Rome Day 3-4: sculpture and spies

I’ve been struggling with moving photos around and with wifi, so posting is a little tricky at the moment.

Anyway, some shots.

A wide angle view of our lunch spot from yesterday.


I had rabbit for my second, but here’s my first.  Chestnut ravioli with sausage, porcini, and truffle.


The wine list for the reds was like a telephone book.


Off to the Borghese Gallery, which I hadn’t visited for while.

My favorite Caravaggio is here.



Clicking could give you a larger version.

I have spent a lot of time in front of this painting on and off over the years and it remains an enigma.  The biblical references are obvious.

It seems as if this is moment in which a mother is teaching a son how to do something.  Note the angle of her head.  Very human, every day.  Think about how parents teach children to dance, with their feet upon their own.

However, there is nothing hesitant or inexpert about what the little Christ is doing.

Note how He pushes of with His right leg.

Note the powerful gesture of his hand with the crooked finger that is mirrored in the final curl of the snake’s death-throe.

Note His look of focused disgust.

This is not Mother showing Child how it is done.   This is, “When the time comes, Mother, this is how to do it!”, and He presses her foot down on the Enemy.


And then let’s see Bernini make a girl turning into a tree out of marble turning into a tree.  It’s astonishing.



Later we had a rousing supper involving even wine and some laughing.

Today, began with sewing (buttons on a cassock and repair of a “loop”).

Later, lunch with friends and catching up on some insider stuff going on around the place.  Tonight, more friends, more supper, more wine.  There may be cigars involved.


As I said…

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. AvantiBev says:

    My guide from Through Eternity Tours was a marvelous art historian, Eugenia, who pointed out that the model for Mary in Caravaggio’s painting was a well known Roman call girl. The Roman Cardinals and bishops recognized the face immediately and were outraged; but NOT because they recognized her from Confession. LOL

    I too love this painting though as St. Anne is my patron, I focused on many paintings with her as subject.

    I loved the way the Borghese controlled the numbers allowed to visit in any 2 hour period. I didn’t feel pushed, crowded and propelled along the way I did at the Vatican Museums.

  2. Dr. Edward Peters says:

    Interesting. I had never seen the Snake Stomper before, but my IMMEDIATE reaction to it was that Jesus is the power behind Mary’s direct action.

  3. Huber says:

    That first picture looks like Lake Albano (from a restaurant off of Corso della Republica in Castel Gandolfo).

    Safe travels Father Z.

  4. Kathleen10 says:

    These are beyond lovely. It is almost a certainty I will never see these things in person. It is nice to see them through your eyes, Fr. Z.

  5. mharden says:

    When we were at the Borghese in 2005, they insisted on me checking my large camera. Maybe you can get away with photos there nowadays with a cell phone?

  6. unbrontosaurus says:

    Wow, you are so right. That He is the teacher can also be seen in how she touches Him. Mary’s hands are so relaxed; she’s following him, not holding him up.

  7. Venerator Sti Lot says:

    Could this Caravaggio (new to me – thanks!) be a variation on the traditional grouping which the Wikipedia calls “Virgin and Child with Saint Anne”? And could Caravaggio (also) be deliberately varying Rosso Fiorentino (Giovanni Battista di Jacopo)’s Allegory of Salvation (c. 1521)? The latter painting is much less clear than Caravaggio’s: Our Lord is here standing on the foot of – who? the Curator says, “She may be Saint Anne (mother of the Virgin), Saint Elizabeth (mother of John the Baptist), or a Sibyl from classical mythology who foretold the future”:

    The Italian Wikipedia article, “Allegoria della Salvezza”, further suggests she may be that other St. Anna, the Prophetess, of St. Luke 2:36-38. Both seem to think the figure reclining on the left is the young St. John the Baptist – but, if so, what has happened? – what is ‘going on with him’, exactly? And with her foot – whoever she is?

    The “Virgin and Child with Saint Anne” paintings and sculptures often have Our Lord seated on the Virgin’s lap and she on St. Anne’s – is that, in part, always a Sedes Sapientiae figure? Caravaggio varies that strikingly (as does Rosso, less clearly): it reminds me of the ‘Gnadenthron’ imagery about which Benedict XVI has spoken so interestingly, and of the Trinitarian group images in which the Father is supporting Our Crucified Lord.

  8. Venerator Sti Lot says:

    Presumably Caravaggio could have known nothing of that most memorable Holy Trinity fresco by Masaccio in Santa Maria Novella in Florence, though, since Vasari have covered it up before he was born! (Or were there reproductions of it?)

  9. stephen c says:

    The Caravaggio painting is a good painting, although I would not want it hanging in my home, since Caravaggio spent so many of his years on this earth in a state of cold-hearted pride, [Read the fascinating biography of Caravaggio by Helen Langdon and you might come away with a different view of this complicated man.] and I would feel sad to think that the people Caravaggio was cruel to would be offended, on the one in a billion chance that one of them or their grandchildren would visit my home, to see the paintings he got paid so much for hanging in my any given room of my home, a home that that I would like to be considered as a hospitable one. That being said, I like your explanation of the painting very much, Father Z. All I would add is that Christ loved snakes: he created them! The forced disgust that you see is there, but there is also a little bit (from the part of Caravaggio, not of the Christ Child, whom Caravaggio understood hardly at all outside of his ridiculously fortunately talented professional capacity, I would guess) of the look on the face of anyone who is thinking: Gee, I always liked snakes; I wish that what is going on here was not really going on!

  10. Venerator Sti Lot says:

    stephen c says, “Christ loved snakes: he created them!” – and urged us (I suppose it is not limited to the Apostolic Succession in strict sense) to be as subtle as them in a good way (and made a statue of one a type of Himself, in the wilderness – though sadly idolatrously abused later). He also made them delicious (rattlesnakes, at least – though without the Fall we might never have known this).

    “I always liked snakes; I wish that what is going on here was not really going on!” – nice! – though in the sense ‘was not necessary, in the event’ perhaps an insightful imaginative understanding of the Christ Child on the part of Caravaggio (with Wisdom 11:25 in mind? – “Diligis enim omnia quae sunt, et nihil odisti eorum quae fecisti; nec enim odiens aliquid constituisti, aut fecisti.”).

    Father, thank you for the reading recommendation – for all of us not untroubled by his work (and the clouds of ‘claiming him’, of which I suspect Derek Jarman’s ‘Caravaggio’ is an example – ‘suspect’, because from what I’ve read I thought it better not to see!).

  11. Venerator Sti Lot says:

    Apologies for “since Vasari have covered it up” (what mid-sentence rewrite got me there?)!

    It occurs to me to wonder if there is not also a serious ‘play’ with Pietà imagery, combined with an element of Our Lord stepping out of His tomb Resurrection iconography?

  12. stephen c says:

    “Read the fascinating biography of Caravaggio by Helen Langdon and you might come away with a different view of this complicated man.”
    Father Zuhlsdorf, I have read a couple of books you generally recommended and they were absolutely not disappointing, so I will take you up on this recommendation!
    Venerator Sti Lot – thanks for the Wisdom 11:25 quote, I will make that my Bible verse to memorize for October….

  13. Father (or readers), you may want to remove “-768×1024” from the URL of the photo if you’re trying to “enlarge” it.

    As to the observation of the feet, thank you.

  14. KateD says:

    Oh Father,

    That Bernini alone is worth the price of the airfare!

    It cannot be captured in two dimensions….

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