Friday, March 14, 2014

Villa Medici

We spent the morning at the Villa Medici -- since 1803 the home of the French Academy -- under the intellectual guidance of Alden Gordon and John Pinto, two experts on the art and architecture of Rome and France.  It was a spectacular morning so everything looked good.  It is a grandiose building and glorious set of gardens that even the American Academy cannot match.  But that's like debating in heaven whose cloud is softer.

What I was especially struck by is how these "new" buildings and gardens of the 16th century were, in an interesting way, a form of preservation of the Roman past.  The gardens were built atop Roman gardens, and an ancient Roman "hill of Parnassus," the mythological home of the Muses, was kept in one portion of the Villa's gardens.  The facade of the garden-facing side of the building is a composite of fragments of Roman buildings, including pieces from the Ara Pacis.  The enclosing wall of the gardens is built on top of the Aurelian Wall.  There is a deep respect -- even reverence -- for the ancient past that is evident throughout the Village Medici, even as they were creating something wholly new and, of course, covered over the ancient ruins that were there.

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