Time spent in Rome is not ordinary time. When you are in Rome, it is as though you exist within the pages of a three-dimensional (hi)story book that has somehow assumed the form of a city. And the stories read here stay with you long after you toss your last coin in the Trevi and bid Rome a fond farewell.
Case in point: on the way to school this morning, Lumina stopped and pointed up at an interesting formation of cumulus clouds. “That looks like the lady whose friends couldn’t believe she didn’t care about being naked,” she said.
Me, slightly alarmed: “What? Who?”
Lu: “You know, the lady in the statue. The one who is all white and she’s holding an apple and she doesn’t care that the artist sees her naked. Her brother was a king of France or something, but I don’t remember her name. We saw her in Roma, remember?”
With a little more context, I do remember. What Lumina saw up in the clouds was Antonio Canova’s Pauline Bonaparte as Venus Victrix.
The story behind the sculpture may (or may not) be apocryphal, but either way it makes this work of art particularly memorable. In the early 19th century, when the Venus Victrix was sculpted, it was far from common practice for females to pose for portraits in the nude. When Pauline Bonaparte’s friends asked her how she could have posed wearing nothing but a little drapery around her lower body, she apparently told them that there had been a good fire in the room, which kept her quite comfortable indeed, thank you very much.
The Venus Victrix is extraordinarily beautiful, carved from flawless Carrara marble and polished to a luminous finish, but it is Pauline’s sassy wit that brought this work of art to life for Lu. (Whatever the accuracy of the above anecdote, Napoleon’s little sister undeniably was sassy – that much we know for sure!) Pauline’s celestial appearance in Lu’s imagination this morning is a perfect example of what happens when you spend time in Rome: your very molecules are rearranged as the city’s stories and images become so much a part of you that (for example) you randomly spot them in the clouds on an ordinary day back at home. I can’t really think of a finer return on your vacation investment than that. Can you?
Where: Galleria Borghese, Rome.
When: Closed Mondays and on Christmas Day and New Year’s Day.
How Much: 18€ + 2€ booking fee; free admission if you’re under the age of 18 (but the 2€ booking fee still applies). Pre-booking your tickets is mandatory. On site, you can add an audio guide for 5€.
Why: To get your molecules rearranged in one of the most exquisite art museums in the world.