Preservation with an International Focus

Speaking to FAI Staff

DJB – with INTO Chair Dame Fiona Reynolds looking on – speaking to the FAI (Italian National Trust) staff in Milan

I have returned to Italy for the second time this year for a short meeting of the executive committee of the International National Trusts Organisation (INTO).  Our host for this year’s meeting is Fondo Ambiente Italiano (FAI) or the Italian National Trust, a remarkable INTO member which has saved 54 properties and protected 6 million square meters of historic landscape in Italy since 1975.  Over the past two days we have been meeting with the FAI staff at their headquarters in Milan and have toured three wonderful – and unique – FAI properties.  Along the way the 15 members of the INTO executive committee have learned more about the Italian model of preservation while we share our own experiences and shape strategy for the group for the year ahead.

FAI’s headquarters in Milan is in a historic equestrian exercise rink that has been marvelously repurposed for 21st century office use.  The space, desks, and equipment are all modern and set up for strong collaboration, yet the entire new three-floor interior addition could be removed without damaging the historic fabric of the walls and windows.  Along with other members of the executive committee, I had the privilege of speaking to more than 100 staff of FAI, in my case telling them of NTHP’s work on the future of preservation and our ReUrbanism efforts launched just last week.

FAI headquarters

Headquarters of FAI – the Italian National Trust – in Milan

After a day of work at FAI headquarters, we traveled to Villa Necchi Campiglio – a 1930s villa in the heart of Milan – for a tour by FAI volunteers and dinner with the organization’s senior management.

Porch and sliding door

Porch and sliding door at Villa Necchi Campiglio


Villa Necchi Campiglio

Entrance hall to Villa Necchi Campiglio

This villa was designed by Piero Portaluppi and showcases the lifestyle of the Milanese upper-middle class in the period before WWII.  It was a delightful evening, where connections were made for future work together.

Friday began bright and early, as we headed to Lake Como to begin a day of touring of two extraordinary sites, including FAI’s most popular – and heavily visited – villa.  I’ll end with a shot to whet the appetite, but due to the late hour here in Milan and the slowness of my wireless connection, I’ll post many more pictures later.

Villa del Balbianello

Villa del Balbianello on Lake Como

More to come…




In the Words of E.B. White

In the Words of E.B. White

E.B. White once wrote, “The curse of flight is speed.  Or, rather, the curse of flight is that no opportunity exists for dawdling.”

I’ve been reading White as we’ve dawdled the past few days near his long-time Brooklin home in Maine, our feet very much on the ground (and water).  The first dictionary definition of dawdle is “to waste time,” but then options such as “moving slowly and idly” are put forth, as is “languid” and “saunter.”  I prefer the latter choices, as we’ve been dawdling, but definitely not wasting time.

Monday we sat outside the Pilgrim’s Inn, at water’s edge, and read for a couple of hours in the morning, enjoying a picture perfect Maine summer day.  Then we sauntered (if you can do so by car) over for a late lunch at the Brooklin Inn.  Our friends Tim Boggs and James Schwartz had invited us to their area home for an afternoon sail and dinner.

As we were walking out of the Inn, James and Tim drove by, stopped, and encouraged us to hop in for a short tour of area sites.  First stop – the graves of Katherine and E.B. White.

White Graves

Graves of Katherine and E.B. White

We then drove by the White’s old house and farm, made famous in many a book and New Yorker essay, and had a quick wave from the current owners who are friends of our hosts.  Afterwards we stopped back to pick up our car and browse through a wonderful book and gift store (where I picked up In the Words of E.B. White:  Quotations from America’s Most Companionable of Writersbefore heading to the summer home of our friends.

Candice in Wilbur

Candice with our hosts in “Wilbur”

Candice and I are not sailors, but after a quick house tour we headed out at low tide in “Wilbur” – the dinghy – and boarded the beautiful wooden boat “Red Head” that Tim and James have moored in the bay near their home.  Over the next 90 minutes we dawdled while Tim and James worked.  It was a delightful way to take in their environs on a day made for sailing.  Along the way we enjoyed views of the lighthouse at the end of Herrick Bay, along with views of Blue Hill and Acadia National Park.

Red Head

Red Head (photo courtesy of James Schwartz)


DJB at the rudder of Red Head

DJB stops dawdling long enough to take a turn with the tiller

We returned as the tide was coming in for drinks, conversation, and a wonderful meal with our hosts.  It was great to catch up with both of these friends.  They have been colleagues, family friends, and much more to all four of the Browns, and the evening passed much too quickly.  As the summer light was fading, however, Tim took us down to the water’s edge to see the remarkable sky at sunset.

Sunset in Maine

Sunset in Maine

Today we dawdled some more, with reading book-ended around a lunch-time trip to near-by Stonington.  That gave me the chance to finish the In the Words of E.B. White book.  A delightful read, and I’ll leave you with just a few thoughts from one of the 20th century masters of our language.

  • Never hurry and never worry!  (Charlotte’s Web)
  • Write with nouns and verbs, not with adjectives and adverbs.  The adjective hasn’t been built that can pull a weak or inaccurate noun out of a tight place.  (The Elements of Style)
  • If the world were merely seductive, that would be easy.  If it were merely challenging, that would be no problem.  But I arise in the morning torn between a desire to improve (or save) the world and a desire to enjoy (or savor) the world.  This makes it hard to plan the day. (E.B. White:  A Biography)
  • I discovered by test that fully ninety per cent of whatever was on my desk at any given moment were IN things.  Only ten percent were OUT things – almost too few to warrant a special container.  This, in general, must be true of other people’s lives too.  It is the reason lives get so cluttered up – so many things (except money) filtering in, so few things (except strength) draining out.  (One Man’s Meat)
  • I would really rather feel bad in Maine than feel good anywhere else.  (Letters of E.B. White)

I suspect you’ll see more of these in the future…but now I need to go and dawdle a bit.

More to come…



Thunder Hole

Thunder Hole at Acadia National Park

To celebrate the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service in 2016, Candice and I spent last Thursday at Acadia National Park in Maine – with thousands of our newest friends – to enjoy this magnificent landscape (and the first national park east of the Mississippi River).

On a beautiful summer day, the park was brimming with people taking every form of transportation imaginable to access a part of Mt. Desert Island.  We enjoyed the loop ride, and stopped along the way to see treats such as the magnificent views at Thunder Hole.  It was fun to see young couple skipping from rock to rock while grandparents pulled out their lawn chairs and sat in the shade just to watch the endlessly fascinating waves break against the shore.

Thunder Hole Panoramic View

Panoramic View of Thunder Hole

After a lunch in Seal Harbor, we headed up to Cadillac Mountain in the center of the park.

Cadillac Mountain, at 1,530 feet (466 meters), is the highest point along the North Atlantic seaboard and the first place to view sunrise in the United States from October 7 through March 6. It is one of over 20 mountains on Mount Desert Island (MDI), Maine that were pushed up by earth’s tectonic and volcanic forces millions of years ago. Were it not for the once enormous glaciers that sheared off their tops, they would be even higher than what we see today. 

Frenchman Bay View

View of Frenchman Bay from Cadillac Mountain


View looking west from Cadillac Mountain

View looking west from Cadillac Mountain

We also took the time to hike part of the 45 miles of carriage roads in the park.  Acadia’s carriage roads…

…are the best example of broken-stone roads – a type of road commonly used at the turn of the 20th century – in America today.  They are true roads, approximately 16 feet wide, constructed with methods that required much hand labor….

The gift of philanthropist John D. Rockefeller, Jr. and family, (the carriage roads) weave around the mountains and valleys of Acadia National Park.  Rockefeller, a skilled horseman, wanted to travel on motor-free byways via horse and carriage into the heart of Mount Desert Island.  (The construction) efforts from 1913 to 1940 resulted in roads with sweeping vistas and close-up views of the landscape.

Carriage Road signage

Signage along the carriage roads in Acadia National Park


View from a carriage road

View from a carriage road

We had a wonderful day and were reminded – once again – of why our national parks are “America’s best idea!”

At Acadia National Park

Candice and DJB at Acadia National Park

More to come…


Guns, Wedding Gowns, Cold Beer

Pilgrim Inn

Pilgrim’s Inn at Deer Isle, Maine, in the late afternoon light

While driving through Central Maine to reach our destination on the coast, we passed a convenience store on a small rural road that had a sign which read:


Wedding Gowns

Cold Beer

We were laughing too hard to stop and take a picture, so you’ll have to trust me on this one.  Depending on the willingness of both sides to get married, these three things comprise almost all the essential ingredients needed for a (shotgun) wedding.  Add a Justice of the Peace (or these days, in internet-approved minister) and you’re all set.

Seriously, we’ve had a wonderful introduction to Maine.  On Saturday we stayed at a B&B in Littleton, Massachusetts, to split the drive in two (the Lyttleton Inn), and in the small world department it turns out that the innkeeper is the aunt of a former colleague at the National Trust.  We savored the delicious breakfast and interesting conversation with Mary (the innkeeper) before hitting the road north.

The second day’s drive was uneventful (just what you want) and we reached our destination – the Pilgrim’s Inn – by mid-afternoon.  The building dates from 1793 and first served as an inn in the early 20th century.  The current configuration as The Pilgrim’s Inn dates from 1977, and it was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1983.

As we were leaving our inn on Deer Isle last evening to head to dinner, we met a classical guitar player and his wife who are on  a “more vacation than tour” tour.  After talking guitars briefly, he said, “I’ll play anything…maybe we can get together.”  Finally, at dinner last evening in Stonington, we stuck up a conversation with a couple while waiting for a table. It turns out he’s a retired Episcopal bishop from Texas and we were able to make all sorts of connections.  As the evening ended he and his wife invited us to join them later in our visit to see E.B. White’s home.   Candice – the former elementary school teacher – was all in.  We already had plans to see other friends who have a home nearby while on Deer Isle, so our connections have tripled in the first night in Maine.

Nice folks here in Maine – even with the guns and wedding gowns.  We’re looking forward to a rewarding and relaxing two weeks.  (With thanks to Andrew and Claire for holding down the fort at the old home place.)

Pilgrim's Inn View

View from the deck at The Pilgrim’s Inn

More to come…



Check Off Another One!

With Claire at Church and State

Celebrating week’s end with Claire at Church and State in Los Angeles

My goodness, it has been a busy week of travel!

  • Attend the Main Street Now 2016 conference on Monday and Tuesday in Milwaukee and get energized by all the work going on in downtowns across the country – check.
  • Stop by and visit the amazing Mitchell Park Horticultural Conservatory Domes in Milwaukee – check.
  • Catch a bad head cold and endure a 4 1/2 hour flight from Chicago to San Francisco – unplanned, but check.
  • Have lunch in Carmel with one of the elder statesmen of preservation – the indefatigable Knox Mellon and his wife Carlotta – check.
  • Celebrate the beginning of the construction phase of our work at Cooper-Molera historic site with more than 100 people from the city staff, California State Parks, our local stakeholders, and our development partners in Monterey – check.
  • Over a wonderful dinner celebration in Monterey, talk baseball with the wife of one of our partners at Cooper- Molera, who has the perfect marriage…she’s a Red Sox fan and her husband is a Giants fan…so on the west coast with the MLB package they can start watching the Sox games at 4 p.m. and follow that with the evening Giants game (how amazing is that!) – check.
  • FINALLY begin to shake the head cold and take off to Los Angeles for two days of family R&R with my Claire, where we celebrate on Friday evening with some of her housemates in the Jubilee Consortium at the wonderful Church and State bistro – check.
  • Make a return visit to the Huntington Gardens with Claire, and spend all day wandering through that amazing landscape – check.
  • To top it off, Claire and I take in a LA Angels game in Anaheim (after finding a great local craft beer brewery) to check off another stadium from the old bucket list – check.

Let me hit a few highlights:

The Shaw Neighborhood in Washington, D.C. was one of three Great American Main Street Award winners in 2016.  They were featured in this amazing video, which I encourage you to watch.  Congrats as well to Audubon Park, Florida, and Dahlonega, Georgia, the other GAMSA winners.

Mitchell Park Domes

The incredible Mitchell Park Domes in Milwaukee

While I was in Milwaukee, I made a stop by The Domes.  Located in Mitchell Park, these three conoidal (bee hive shaped) glass structures are the first and only domes to house plants in different climates. The shape allows for an excellent angle for efficient solar heating and it also gives more height for taller plants.  The Domes were designed by local architect Donald Grieb and drew accolades from around the world when completed in the mid 1960s.  No less than Lady Bird Johnson – then the First Lady of the U.S. – officially dedicated The Domes in 1965.  It just goes to show that  Calatrava wasn’t the first to design amazing modern architecture in this Midwestern city.

Interior of the Show Dome

The interior of the Show Dome


Show Dome Ceiling

Show Dome Ceiling

Speaking of modern architecture…

I’m staying at the historic Biltmore Hotel while in LA, which is just a few short blocks from the new Broad Museum and Frank Gehry’s Walt Disney Concert Hall.  I took a stroll down the street after arriving to check both out up close.

Broad Museum detail

Detail from the Broad Museum on Grand Avenue in LA

The Broad is a new contemporary art museum founded by philanthropists Eli and Edythe Broad on Grand Avenue in downtown Los Angeles. The museum is designed by Diller Scofidio + Renfro in collaboration with Gensler.  It sits next to the already iconic Disney Concert Hall, which has won accolades from its opening in 2003. The mix of landmark contemporary and historic buildings (such as the LA Central Library) has helped revive this part of downtown in a city that is not known for a strong core.  I don’t have time here to go into all the different aspects (positive and negative) of this new development in LA, but I’ve tucked these images and thoughts away for future mulling.

Church and State with the Jubilee Gang

Caroline, Edgar, Claire, and Gracie (l to r) at Church and State Bistro

Claire and I also explored another part of LA – the revitalized Arts District – when we went with friends for dinner at Church and State bistro.  Good friends and good food – always a treat!

For my last full day in Southern California before heading home, Claire and I decided to revisit the beautiful Huntington Gardens, which we first visited a couple of years ago. As usual, Claire captured some wonderful scenes with her camera.

Desert Garden

The Desert Gardens at the Huntington (photo credit: Claire Brown)


Huntington sculpture

Huntington Garden sculpture (photo credit: Claire Brown)

Claire and I wrapped up our weekend by taking in a baseball game at Angels Stadium in Anaheim – which allowed me to check off another MLB stadium from my bucket list. On the drive down, Claire went online and found a microbrewery within walking distance so we could sample some local IPA.  We succeeded – drinking IPAs at Noble Ale Works and making new friends in Brooks and Jen.

Angels Stadium

Angels Stadium (photo credit: Claire Brown)

Then it was off to the stadium.  We found a local favorite food – the grilled cheese sandwich – at The Big Cheese.  Though not traditionally a ballpark food, the grilled cheese is hugely popular with fans. I had mine with short ribs, while Claire had arugula and tomatoes with her sandwich.  The home team looked to be on a roll when Mike Trout and Albert Pujols hit back-to-back jacks (or homers, taters, four baggers, dingers, you name it) in the first inning, setting off an impressive fire display in the waterfall just beyond the center field fence, but that was about it for the offense and the local nine fell to the Houston Astros 4-2.

With Claire at the Big A

With Claire at the Big A

We realized that with her joining me tonight at her seventh stadium, Claire has been my companion at more stadiums that anyone else.  (By my count, I have been to five stadiums each with Candice and my former work colleague Dolores McDonagh.)  For those keeping score, here is the list of ballparks visited:

  • Atlanta Braves – Fulton County Stadium (multiple visits in 1980s; never got to Turner Field before they tear it down, but this counts given my rules)
  • Baltimore Orioles – Camden Yards (multiple visits in 1990s and 2000s)
  • Boston Red Sox – Fenway Park (1988)
  • Chicago Cubs – Wrigley Field (1964, 2007, 2012)
  • Chicago White Sox – US Cellular Field (2013)
  • Cleveland Indians – Progressive Field (2014)
  • Colorado Rockies – Coors Field (2008, 2013)
  • Kansas City Royals – Kauffman Stadium (2009)
  • Los Angeles Angels – Angels Stadium (2016)
  • Milwaukee Brewers – Miller Park (2005)
  • Minnesota Twins – Target Field (2014)
  • Oakland A’s – Oakland Coliseum (2008)
  • Philadelphia Phillies – Citizens Bank Park (2008)
  • Pittsburgh Pirates – PNC Park (2013)
  • San Francisco Giants – AT&T Park (2012 and 2014)
  • Seattle Mariners – Safeco Field (2009)
  • St. Louis Cardinals – Busch Stadium (old – 1993; new – 2012)
  • Tampa Bay Rays – Tropicana Field (2012)
  • Washington Nationals – RFK (multiple times) and Nationals Park (multiple times + part of a season ticket group since 2012)

And here is the ballparks remaining to visit list:

  • Arizona Diamondbacks – Chase Field
  • Cincinnati Reds – Great American Ball Park
  • Detroit Tigers – Comerica Park (Another park I’ve seen but haven’t made a game.)
  • Houston Astros- Minute Maid Park (Which I am planning on visiting later in June)
  • Los Angeles Dodgers – Dodger Stadium (This is the only park that a family member – Claire – has seen before I have had the opportunity. Three or four times, no less. That’s just not fair!)
  • Miami Marlins – Marlins Park
  • New York Mets – Citi Field (I think this is an easy one to do, but it never works out.)
  • New York Yankees – Yankee Stadium (I know – how can I not have made it to Yankee stadium yet?!  Just goes to show I’ve never been a big Yankees fan)
  • San Diego Padres – Petco Park (our new friends Brooks and Jen were raving about this stadium)
  • Texas Rangers – Texas Stadium
  • Toronto Blue Jays – Rogers Centre

Hopefully, by the end of the season I’ll be at 10 or less left to go!  If I keep traveling as much as I have this week, that shouldn’t be a problem.

Heading home on Sunday, and ready to check off another Memorial Day holiday.

More to come…


Three Churches (Part Two)

San Lorenzo in Miranda

San Lorenzo in Miranda

Over the past two weeks, we have visited three distinctive churches that each took our breath away in different ways.  The first is rarely seen.  The second is seen by almost every tourist in Rome.  And the last is one of those masterworks of architecture that really must be seen to be fully appreciated

So to follow-up on our earlier post of looking at churches in sets of threes, here comes Three Churches (Part Two).  Let’s begin with San Lorenzo in Miranda, the church that is rarely seen.

Each Friday we were at the American Academy, I took part in the “Fellows Walk.”  The last of those – for us – took place a week ago Friday and it was titled “The Presence of Absence:  The Medieval Roman Forum.”  I’ll turn to the AAR’s description of the walk to fill you in on the focus:

Rome brims with a seemingly endless number of sites that loom large in the popular imagination.  But how does the imagined city compare to our actual, sensory experience of Rome?  This final series of Walks will lead us through a selection of sites — forum, church, neighborhood, villa and garden — designed to provoke a set of distinct, physical experiences.  Charting places of sensory input across time, these Walks will encourage us to become aware of the presence of absence, visual perspective, mathematical order, scale, materials, topography, labor, fragrance, temperature, color and much more beyond.

Today’s visit will focus on how we experience Medieval Rome through both the traces — and voids — of this stratum of the city’s history.  We’ll concentrate on a series of sites in the Roman Forum, which witnessed some of the early transformation of Rome’s ancient, pagan monuments into places of Christian worship.  We’ll begin our discussion on Via dei Fori Imperiali, a Fascist-era road that cut through the Forum and obliterated much of Medieval Rome in the process.  From here, we’ll visit three churches that emerged between the 6th and 9th centuries: Ss. Cosimo e Damiano, S. Lorenzo in Mirandola, and S. Francesca Romana.  These locations represent the varying degrees to which we can experience the history of Medieval Rome in sites that were once the center of Roman society and culture yet today are rarely open to the public and thus remain a mystery to contemporary residents and visitors alike.

Many people know San Lorenzo as “the church in the temple” in the middle of the Roman Forum.  Others know it as “the church where the entrance door hangs in mid-air on the second floor.”  Those two things are connected.

Altar in San Lorenzo in Miranda

Altar in San Lorenzo in Miranda

This is a 17th century Baroque church, but it was originally the Temple of Antoninus and Faustina, built around 141 CE.  Over time through the Middle Ages, as the Forum filled in with silt and occupation debris, the floor of the church – and thus the entrance door from the Forum side – was raised to its present location.  When archaeological excavations began in the 19th century, there was some pressure to demolish the church to leave only the Roman temple remains.  That did not happen, however, and the current church provides one of the most interesting – and seldom seen – views of the Forum.

Forum View from San Lorenzo

Forum view from San Lorenzo


Entrance to San Lorenzo

The “entrance door” to the Forum from San Lorenzo

The conversation on the walk focused on how the Medieval Forum was lost – intentionally – to the archaeology of the 19th century (with its focus on Imperial Rome) as well as the 20th century fascists changes to the city (which also had a focus on returning Rome to its Imperial glory).  Absence is often a very important part of the historical record, as we see here.

Yesterday, Candice and I visited a church that – unlike San Lorenzo – is on every tourist’s “Top 10” list of places to see.  That would be the Basilica of Santa Maria del Popolo.

Raphael Mosaics in Chigi Chapel at Santa Maria

Raphael mosaics in the Chigi Chapel of Santa Maria del Popolo

Santa Maria del Popolo is an art museum and a church.  Raphael?  Check.  Caravaggio?  Check.  Bernini? Check. And that’s only the beginning.

Conversion on the Road to Damascu

Caravaggio’s “Conversion on the Road to Damascus”


Crucifixion of St. Peter

Caravaggio’s “Crucifixion of St. Peter”


Bernini's Daniel and the Lion

Bernini’s “Daniel and the Lion”


Santa Maria del Popolo

Santa Maria del Popolo

Santa Maria del Popolo – located on the beautiful Piazza del Popolo – is a well-loved church by people of all faiths and no faith. As found in the church’s brochure,

I have always considered Santa Maria del Popolo (Our Lady of the People) as an example, a perfect example of the specific nature of Italian cultural patrimony….

Well said.

San Carlo exterior

Exterior of San Carlo alle Quattro Fontane

Finally, I want to return to a church mentioned in an earlier post – San Carlo alle Quattro Fontane (Saint Charles at the Four Fountains).  This design – a masterpiece of architect Francesco Borramini – is both “extraordinary and complex.”  Working with a very difficult site and needing to include a number of elements to complete the architectural program, Borramini came up with a design that works and thrills at the same time.

Altar at San Carlo

Altar at San Carlo


San Carlo detail

San Carlo detail

It is the dome, with its exquisite geometric pattern, that caps this wonderful space and brings it all together.

Dome of San Carlo

Dome of San Carlo alle Quattro Fontane

There is more I could show, but my pictures do not do this building justice.  So I am going to end this visit to Italian churches with a segment on San Carlo from Daniel Solomon’s Bedside Essays for Lovers (of Cities) – a favorite text.

Borromini was eclipsed for much of his career by the flashier and more charismatic Gian Lorenzo Bernini, and his oeuvre are mostly second-tier commissions – smallish buildings on undistinguished city sites.  His greatness is built on surmounting the contradictory demands of these commissions – simultaneous city fabric and monument.  Second-tier commissions produced some of the most complex and subtle works of the Western canon…

Never have the ordinary and the extraordinary been reconciled with more sublime elegance than at San Carlo alle Quattro Fontane.  Its interior is nothing less than a three-dimensional cosmological map depicting in its intricate geometries and its filtration of light the relationship of heaven and earth.  But the sanctuary of San Carlo sits on an unremarkable street corner on the consistent street frontage of via Quirinale, leading to the magnificence of Palazzo Quirinale and Piazza Quirinale a couple of blocks up the street.  Mediating between the glories of the interior and the important but subservient role of the exterior is a subtly undulating wall, true to the demands of both inside and out.  In this most complex of mediations, Borromini leaves the enduring lesson of how to be both a humble city builder and an architect of thundering power.

If you are in Rome, get thee to this church!

More to come…

Contemporary Art in Historic Rome (Continued)

Fig Tree

Fig Tree from the exhibit “Laudato si – To the Roots of Life”

I believe it was those sage philosophers Rodgers and Hammerstein* who said, “When the Lord closes a door, somewhere He opens a window.”  That describes our Friday in Rome.

After seeing the stunning Santa Maria del Popolo in the morning (more on that later), we had planned to take in the Bernini statue The Ecstasy of St. Theresa  at Santa Maria della Vittoria and then walk down the street to see Francesco Borromini’s fantastic San Carlo alle Quattro Fontane.  Both were closed.  Thankfully, I’ve seen San Carlo (and will try to get Candice there tomorrow).  But we were disappointed, and the gelato we had after our picnic lunch only partially brought my spirits back.

However, as has been our practice, when we walk by a church or open historic building that we haven’t seen before, we’ll ask each other, “Do you want to go in?”  More times than not, we’ll say “yes” and head in to find some new hidden gem.

We were walking back towards Trastevere when we passed Chiesa di Sant’ Ignazio (the Church of St. Ignatius).  The two of us almost walked past it, but we decided to turn back and go inside to see why there was a pretty good crowd of visitors in the doorway.

We are so glad that we did!

As I wrote a little over a week ago, Rome is not only a place for incredible historic works of art, but the city continues to inspire contemporary artists. We stumbled in on a beautiful exhibit of copper, blowtorched and forged by fire, into a series of trees by the artist Settimo Tamanini.

Nave at Sant' Ignazio

Central Nave with Frescoes in the vaulted ceiling and tree from the “To the Roots of Life” exhibit

When one enters Sant’ Ignazio, the eye is immediately drawn to the Andrea Pezzo frescoes in the vaulted ceiling.  But today, that view includes shimmering copper trees, “blowtorched and forged by fire” from the exhibit To the Roots of Life.

This exhibit ties in with Pope Francis’ encyclical Laudato sì on the need to safeguard creation.  Eight of the artist’s creations – almond, apple, fig, pomegranate, olive, and chestnut trees along with a burning bush and grape vine – are placed throughout the church, along with short engravings that bring forth commentary and scripture.  This moving work softens the architectural space with all its marble and brass.  As the exhibition’s curator notes, “…the sculptures of the trees…complete the visual pathway from the frescoes of the vault to the garden, embracing everything and providing an illusory perspective of matter unified and transfigured.”


“To the Roots of Life” in the Sacristy of Sant’ Ignazio

This exhibition is part of the call of an earlier pope to bring contemporary art to the life of today’s church.  But these works – as is true with any good art – can be seen from a myriad of perspectives, with or without religious overtones.  You can take this work on several levels.

I’ll end with an excerpt from the words of Settimo Tamanini in the exhibit catalog:

…Art, as a way towards Beauty, represents a great challenge and responsibility for contemporary artists: that of offering, through its universal language, a visible image of the fertile and silent activity of invisible Wisdom.

I have drawn inspiration from the tree, already present in the first pages of the Bible and in deep harmony with the Universe.

This is how the “Trees of Great Mothers” fruit trees from Palestine, have been born, powerful sculptures in pure copper wrought through blown flames and fire.

The Garden of Eden which is in us all.

So that, entrusting ourselves to our true Master, we can breathe joy and hope to be given to others.

More to come…


*(Note for careful readers:  I actually realize that this quote is from The Sound of Music book by Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse, but if I had said “Lindsay and Crouse, no one would know what I meant.)