[student, Rome Sketchbook course, Autumn 2013]
As my work on my sketchbook progressed, my overall goal for the drawings evolved from using them to look at the past, to using them to look at the present. In my time in Rome, I’ve felt that there is a distinct undercurrent of a unique Roman character or psyche that is unlike anything I have felt before. Thus, I’ve begun to use my drawings as an exploration of that current character, in an attempt to define what it is that makes Rome, Rome. I continued to look at monuments and buildings that are evident of the passage of time through layers, and have settled on a select few sketches that I feel best represent this exploration: Teatro Marcello, San Nicola in Carcere, Piazza Navona, and the basilica San Paolo.
Starting with Teatro Marcello, in my drawing I attempted to capture the distinct different layers within the building, each with a different sign of age and material. These layers display centuries of time and change in a single building, and also reflect how the building was reused as the needs of the time changed. In fact, old sketches and paintings reflect that the ground level itself changed, burying the bottom of the theater. In my opinion, Teatro Marcello, visible as a smaller Colosseum, does something the famous Colosseum does not; while the Colosseum stands alone as a sort of memorial to Ancient Rome, Teatro Marcello reflects how the Romans continually reuse ancient buildings, even in modern times, weaving them into the structure of modern Rome.
At San Nicola, I aimed to explore the complete overhaul of an old monument in the name of religion and practicality. Though it is a church, San Nicola was once a series of three pagan temples, the remains of which can now be seen through an eroding wall. As I explored this building it became apparent that the buildings of Ancient Rome have since been fairly seamlessly blended with those of different time periods, and often not for artistic measures, but for practicality. I think that San Nicola is a representative of many churches in Rome, though it stands out because of the exposed columns on either side. Following the legalization of Christianity under Constantine, many pagan temples were used as churches. While Rome today is undoubtedly a Catholic-Christian city, the use of those same churches in my opinion, creates a strong connection to the Roman pagan roots.
With Piazza Navona, I was interested less in any particular building, and more in the sense of place. Piazza Navona today is a long thin oval, inhabited with buildings, restaurants, a church, and Bernini’s famous fountain. It covers exactly the track of an Ancient Roman stadium built under Domitian, where he hosted iconic athletic games and races. Stadiums were central to Ancient Roman lifestyles, and today, Piazza Navona is also a highly popular area of Rome. I think it is interesting that the exact spot of Roman games built centuries ago is still a crux of Roman culture in the age of modernity, once again reflecting that constant connection between modern Rome and Rome of the past.
Finally, the Basilica San Paolo was extremely interesting because it showed that it is not only pagan temples being turned into churches, but that buildings that have always been churches have the same, powerful, ancient connection. San Paolo was commissioned by Constantine, and consecrated by Pope Sylvester in 324 AD. The basilica remained as it was built, a testament to the time, until it was nearly completely destroyed by a fire in 1823. It was rebuilt, and what we see today is almost entirely a reconstruction, but the building still has that heavy feel of the time in which it was originally built, which the reconstruction tries to replicate. My conclusions from the above-mentioned sketches, as well as others in my sketchbook, are that today’s Rome is inseparable from Rome of the past. This unique Roman character that I’ve felt every moment since I’ve been here has been that undeniable connection in the buildings, the monuments, and the culture itself: between the way Rome works today, and how that was structured by over a millennia of history. What makes Rome different from other cities is that it does not shed the past in the name of progress; rather, the past becomes a part of progress, and I believe this is evident in the physical layers of the city.