Archive for January, 2010


So this may end up just me repeating the things a learn about in classes that are awesome or weird or interesting or just plain cool.  This post is about the interesting origin of the word grotesque (technically i learned this in Latin years ago but i forgot so it counts).

So we tend to think of grotesque by this definition: comically or repulsively ugly or distorted.  We may even go further and say “gross and horrific things”.  Now look at this picture:

Stone Carving
Very pretty right? Not horrific at all in my opinion…

(Its a little fuzzy, i’m sorry).  It’s very pretty I think.  The leaves wind and twist and transform into other shapes.   But this is the basis of the word grotesque! Here’s the story.  So Nero, one of the strangest of the many weird Roman Emperors (no one liked him he was pretty terrible) took advantage of the Great Fire of Rome in 64 AD by stealing all the now empty land where a bunch of nobles lived and built himself a HUGE palace.  It’s called the Domus Aurea “Golden House” because it was covered with gold leaf.  It also had all kinds of cool architecture stuff, but I haven’t seen it yet.  It was also basically just for partying, since it had 300 rooms but no sleeping quarters (he kept his old palace also).  Anyway everyone who wasn’t invited to the parties (which by all accounts where ridiculous) hated him.  So when he died the next emperors stripped it then covered it with dirt and began building things the people would like including two baths, several temples and the Colosseum (known then as the Flavian Amphitheater).   Centuries later a goat fell into a hole and the shepard who went to save him found himself in a weird grotto covered in pictures.  This turned out not to be a cave, but the vaults of Nero’s palace, who had covered them with frescoes. This caught the attention of all the young artists in Rome, like Pinturicchio, Raphael and Michelangelo who began to climb down to see for themselves and were hugely influenced.  White walls, delicate swags, and bands of frieze became the new thing, and with delicate, interlaced and transforming plants, animals, and even humans motifs.  Because they origionally thought the vaults were grottos, the word grottesche was developed, which evolved into grotesque.

The example above is from the Santa Maria di Popolo (or St. Mary of the People) and was carved by Pinturicchio (well I’m pretty sure it was him) and is one of the first examples in Rome.  It’s a really amazing church the art is fantastic.


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Buon Giorno!!!

Well technically I should be saying Buona Notte, its 10:45pm here in Roma!  But it seemed weird for the title of my first post to mean “good night” so “good day” it is.  I’ve never had a blog before so forgive me if I’m doing it wrong.  But since I’m pretty sure my audience will be limited to people I know I plan on making posts that mostly show things I know they want to see.  Although there may be the occasional architect’s rant here and there but you’ll have to forgive that also, this place is an architects dream come true.  And a Latin scholar’s.  And a general historical buff’s.  Basically everything I love is everywhere here and being a geek (see title) I plan on geek-ing out about it on here.

My first geek out will be about this photo I’m going to post as soon as I figure out how.

Roman Ruins

Some awesome ruins smack dab in the center of Rome

HA!  I did it. Woot!  Right so sadly this is only the second picture I took of Rome.  The first was of the cat in the foreground but zoomed in.  See where my priorities lay?  Some architect in training I am.  I’m choosing this as my first geek out because it displays just how brillant Rome is.  First of all its a Roman ruin!!!!!!!  How awesome is that?  (The correct answer is amazingly awesome.  Think Erin levels)  It is smack dab in the middle of the Largo Argentina (largo means a large space.  It’s not quite a piazza, which is defined by buildings).  Its surrounded by roads and buildings and a really yummy pizza place. Mussolini wanted to build a building there (something government ish but my teacher couldn’t remember what exactly) so they started excavating and the found the ruins so he had them stop.  There are several temples; it was the sacred area of that part of the city.  One is two the Goddess of Fortune (Fortuna) in her aspect of Fortune of the Day.  This is fairly random but awesome goddess.  She only grants prayers on the same day as you make them.  You need to be desperate and have tried advance prayers to no avail despite your sacrifing several lovely cows to every other god/goddess but received absolutely nothing in return.  A general built it after he won a desperate battle because (he thought) he made a desperate prayer promising to build Fortune a large temple in the middle of Rome if he won.  And he won, so he did.  The other one was to a Nymph I believe, but i don’t remeber anything overly interesting about her and its not in the picture anyway.  So thats the history.  In modern times it is a ruin still being excavated I believe, and it is also a very famous cat shelter.  Hence the cat.  There are tons and once you start looking they absolutely cover the entire ruin.  (Dogs do this in Pompeii actually).  And that is what makes Rome so cool.  They treat history both with love and respect and also ignore it simultaneously. They preserve but they also reuse.  And build on top of things, and modify and destroy.  So history layers, and peeling them back is fascinating.  You never know what lurks in the history behind anything. (Or under your feet.  Things used to bury quickly here because of Tiber flooding, and so instead of digging out they’d just build on the new layer.  Grade levels get interesting after a few cycles of this)  And really I doubt Mussolini ever thought he was setting in motion the makings for a cat shelter and a first blog post when he commissioned whatever it was. And I seriously doubt the Romans could have imagined the internet!

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So I’m pretty overwhelmed right now. This whole “Italy” thing is a lot to take in, so I’ll try to composite into a semi-readable rambling train of thoughts.

I’m no stranger to new experiences, I’ve done the song and dance involved with living somewhere totally new. However, Boston is not a foreign country, nor does everyone and their mother (literally) speak only Italian (laying aside the North End of course.) Even the plane ride over it was quite terrifying to see and hear the emergency instructions in Italian, okay so not really “see” but you get my drift. So far communication hasn’t really been too difficult, and people recognize the fact we’re just silly American students.

As for classes it’s really too big to look at properly right now. Yes, I know it’s gonna be a lot of work, and right now it seems like a lot a lot, but I’m also just getting used to being in Italy, just getting used to being back at school, and let’s face it. It’s only the second day, I think comprehending the scope of what I’m doing right now is a bit much.

I’m a bit caught up at the moment with trying to explore Rome. It’s a lot smaller than one would think so walking is not too terrible and the things you can just find are amazing. It was an odd experience to stumble upon the Pantheon of all places. Quite literally, we were admiring an obelisk statue of an elephant designed by Bernini  when we looked over and just a few paces away was the ancient temple. I’ll discuss more of the details later (this weekend?) and, of course, the other places we visit.

I have yet to have gelato. I must correct this injustice soon.

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