Sandro Botticelli - Drawings for The Divine Comedy
Scuderie Papale - Gae Aulenti

I went back to Italy, of course, for my dental appointment, MY HELL!!! I now have a new mouth. Believe it or not at this stage in my life I now have a new, bright 'false' smile. It was disgusting, sitting there for at least five hours, at the end my mouth didn't want to close again so used, as it were, to staying open! My mouth is such an intimate part of me that I was somewhat disturbed by these various strangers putting their fingers in it. But if you need new teeth you have to accept it. I am paranoid about the dentist which makes me talk about it all the time.

To celebrate my new smile I had an appointment to visit the new exhibition at the Scuderie Papale al Quirinale the third exhibition for the New Millenium. The first was about the masterpiece from the Hermitage, the second featured the photographs of the Brazilian photographer Sebastiao Salgado. Those exhibition were for the celebration of the Jubilee year. It is really a MUST and I was extremely lucky to be in Rome the day after the President Ciampi and his wife of the Italian Republic opened this DIVINE exhibition. Then on 29 December the fourth and last exhibition for the Millennium "Il Novecento": The 20 Century will open. The fourth exhibition will cost 5 million lire,in Italian money. Unfortunately in the future they will have only two exhibitions a year!!!
(That also reminds me of Bernardo Bertolucci's "Il Novecento" a beautiful film of which he was going to do the third part for the new generation, it seems that he gave up - what a pity!!! At the moment he has written and produced the new film of his wife Claire Peploe and he is working on his next film "Paradiso e Inferno" - Paradise and Hell sounds very Dante to me???
I think if Dante was going to write a Divine Comedy today it would involve a dentist, my varicose veins, my mother's hospital, changing house, divorce, bereavement and Aids. (As regards the English, they seem to find moving-house the most traumatic!!!) Botticelli's interpretation of Dante's "Inferno" is remindful of a film - the artist's description of this divine comedy at once grotesque and symbolic of the title a - COMEDY!!!

The palazzo Scuderie Papale al Quirinale, 1722-1732, is between the garden of Palazzo Colanna and the hill. Pope Innocenzo XIII commissioned the construction to Alessandro Specchi. The Pope died and in 1730 Pope Clemente XII completed the building with a new architect Ferdinando Fuga that kept the Specchi's structure but change the interior and redesigned the facade, but part was demolished in 1865 for the construction of a new street, Monte Cavallo to facilitate access up and down the hill. Until 1938 it was used for horses and carriages afterwards as a garage. The project to reinstate the building to its former glory for the new exhibition was given to the great Italian architect Gae Aulenti (she also converted the Musee d'Orsay, in Paris) working in conjunction with Soprintendenza per I beni Architettonici e Ambientali di Roma and administered by the Agenzia Roma for the Jubilee. As you may have noticed I am completely captivated by this new Rome, a vibrant city, but especially having this opportunity to visit this new exhibition in this magnificent Palazzo.
The day, even for September, was disgustingly warm. You could not sleep in the night because of the warm wind, the famous "Scirocco" as the Italians call it - a south-east wind which sometimes brings sand and the cars and buildings are dusted with it. You cannot manage to sleep - believe it or not, I was longing to get back to wet and cold London!!!

I went to the exhibition 'SANDRO BOTTICELLI, PINTORE DELLA DIVINA COMMEDIA' (Sandro Botticelli, Painter of the Divine Comedy). The exhibitionwasfirstly in Berlin, now in Rome and will be in London. Some of the material was lostbut now, after 500 years, it has all been assembled together again.
I went to the exhibition with my 'sister' Federica Berlingieri, Sonia Santana and Dinah Santana (an old Brazilian friend that I had not seen for nearly 10years as she has been living in the Far East with her beautiful red-haired daughter Denise Santana Ciaramicoli. As soon as she saw what SHE thought was old age in my face she didn't even ask how I was, but started to talk about plastic surgery and the wonderful things the doctors are doing as regards plastic surgery in Brazil. I said "I Know - I need a complete Vera 'makeover'.)

My daughter Francesca and her beautiful friend Valentina also accompanied me. I was in a dreadful mood, Francesca and Valentina were very late! Dinah - who had to get her daughter at school - started to go around the exhibition herself. We waited for ages and then called Francesca's mobile only to find she was already outside the Scuderie, while we were waiting inside. Still in bad mood, we entered the exhibition. In front of me the splendid affresco "L'Annunciazione" - 1481, from the Florentine Church San Martino della Scala, recently restored, and being shown in Rome for the first time. In front of all this breathtaking beauty my bad humour disappeared. I was immediately happy and profoundly pleased to have the opportunity to visit this exhibition with the young girls and friends.In fact, Francesca and Valentina were born in Rome. Francesca is very attached to Rome - it is the city she thinks is the most beautiful. She was born on the island Tiberina in the middle of the River Tiber, in a hospital named Fattebene Fratelli. Valentina and Francesca have been together since High School and then studying the Classics including, of course, La Divina Commedia, Dante the Italian masterpiece. We got talking about the terrible times I had with my daughter's studies of Latin, Greek and Italian in a State college with all the bitterness and frustration from the teachers. In fact the college's name was "DANTE", named "Liceo Classico Dante Alighieri", in the middle of the Prati district, next to Vatican City, which is very right-wing. I mean - in the election, they vote right-wing!!! In Italy colleges are divided by politics - some extreme right-wing and some extremely left-wing. But to see Francesca and Valentina now talking of the Divina Commedia, Dante and Botticelli I realise that it was better for her to have been in that school. I was in favour of a Bilingual school but her father told me he didn't think English was that important but classical studies - yes!!! I was very shocked but immediately agreed and went through this disgusting, disturbing experience with Francesca and the professors.

On the first floor the exhibition shows the work of Botticelli (the artist of his time) along with painting of Filippo Lippi, Antonio del Pollaio, Verrochio, Leonardo da Vinci, Domenico Ghirlandaio, Piero di Cosimo, Biagio D'Antonio, and the portrait of Dante by Domenico di Michelino and the funeral pyre of Savonarola. There were also books to die for in a glass case, illustrated and written by hand, breathtaking books, manuscripts from the Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence, and also the painting "Pallade e il Centauro", "La Nascita di Venere", "La Primavera" and, "LA CALUNNIA DI APELLE" circa 1494.
Francesca and Valentina were standing next to a very distinguished gentleman who explained that painting to them, so Federica and I also started to listen to him. Ah! The Italians with their great culture!!! He described to us the story of this masterpiece and how it contained so much of Botticelli's symbolism - "All Botticelli was there". Botticelli was fascinated by the story of the original La Calunnia which was lost so he produced the new work. By coincidence it was also the time of the Medici, Florence, so this very well-dressed, well-spoken gentleman knew all the details of the painting. We were in complete admiration listening to him and he pointed out a man in the painting, with the ears of a donkey, listening to the whispers. The woman in the painting symbolises La calunnia, with one hand she is grabbing someone's hair and in the other she holds a torch. With all the description from this gentleman you finish up almost feeling the slanderous whispers. Also in the painting is a beautiful naked woman symbolising truth. He then went away and I asked the gallery attendant if she knew him or who he was and she said he was "an Onorevole" - parliamentary deputy.During the Hermitage exhibition she said he would come very frequently and describe the paintings to visitors who would hang from his every word!!! We were so fascinated by him - he made us see the exhibition in a different light after he had talked to us with enormous love, discernment and knowledge of Botticelli. He was fascinating, charming us with his eloquence, passion, Latin beauty. We would have liked him to accompany us to the second floor but he disappeared!!! (I think his name was Sappio but I may have spelled it incorrectly?) From the sound of his accent I think he came from Magna Grecia, south of Italy. It is not every day you have a Parliamentary Deputy personally explain to you the finer points of Botticelli!!! Also at the exhibition is "La Nativita" from the National Gallery, London.

On the second floor - the heart of the exhibition - there are three very large room showing the Botticelli sheepskin (sheep's parchment) each one illustrating one canto, of the Divina Comedy, Dante's poem. Botticelli took literally the text of Dante and translated word for word the images, through Inferno, Purgatory and Paradise. There are 92 drawings on parchment, double sided with a canto in four columns. Some of the drawings are incomplete and some have added ink in green, blue and red tempera. This is the first time all this work has come together in Italy as it has been moving around England and Germany. It was meant to be 100 sheets, one for each canto, for centuries no-one knew where it was but in 1854 they found pieces in Lord Hamilton's collection in England. They went on sale at Sotheby's in 1882. The Kaiser bought them for the German Imperial Museums so they ended up in Germany - at that time a great scandal and lost for Great Britain. In the Vatican they found seven that at one time had been in German and that belonged to Queen Cristina of Sweden and then bought by Pope Alessandro VIII. During the second world war the pieces became divided between East and West Berlin: 27 pieces to East and 27 to West!!! Now, after the unification of Germany they are in the new Kupferstichkabinett del Kulturforum of the State Museum in Berlin. The curator of the Berlin State Department of Prints and Drawings, Heinrich Schulze Altcappenberg, took 10 years to find the secret history of the series. He personally finds Hell more interesting than Paradise, where Botticelli shows us only himself and Beatrice, the love of his life.

The exhibition is to celebrate the 700th anniversary of the publication of the Divina Comedy and the Holy Year. Botticelli drew this series of illustration which was commissioned by Lorenzo di Pierfrancesco de Medici (1463-1503) second cousin of Lorenzo the Magnificent, the great Medici Duke. They all worked in banking business and invested very much in art. Pierfrancesco also commissioned "The Birth of Venus" and "Primavera". Botticelli went to Pierfrancesco's castle with a guilty conscience for various reasons so dedicated day and night to the illustration of Dante's work, particularly his version of Dante's Hell and "Voragine Infernale" which show tiny figures, devils, seducers all immersed in excrement, punishments to sodomites, corrupt politicians, forgers, fornicators, small figures in minimum detail with terrible expressions on their faces of suffering and despair, immersed in boiling pitch, heads twisted permanently backwards, burning tombs,faces buried to the neck in ice with heads poking out, "so the tears may freeze in your eyes".

Throughout the exhibition you get the impression of how affluent life was in Florence for the upper classes. The Medicis were very much influent by Greek culture. We can see in Botticelli's painting "Pallade e il Centauro", il Centaur symbolised rape and violence. Botticelli put a centaur into Hell looking into the ditch of the boiling blood. All the way to the Dante Hell, Dante is guided by the poet Virgilio to Purgatory.

Botticelli's real name was Alessandro di Mariano Filipepi (1445-1510). One of the theories was that the sketches were intended for frescoes to decorate Brunelleschi dome Florence Cathedral to rival Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel.

There are still nine drawing lost and Botticelli died very poor: this great master of the Renaissance drove us to the Divine comedy of sinners and leaving us to more torments about Hell!!! As they say" I have been to hell and back"!!!
Dante is still in our lives with everyday quotations.

Afterwards we went for tea at the marvellous coffee bar overlooking the Quirinale Square, very expensive but beautiful with a terrace where we took a photo together with the Republic's Presidential palace at the back.

In Ravenna are the bones of Dante and Giotto may be in Florence - they have just found what they think is the latter's bones. Dante died in 1337.


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