserved and displayed in Bayeux, in Normandy, France. Nothing is known for certain about the tapestry’s origins. The first written record of the Bayeux Tapestry is in 1476 when it was recorded in the cathedral treasury at Bayeux as "a very long and narrow hanging on which are embroidered figures and inscriptions comprising a representation of the conquest of England".

The Bayeux Tapestry was probably commissioned in the 1070s by Bishop Odo of Bayeux, half-brother of William the Conqueror. It is over 70 metres long and although it is called a tapestry it is in fact an embroidery, stitched not woven in woolen yarn on linen. Some historians argue that it was embroidered in Kent, England. 

It was the idea of Elizabeth Wardle to make the replica Bayeux Tapestry, now on display in Reading Museum. She was a skilled embroiderer and a member of the Leek Embroidery Society in Staffordshire. Her husband, Thomas Wardle was a leading silk industrialist. Elizabeth Wardle researched the Bayeux Tapestry by visiting Bayeux in 1885. The Society also based the replica on hand-colored photographs of the tapestry held by the South Kensington Museum, now called the Victoria and Albert Museum, London. The aim of the project was to make a full-sized and accurate replica of the Bayeux Tapestry "so that England should have a copy of its own".

Thirty-five women members of the Leek Embroidery Society worked under Elizabeth Wardle's direction. This ambitious project was completed in just over a year. As well as members from Leek, women from Derbyshire, Birmingham, Macclesfield and London took part. Each embroiderer stitched her name beneath her completed panel.

The tale told by the Bayeux Tapestry is the story of William the Conqueror and Harold, Earl of Wessex, the men who led the Norman and Saxon armies in 1066. William's defeat of Harold at the Battle of Hastings ensured the success of the Norman invasion of England.

Replica of Bayeux Tapestry

Friday, April 25, 2014

RHS Lindley Library, London

The Royal Horticultural Society's Lindley Library in London specializes in botanical art and garden history, holding unique collections of early printed books on gardening, botanical
art and photographs. It also holds the archives of the RHS and personal archives of notable gardeners and garden designers.

The library is based upon the book collection of English botanist John Lindley, and has many rare books dating from 1514. It also includes other media such as garden guidebooks, trade catalogues, postcards and press cuttings. As well as horticulture, the collection covers flora, birds and other related subjects. The Lindley Library is the largest horticultural library in the world.

Elizabeth Koper gave us a delightful tour which included works by Ehret, 16th century illustrated books, contemporary botanical artworks by accomplished artists such as Fiona Strickland, and royal signature pages.  She also spoke about the application process for the annual RHS botanical art show.