Canova, by chance: The Gypsoteca [possagno]

It was only by chance that I visited Canova’s Temple. Stuck in the environs of Treviso, surrounded by gently rolling farmlands, sloping vineyards and rows upon rows of the Colli Asolani, I wanted to be excited, wanted to learn, but Rome had spoiled me with its grandiosity, Venice with its romance and Florence with its art.

But the temple seemed to loom over as I approached it. Its majesty was so undeniable and it was so unlike anything else in the region that though it was not the highest structure on the highest hill, it may as well have been the only thing in sight.

canova's templeDesigned by Antonio Canova between 1804 and 1818 to hold his works and eventual ashes, the Temple combined the elements of an apsidal chapel, the round body of the Pantheon, and the colonnade of the Parthenon in order to represent what Canova considered to be the main phases of culture: Greek, Roman and Christian. With its double rowed Doric columns, Attic architrave, round atrium and perfect hemispheric domed roof, it stood imposingly on an ascending cobblestoned base and made chins lift for a better look and jaws drop at its relative enormity. Inside, a self-portrait of Canova in marble, his tomb, and Latin inscriptions I could no longer understand quoting his name – I knew this Canova, I was sure of it, but I wasn’t sure from where.

It wasn’t until we passed the Gypsoteca down the street entitled Canova e Danze that I reached for my excessively used guidebook and found what I was looking for: it was in the Galleria Borghese in Rome that I had learned of him – his was the famed Venus Victrix! Yes! I had something to hook onto and off I went to the gallery of his works.

It felt calming to be in a grand hall of nothing but statues again. There were white walls, white sculptures and silence. Many of the statues were plaster casts and not Canova’s originals as those were sold off in order to raise money for the Temple, but they were still remarkable. Perseus with Medusa’s head, Venus and Mars, the Three Graces, Hercules – all bringing back the history, the myths, and the memories to me. And then, there she was, reclined on a heavily pillowed chaise, the Venus Victrix. Of course, this was the less detailed cast – the original was showcased amidst Bernini statues in Rome – but she was beautiful. Though that was her official title in the Galleria Borghese, the subject of the sculpture was actually claimed to be Napoleon Bonaparte’s sister, and Prince Camillo Borghese’s wife, Paolina. And sure enough, her plaster cast plaque read “Paolina Borghese” – it was her after all.

The rest of the Gypstoteca consisted of a studio explaining how Canova worked using his plaster casts, and rooms and hallways of his terracotta models, sketches, and paintings. In the center of the last room, with the lights dimmed, a Danzetrice seemed to move to the soft harp music playing from above.

I seemed to have found it then, the treasure of this place, a little bit of Rome hidden amidst the villas and the olive groves. The Danzetrice, yes, but also the renewed desire, the restlessness for knowledge – that is what I was looking for.  And here she was, the star attraction, right in front of me.

Her arms in the air, cymbals in her hands, posed mid-step on her slowly turning base, she floated to the melody as a ballerina might upon a jewelry box. And I was mesmerized.

i may not be a libra, but i’m still charming as hell

There are only so many times I can title a post “mind blown. AGAIN.” But alas, it happened, AGAIN, this time with the help of a computer program called Stellarium that has installed within it the night sky as we know it (or rather don’t), and includes all its galaxies, stars, and planets starting from thousands of years ago and as predicted thousands and thousands of years into the future.

So, fun fact: all of us reading this, and yes I mean ALL of us reading this, are not the zodiac sign we think we are. Our zodiac, or astrological, sign is assigned to us based on what constellation the sun is in on our birth date. I am a Libra because on October 19th the sun is said to have passed through the Libra constellation in the sky. Seems easy enough. Except that on October 19th the sun does not pass through the Libra constellation. It passes through Virgo.


Well, fun fact, part 2: the Earth is wobbling like a top through a cycle that takes 26,000 years to complete. This wobbling, called precession, causes a shift in the position of the zodiac signs relative to Earth at the rate of about one constellation every 2,100 years.

What does this mean?

the sky on october 19th, 473BC
The Sun in Libra, October 19th, 473BC

It means that whatever sign the sun was in over two thousand years ago, it is now in the sign just preceding it. We checked this by comparing the sun’s position in 473BC to where it was on the actual day of my birth, and sure enough, roughly 2,500 years ago on October 19th, the sun was in Libra (see above) – correct by today’s standards and horoscopes. However, fast-forward to 1984 and the evidence shows I was not born a Libra after all, but instead with my sun mid-Virgo (see below).

the sky on october 19th, 1984
The Sun in Virgo, October 19th, 1984

“But (suspending our logic regarding the validity of astrology for the time-being) the Libra description totally works for me!”

Yes, and so it should for everyone under the Libra sign actually born under Virgo: if our personalities are governed by the time frame of our birth, labeling it something different shouldn’t induce, nor presuppose, a different personality.

Good enough?

Sure, until you remember that the Libra’s most important characteristic is derived from its namesake – how does the desire to be fair, just, and balanced, carry over to the Virgin constellation when the Libra is the symbol of the Scales??

I guess it’s a good thing we don’t need to preoccupy ourselves with such trivial things. And all us proud Libras (Librae?) can rest at ease knowing we’re diplomatic and wickedly charming after all.


“Born under a bad sign: Astrology.” Astronomy special issue:Atlas of the Stars 2010. Print.

reading the inscription: septimus severus arch

In hindsight, as it usually seemed to be, the highlight, the most memorable moment of my Rome, was the inscription.

We were just passing through and hadn’t realized the triumph arch was going to be right there. RIGHT there. But there it was. Massive. Like everything in Rome, grandiose beyond comprehension.

in front of the massive severus triumph arch

“I want you to try to read what it says.” Giacomo said.

I looked up at the arch. That was a lot of Latin. I sighed.

“You might be expecting too much from me.” I said, and turned away for the moment, readying to take photos.

“I’ve come to expect no less.” he replied.

Maybe it was the inherent belief and confidence he had placed in me at that moment, but my desire for more (MORE, MORE!) pushed me right back towards the arch when I was finished taking photos.

James was waiting patiently. He knew I couldn’t resist the opportunity.

The inscription towered over me.

I’m not gonna lie, I didn’t get all of it (though I blame part of this on the giant hole that took out some words on three lines) but I got most of the words. And Giacomo would chime in with the story every few words I read to give me context. Latin inscriptions are really a whole bunch of kerfuffle words distracting from the verb and the point usually hanging out at the end of the sentence. But I got it. And when I finished, I had only one thing to say:

“Ok, so…what does it say?”

In hindsight, maybe I got less than I thought I did, but that feeling of accomplishment, the exhaustia of using all my mental power to attempt to comprehend a nearly 2,000 year old inscription written in a language I only looked at for a few hours a few weeks ago – one of the best moments of my life.


Oh, and basically what it said was :

To the Emperor Lucius Septimius Severus, Son of Marcus, Pius, Pertinacious, Augustus, Pater Patriae (Father of the Fatherland – Head of State), Victor in Arabia and
Victor in Adiabenico (Persia), Pontifex Maximus (Chief of Religion), having held the tribunician power 11 times, emperor 11 times, Consul 3 times, Proconsul,
and Emperor Marcus Aurelius (Caracalla), Son of Lucius, Antoninus, Augustus Pius, Felix (lucky), having held the tribunician power 6 times, Consul, Proconsul, Pater Patriae,
Highest and Strongest Prince,
for having restored the Empire of the people of Rome,
by their visible strengths at home and abroad, the Senate and People of Rome [made this]

Geekyy fun fact: Originally it mentioned both the emperor Septimius Severus and his two sons Caracalla and Geta. The name of Geta was removed in 213AD, when he was killed by Caracalla after the death of Septimius Severus. A condanatio memoriae was issued, and all images or mentions of Geta were to be removed from all public buildings and monuments.

The holes used to attach the bronze letters allow a reconstruction of the original inscription, which had the fifth line changed. Originally it read: “P. Septimio L. fil Getae nobilissi(mo)”; translated: “to the most noble son of Lucius Septimius, Publius Septimius Geta.”

Settimana della Cultura

The Settimana della Cultura – Culture Week – running April 14th to the 22nd, is a span of 9 days where all throughout Italy, state-run museums and other cultural attractions waive their entrance fees to attract tourists who wouldn’t otherwise be prone to visiting.

Being exactly this kind of tourist, I wanted to give a quick thumbs up/thumbs down review of all the places I visited, but it just so happened that my experiences within them proved to be much too personal to be put into words. They accumulated into a knowledge, an understanding, of things I had never cared about before but was now not only interested in but wanting more of:

Being exactly this kind of tourist, I wanted to give a quick thumbs up/thumbs down review of all the places I visited, but it just so happened that my experiences within them proved to be much too personal to be put into words. They accumulated into a knowledge, an understanding, of things I had never cared about before but was now not only interested in but wanting more of:

The Rubens in the Palatine Gallery that got me interested, the Juno in Accademia that blew my mind, the painting of the Sabines in the Palazzo Vecchio that got me hooked. The stories in the Capelle Medicee that painted mythology, theology, and history together as one surreal reality. And of course, “that beautiful Vasari” of Lorenzo the Magnificent in the Uffizi, the epitome of what I learned that week, the peak of my experience.

These are untranslatable, untranscribable experiences that only those around me saw transpire within me and even they couldn’t feel the overwhelming amazement and gratefulness and shocked disbelief at the things I was saying, recognizing, feeling. A week’s worth of moments and a city’s worth of history and art had just changed my life.

And while newspapers will tell you that Culture Week was not as successful as was hoped, and that attendance in Florence was actually much lower than expected, I can tell you from my personal experience that Settimana della Cultura works, if only because I’ll never need to attend it again.

and just like that: galleria dell’accademia

david outside palazzo vecchioDespite claims that there wasn’t much else mind-blowing within it, there was almost always a lineup outside the Accademia. Not much else, but the tourist attraction here was Michelangelo’s David, and I had been waiting.

But first, a room with another statue imitated in the Piazza della Signoria: a woman, wriggling, struggling, grasping at the air as a warrior clenches her in mid-air. The Rape (‘Capture’) of the Sabine depicts the story of the Roman men who, upon forging Rome as a city and recognizing the dire need for females, invited the Sabine people to their city under a ruse, and then captured all the women. There is no statue depicting what happened next however, but the story is not all gruesome: when the Sabine men attacked Rome to take back their daughters, the women, having fallen for their captors, leapt between the two armies, crying, “Stop! These are our husbands and these are our fathers!” The only outcome possible was peace, albeit temporary.

Next, the corridor of slaves, and then, there at the end, David in all his glory. Oh he was beautiful. Exquisite. Chiseled from a chunk of carrara marble thrown away and thought unworkable, David stood one of the most recognizable works of art in the world – the perfect man. But he is not in actuality ‘perfect’ – his head is too large for his body, he arms too long, his hands too big. Expecting him to stand atop the Duomo, Michelangelo sculpted David this way intentionally – when viewed from far below, David’s proportions would be ideal; to me, even from only a meter below, they were. My eyes refused to be satiated. The veins in his arms, the pronounced beauty of his muscles, the deliberate shape of his every inch. I longed to study him – the way the buttocks sat just so, taut or relaxed depending on the leg being straight or bent, the expression on his face – a peaceful boy from the front, a determined warrior from the right, every detail conscious and calculated. I couldn’t get enough.

But alas, we moved on. The statue gallery, filled with nudes, cherubim and busts, paled in comparison to the star attraction behind us, but a statue of a reclining woman caught my eye: the goddess Juno, agitated with Paris for giving the apple to Aphrodite, poses, showing herself in all her beauty. The description sounded familiar but the name did not – was it possible I knew the story of a statue in this room? Save for the Latin translation of Hera, this was a moment in the tale of Paris choosing the most beautiful out of the three goddesses – and Juno was a mighty contender. I fell in love with her not knowing I did, distracted by my excitement, my apparent knowledge of the account. Pleased but dumbfounded, I followed the crowd out.

We visited another gallery but our wander was aimless and my focus lost, excited. The Galleria dell’Accademia did not have treasures in every corner, but I was remembering stories of Greek mythology! That was my attraction. That was my bliss. And just like that, my mind was blown.