Monday, October 22, 2007

The Mad Flight

We jogged along the Tiber.

Zig-zagged around the broken shards of glass and water bottles.

Did you know that Italy was the country which most consumes water bottles? Con gassata, usually. I forgot that Europeans did that. We stopped buying Perrier when a lady at Costco warned my mother of its unhealthy effects. You mean, besides flatulence?

Serve the Servants by Nirvana woke me up every morning I lay on the small left pocket between the edge of the bed and the contour of your body. What an unusual song to choose on the radio alarm clock, I’ve always thought but never questionned; admitedly, I found it kind of cute.

And that’s the angry, teenage angsty music I’m listening to on my Business class seat because Ocean’s Thirteen is experiencing technical difficulties and I’m feeling grungy.

How could I have missed my plane?

I’ve traveled so much. I stood in line, half-asleep, juggling a postcard on my arm and dragging the strap of my red duffel bag around my ankles. Backtrack. I was frantically looking for my passport last night, thinking I had forgotten it at Florence. Packed and unpacked my souvenirs and clothes on the rustic floor tiles. We eventually found the passport and headed off for a jog, as if it were the natural reward to an averted tragedy. What other things could I have done on this final night? Plans of wine on the Spanish Steps proceeded by indulgences on pasta, pizza, and gelato. We have arrived as students and shall return as pigs.

Also on my to-do list was to ride in a scooter (check), toss two coins in the Trevi (one for my father), and take a dip in the champagne glass fountain (left unchecked, deterred by its questionable legality). Magnificent art and sculptures enclosed in museums or burried in churches would have to remain on the idyllic canopy of my memories. On the last night, best avert Stendhal’s syndrome and remain awake. Impulse tends to find its own way towards a scheduled plan, and so I followed the light breeze beneath my feet that carried me all the way to Testaccio and over to Trastevere. We sprinted at times, raising our arms forward and exclaiming how good Rome felt that night. I think they call it the runner’s high.

Delta 77? I asked earlier, you said 10am… No, that one is the 71.

My face must have gone very pale because the boy behind me audibly commented: “that sucks,” organizing my muddled thoughts into a compact statement of fact. But the fine was much, much smaller than I had anticipated and the next plane left in two hours, which gave me just enough time to do some last minute shopping I needed to do at my indecisive, leisurely pace. I guess I was feeling kind of happy, or maybe I’m attributing the emotion with the lack of a sudden, depressive shift in mood. I floated along in a sleepless state, letting unexpected adventures occupy the part of the brain that gives you the ability to reflect and make sense of the past few hours or weeks. Temporarily grounded myself to take the escalator up to the gate as an unusually shiny Tazza D’Oro gradually emerged in my sight. I could have cried with joy right then, as I warmed my hands around a cup of sweet capuccino and looked outside the window at all the parked airplanes and the one that flew away.

“Tell me about Rome,” they’ll ask. Oh, Jesus. I need to start gathering my thoughts and notes because I don’t know how to sum up the past five weeks in a few engaging sentences which goes beyond the person’s already existing conceptions of the European city. They’ll hear it’s beautiful and know that is the case; they’ll expect us to come back with a refined sense of the aesthetic or an expanded taste palette, or merely find us fattened with pasta and Nutella. They might not know about the market that sells fresh, misshapen fruits, or the latteria which sells its tasty yogurt in little glass bottles. I could not reproduce the mirror image of the city over the river at night and the coincidence of the white arrows on the pavement which always seemed to point to the direction we were running. I wouldn’t be sure how to put into words the awkward feeling of stepping over the crumbling leaves or the cool sensation of the first crisp morning in Rome which announced the end of summer and foresaw our approaching departure. The differences between living and visiting a place becoming clear to me in the realization of these timely details.

I wanted to feel Rome. I did not want my last night to be spent sitting at a restaurant in a large group, passing the bread around and waiting for our plates to arrive. We’d have our last gelatos and our besotted farewell to the city but before that, I wanted to be liberated from the expectations and eschewed priorities of work that we had accumulated over the last days, brought upon by our own procrastinatory fault. With little sleep and an empty stomach, we dashed over the sidewalk, under the bridge, over and across, under again with a brief pause to listen to the band that was playing below. We recognized the papal coat of arms and correctly identified the bridge in the dark as Ponte Sisto when we thought we had gotten lost. Our art history teacher would be proud.

I waited so long at the queue and I just missed my flight. Can you at least let me skip ahead?

In my best Italian and batting my eyelashes. (And that’s how I got a Business class seat at no additional cost.)

G is for Gumshoe, H is for Homicide, I is for Innocence. The people in this

airplane like to read Sue Grafton novels. I don't.

I got asked if I understood English when I picked the Financial Times

over USA Today when the flight attendant offered.

I hope I don’t fall asleep too soon.

In a few minutes, the hills and tall trees of Rome will appear like

miniature from above.

We take off.

Scene at the marketplace

“People live there,” she says as she points to the Theater Marcello on our way back home. They have built homes and raised families among ruins. I imagine the little place, accessible only by a staircase out in the open air, overlooking the road leading to the Campo de Fiori and the Winged Victories on top of the Vittorio Emanuale monument. In the distance, I picture the glow of the hidden TV playing in the corner and the milk bottles already delivered at the doorstep, and the little girl who perks up from her favorite morning cartoon shows to pick up the milk and give thanks to the man who delivered them. Morning cartoon shows. Is that an American concept? Do they even deliver milk anymore? The point of my fantasy is the concept of a city where seller and buyer want to know each other; they are recurring characters in the lives of people. They await their next lines and spark dialogues which fire up into new stories. And occasionally, they’ll have a sip of the milk they receive fresh in the mornings.

Despite my romantic version of the mysterious delivery and exchange of foods, I can confidently ascertain the freshness of the ingredients one gets at the market at the Campo de Fiori. Plump, misshapen varieties of fruits you know are made in Italy, without the certifying sticker on the inside of your leather purse (and even then, you wonder: “Really? You’ll go from a hundred euros to twenty for me?”).

I am most guided by their ripe smells which also
invite the small but bothersome flies that habitually get swatted away. I did mention food was fresh, which I have come to learn means embracing the small patches of browning pigment which make for juicier pears and trusting in the knowledgeable flies to guide you to the melon that is ready to be sliced open. Closer to nature, like the unshaven underarms of my Italian teacher that expose themselves when she passionately gestures with her arms and fingers the verb mangiare. To eat.

I wanted to be prepared for the time I ventured away from the grocery store and bravely ask, in metric measurements, for a mezzo kilo of pears. I, who had never even bought meat by the pound and yet only understood weather in degrees Celsius. So when I arrived at the crowded marketplace at the Campo de Fiori, I was eager to simply listen to the interactions taking place and learn from them. In the crowd, it is easy to pick out the long-term customers from the newbie who stumbles upon the market. Does it become systematic, this exchange of food for cash? Surely, a daily ritual for those who come readily equipped with larger purses; but I wonder if the businessmen who get off their scooters do so with the intention of grabbing a fresh snack or speaking a few words to the vendor. One must inevitably lead to the other. There are no express check-outs, no way to anonymously get the food which is handed to you in a brown paper bag by farmers or planters. The market is a place you can sincerely say thank you. Thank you for the food that you helped grow with your hands, thank you for the food I am about to spread on my bread and sprinkle with cheese. Not: thank you for scanning my cellophane-wrapped food over a machine and getting angry when I don’t have change.

I wander over to a stand which draws me with its bright figs, peaches and pears. I point to the pinkish pears and ask for three. Did you grow these? How lovely. So far, so good; I didn’t even have to order by the kilo. She asks me if I want the green kind as well and is amused by my astonished expression. You can do that? I bitterly remember being scolded for my naïveté when I put golden apples and fuji apples in the same bag at a grocery store in Georgia. “You cannot put different kinds in the same bag,” my mother had said. “They are different.”

I only have a fifty Euro bill and apologize profusely before handing it to her. She smiles. Thank you.

Italian Phrases

Categories: People, Philosophy
Phrase: "Amore, rispettere, vivere." --Carlos Romano
"Love, respect, live."

An old man (86 years old, according to the ID card he would show us time and time again) helped us figure out where to take the bus and proceeded to tell us his life story. Joel and I were supremely excited about using our Spanitalian skills but ended up nodding and smiling throughout most of his monologue in a moderate state of incomprehension. Did his wife die? Was he happy with his life? We're not too sure, but he left us with words of wisdom to pass along: amore, rispettere, vivere. These are the e
ssentials in life.
I'm not even sure rispettere is gramatically correct, but that's what I scribbled down in my journal. (It rhymes.) I'm not positive about vivere either, because to say that living is conditional to life is, well, repetitive. I tried to tell him mangiare was essential to life, too, but he replied that there was no point in it if we couldn't share it with the ones we loved. Thoughts?


Ugly Pretty Words

Category: Mood, music
Phrase: "Abastanza bene"
Does not mean: "super duper good"
Actually means: Well enough. Good.
Our roommate would walk around the apartment energetically exclaiming this phrase. It was her word; she believed it was a happy response to "how are you?" and it would put a smile to our faces everytime we heard it.
However, the next week in Italian class, we learned that it actually meant the much more tepid and unenthusiastic "good." Let's not make that mistake. Just because a word sounds happy, it does not mean it perpetrates that emotion. The word "diarrhea" was voted the prettiest sounding word in the English language a while back. You get the idea.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Friday, September 21, 2007

Far Afield


The lines start in the middle and curve inwards with arms outstretched. She breaks the shell; yesterday’s dinner. You see them on the churches and building façades and I was supposed to look up their meaning. Poseidon’s jewels, I thought. Sharp at the bottom and smooth at the top like the rounded arches representing the skies and the triangular patterns grounding us to the Earth. The dualistic meaning of the shell escaping me at the time because I envisioned them buried under the sea.

But that’s not it either. They tell me that they signify the pilgrims because the lines inside of the shells all converge at one point. I was wrong, they don’t stretch out. They come from different corners of the world to meet in one sacred place. They conjoin at a single point, a series of radii in a semi-circle meeting at the epicenter. That’s the mathematician’s interpretation.

niji no oku
tama no kyuusai
hikaru kin

somewhere over the rainbow

the soul’s salvation
glistening gold


We leave the familiar tune of the Campo de Fiori to go church-hopping. That’s the official term the professor uses. “I can’t compete with the Roman Catholic Church,” says he. How the Empire, too, could not compete in the end. I look around at the missing layers of marble, Christian icons and new functions assigned to places that once held a drastically different meaning and contained another faith. Recycled stories, gods removed. A statue of a saint placed on top of Trajan’s column of glory, a monument of immortality diminished into a mere pedestal.

We are all mortal. The stacked skulls and pieces of vertebrae speak these words to me. Above me, the angel of death holding its trademark harvesting tool. A student walks up to the Italian cashier and calls the remains great teachers of life. She tells him that no, they were monks. Literal interpretation.

ue mitara
douyou shisezu
hone nokori

way up high
the remains
that do not disturb me


The pigeon flies to the other side now. I am on a scavenger hunt. Feather between the rocks, feather in the grass, feather on the lower step beneath the arch. A space enclosed by meditation and the sound of a fountain in the middle: four kinds of drips. Stones crunch beneath my feet and one faucet flows unevenly. Perhaps I will find what I have lost here in the imperfect details of nature.

The plump nun behind us chats quickly in Italian, mono-tonal language. I can’t tell if she’s angry or happy. Airplanes we never see fly over our heads. There is a small gift store right in the hallway and a man answers his cell phone behind me. His wife asks him about his whereabouts and he responds about work. Who keeps their vows of silence? We pay to get in.
Flutters. I look up at the winged angels. I am not an interpreter of signs.

oku na machi
itsuka no uta ni
kiita koto

there’s a land that I heard of
once in a lullaby

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Art History Paper

Michelangelo’s Renovation of the Capitoline Hill:

From Monte Caprino to Campidoglio


The Capitoline Hill, or Campidoglio, currently represents a remarkable architectural project designed by Michelangelo, but its rich history in actuality spans some 2,500 years. During Roman times, the Capitoline Hill was the point of arrival of the triumphal ceremonies that were held in honor of victorious generals upon their return to Rome. The victors would march all the way from the Via Sacra and through the arches of Titus in the Roman Forum, gloriously displaying the spoils of war and exhibiting the prisoners. On this hill is where the city’s first and holiest temples stood, forming the Capitoline Triad which comprised of the Temple to Jupiter, Juno, and their daughter Minerva.

During the Middle Ages, however, the ancient buildings fell into disuse and were largely unkempt, so much so that it became known as the Monte Caprino, which signifies “goat hill,” named after the creatures that would graze on the hill. Despite this, the hill retained the seat of the Roman Senate and the heart of the ancient state cults. The space largely served municipal institutions and was installed by a collegial magistracy composed of senators and a Municipal Board. Although it is the smallest of Rome’s seven hills, it is also the highest and the most sacred, still evoking much of the religious and political symbolism that has been around since its early foundations.

It is not surprising, then, that when Alessandro Farnese—a connoisseur and appreciator of ancient Rome—became Pope Paul III, he rushed to congregate the best artists to do various works and reparations during his reign. In 1535, the Pope commissioned Michelangelo Buonarroti to finish work at the Sistine Chapel and subsequently asked the sculptor to renovate the buildings around the Capitoline Hill and reinstitute its presence as the center of the city.

In the 15th century, the papacy implemented various urban renewal programs and encouraged the general restoration and development of Rome in order to fortify the city and associate the image of Rome with the seat of Christendom. This is best articulated by Pope Nicholas V in his deathbed in 1455, who called for renovations to be made because “great buildings, which are perpetual monuments and eternal testimonies seemingly made by the hand of God,” demonstrate that “the authority of the Roman Church is the greatest and the highest” (Partridge 21). In the early 16th century, however, artistic projects had greatly declined. Pope Adrian VI’s well-known scorn for the arts and the breakup of the principal studio of painting during Clement VII’s reign are factors which lead up to the Sack of Rome and greatly aggravated artistic ambitions (Augenti 140). Pope Paul III’s ascent to the papacy therefore comes at an important time and marks a period of artistic rejuvenation and important renovations.

The desire for renovation was not solely driven by the need for historical preservation, however. Private reasons included the Pope’s summer villa in the nearby hill which called for the need for a revamped, aesthetic view of the Capitoline Hill. More crucially, the Sack of Rome had occurred a decade earlier in 1527, marking the end of the Renaissance at the culmination of political and cultural decline. It also marked an embarrassing defeat by the troops of the Habsburg Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V, which made a mockery of papal claims to world dominion. Paul III was therefore determined to revitalize Rome’s glory and to stage a grandiose entry for Charles V through ancient monuments, making a clear distinction between the empire and the church and further enhancing the major east-west urban corridor.

This secularism was very important in the design and purpose of the Campidoglio. The Campidoglio was the seat of the civic government of Rome; it was comprised of the senator and the conservators, which mostly lacked political authority and were adherent to papal authority. The pope therefore wanted his power to have a religious and a laic pole, the latter of which would explicitly evoke the ancient Roman Empire (Argan and Contardi 213). This expression of secularism greatly pleased Michelangelo, who still had laments over the fall of the Republic of Florence. Perhaps it was also motivated by his own hopes in desistance of the pope, influence by his good friend Tommasso Cavalieri who was a well-connected member of the patrician class, the leading elite and their tradition of resistance to papal power (Burroughs 91).

The glory of the Roman Church would be unveiled at St. Peter’s a few years after Michelangelo drew up the designs for the Capitoline Hill. The Campidoglio must still have been on the artist’s mind, however, as he made ideological and urbanistic connections between St. Peter’s and the Campidoglio. Whereas in the Republican period, the Capitoline Hill faced center of the city or the Forum, the renovated version would now face St. Peter’s. The city would lie between the two ruling forces.

Renaissance Renovation

Michelangelo’s design starts at the base of the hill, creating an explicit entrance. We begin the smooth ascent to the Capitoline Hill facing a large, flat cordonata, or sloping road. The symbolism of the smooth cordonata cannot go overlooked in its sharp contrast to the adjacent steep and narrow steps leading to the Santa Maria in Arcoeli church on the Arx of the hill. By the time Michelangelo returned to Rome in 1534, the tempestuous artist had transitioned to a deepened conviction of his faith. For this reason, it has been suggested that the flat steps symbolize the easy ascent to political, earthly power contrasted to the more difficult and strenuous path to spirituality (Argan and Contardi 216). Still higher up is the Franciscan church, indicating the worth of the soul over everything else.

Another reason for the slanted steps is more pragmatic; it allowed for the smooth transition of horses and carriages. More specifically, it served important persons, such as emperors on horsebacks, the convenience of accessing the Capitoline Hill without first having to dismount. Although the Capitoline Hill was not completed until long after the anticipated arrival of Charles V, the procession was originally intended to lead up to the Capitoline Hill.

At the base of the cordonata are two Egyptian lions. Their placement invokes the ancient civic symbol of Rome, which was later replaced by the She-Wolf. Although they are a deviation from Michelangelo’s original design, they have grown to become an important facet in the entrance to the hill. The lions originally decorated the entrance to Santo Stefano del Cacco church in the middle of the 14th century and were placed at the bottom of the steps in 1562. In 1588, when the aqueduct Acqua Felice was brought to the Capitoline Hill, Giacomo della Porta changed the lions into fountains, adding two urns to collect the water from the lions’ mouths. According to the legend, each time a new Pope becomes installed in San Giovanni in Laterano, the lions gush out wine instead of water, an event which has been recorded at least twice.

Moving up on the balustrade are two colossal statues of Castor and Pollux, also known as the Dioscuri or the Heavenly Twins. According to the myth, Zeus impregnated the irresistible Leda under the guise of a swan. She later hatched two eggs, from which emerged four children which included the twins Castor and Pollux, the remnants of which are recalled on the back of the twins’ heads as egg-shaped caps. Their placement on the hill is warranted by the fact that they are broadly recognized as the protectors of the city of Rome and the insurers of liberty. According to the legend, the twins grew up to be famed horsemen, reputed to have helped the Romans at the Battle of Lake Regulus in 496 BC. The statues were brought to the Capitoline from near the Monte de’Cenci in 1585 and are not the same posed by Michelangelo, which now grace the entrance to the Palazzo del Quirinale.

Besides the Dioscuri are two marble reliefs of the Trophies of Marius, which recall the spoils of war that were returned to Rome after military victories. Finally, farther away from the stairs, are two statues representing Emperor Constantine and his son, Constantine II. Their presence is greatly conditional upon the fact that Constantine was the first Christian emperor. Since Michelangelo died in 1564, the ancient marble statues alongside the balustrade have been added by renowned architects over the course of the 1580s. Architect Giacomo della Porta faithfully implemented most of Michelangelo’s designs after his death. Other additions include the statues of the river gods on the sides of the staircase of the Senatorial Palace, the bell tower which was built by Marti Longhi the Elder in 1578-82, and the statue of Roma placed in the middle of the façade one year later (Augenti 144).

On top of the hill, the radiant, star-shaped design of the oval piazza emerges as if emanating from a colossal equestrian statue and enclosed by three buildings. Renovations officially started when the Pope ordered the move of the statue to the middle of the piazza. The horseman has been identified to be that of emperor Marcus Aurelius. Even though it has been transferred from the Lateran, some scholars now believe its original setting was right in the Roman Forum by the Antonine Column. Its importance is therefore historical; out of the 22 recorded equestrian statues, or equi magni, in the late imperial period, this statue is the only one to have been handed down through the centuries. Because of its integrity, it soon acquired a strong symbolic meaning for all those who aspired at becoming a legitimate heir to the Roman Empire.

The statue’s survival today is not just conditional upon this symbolism, however. The prevailing argument among scholars as to why it still remains standing instead of having suffered the same fate of other bronze statues that were melted down is that the statue was first believed to be Constantine, the first Christian emperor. During its placement on the hill, in fact, differing opinions existed as to the identity of the horseman, which included the character of the anti-imperialist “Gran Villano” and Alexander the Great.

Despite differing beliefs on the identity of the horseman at the time, a few records correctly identify it as Marcus Aurelius. A decree from the Lateran Chapter names the Emperor accurately and further complains that its presence lacked religious significance. Another record describes the advice of Michelangelo for the “reformatione statue M. Antonii” (Ackerman 71). The statue, therefore, was more likely understood by the Pope to represent the philosophical emperor and was meant for Charles V, the Holy Roman emperor. It was thence intended as a reminder of the imperial role of the pope, who liked to draw parallels between himself and other grand emperors of Antiquity. For this reason, some scholars speculate the pope may have believed the statue to be that of Alexander the Great, whose name resonates with the pope’s prior name, Alessandro (Augenti 144).

Whether it was believed to be Marcus Aurelius or Alexander the Great, Michelangelo was not supportive of the Empire and was therefore unhappy about the placing of the statue which drew attention to the emperor. The artist had just become citizen of Rome in 1537 at a ceremony that took place on the Capitoline Hill, and was himself a strong supporter of the Republic. The statue itself was not completely out of place in his arrangements, however. The anachronistic theme of the design, in many ways, shaped the role of the Campidoglio as a place of memory, history, and symbolism. Another theory suggests that the artist de-historicized the statue in his mind in accordance to his neoplatonic views. Michelangelo believed that history was a sort of “eternal returning” and therefore the statue would represent the ancient authority of Imperial Rome which had returned in the form of the apostolic authority of the pope (Argan and Contardi 217).

The present square is in the ancient Asylum, where the ancient triumphal processions ended. When Charles V visited Rome in 1536, the area was still unpaved. Some buildings that were forerunners stood in the area, some of them very irregular and full of nooks (Grundmann 142). In its stead, Michelangelo designed buildings to create a trapezoidal space which enclosed an oval piazza. This is because the building which stood in the place of the Palace of the Conservators’ was already at a sharp angle with the Senator’s Palace. Instead of tearing down the structure that went against his aesthetic feeling, as he had done in St. Peter’s, Michelangelo decided to keep the buildings meeting at the odd, 80-degree angle.

In the middle of the piazza is the Palazzo Senatorio, or Senator’s Palace, first built in the 12th century. The building preserves, within its structure, the ancient remains of the Tabularium, which held the city’s records in ancient Rome, and medieval period structures, which demonstrate the uninterrupted building phases. In 1547, the pope decided to demolish the ancient loggia on the front of the Senatorial Palace to be replaced by Michelangelo’s design of the large pilasters and the double staircase which divide the façade. The staircase gave access to the “noble” floor, which had earlier housed the hall of the Senator. This monumental entrance was built out of travertine and completed in 1598 by Giacomo della Porta, as evidenced by the heraldic devices of Clement VIII made visible on the attic.

A fountain adorned by two colossal statues now graces the entrance to the building. These were found at the beginning of the century on the Quirinal and represent the River gods, the Tiber and the Nile. They represent the geographical extent of Rome’s historical influence. Finally, in a niche at the center of the façade, came the addition of an ancient statue of seated Minerva, transformed into the goddess Roma. She is shown holding the world in her hands, a symbolic gesture of Rome’s place and hold on the world. The decorative program was completed in 1588.

To the right is the Palazzo dei Conservatori, or Conservators’ Palace, first built in the mid-16th century. A long portico with colonnaded arcades characterized the original façade. In the 15th century, the pride of ancestry was displayed on the façade by means of statues such as the She-Wolf, the mythical feeder of Romulus and Remus, which had now replaced the lion as the civic symbol of the city. Also displayed were the colossal bronze statue of Constantine and the River gods. Most of these statues have been moved inside the Capitoline museums, which are housed inside the palaces.

Michelangelo’s design, instead, eschewed statues; he preferred to express his ideas through architecture. Michelangelo redesigned the façade of the building and made use of the giant order column, also called the Corinthian pilasters design, for the first time. This refers to an order whose columns and pilasters span two or more floors. Michelangelo combined his giant pilasters with smaller columns that framed the windows of the upper floor, thus creating more emphasis on the floor which housed the zone of government and represented political order and reason (Burroughs 92). A line of guild offices was situated on the lower floor.

Facing the Conservators’ Palace and situated at the same 80-degree angle from the Senator’s Palace is the Palazzo Nuovo, or New Palace. This building’s primary function was to make the space symmetric, so its façade was identical to the Conservators’ Palace’s. The building also prevented the Santa Maria in Aracoeli church from towering over the square and becoming a focal point (Grundmann 143). By encasing the Senator’s Palace and forming a trapezoidal space between the buildings, the final addition redirects the focal view to St. Peter’s. Because of its utilitarian function and its lack of religious significance, funding for construction was very slow on this building. The buildings were not completed until more than a century later in 1646. It now houses a part of the Capitoline Museums.

Fitting snuggly between the trapezoidal space created by the trio of buildings, the oval star-shaped pavement design was the last element required for the completion of the project. However, the pavement was never executed by the popes who may have detected a non-Christian subtext, and had remained unfinished for three centuries. It was ultimately paved by Mussolini in accordance to Michelangelo’s design.

The design of the interlaced twelve-pointed star is modeled after the iconic scheme used by Isidoro of Seville which depicted the movement of the planets around the Earth and symbolizes the concordance of the lunar cycle (Ackerman 74). The astral significance is symbolic of Rome as the capital or navel of the world, recalling Sixtus IV’s vision for the city when he called it the caput mundi. Michelangelo was familiar with architect Marcus Vitruvius’s treatise “On Architecture” which alluded to the heavenly sphere with the zodiac signs, and thus the cosmological inclusion in his design would not have been improbable. Indeed, he liked to evoke much symbolism in his pieces, believing that it heightened the power of the imagination (Argan and Contardi 217).

Seville’s version only differs with Michelangelo’s star in the sense that it is inscribed in a circle and not an oval. In this matter, scholar Graziano Baccolini suggests that the oval design recalls the oval stone which defined Omphalos, the Greek navel of Delfi. This oval stone was an important religious symbol for Etruscans, which was indicative of the Umbilicus Caput Mundi, or the navel of the world (Baccolini).


Amidst the wealth of interpretation and symbolism, the intentionality of the piece is one that does not call for passive observation. The piazza interacts with the viewers in many ways through the ever-changing reflection of natural light emanating from the celestial ceiling. The mounded pavement evokes the earthly sphere and reflects the skies above and the stellate pattern below. The area is ripe with cosmological symbolism. At the entrance, the twins have been turned into the Gemini constellation by Jupiter. Rome’s place in the universe is made clear in the magnificent redesign by Michelangelo. The unplanned addition of the goddess of war and wisdom further embodies this theme with her strong hold on the world.

Perhaps most impacting is the rich history of the Campidoglio resuscitated in Michelangelo’s design. We cannot appreciate the renovation of the Capitoline Hill nor understand its significance without mentioning Ancient Rome. Beneath the hill lie the temple of Jupiter and remnants of the triad which are still being excavated to this day. Inside, the palaces house the oldest museum in the world, an antiquario started by Sixtus IV. In the middle of the piazza and all along the cordonata one finds sculptures evoking the glory of Ancient Rome.

Michelangelo’s design is also unique for its unclassical dynamism. The unusual trapezoidal arrangement was not only an economical model which preserved the old buildings, but was also an intentional move to direct the focal point towards St. Peter’s and to enclose an oval piazza. The first move for renovation occurred with the placement of the statue and the creation of its foothold, the latter which was built by Michelangelo in the shape of an oval. This, in turn, may indicate that the artist already had the oval pattern in mind for the whole space. The spatial illusion does not end with the piazza. The innovative giant order column also creates an interesting illusion of thin pilasters supporting the heavy, crowned cornice. The Ionic columns, in contrast, appear to support a wide stone entablature.

Most surprising in the design of the palaces is the diminutive function of the Palazzo Nuovo. The Campidoglio inspires a harmonic sense of symmetry throughout the ascent on the cordonata and all the way up the piazza, displaying emperor and successor, mythical twins, matching lions and identical buildings. In this sense, not only does Michelangelo achieve a harmonious, united space; he creates a perpetual monument, an eternal testimony “seemingly made by the hand of God,” or Jupiter below.

Bibliography and Consulted Sources

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Renaissance News 10.2 (1957): 70-75.

Aikin , Roger C. "Romae de Dacia Triumphantis: Roma and Captives at

the Capitoline Hill." The Art Bulletin 62.4 (1980): 583-97.

Argan, Giulio C. Contardi, Bruno. “Michelangelo Architect.” New

York: Harry N. Abrams, 1993.

Augenti, Andrea. “Rome: Art and Archeology.” Firenze: SCALA

Group, 2000.

Baccolini, Graziano. “From Monotovolo to the Campidoglio: the

Symbolic meaning of Michelangelo’s Oval Design.” Montovolo

Retreats. Jan. 2003. 14 Aug. 2007 .
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