Rome laid out before you from far far above the rooftops

Take an elevator ride on the “wedding cake” and see the Roman gods’ view of the Eternal City. 

The ruins are laid out before you betwixt cupolas and Renaissance rooftops of villas and apartments like dollhouses.

Hints of the past stir some ancient feeling in you you never knew you possessed until you saw Rome from a mount.

The sign of greatness and the sign of a fall and all around you the beautiful noise of life that will not stop long enough to extinguish itself into the remains of dust it lives among.Rome lives among the shadows and the bones and the blood and the ghosts and the stone and the picked away marble because it is the heart and the remnants of the past are the nervous system which still courses with life from that heart center of a slowly dying immortal, entombed in the blessing and the curse of a memory which feels like a dream.

Church bells ring and ring through the city when the golden hour colors everything and there’s time for one last sun-glow walk and one last smile exchanged like kisses on the mouth, not the cheeks.

I will remember you even if the imprint of my self is swallowed up in the city of too many stories and too many lights and too many songs to find a memento mori for me in some nook or cranny when I’m gone.

And so I have Rome written on my soul should I be able to take it with me.

Bury me not in the earth of the place I love but burn my ashes to the sky so I may float like some augur of another time, a shadow to pass over a new face with her own love flashing on her face as she falls in love with the Roman sky at sunset, as she dreams to be remembered somewhere somehow in the eternal city, to leave her mark somewhere and to be known and felt by some future stranger intoxicated by the same love for the same city and the same ringing of bells and the orange becoming purple and the golden lamps flickering on and the smiles becoming kisses, not on the cheeks, but on the mouth. 

standing at the ruins on a quiet roman night

Rome is pieced together by fragments old and new; a broken clay pile of people who have lived and died, and are forgotten, rivaling the Monte Testaccio in size and obscurity.

Rome is the heaviness of time. It is the marks left on humanity. It is a walkable history book, forever unfolding its pages.

Rome is monuments of the big whigs leaving you breathless with their grand scale and an overwhelming rush of beauty.

‘Everyone is dead here’, the city whispers, in a voice softened against the bone-white marble of ruins.

The palatine lies silent under the stars. This is your one moment to catch your breath and savor Rome.

Try to stop time by breathing it in slowly. Hold it in, and take a sensory snapshot. Stand there, holding your breath, recording, feeling as immovable as a statue; a Henry James’ American willing a sacrifice to the pagan gods.

‘Just let me remember this. Let this enter me. The endlessness of it. The cobwebs. The broken stone. The bones. The dust. The pulse remaining somehow. Let me carry Rome where ever I go. Let it become a part of me. No, let me become a part of Rome. Another story never writ, another name unknown.’

     

   


Italy and England 

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There’s old Winston Churchill watching Big Ben, in Westminster, London, in March 2014.

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An anglophile’s dream: the omnipresent iconic red telephone box.

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Wandering around Portobello Road, in the Notting Hill neighborhood.

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The street art / grafitti is like The Sex Pistols and the Bbc all rolled into one.

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Tea at Sherlock Holmes and Watson’s house was quite amusing.

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Enjoyed searching for british china tea cups and white darjeeling on a half deserted faire.

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After wandering the many lovely garden parks of london wound up at  Buckingham’s Gate.tumblr_n2din7vCpZ1qznevxo4_1280

Making the pilgrimage to John Keats house at Hampstead Heath, London, after years of visiting the flat he died in, and laying flowers at his grave, in Rome.

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A room with a view…over the Thames, I was always excited to wake up to (and to raise my glass to) Big Ben.

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Saw the beautiful La Boheme set in 1940s Paris at the Royal Albert Hall.

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From the window of “221 b Baker Street, London

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From the beautiful garden of John Keats home, where he fell in love with Fanny Brawne and wrote some of his greatest poems.

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From the cloisters of Westminster Abbey. I do love a cloister.

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You have no idea how deep my anglophilia goes because I am always going on about Italy but these signs gave me a profound joy.

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This sign is so British it hurts.

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One of those moments in London an American or most foreigners savor.

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Always, a pilgrimage, a  beauty, a joy. John Keats forever. English Romanticism forever. B3-yzpZIAAIuVOk.jpg-large

Down the cloistered hall… like a dream of English classics, literary characters dancing in my head, London, a city looming in my brain of larger than life characters and eccentric, wonderful stories and frightful tales.

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The heartbreakingly beautiful dream of Italy view from my dreamy Sorrento hotel room terrazzo.

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Walking along the Appian Way on a quiet, car-free Sunday in Rome or along the Renaissance Via Guilia, I am forever excited and in awe over the small beauties and signs of the ancient world in this magical, mysterious city open-armed to the world.

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The architecture and cafes are familiar but I feel and live Rome anew each visit. There’s always something new to discover or a passion to stumble onto. Life is in the moment. It is heavy with the past, it is so alive it smacks of the future, but it is so wildly, lightly felt in the now, in the moment, Rome is like dreaming awake, feeling everything. Everything!

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Finding new off the beaten path cafes was a big favorite of mine in Italy this year. Always in search of the quiet moments and the hidden corners of Rome. This cafe was in Trastevere where you can sit and sip espresso and gaze at a Baroque Madonna painted onto a church exterior wall.

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I love the Eternal City because it has so many layers of history and love and unknown stories and marks of time and beauty in decay and new life bursting forth in a macabre, colored, brilliant celebration in Roman life today.

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Took a boat around my favorite island and swam in the Tyrrhenian sea on Capri, a place which invokes everything beautiful, lush and ancient about Southern Italy. There’s nothing quite like it.

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Returned to a lot of the same pleasures of the past, freshly squeezed oranges and lemons, under the Italian sun, by a Neapolitan woman who sings all day as she flitters around her Kiosk on the gorgeous Via Tragara.

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A return to Pompeii, the fascinating buried city with Vesuvius watchful in the distance.

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Meeting new friends abroad 🙂

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Long walks soaking in the sun and the past.

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Architectural details in half-obscured gardens of small villa art museums (full of amazing Renaissance, ancient and baroque Italian art)!

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Being the foreigner in a city you fall into like a comfortable affair.

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The moments you can’t anticipate but happen upon in the most beautiful of happenstances.

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My favorite spot on earth for the golden hour, on the Pincian Hill in Rome. This is before the view of the Popolo.

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A typical Roman street, wrapped into the mystery of fragments and pieces of history.

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The beauty of being overwhelmed in Rome.

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Cafe life in Italy, a class of wine or a coffee, a little treat, there is nothing like it. Another layered moment captured, to be savored and remembered palpably.

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On every wall there is a reminder of death and a reminder of love, the eternal kind, of love that lasts, and of life in the hand too.

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Rome, a city to return to, one that keeps its shutters open to the world, long enough for an unforgettable peek.

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Since that first moment I arrived there, now, and always, for Roma.

For traveling, for seeing the world, for meeting new people, and for being at home in the world.

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Here’s to 2014… and here is a cheers to 2015 and a new year of adventure and experience and chasing beauty!

spaccanapoli – off the beaten path naples

FH080007It’s “that” street they always tell you about if you find yourself in Naples.

FH080008For people watching, craft shopping, cafe hopping and snapshot taking, you can’t pick a more fascinating and colorful place than the Old Greek section of Naples.

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Another half hidden gem in a Neapolitan alleyway.

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I wonder what this one means, what it is for and how old it is? Also I love graffiti that states the obvious.

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Interesting graffiti.FH080019

This guy was hiding in the most unlikely corners around the neighborhood.FH080020

Commentary on the papal conclave me thinks.

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This is certainly one of my favorites.

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Gorilla boy is back.

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Naples, where the vespas and motor bikes look even cooler when parked against peeling grafittied walls.

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Just your normal everyday missing chunks of a rather old building. This sign means nothing, paint it.

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Hiding behind corners gets surprise shots and weird angles.

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Off the beaten path Napoli.

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The inside of a building half torn down.

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Open shuttered windows and laundry hung about everywhere. Modern life layered onto to history.FH080025

A church at the end of another road. More graffiti and more arches to walk under.

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Naple’s newer creatures.

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The side entrance, dramatic to me, no big deal to the locals.

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I’m trying to decide if this is rude or not.

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Can a city qualify as cool on one incredible nonchalant chatting spot? It should.

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I just follow the crowds to avoid them.

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I followed the sound  of New Orleans jazz music and found this delightful bunch.

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The layers, the layers, the layers… I go on and on about it but Napoli is a city of layers!

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Gentile.

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It’s the forbidden peeks into private gardens and courtyards I love best.

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The spooky Purgatory Lane.

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Vico del fico al purgatorio. An abandoned dusty baby’s pram that wasn’t there in October at the entrance of the dark and musty Purgatory Lane. Nope, not at all like a horror movie.

All photographs are 35mm film, Pro H and Kodak, copyright Rebecca Price Butler, of alovelettertorome.com

shadows and light in the gardens of san michele on anacapri

At the edge of the garden at the Villa San Michele on Anacapri there are beautiful architectural details and greco roman fragments displayed among the trees and flowers.

“My house must be open to the sun, to the wind, and the voice of the sea, just like a Greek temple, and light, light, light everywhere!” – Axel Munthe

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I find the ramble through the gardens of Anacapri (especially the Villa San Michele one) to be a bit fairytale-like, a bit dreamy. The dark, lush, green paths over stone and fragments of ancient Roman columns and statues; the intoxicating scent of flowers and herbs; the layered calls of forty different species of birds – all hold one’s attention. When the garden is not crowded one can find themselves utterly alone, with the run of the place. There’s a sense of timelessness walking the stone paths and climbing stairs which boast unreal views of rugged coastline and layers of rocky, verdant cliffs.

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A nonchalant rustic garden with the aesthetics of a museum, an olive jar, shadows between the sunlight and a verdant spread accompanying a stroll. The stairs beckon and frighten a little when alone.

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The gorgeous cloak of wisteria entwining the columns and topiaries. Mighty cypresses soaring like some needly skyscrapers. The hint of other villas and other stories are tucked neatly into the mountain.

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Bright yellow flowers grow in impossible places, their faces outstretched toward the sun.

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The heady flowering of spring, clean white blossoms breaking up the velvet thick gloss of leaves and tangled old branches, is in every turn.

“The sacred mountain above San Michele is full of birds on their way home to mate and rear their young. What a joy to me that they can rest there in peace! Yesterday I picked up a poor little skylark, so exhausted from his long journey across the sea that he didn’t even at- tempt to fly away, he sat quite still in the palm of my hand as if he understood it was the hand of a friend, perhaps a compatriot I asked him if he wouldn’t sing me a song before he went off again, there was no bird-song I liked better than his; but he said he had no time to spare, he had to hurry home to Sweden to sing the summer in. For more than a week the flute-like notes of a golden oriole have been sounding in my garden. The other day I caught sight of his bride hiding in a laurel bush. To-day I have seen their nest, a marvel of bird-architecture. There is also much fluttering of wings and a soft murmur of bird-voices in the thicket of rosemary by the chapel.” The Story of San Michele by Axel Munthe

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On the old stairs a soft moss lies on the stone, suggesting an endless year of spring and life growing in the garden.

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Far below a tiny shock of blue sits in between the fields and the bay of Naples; while all those lives play out from an Emperor’s ancient vantage point.

“The whole bay of Naples lies shining like a mirror below my feet, the columns on the pergola, the loggias and the chapel are all ablaze with light…” The Story of San Michele by Axel Munthe

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The best view is a private spot of solace, a corner to stop in your tracks and allow the view to overtake your senses. A sip of the island’s limoncello, the scent of flowers and the sea, the sound of the birds and the south wind, the feel of the stone along your hands and under your feet – all senses are occupied with Capri from here.

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On certain days when the weather is perfect it feels as if one could see the whole world from here.

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Some of the paths are winding, some are hidden until you come upon then suddenly, some form straight lines with edges and niches laid out for yards.

“The pergola was already covered with young vines; roses, honeysuckle and Epomea were clustering round the long row of white columns. Among the cypresses in the little cloister court stood the Dancing Faun on his column of cipollino, in the centre of the big loggia sat the bronze Hermes from Herculaneum.” – The Story of San Michele by Axel Munthe

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Follow the ivy climbing over the columns and stone walls as you explore the garden, every corner is a delight.

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At the top of the steps are uniformed pots of green plants and spring buds, standing at attention for your wander about.

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On one path a sign leads to the café, a welcome distraction after all that beauty. Doesn’t everyone at a museum always love a café? This one is a rooftop one in the garden.

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Gnarled vines from long dead plants wind themselves around majestic trees along a columned loggia.

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The exotic and native flowers in every hue are marked and greet thousands of visitors each year.

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A stone water fountain which looks completely natural bubbles forth in between ivy, basil and shiny leaves. There’s mint and rosemary and too many herbs to count.

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A few Egyptian looking palm trees and several umbrella pines recall Capri’s ancient Roman days when the island played host to emperors and sirens.

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This is one of my favorite spots…I feel a sense of happiness and pleasure whenever I pass under the leafy canopy and approach the café. This is my dream garden.

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Whenever I see a Bird of Paradise I think warmly of my mother and her love for them. This was the most perfect one I’ve ever noticed.

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The Loggia has many windows to the sea and other curves of the garden. They are filled with manicured folder pots and Greco Roman statues. Roses climb the walls in every soft color.

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Some of the architecture reminds me of a Spanish style church, some is a bit Occidental, some a little Roman and the rest an eclectic mix of early 20th century and Capri-style.

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Each path ends with a different corner of the grounds, each turn is so inviting it’s difficult to choose one lane over another for the promise of their beauty.

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Where ever you end up in the next step, it’s easy (and enjoyable) to get lost. You always wind up at the heart of the garden and of Capri herself. If you remain quiet and strain your ear just a little bit and listen past the songs of birds, you may still hear the faint call of the sirens on the rocks below you.

“Like children in the trackless forest we grope our way through our lives in blissful ignorance of what is going to happen to us from one day to another, what hardships we may have to face, what more or less thrilling adventures we may encounter before the great adventure, the most thrilling of all, the Adventure of Death. Now and then in our perplexity we venture to put a timid question to our destiny, but we get no answer for the stars are too far away. The sooner we realize that our fate lies in ourselves and not in the stars, so much the better for us. Happiness we can only find in ourselves, it is a waste of time to seek for it from others, few have any to spare.” The Story of San Michele by Axel Munthe

Interesting perusal in relation to Anacapri and Capri:

The Story of San Michele by Axel Munthe (Full text)

Elsyium Press, Capri publications, Rare photographs and lithographs, Norman Douglas.

This is part three in a series of photo essays on the Island of Capri’s museum The Villa San Michele. All photographs copyright Rebecca Price Butler at alovelettertorome.com

Saint Barbara of the Books

This small church, also known as Santa Barbara alla Regola, after the district in which it is situated, was founded, in the 11th century, in the ruins of the Theatre of Pompey. (It was in an annex in the gardens of the Theatre of Pompey that Julius Caesar was assassinated).

Saint Barbara of the Books, Rome, Italy. 186 Largo dei Librai

The church is just off Via dei Giubbonari between Campo de’Fiori and Piazza Cairoli.

This is a small but absolutely stunning church. It’s definitely an off the beaten path small church. One minute you are walking through a charming neighborhood, the next moment your turn the corner and are stopped in your tracks by this glorious architecture. It looks surreal – a tiny church stuck between houses and a yogurt gelato shop. It’s worth a stop, a snapshot and a walk up past the perfect olive trees into the doorway for a look around the interior. The video below is a literal film walk through the church. Armchair travel at it’s finest.

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//photographs copyright rebecca price butler …

find my work on tumblr & pinterest … please link & credit me. (photographs: portra 400 35mm film)

At the Mattei di Giove

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The Palazzo Mattei di Giove ,Via Michelangelo Caetani 32, other entrance in Via dei Funari, Ghetto, Rome, 00186

Last year I decided on our two visits to Rome I wanted my husband and I to spend some time hunting for off the beaten path spots we’ve not yet visited. I picked up some new books on the subject, City Secrets of Rome by Robert Kahn and Quiet Corners of Rome by David Downie. Upon seeing photographs of this amazing place I had to see it for myself. We started out having a splendid lunch at the Campo di Fiori after picking up gifts and alla’arrabbiata and carciofi alla romana spices at the charming outdoor market. We stopped, as is our custom, under the Bruno statue to pay respect and read the inscription,

A BRUNO – IL SECOLO DA LUI DIVINATO – QUI DOVE IL ROGO ARSE
(English: To Bruno – the century predicted by him – here where the fire burned).

We walked to the Jewish Ghetto section of Rome (an ancient and fascinating section of the city with a complicated history). We had to ask directions several times and still walked by the spot a few times. But, we found the Palazzo Mattei di Giove and it was worth the effort.

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Mattei di Giove, designed by noted baroque architect Carlo Maderno—who also designed the facade of St. Peter’s Basilica—teems with busts, bas-reliefs, and sarcophagi collected by the palazzo’s namesake owner, Marchese Asdrubale Mattei. (Info source: National Geographic Traveler)

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The House of Mattei was one of the most powerful noble families of Rome during the Middle Ages and early modern era, holding high positions in the papal curia and government office.

The Palazzo Mattei di Giove is the most prominent among a group of Mattei houses that forms the insula Mattei in Rome, Italy, a block of buildings of many epochs.
To distinguish this section from the others it carries the name of a Mattei fief, Giove. The Mattei owned a number of other palazzi that carried the family name including Palazzo Mattei di Trastevere across the Tiber as well as properties in Umbria, the Palazzo Mattei Paganica.

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Carlo Maderno designed the palace at the beginning of the 17th century for Asdrubale Mattei, Marquis di Giove and father of Girolamo Mattei and Luigi Mattei. He was also the brother of Ciriaco Mattei and Cardinal Girolamo Mattei. It was Maderno who was responsible for the extravagantly enriched cornice on the otherwise rather plain stuccoed public façade, the piano nobile loggia in the courtyard and the rooftop loggia or altana.

nyny1For the interior of the palazzo, Pietro da Cortona was commissioned to execute the pair of compositions on the ceiling of the gallery, dating before 1626. In the early 19th century, a group of paintings from the collection at the palazzo was purchased by William Hamilton Nisbet and removed to Scotland.

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Like others of the Mattei family, Asdrubale Mattei was an enthusiastic patron of the arts. Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio (better known simply as Caravaggio) is recorded as living at the palazzo in 1601. (source: Wikipedia)

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The loggia and architectural details are exquisite. This is the kind of place you see in sweeping vintage films set in Rome, the kind of place you read about in the Grand Old Tour by classically educated travelers from the 18th and 19th century. The students who spend time here are so lucky.

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There’s not a corner or ledge that is not interesting. If you visit make sure to view the whole courtyard and go upstairs to the top terrace.

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Go through the arched “doorway” in between the large statues, underneath the carved lamp.

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Across the small cobblestone road is an ancient fountain and face sun dial with beautifully carved in stone.

//photographs copyright rebecca price butler …

find my work on tumblr & pinterest … please link & credit me.

villa farnesina

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The Villa Farnesina is an early 16th century Renaissance suburban villa in the Via della Lungara, in the district of Trastevere in Rome, central Italy. It has incredible frescoes by Raphäel,  Sebastiano del Piombo, Giulio Romano, and Il Sodoma. The villa was built for Agostino Chigi, a rich Sienese banker and the treasurer of Pope Julius II. It was later purchased by Cardinale Farnese (future pope and brother to the Borgia mistress, Giulia Farnese).

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I had always missed visiting the lovely Villa Farnesina on earlier trips to Rome so I was delighted to finally see it in person in October 2012. The villa has a pretty little garden in the courtyard and larger gardens (fenced off) on one side. There is an understated elegance to the grounds and exterior architecture for a Renaissance palazzo. There are pink roses and pomegranate trees in clay pots.

FH050003And little lemon trees and stone lined pathways. Trastevere is a great neighborhood to visit when in Rome and this villa is even more off the beaten path if you are looking for an alternative to the usual Roman Holiday Tour.

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After the initial two or three visits to Rome I’ve tried to visit more of the quiet corners of the city and get to know my favorite spots better. It’s a “slow food” approach to travel and it’s worked pretty well for us. FH050004The large grande dame museums of Rome are wonderful to visit, especially if you have limited time in the city. But if you have an extra day or the off the beaten path vacation is more your speed, I suggest visiting one, two or three small villa or palazzo art museums. Farnesina, Doria Pamphlij, Spada, Borghese (the Queen) and a few others.

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The Loggia of Psyche by Raphaël and his workshop

It’s difficult to convey how astounding it is just standing on the marble floors, looking up at all the beautiful frescoes. Walking the same halls so many infamous and interesting figures had crossed centuries before.

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The museum was quiet and there were a few small groups moving in and out of the rooms. I had time to view the work in complete silence and solitude which rarely happens in a larger, more popular museum.

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Venus, Ceres and Juno

I had run out of color film so I shot these magnificent frescoes in black and white. I think they at least capture the richness of the dark colors and the creaminess of the “skin”. The color in person was vibrant for such old masterpieces.

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Cupid and The Three Graces, 1517-1518

A part of the great appeal Renaissance art has for me is it’s allusions to classical literature and mythology. In order to understand the works beyond my emotional response to them or my aesthetic pleasure in them, the allegorical works force me to learn the meaning behind them and catch a glimpse of the artist’s intention behind the work. What does the piece mean philosophically? Politically? What does it say about love? Man? And God? About life? And death? What historical event are they re-imagining? Beyond the beauty I am hungry for the history.

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Venus on the Chariot Pulled by Doves, 1517-1518

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The Council of the Gods, 1517-1518

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When I was there I was amused to find graffiti carved into one of the walls in German! Well, normally I’d be less amused but it’s from a later Barbarian Invasion of Rome in the 16th century! At the time I couldn’t find anyone to translate it for me.

During recent restorations, an ancient “graffiti”, in German gothic, came to light between the columns. It marks the passage of the Lansquenets and states: “1528 – why shouldn’t I laugh: the Lansquenets have put the Pope to flight.”

From the windows on the first floor there is a beautiful view of the gardens. A pleasant stroll under the laurel bower leads to a marble plaque which bears the inscription:

Quisquis huc accedis: quod tibi horridum videtur mihi amoenum est; si placet, maneas, si taedet abeas, utrumque gratum.

[Trad.: Whoever enters here: what seems horrid to you is pleasant to me. If you like it, stay, if it bores you, go away; both are equally pleasing to me. ] – Academia Nazionale die Lincei

The Villa Farnesina in Rome, Italy is open from

Monday to Saturday from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.,

Closed on Sundays and holidays
Guided tours on Monday, Friday and Saturday at 12.30

 

//photographs copyright rebecca price butler …

find my work on tumblr & pinterest … please link & credit me.

napoli’s purgatorio

Naples is the flower of paradise. The last adventure of my life.

Alexandre Dumas

This was a residential “street”, an alleyway with the delightfully macabre name of Vico Purgatorio Ad Arco, “Purgatory Lane”. I have a love affair with alleyways, you see, and never have I been more sated than in Napoli.

exclusively residential, the end of purgatory alley, naples, italy, 2012 (digital)

Every narrow opening makes you stop and turn and take in the sights and sounds of Naples. There’s something very beautiful about an alley way, something personal and old, full of secrets and stories and the every day life of strangers. I love the alleys of Boston and New York and New Orleans. Naples alley ways are incomparable because they are places people live to catch sunlight in the darkest places. Neapolitans hang their laundry on little racks on tiny iron balconies. They stack pretty painted clay pots and urns full of flowers. They tie little flags and bunting. The alleys are dark and dank and should be places for trash and death and forgetting. But they are walk ways. They are corners to stop for a moment and discuss the weather with your neighbor. They are short cuts and open windows and the sounds of football playing on an unseen television. They are windows across from cousins and lovers looking at each other when their parents are busy cooking or cleaning. They are the sounds of getting ready for the evening pasieggeta. They are as I always imagined them: gritty, velvet thick, enchanting, private glimpses of the real Napoli.

This is the foreboding sign which points in the direction of Purgatory Lane. Most people would cross the street to avoid it. But we are different, aren’t we? This makes it all the more inviting. Entering purgatory is like stepping back in time. Even in the midst of the buzz of modern life.

Kids play football in the streets, they run through the alleys laughing and dodging each other.Vespas and motorcycles line the private walks to the apartments. There are surprising flourishes of pinks and golds and soft blues among the blacks and browns. Colors and shadows mix. I walk through unnoticed.

Life is there, the good and the bad. You are just a tourist. Anaïs Nin once said, “I don’t want to be a tourist in the world of images.” I want to step into the picture and become a part of it. But I am always on the other side of the lens, watching, capturing, stealing images like the thief that I am. I am stalking moments and feelings. I want trouble and grit to make something beautiful out of it. I am selfish, a little bit soulless, in my pursuit of another perfect shot. I chase strangers with the cunning of a secret admirer. I photograph statues like living things and people like sculptures. I cannot tell the difference between the saints and the sinners on the streets.

//photographs copyright rebecca price butler …  find my work on tumblr & pinterest … please link & credit me.