From Titian to Tintoretto, Bellini to Bassano, some of Italy’s greatest masters of painting have been Venetian. But without going to Venice, it can be a little tough to get a sense of the various shapes that Venetian art took on during its peak from the 15th to 18th centuries.
That is, until now.
Through January 30, the Chiostro del Bramante is hosting an exhibit called, simply, “I Grandi Veneti” — the Grand Venetians. More than 80 Venetian paintings are on display, set up chronologically, so you can actually feel how art shifted in Venice over the centuries.
For enthusiasts of Renaissance art, the exhibit has some true gems. Pisanello’s Portrait of Lionello d’Este (about 1441) revolutionized portraiture, blending Gothic traditions while giving a nod to the shape that Renaissance portraits would take. There’s also Bellini’s lovely Madonna and Child (about 1460) (at top), with its mixture of serenity and sumptuousness that the artist would be renowned for, and a gorgeous series of Madonnas by masters like Jacobello di Antonello, Marco Marziale, and Bartolomeo Veneto (1505). The exhibit traces the rest of Venice’s 15th and 16th centuries, taking in Titian, Tintoretto, Veronese and Lotto along the way. (Below, Lorenzo Lotto’s Mystical Marriage of St. Catherine, 1523).
The rest of the exhibit — Venice’s 17th and 18th centuries’ output — has paintings that are probably a little less familiar. That is, except for the ever-ubiquitous Canaletto, whose scenes of the Venetian canals are just as precise and just as lovely in this exhibit as ever. My favorite of this section, though, had to be the simultaneously creepy and tongue-in-cheek Il Ridotto (Maschere Veneziane), done by Pietro Longhi in 1757 — just as criticism of Venice as a “dead” city clinging to her past were ramping up (below). (They still haven’t gone away).
I Grandi Veneti is at the Chiostro del Bramante until Jan. 30. The Chiostro is at Arco della Pace 5, a stone’s throw from Piazza Navona. The exhibit costs €10. For more information, click here.
Like everything else, Christmas in Rome may not be quite what you expect. You won't see a Santa Claus on every corner or hear Christmas carols in every shop, and the city's Christmas markets are lacking compared to those in northern Europe. But Christmas spirit is alive and well in Rome — you just have to know where to seek it out.
And so, I give you: Twelve ways to get into the Christmas spirit in Rome. (Try humming along while reading. Believe me, it helps).
1. On the first day of Christmas, Rome gave to me… one Santa house. Over the next month, Rome's Auditorium transforms into a holiday extravaganza, with 40 Christmas trees, visits with Santa, a Christmas market, and an ice-skating rink. A full calendar of events includes a gospel festival from Dec. 19 to 26. The Christmas festival runs until Jan. 9; the Auditorium, located near Stadio Flaminio, is easily accessible by bus (the 910, 217 and "M" both go there from Termini) or the number 2 tram from the Flaminio metro stop. For more information, click here.
2. Two ice skates. Slipping and sliding Skating underneath the iconic silhouette of Rome's Castel Sant'Angelo, the ancient-mausoleum-turned-castle-of-the-pope, is a holiday tradition. Click here for more information on the Castel Sant'Angelo rink. Other skating rinks in Rome include those at Re di Roma, Tor di Quinto, and Villa Gordiani.
3. Three…thousand Christmas cribs. Along with its dozens of other museums, Rome even has one devoted to presepi. Featuring more than 3,000 scenes from all over the world, the museum — which is closed in the summer — is open every afternoon from Dec. 24 to Jan. 6, as well as during other limited hours throughout the winter. It's located under the church of Santi Quirico e Giulitta, nearby the Colosseum. For more information, call 06 679 6146.
4. Four (bites of) panettone. Rome's food traditions are incredibly seasonal — and if you want to taste some of the city's best cookies and cakes, Christmas is the right time to come. Try panettone, a traditional Christmas cake (although it tastes more like sweet bread) filled with candied fruits. Other sweets to taste include panforte (a much heavier, denser Christmas cake that's akin to fruitcake) and torrone (chocolate bars filled with nuts or nougat).
6. Six silks a-saving Sudan. It's a Christmas market with a twist: The goods include everything from Nepalese hats to Cambodian silks to Italian panettone, and the proceeds go raise money for the Pediatric Centre in Nyala, Sudan. The Emergency Christmas Market takes place this year at Palazzo Velli on Piazza Sant'Egidio 10, in Trastevere, until Dec. 23.
8. Eight (thousand) toys a-hanging. The goods at Rome's main Christmas market at Piazza Navona aren't anything to write home about — they're mostly mass-produced toys, decorations, and candies. Still, there's something about seeing Piazza Navona all done up for Christmas, and seeing so many Italian families out and about and in the holiday mood, that's worth making a stop. There's also a carousel for little ones.
9. Nine Lessons and Carols. To celebrate the 4th Sunday in Advent, St. Andrews' Presbyterian Church of Scotland is having its Service of Nine Lessons and Carols — followed by, the website says, "mince pies and mulled wine in the manse." Yum! (And, a "manse" sounds pretty cool). The Nine Lessons and Carols service, in English, is at 11 am on Sunday, Dec. 19.
10. Ten(-squared) cribs a-…cribbing. Now in its 35th year, Rome's "100 Presepi" exhibit of Christmas cribs — including both traditional cribs and the more creative, made out of every material from ostrich eggs to tea bags. The exhibit also has a crib-building workshop for children called "Nativity as a Game" (reservations required). The exhibit runs until Jan. 6 and is located at Piazza del Popolo's Sala del Bramanta. For more information, click here.
11. Eleven pipers piping. It's the time of year when sheepskin-clad bagpipers and flutists from Abruzzo and Calabria come to Rome, playing traditional Christmas songs in the streets. They're performing for free, so if the sheepskin didn't give it away, you'll be able to tell the difference between them and Rome's usual hordes of buskers! Look out for them around the Spanish Steps, Piazza Navona, and St. Peter's.
12. 12-and-unders singing. This (English) service will retell the Christmas story through activities and carols. It's at the All Saints Rome Church at 5pm on Dec. 24.
If you’ve booked your trip to Rome over Christmas, a couple of things normally happen. First, there’s elation. And then there’s an, “Oh no. What’s open on Christmas in Rome? Is anything open on Christmas in Rome?”
There’s reason to wonder. Many Romans do leave the city for their family homes over the holidays. Even so, there are still plenty of people left in this city of 3 million. Here’s what is open on Christmas in Rome… and what won’t be. (New Year’s, too). (For more tips and tricks, don’t miss my ultimate guide to Christmas in Rome!).
Will sites and museums be open during Christmas in Rome?
While some museums and sites will remain open even on Christmas Day and New Year’s, most of the biggies will be shut. The forum, Colosseum and Palatine will be closed Dec. 25 and Jan. 1, for example, but open every other day as usual, including Dec. 24.
The Vatican’s a tougher one: The Vatican museums and Sistine Chapel are closed on Dec. 8, Dec. 25, Dec. 26, and Jan. 1. They’re also closed every Sunday in December and January, as usual, except for the last Sunday of each month, when they are open and free.
Will the bus and metro be running over Christmas in Rome?
Yes. Often, the city even has an expanded service on Christmas Eve until the early afternoon. Service tends to end at about 9pm that night, though, and cabs are in very short supply, so if you need to be somewhere, give yourself lots of time to get there. On Christmas Eve, walking will probably be your best bet, so dress warmly!
Will restaurants be open on Christmas and New Year’s?
Most restaurants will be open every day except for Dec. 24, Dec. 25, and Jan. 1. Some others might close on Dec. 8, Dec. 31 and Jan. 6.
But many places will also be open on even those holidays themselves, including both classic Italian favorites and the kosher restaurants in the Ghetto. Just remember to book in advance.
Throughout December and January, yes. However, most shops will close early on Christmas Eve and will not be open on Christmas Day. Other days some might be closed or have shorter hours include Dec. 8, Dec. 26, and Jan. 1.
Finding this helpful? Then you’ll love The Revealed Rome Handbook: Tips and Tricks for Exploring the Eternal City,available for purchase on Amazon or through my site here and now updated for 2020!
If you want the saldi, you’ll have to wait — usually, these after-Christmas sales kick off throughout Lazio on the third Saturday of January.
And what about churches?
Ah, churches! They will, of course, be open on Christmas; many will offer mass at the same time they’d usually have their Sunday service. If you’re interested in attending mass, check with the church in advance. Otherwise, you’re fine to visit most churches as usual, being, of course, particularly respectful and refraining from taking flash photographs if a service is going on. And don’t forget to check out the church’s presepio (Nativity scene) — a particularly Italian handicraft (see below) that is only on display this time of year.
[Update, Nov. 18: It's also free on its opening day on Friday and is open from 10am-7pm. Very cool!]
Opening on Friday, Nov. 19, the exhibit boasts more than 400 different pieces from the ancient Roman and Chinese empires. It's the first time the two empires have been compared in an exhibit, and it's about time: both empires were extraordinarily influential, as well as contemporaries, with their heights from about the 3rd centuries B.C. to 4th century A.D.
It's bound to be a fascinating game of compare-and-contrast. As soon as I see it, I'll report back. In the meantime, if you can, go yourself.
The exhibit is at the Palazzo Venezia from Nov. 19 daily until Jan.9, except for Mondays, Dec. 25 and Jan. 1. It's open from 8:30am-9:30pm daily. Entrance to the exhibit is at Via del Plebiscito 19; for a map, click here.
On Saturday, November 20, Rome — a city not particularly known for its live music scene — will host free concerts in no fewer than 47 museums and institutes city-wide. Don’t miss it!
Some top choices:
Milonga (the Latin American predecessor to tango), played by the Orchestra Buenos Aires Cafè Quintet. They’re livening up the Galleria Alberto Sordi (yes, that big neoclassical shopping gallery) at 11pm.
At the edgy MACRO Testaccio, folk music: Greek at 8pm, Estonian at 9pm, Norwegian at 10pm, and Italian at 11pm.
The Quartetto del Teatro dell’Opera, performing Puccini and Delibes, at the Corte di Cassazione at Piazza Cavour. The concerts are at 8m, 9pm and 10pm, and this one’s expected to be so popular, reservation is obligatory (call 060608).
Hebrew music at the Jewish Synagogue, including “liturgical Hebrew music of an Italian rhythm” at 10:30pm.
For those looking for sounds of the American South, the New Orleans Jazz Quintet plays at the Accademia Belgica at 8pm, 9pm and 10pm.
There will be an Egyptian dance performance at the Museo dell’Ara Pacis at 8pm, 9pm and 10pm.
At the Castel Sant’Angelo, Vivaldi’s “The Four Seasons” by the renowned Orchestra Arcus Caelestis. (Reserve in advance for the concerts at 8pm, 9:30pm or 11pm by calling 3313946149).
Guitar concerts at the National Museum of Musical Instruments (pretty appropriate, no?), at 8:30pm, 10pm and 11:30pm.
Memories fade, and photographs don't always do justice to Rome's top attractions. Now, though, a spate of virtual tours allow travelers to explore some of Rome's most popular buildings and art, from the Sistine Chapel to the Capitoline Museums — all from the comfort of home.
Below, some of the best of the virtual lineup. Prepare to want to start planning your next trip to Rome!
St. Peter's Basilica. Gorgeous virtual tour by the Vatican itself. Highly professional and stunning.
The Capitoline Museums. They're the oldest public museums in Rome and boast some of Italy's best ancient, Renaissance, and Baroque art. Now, you can visit all 45 of their rooms… digitally.
The Pantheon. Rome's single best-preserved ancient building; the tour isn't as professional as the previous virtual tours, but still pretty great.
Church of Santa Maria del Popolo, a beautiful example of the blending of the Baroque and Renaissance styles of architecture. It's famous for its Caravaggio paintings — which, bummer, you can't see in the tour — but also for its Chigi Chapel designed by Raphael, which you can.
The Ara Pacis, the altar made from 13-9 B.C. to commemorate Emperor Augustus' victories and the Pax Romana. (Scroll to the bottom of the page and click on "Ara Pacis").
Circus Maximus, where ancient charioteers once raced (make this full-screen for a better image)
And, yes… the Colosseum! Finally: Yes, virtual tours of what actually exists are all well and good — but virtual tours of what ancient Rome would have looked like? Maybe even better.
UCLA's Digital Roman Forum includes both modern and ancient views of the forum, including the basilicas Julia and Aemilia. Pick a time between 700 B.C. and 500 A.D., click on the map, and see what that spot looks like in 360 degrees today — and an image of what it would have looked like then rotates with you.
It's a work in progress and only shows you what the sites look like today, but this other virtual tour of the Roman forum features 360-degree views of a dozen different spots in the ancient landscape.
Now, if only you could also virtually enjoy the taste of pasta alla gricia or the feel of the warm Roman sun on your neck…
Art is great, and music is great. But art plus music? Well, that’s even better.
If you agree, then you’re in luck this fall: A number of museums in Rome are hosting concerts and other nighttime events.
The most-touted is Rome’s “Musei in Musica,” offering free concerts at museums all over Rome on Saturday, November 20. (More details are forthcoming, so check back in a few days). (Click here for more information about the 47 different concerts occurring). But there’s lots else going on, too — some mainstream, some quirky, all incorporating music and visual art.
This Sunday, the Museo di Roma hosts its last Aperitivo ad Arte. Go at 7pm for the aperitivo, take in a jazz concert (Alice Ricciardi and Enrico Bracco) at 8pm, and at 9pm, take the guided tour (in Italian) of the museum’s exhibit “Il Risorgimento a Colori,” featuring 19th-century paintings of patriotism in the time of Italy’s reunification. The cost is €11, and the museum, at Palazzo Braschi, is located right on Piazza Navona.
Want more jazz? On November 27, check out Jazz Noir at the Museo di Roma in Trastevere. On November 27, jazz guitarists Fabio Zeppetella and Umberto Fiorentino will perform as actors read out noir literature. Admission to the concert is free with your €5 ticket to the museum. Reservations are recommended (call 060608).
If you want something a little less heavy, then try the Budapest Bar-Urban Gipsy concert at the Museo dell’Ara Pacis. On November 17, the band — which blends contemporary and traditional Hungarian music — will play, the elaborate, ancient monument in honor of Emperor Augustus in the background. The concert is at 9:30pm. Reservations are required (call 060608), and the concert is free.
The Museo dell’Ara Pacis is also hosting a multimedia show called “Dedicated to Sara…” on Nov. 26, 27 and 28. The show incorporates music, dance and images, along with poetic verses by Joseph Manfridi. The performance costs €12; you can book in advance by calling 06 70493826. The performance begins at 9pm.
For something even more imaginative, don’t miss the Villa Torlonia’s “A Bell from the Owls,” a surrealist performance inspired by the Villa Torlonia’s House of the Owls. The performance, which takes place Nov. 27 at 11am and 3pm and Nov. 28 at 11am, is included with your €3 entrance.
And, every weekend through December 17-18 (and again on Jan. 7-8), the Centrale Montemartini, Rome’s former power station turned museum of ancient art (London’s Tate Modern with a twist!), hosts its “Central Notes” concerts. They range from orchestral film scores (like Stelvio Cipriani’s concerts on Nov. 12 and 13, or Nicola Piovani Cyrano’s Film Quintet on Nov. 19-20), to blues (Paul Millns and Butch Coulter, Dec. 3-4), to rock (American Elisabeth Cutler plays on Dec. 10-11). The food and wine tasting, plus concert, costs €8. The showings are on Fridays at 8pm and Saturdays at 10pm. For a full list of concerts, click here.
In Rome, it's the Italian Renaissance that gets the glory. In a city filled with paintings and sculptures by the likes of Michelangelo and Raphael, that's how it should be.
But with such larger-than-life pieces, it can — ironically — be easy to forget in Rome just how influential Italy's renaissance was beyond its borders. After all, the importance of the art isn't just that every tourist flocks to the Sistine Chapel to stare at more than 10,000 square feet of fresco. The real question is: Why do they? And, in no small part, it's because the Renaissance launched in Italy would go on to shape art both up until today — and across the entire European realm.
Unless you're stopping in Germany and the Netherlands and England along with Italy, that can be tough to get your mind around on one trip. Until now.
The Galleria Borghese is showing an excellent exhibit on the work of Lucas Cranach. Appropriately titled "Cranach: The Other Renaissance," it brings together, in one space, the pieces of one of the foremost artists of the German Renaissance with Italian Renaissance masterpieces… and the ancient sculptures that inspired both.
Born into the same era as Michelangelo and Raphael, Cranach became a court painter to Saxony's Frederick the Wise in 1504. He would remain a court painter until his death in 1553. With his status, he had access not just to the rulers of the realm, but also to their art — which included pieces from the Italian masters.
The relationship between his art and that of his Italian peers (or, in many cases, predecessors) is highlighted again and again. There's no looking at his "Primitive Man (The Golden Age)," for example, and not seeing the Florentine Botticeli's "La Primavera," executed some fifty years earlier. (Sadly, Botticelli's piece isn't in the Borghese exhibition, so you'll still have to go to Florence's Uffizi Gallery to get the full picture).
"Primitive Man (The Golden Age)," Lucas Cranach, 1530
"La Primavera," Botticelli, 1482
Even while Cranach drew on Italian models, though, his style was all his own. His figures are less proportionate, the clothing more sumptuous, the messages more moralizing. And his Protestantism — a close friend of Martin Luther, he introduced Luther to his future wife and painted a widely-reproduced portrait of the couple (included in the exhibit) — significantly influenced his paintings, too.
Just take his "Centurion at the Cross," a stark contrast to Pinturicchio's crucifixion scene. Hung side-by-side in the exhibit, the two paintings highlight the widening divide between Luther's followers and the Roman Catholics. Cranach's crucifixion scene is stark, bare, the centurion's sighting of Jesus unmediated by anyone — or anything — else. His conversion is a lonely one, undertaken because of inner faith alone.
"Centurion at the Cross," Lucas Cranach, 1539
Not so in Pinturrichio's piece. Here, the saints Jerome and Christopher mediate, praying both with — and on behalf of — the viewer. That's exactly what the Protestants rejected.
"The Crucifixion," Pinturrichio, 1473
The exhibit isn't perfect. Some of the rooms seem to be reaching: While you could certainly have a conversation about various types of Renaissance portraiture from looking at a line of unrelated portraits of unrelated men, for example, the resulting jumble overwhelms. The exhibit is far clearer, and more effective, when it picks more precise themes to compare.
Still, it's a treat even to just see so much of Cranach's work in one place. You can see both his style developing, and can tell when he hits on a marketable idea — like his "Ill-Assorted Couples," a humorous but moralizing theme he repeated more than 40 times in his workshop's output.
It's neat, too, to see the influence he and other German Renaissance painters may have had on other artists in the collection. Take one of Cranach's "Ill-Assorted Couples," for example, and then take a look at Gerrit van Honhorst's "The Concert" (in the Borghese's permanent collection). Yes, van Honhorst's piece is explicitly Baroque, not Renaissance. Yes, it's Caravaggesque in its realism and dramatic lighting.
But van Honhorst also seems to draw something from his fellow northern painter — particularly in showing a joyful scene debased and warped, both humorously and with a moralizing intent. In Cranach's piece, is the old woman paying off the young man for love? In Honthorst's, is the young woman stealing the man's earring and about to pass it to the old woman behind her? How else are the scenes similar… and how, separated by 100 years and their respective art movements, do they differ?
"Ill-Assorted Couple," Lucas Cranach
"Concert," Gerrit van Honhorst, 1623
It's exactly those kinds of conversations you can have at the Borghese's newest exhibit.
"Cranach: The Other Renaissance" is on at the Borghese Gallery until February 13. For more information about the exhibit, click here. For more information on the Borghese, including how to book (you must book in advance), click here. All Borghese tickets include entrance to the Cranach exhibit; the price for a ticket is now €13.50.
All images above except for "La Primavera," "Venus and Cupid" and "Concert" courtesy of the Borghese Gallery. Images of the other pieces courtesy of the Web Gallery of Art.
Unless you're a Mannerist art fan, don't visit the Galleria Spada until you've seen the Vatican museums, Galleria Borghese, Capitoline museums, Villa Farnesina, Palazzo Massimo, and Palazzo Barberini.
But. Once you've done those — or if you're in the mood for just a half-hour art stop, instead of the longer slog the other galleries entail — check out the collection of Palazzo Spada.
Located just around the corner from Campo dei Fiori and Piazza Farnese, in one of Rome's lovely and quieter neighborhoods, the palazzo got its start as a cardinal's palace in the 16th century. Seventy years later, it was built by another cardinal (Cardinal Spada, of course!) who commissioned none other than Borromini to modify it.
Borromini's main contribution? The courtyard's colonnade, a trick of perspective that makes the gallery look 37 meters long, when really it's just 8 (shown above).
The "ah-ha!" you get when you catch just how small the gallery really is (aided by one of the workers, who will come out and stand at the back of it to show you that it's all just a trick) is one that must have been shared by guests to the palazzo for nearly four centuries. But that's not the only way in which you experience the gallery much as 17th-century visitors would have.
In all four (yes, only four) of its rooms, the museum seems frozen in time. The collection — which boasts paintings by Guido Reni, Orazio and Artemisia Gentileschi (Artemisia's "Santa Cecilia" is shown below), and Domenichino, plus one piece thought to be a Titian — is still displayed much as it would have been. The walls are hung with painting upon painting; the floors are bordered with ancient busts and statues; the ceilings are frescoed. It all feels a bit musty, and you're likely to be the only person there.
Sound good? Then go. After all, it's one of the few things you can do in Rome that almost no other tourist has.
For more information (in Italian), click here. For a map, click here. The Galleria Spada costs €5, with reduced options for E.U. members.
Palazzo Barberini, home both to the powerful clan that produced Pope Urban VIII and to paintings by greats like Raphael, Caravaggio, Titian and El Greco, hasn’t been a proper museum in years. Plans to create a central space for its collection were stalled for decades; until 2006, the palazzo even served as an administrative office for the Italian military. Paintings were split between various galleries across Rome, and even more of them remained in storerooms, hidden to the public.
I paid a visit to the newly-restored Palazzo Barberini today, and all I can say is: what a difference a few more rooms make.
(Note: This post was last updated with current information in April 2017).
The piece-de-resistance of the whole collection long has been Pietro da Cortona’s Triumph of Divine Providence (shown above), the fresco on the ceiling of the Grand Salon, mind-boggling for its size, its spot-on execution of trompe l’oeil, and its sheer over-the-top-ness. Under restoration for months, it’s now viewable in all its Baroque glory. A plus: Two comfy, long sofas let you stretch out on your back to take it in without hurting your neck.
But there are other jewels in the collection that are only now being shown off, too. Medieval pieces that had been undisplayed, including 14th-century scenes of crucifixions and sad-eyed Madonnas, now take up several rooms. A hall of landscape paintings includes several sweeping works by Paul Brill. And one room just opened to the public features a rushing fountain, a little piece of indoor theatricality in a time that loved everything unexpected and dramatic in art.
As well as the art itself, the museum experience has improved. A description in English and Italian greets you in each room, giving an overview of how the pieces link together (usually, by period and geography), and the flow of your visit is set up so that you progress from the 14th century all the way up until the 17th. And because there’s more room, the pieces aren’t as crammed in together.
With its new rooms, the Palazzo Barberini should take you about two hours to get through.
The Palazzo Barberini is located just steps from the Barberini metro at Via delle Quattro Fontane, 13. It’s open every day but Monday from 8:30am-7pm, making it an ideal early-evening stop. The entrance price is currently €10. For more on Palazzo Barberini, click here.
If you liked this post, you’ll love The Revealed Rome Handbook: Tips and Tricks for Exploring the Eternal City, available for purchase on Amazon or through my site here! I’m also free for one-on-one consulting sessions to help plan your Italy trip.