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From "The Colour of Rome" by Olave Muriel Potter with watercolours and an essay by Yoshio Markino - 1909: (left) S. Giorgio al Velabro; (right) S. Maria in Cosmedin and the nearby round temple (all the links under the illustrations lead to pages of this website providing detailed and updated information about the sites and monuments depicted by Markino and described by Potter)
A few paces from the ancient meat-market of Rome you find yourself in a hollow below the southern slope of the Palatine, in the shadow of the Arch of Janus Quadrifrons, one of the ancient entrances to the Forum Boarium. Built in the decadent days of the Lower Empire, when Roman art was showing signs of the moral leprosy which was gradually eating away the heart of Rome, it has nevertheless considerable beauty with its white marble bronzed by the sun to the rich tints of Oriental alabaster. Beside it is the Byzantine campanile of the little brown church of S. Giorgio in Velabro. The thirteenth-century portico is borne on white Ionic columns, and adjoining it is the little marble Arch of the Silversmiths, erected in honour of Septimius Severus and his family, which gleams like silver in contrast to the brown chrome of the façade. Under some low arches of typical Roman masonry, on the left of the Arch of Janus Quadrifrons, a passage leads past a mill to an opening in the Cloaca Maxima.
The Forum Boarium is one of the pictures which the sojourner in Rome carries away imprinted on his heart. It does not matter that tall factories tower above the ancient houses of the Velabrum, and that a slim chimney rivals the gracious campanile of one of the most beautiful churches dedicated to the Mother of Christ in Rome. For in this quiet and sunny spot the little round Temple of the Goddess of the Dawn (Juno Matutina - Morning Juno) rises with inimitable beauty upon the banks of the Tiber; and a lichen-covered fountain splashes in the centre of the square, singing a paean of praise to who shall say what deity; while S. Maria in Cosmedin, secure in her beauty, communes within herself. Potter
The beautiful arcaded apse of SS. Giovanni e Paolo rises above the trees of the Parco di S. Gregorio with the grace of one of Perugino's frescoes. Four Roman arches span the country road which was once the Clivus Scauri, and they have been included in the church by flying buttresses. Church, arches, and campanile are of the warm brown masonry and fine brickwork which Romans have used from the days of the Empire; and the twelfth-century campanile, studded with coloured tiles, has the same delicate arches as the exterior of the apse. Potter
The Capitol is the altar of Rome. (..) Incense has
risen from S. Maria in Ara Coeli, on the site of the
ancient citadel, since Gregory the Great consecrated it
to the name of the Mother of God in the sixth century. (..) At the western corner of the
hill are the steps of S. Maria on the Altar of Heaven,
where in the golden light of a Roman afternoon the
limpid shadow of the stone-pine overhanging them seeks
every day to mount the steep incline. (..) There is no church with such a fitting name as S. Maria in Ara Coeli. Its long flight of marble steps on the western slope of the Capitol, grey with a golden growth of lichen, leads up to the warm brown brick work of the basilica façade, framed in a sky as blue as Fra Angelico's heaven. The lines of S. Maria in Ara Coeli are purely beautiful - and surely no altar has such a lovely flight of steps as that which mounts to its doors.
Seen from below, the Tarpeian Rock, with its narrow houses crowding on the cliff; its balconies, with frequent clothes drying in the sunlight; and its orange-trees, presents a gay Roman scene with not a hint of tragedy. At the foot of the rock is an old brown house, with a frescoed crucifixion under a simple canopy. Every day it is half hidden by a line hanging with snowy linen; on the tiled porch is another orange-tree grown in a terra cotta pot, and in the bassi are an orange-stall and an antiquity shop, with amphorae leaning against the lintel, and cupids and broken marbles half hidden in the gloom of the interior. Potter
I did not know until I saw St Peter's that most of the
modern fashionable restaurants or hotels are such faithful
copies of the inside of St Peter's. I liked all other basilica
churches very much indeed, but I regret to say they are
wanting that solemn dignity of the Gothic. Markino
S. Maria Maggiore is a veritable house of prayer; but it is more like a temple than a church, with its vast empty nave and its procession of marble columns. The panelled, coffered roof is gilded with the first gold brought from America; the mosaics are the most beautiful and interesting in Rome; the precious marbles of the confessio and the side-chapels are worth a King's ransom. For St Mary the Greater takes precedence of all the churches in Rome dedicated to the Madonna, and it is one of the seven patriarchal basilicas to which faithful Catholics all over the world belong . (..) The tall Ionic columns of the nave are of white marble from Hymettus; mosaics from the hand of an artist of the third century gleam above the cornice; the walls and apse of the tribune and transept glow with the jewelled handiwork of thirteenth century mosaicists. There is always a dim rich light in S. Maria Maggiore, and a little mist, as though clouds of incense were hanging in the dark aisles. Potter
There is always a ring of devotees round the confessio, with its ninety-five lamps of gilded brass burning continually before the shrine of Peter. A double alight of marble stairs leads down to the bronze doors which close the sarcophagus of the Apostle, and when they are open on rare occasions you can see the silver ark inside. (..) St Peter's of the pilgrims is gone, and only St Peter's of the Popes is left. In the Grotte Vecchie perhaps their ghosts may wander still, but they would find no rest in the vast church above.
The Porta San Spirito, the ancient gate by which the Saxons entered their "borough", is connected with the Porta Settimiana, the gate of Trastevere, by the Via Lungara, one of the long, straight streets which Julius II rebuilt and widened. Potter
S. Croce in Gerusalemme; in 1900 some army regiments were quartered in the monastery of S. Croce in Gerusaleme and in some nearby new buildings
Close to the Porta San Giovanni, and almost adjoining S. Croce in Gerusalemme, is the semicircle of the Amphitheatrum Castrense, built into the Aurelian Wall; and beyond it the Claudian Aqueduct enters the
city on six miles of ancient Roman arches. Potter
Italy is the country of macaroni. The officers wear macaroni on their shoulders. To talk more seriously, their uniforms with the white epaulettes on their shoulders are very beautiful. They themselves are so handsome. At cafés, on the piazzas, or on the streets they are great fascinations. I often wished to ask them, "From what stage are you?" instead of asking from what regiment. But I sincerely hope that, if something happens to their country, they will be always ready to dye their most beautiful uniform with their own blood. Markino
The Quirinal, the ancient stronghold of the Sabines, is impregnated with the spirit of the Renaissance, and its history is paramount in interest, for it has been, like the Capitoline, a centre of the government of Rome. The Quirinal is crowned by great palaces. On its slopes are the Palazzi Aldobrandini, Barberini, Rospigliosi, Colonna, and the Quirinal itself, the Palace of the King - once the summer residence of the Popes. (..) The Quirinal: artists and poets (..) are sad, and no one can blame them, because the new broom of Rome's municipality is sweeping away some of her most picturesque slums. But is Rome to die to please a generation of artists? It is inevitable that the picturesqueness of Papal rule should be regretted; but before the Kings of Italy infused fresh life into the city, Rome counted for nothing in the forward movement of the world. Potter
In the gardens of the Colonna romance and memory linger round the broken walls of the Baths of Constantine.
But a few steps from the uniform, uninteresting houses of the Via Veneto, with its population of Americans, you have the Piazza Barberini. Here the magnificent bulk of the Barberini Palace towers above a group of houses facing the Piazza; in the centre of the square Bernini's bronze (sic!) Triton blows eternal streams of water from his conch, and the open cabs of Italy wait drowsily for fares in the shade of the tall houses. Here Rome asserts herself again. Wine-carts are standing before osterie; mules are resting after their steep climb up the Via del Tritone, with scarlet tassels hanging from their harness and scarlet cloths over their backs; bakers are hurrying to and fro with trays of spicy cakes on their heads, which leave a trail of appetizing odours; the sellers of flowers are making bouquets at the fountain; priests and monks, nuns and soldiers, peasants and carabinieri, thread their way across the piazza. Potter
The Sapienza, the University of
Rome, with Borromini's strange spiral tower of S. Ivo,
rising above its stained brown walls. Poor Borromini, whose intellect was twisted by his hatred of Bernini! At last he threw himself upon his sword in
a frenzy of rage, because his pupils, horrified at his
distraught expression, took his compass and pencils
from him when he desired to make a last stand against
the genius of his rival (a cicerone's tale).
The Piazza Navona is a backwater of the Renaissance, but its days of pageantry passed away with the temporal power of the Popes. Even the market of the peasants of the Campagna is no longer held here, but in the shadow of the Cancelleria of the Popes. (..) Every Wednesday the street below the Cancelleria of the Popes is lined with booths of lace, embroidery, coarse underwear, blankets, materials of every description, and costly vestments for priests. The bright sunshine glitters on beautiful old chasubles and copes fluttering in the breeze, and ancient albs of fine lawn trimmed with rare lace. They are brushed aside by peasants in ragged blue cloaks, or fingered by poor women who have only a few soldi in their pockets, and come to spend them on new cords for their velvet stays . Old peasants, who have brought vegetables to the market from their farms in the Campagna before daylight, saunter along the booths among the curious medley of ugly modern wares, of no intrinsic value, and laces and vestments that have played their part in the pageant of many a noble service. Pedlars cry the goods they carry about on trays slung round their necks; beggars whine for soldi; everyone else is gay and busy, shouting greetings to each other, making bargains, and enjoying the genial atmosphere. The court of the beautiful Palace of the Cancelleria opens into the midst of this animated scene, and Mr. Markino's delightful picture presents the sunny, crowded street, from which you see Bramante's graceful double arcades, framed in the wide portal of one of the best Renaissance palaces in Rome. Potter
We arrived at an English pension at midnight. The next day was raining. My very first impression of Rome was not so enthusiastic as it was later on. Rome is not very pretty in the rain. (..) I went to Monte
Pincio yesterday. It was a little raining. The effect was
awfully bad. I prefer Newcastle-on-Tyne far better. Markino
The Seven Hills of Rome seem to have vanished; only the Villa Medici in the Pincian sea of pines seems raised above the towers of the city. (..) Man is known by his books and a city by its gardens. Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens are indexes to London. The Champs Élysées and the Bois de Boulogne are indexes to Paris. Happier Rome has for its indexes the Villa Borghese, and the Pincian, and the Villa Medici. The Pincian is a garden set on a hill; the Villa Medici is the crown of the Pincian; the Villa Borghese is art run wild with ancient turf and trees. (..) The Pincian is still the chief pleasure-ground of Romans, and not only of Romans, for all who sojourn in the city carry away memories of this ancient and romantic garden. The terraces of the Pincian are gay and sunny; they have a superlative view over the city, especially towards the hour of sunset. Potter
(left) Porta Furba (another case of mismatch between illustration and description); (right) a wash-house (lost)
The small wall-fountains depend for their charm on
their beauty of colour and situation, like the ancient fountain at the Porta Furba. It is set in old brickwork, where the aqueduct
of the Aqua Felice, on its march to the horizon,
frames exquisite vistas of the billowy plain and the
sapphire slopes of the Apennines and Sabines. Its
plaster is as warm as a nectarine; it is stained and
reddened by time; women in the simple blue garments and gay kerchiefs of the peasantry are nearly always at
work with their washing-boards in its shallow trough.
It has an old-world charm, a certain wild simplicity
which is akin to Nature; it is the complement to a
scene of incomparable beauty.
Underneath the Sacchetti garden there is a washing-place below the level of the Tiber - a dark, steamy hole, where the water from the river flows into great stone troughs. Here the Roman women scrub and sing and laugh, and presently come out into the sunshine with piles of snowy linen in their arms.(..) Women often do their washing at great troughs, which may be relics of Imperial baths. Potter
Perhaps the place where I paid my sincerest homage was Keats' grave. Some six years ago, while I was struggling for my daily bread in one of the lodging houses at Brixton, my Japanese poet friend, Yone Noguchi, arrived, and he stayed with me. He, too, was poor then. One long winter evening we lit a small candle in our bedroom, and we two sat down on the floor. I was too poor to buy cigarettes enough, so I picked up some cigarette ends and rolled them into one paper, to make a fresh one. While enjoying smoking them, he told me all about the most pathetic history of Keats.
He seemed as if he was talking alone. He was so sensitive of the poet's life, and quite forgot that I was listening to him, although I was the most earnest auditor. In the middle of his story, the candle was gone out, and half the story was told in darkness now and then the coal fire in the stove giving a splash of light on his face.
Since then some six winters returned, but I never forgot that night. When I went to Rome I was so eager to visit the poet's grave. My English friend , Miss B., took me to the grave one of the beautiful spring mornings. As soon as I arrived in front of that very simple grave, it renewed the memory of our Brixton evening so vividly. I was told that the gravestone used to be inclined to the left way, but when I saw it, it was restored to
the right position. The simpleness of the gravestone
added more to my pathetic feeling. A few modest
violets around the grave blossomed so timidly and
drooped their necks so humbly, hiding themselves in
the leaves. Markino
The cypresses of this Acre of God soar above the massive walls of Aurelian like the phantom spires of a Gothic city. The burial-place of those who confessed in very truth "that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth" is a sweet, quiet place, all white marble and dark trees, where the sun pours shafts of light through the branches to caress some rose-bush on a little grave. Here Shelley lies beside his friend Trelawny Shelley who said, "It might make one in love with death to think that one should be buried in so sweet a place" - and close at hand are the simple tombstones of John Addington Symonds and Frederick Myers. Keats is not buried with Shelley, but in the old cemetery where the tomb of Caius Cestius stands. You can see his tomb and the tomb of Joseph Severn, his friend, through an opening in the wall - a sad little grave with its pathetic egotistical inscription and its crooked tomb stone leaning on the sunken earth. As Mr Markino shows in his picture, the tombstone has recently been put straight for the 1909 Keats and Shelley celebration.
Aventine: Sun shine and silence; a blind man pacing by the walls of S. Alessio; the ever-twisting twine of the rope-makers in the shade. Potter
Before I went to Rome I was always thinking that Rome must be the city full of sadness with all those ancient ruins; but now I found her out the gayest city not immorally gay as Paris, but artisticly, poeticly, and seriously gay. Who could feel sad seeing those milk white walls splashed with vermilion and emerald green, the sun throwing his happy rays on them, while the shadow received the cobalt blue of the sky? (..) I used to open half shutters of my bedroom window, and it was one of my greatest delights to see the neighbour's white house catching the light of the rising sun in the cobalt blue sky every morning when I open my eyes in my bed. Markino
It is not easy for me to express my gratefulness toward all my Italian friends, even the landladies of the pensions, for their utmost kind and warm welcome. (..) I have made sixty sketches, and I have seen only sixty places, and that was all. Some of them I have sketched sitting in a cab, as I could not spare the time to get off. Such was the life of a poor "commissioned artist" in Rome. Indeed, this was my very first impression of Rome, and my impression was in such a stage that I and Rome just exchanged our names to each other and shook hands. Any deeper love-making shall be done on my next visit. On the very last evening before I left Rome I went to Trevi and threw a coin in the fountain with my most earnest and faithful wish. Markino
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