A couple of weeks ago, I visited Rome with my family. Because of my work, I spend long periods of time isolated in my studio, so it was really great to get out and enjoy all the art and architecture this amazing city has to offer. One of the things I love about Rome is the element of surprise! Walking through the streets, one is never quite sure what you might see next. I’m always interested in public art, especially since I created my Goodman’s Horses. There is something unexpected around every corner of Rome, including spectacular fountains and sculptures.
We walked around the baroque square of the Piazza Navona and saw the Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi (Fountain of the Four Rivers) by Gian Lorenzo Bernini and its central Obelisk of Domitian. Also in the square is the Fontana del Moro (Fountain of the Moor) designed by Giacomo della Porta with a statue of a Moor by Gian Lorenzo Bernini. And to complete the trio, the Fontana del Nettuno (Fountain of Neptune) also by della Porta, with later statuary by Antonio della Bitta and Gregorio Zappalà.
We also visited the Trevi Fountain, arguably the most famous fountain in the world and immortalised in many films. It is absolutely huge at 86 foot high and 161 foot wide. I loved seeing my daughters’ faces of disbelief when they saw it. They nearly dropped their ice-creams! The Trevi Fountain was a collaborative project. The original designer, Nicola Salvi, died before it was finished and other sculptors and architects worked on it. It was finished in 1762 by Giuseppe Pannini.
One of the best-preserved ancient buildings in Rome is the Pantheon. It has remained in constant use for nearly two thousand years since it was built around 125 AD, on the site of an earlier temple. It has been a church since the 7th Century. The domed roof is so impressive. The Pantheon’s architecture of portico-and-dome has been copied all over the world.
Walking around Rome, there are so many awe-inspiring buildings to see. We were given an excellent tour around the Vatican and the Colosseum by our guide Tomasso, who is an archaeologist by training. The Colosseum is the largest structure left to us from Roman antiquity. It is jaw-dropping. I had to keep reminding myself as we walked around the enormous amphitheatre, that it had been an arena of death and much blood had been spilt on its ground. Gladiatorial combats, simulated battles, staged hunts, re-enactments of myths, as well as executions, all took place here for entertainment and usually involved some pretty bloodthirsty action. The majesty of the building and the dramatic events on show were demonstrations of power and prestige, political propaganda fed to the masses.
The Roman Forum next door to the Colosseum was another place where you could imagine stepping back into the heart of ancient Rome. It would have been the centre of every day life, where speeches were made and elections held, where trials and trading happened, where triumphal processions and celebratory banquets took place. Today, it stands among ancient ruins, architectural fragments and archaeological excavations which are spread over this area of the city. Much of what is on display now was painstakingly excavated over the 18th and 19th Centuries from over 10m of earth and rubble that had built up over the millennia.
The marvels of Rome were not only visible on the streets. There was a wealth of treasures to be discovered inside every building we went into. The Vatican Museum and the Sistine Chapel are incredible. I was particularly struck by the beautiful figurative sculptures. We saw some of Antonio Canova’s work in luminescent marble, including The Repentant Magdalen which was made in about 1794. He also created the famous statue The Three Graces. Also on show were his inspirational reliefs. Canova was an architect and engineer too in his day. I find him quite inspirational, an all-round creator.
The Belvedere Torso was also amazing to see. This is a fragmentary statue of a male executed in marble and missing its head, arms and lower legs. Its age is uncertain but it probably dates to the 1st or 2nd Century BC. The statue was a favourite of Michelangelo’s and it also inspired many other Renaissance artists. It is said that Pope Julius 11 asked Michelangelo to add a face and limbs to complete the statue. The sculptor refused saying it was too beautiful to be altered. The torso was the inspiration for much of his work on the figures on the Sistine Chapel ceiling.
The Sistine Chapel took my breath away. It must have been an enormous undertaking. The chapel is 134 foot long and 46 foot wide and the ceiling is 44 foot from the floor! It took four years to complete. You can see how Michelangelo’s style changed over time becoming much looser as the project progressed. It certainly skyrocketed his reputation and led to an unparalleled career of prestigious commissions. His Pieta was on display in St Peter’s Basilica, a church which he helped to design. I found it very moving.
We also looked in at the National Gallery of Modern and Contemporary Art. It was full of paintings and sculptures from the 19th, 20th and 21st Centuries including work by foreign artists including Cézanne, Degas, Duchamp, Giacometti, Mondrian, Monet, Jackson Pollock, Rodin, and Van Gogh. I was interested to see Bugatti and Giacometti’s plaster casts of animalia. Work by Richard Long and Alberto Burri’s Creto G1 reminded me of my own experiments with mud and plaster, particularly River Bed. It was good to see a little of what other contemporary artists are up to. I loved seeing Davide Rivalta’s majestic bronze lions on the steps outside as I have just finished sculpting life-size lions too!
My visit to Rome was so inspiring. How lucky those early sculptors of the Renaissance and Baroque periods were to have wealthy patrons. These days most sculptors are reduced to working on a much smaller scale, our artistic visions necessarily tempered by the need to make a living. Huge commissions like my Goodman’s Horses are unusual, but I’d love somebody to commission me to make a huge fountain! I’d love to sculpt a contemporary take on a classical theme, maybe Hercules with Aphrodite. I’d relish the challenge to depict dynamically flesh and sinew, fabric and fibre. I’m open to suggestions!!