Tuesday, 30 August 2016

The Capitoline Apartment Block

Often overlooked by tourists scurrying to or from the steps up to Capitoline - sandwiched between these and the steps of the Victor Emmanuel monument - is a well preserved Roman apartment block (or insula). A rare survivor in Rome itself, this five storey block was buried beneath the 17th Century church of S. Rita, which was built on the remains of an earlier church - S. Biagio "of the Market" which dated from the 12th / 13th Centuries. S. Rita's was demolished in 1927, and the apartment block uncovered.

It is a fresco from the earlier church that you can see roughly at today's street level, though the church was actually built into the 3rd and 4th floors of the insula. The later church got its name from its proximity to Trajan's Market, and this insula was built around the same time they were, in the 2nd Century CE.
The lower portion, which you can now see deep below you, was buried by the rising ground level.
These lower storeys would have contained shops. The fourth floor - due to the hill behind sloping back - was big enough for 11 rooms. These cramped, lightless chambers would have housed some of the very poorest of Romans, perhaps even slaves employed on the Capitoline or on the Palatine, though the latter had extensive slave quarters of its own.

Monday, 22 August 2016

Livia's Dining Room

In the 1590's, a substantial villa was uncovered on the Via Lata, in the grounds of a convent. The building appeared to have been constructed in four stages, the earliest in Republican times, and the latest during the reign of Constantine the Great. In the 19th Century, the famous statue known as the Augustus of Prima Porta was found nearby, and the villa was finally identified as that which had belonged to his wife, the Empress Livia. It was known as the Villa Ad Gallinus Alba - from the pure white chickens that were reared there.
There is not a lot to see now of the actual structure, but the fresco walls of Livia's dining room have been reconstructed at Rome's national museum - the Palazzo Massimo Alle Terme.

Diners would have used the room in the cooler autumn and winter months. They would have found themselves surrounded by a beautiful garden of trees and bushes, with a pale blue sky. Birds and animals are to be seen amongst the foliage. The effect would have been like dining al fresco on a warm summer's day.

Very little remains of the vaulting that would have gone above, save for a few pieces of stucco work.
The room in which the dining room frescoes are housed has a number of very comfortable, though somewhat low, padded benches. It is an ideal spot in which to rest your weary feet, and contemplate how the room might have looked had you been fortunate enough to be one of Livia's dinner guests - provided you don't subscribe to the Gravesian image of her as an arch poisoner...

Sunday, 21 August 2016

The Hellenistic Prince

The other bronze statue found on the Quirinal within a few weeks of the Boxer, which has been on display beside it for many years in both the Terme of Diocletian and (currently) in the Palazzo Massimo alle Terme.
It is a life size nude, again made from the lost wax process. It dates to the late 2nd Century BC.
Widely believed to represent King Attalus II of Pergamon, the lack of any royal diadem has led many to believe that it is actually a victorious Roman General, commissioned to celebrate a successful campaign. The features of the face do suggest that it is supposed to be a particular individual, rather than a type. The faint beard might show that he has not had the time to shave during his travails.
It is possibly based on a Pergamese original.
There is a distinct hint of a Hercules about it, without any of the obvious attributes like a club or lion skin.
This particular general might have simply wanted to show himself as comparable to that god in his victory.
Like the Boxer, it would have originally had lifelike eyes made of stone.

Sunday, 7 August 2016

The Boxer

One of the highlights of the collection at the Palazzo Massimo Alle Terme, not far from Rome's Termini Railway Station and the Baths (Terme) of Diocletian. The statue known as the Boxer is a life-size bronze piece. It depicts a mature fighter, with injuries from his most recent bout, as well as the scars from a lifetime of boxing. In antiquity, boxers were only permitted to land punches on the head.
He has a broken nose, cauliflower ears, and missing teeth.
He's naked, although Roman boxers were expected to wear a small jockstrap affair to cover the genitals. The gloves on his hands run from the knuckles up the forearm, ending in a metal band. The knuckles themselves are protected by a band of thicker leather. This style of glove was typical of the Imperial period, but was also of a type known to the Greeks. As with a lot of Roman statuary, it is believed to be a copy of a Hellenistic original, created using the lost wax process. It is actually composed of eight separate sections. Details such as the blood flowing from his facial wounds, created by adding a different alloy, and the detail such as the chest hair were added later. He would have had eyes that were also added in later, made of different coloured stone.

Believed to date to the First Century BC, the Boxer was found in the 19th Century (1885) on the southern slopes of the Quirinal Hill. It is thought that it was housed in the private residence of a senior senatorial figure, rather than in the ownership of the Imperial family.

For many years it was to be seen in the Octagonal Hall of the Baths of Diocletian, alongside the bronze known as the Hellenistic Prince, found in the same area within the same month. Now both statues have been relocated to the ground floor of the Palazzo nearby.