When I stay at the apartment and work, I somehow feel like some sort of bum who isn’t taking advantage of her surroundings. I have to overcome this feeling, since part of the advantage of having a place to stay is to get things done, seeing as I return to the States and immediately a) go back to work and b) move to a new house. Productivity is good. However, I decided to go on Tuesday on an adventure. I needed to get my bearings, so I took a bus to Piazza San Silvestro, walked to the Trastevere area and accidentally ate lunch at a cafe instead of a restaurant. I think I wasn’t paying attention, and perhaps they had a board with pastas on it, but in any case, I ate a really tasty tuna salad (lettuce, cabbage, onion, capers, tuna, potatoes, salt & oil). It was better that way, in the end. I felt like I was keeping a more balanced diet, which was something I struggled with last time I was in Italy.
I had forgotten that John Cabot University has a campus in Trastevere, so it was funny to see so many Americans outside the city center, not lugging big cameras and carrying around maps.
After lunch, I stumbled upon an art gallery: The Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Antica di Palazzo Corsini. I had intended to end up that day at a different gallery of ancient art, but this one was interesting, too. It had some Rubens paintings, as well as a nice Caravaggio. There were more people working there than visiting; I think I was one of three patrons who were perusing the one floor of art they had.
One of the rooms was solely dedicated to Giovanni Lanfranco, a follower of Caravaggio who had done two of the same painting; one is usually in Parma, the other in Rome.* The displays detailed the restoration of the works, as well as analyzed the differences between what at first glance seem identical. Although I am familiar with the iconography of many important saints—St. Bartholomew was flayed, St. Sebastian has the arrows, etc.–I hadn’t heard of St. Agatha and her torture.
According to sources, Agatha was a young woman of a noble family in Sicily who dedicated her life to God. She was courted by Quintianus, a Roman prefect. He did not accept her refusal of him, and had her persecuted. Apparently she was sent first to work in a brothel as punishment, but stayed steadfast in her faith. After a while he sent her to prison instead; she continued to refuse him and to stay true to her beliefs; one of her tortures was to have her breasts cut off. In many of her depictions, she is carrying a plate with her breasts on it. A miracle transpired that she had a vision of St. Peter, who came to her and healed her. As to her actual death, I’ve read a number of different things: she died during torture, she died from being burned at the stake, and that she died in prison. I guess all of these could be possible, but in any case, she has been part of the canon of martyrs for a very long time. The grotesque violence she endured struck me. Mutilation, I suppose, is run of the mill for martyrs, but a woman being depicted with the focus on her breasts in Christian art was intriguing. Some of the art has an undercurrent of dark sexuality that is startling for that period.
St. Agatha, today, is the patron saint of the following: bakers, bellfounders, breast cancer, fire, earthquakes, eruptions of Mt. Etna, jewelers, martyrs, natural disasters, nurses, rape victims, single laywomen, sterility, torture victims, volcanic eruptions and wet nurses (thank you, Wikipedia).
Just some food for thought. After I perused the gallery, I went to Castel Sant’Angelo and roamed the papal fortress/mausoleum of Hadrian. Calculating using Google Maps I only walked about 5 miles, but it definitely felt like more in under the hot sun.
*I couldn’t seem to find the version that has been housed in the Corsini Palazzo all these years; you’ll just have to come to Rome to see the differences.For some more interesting depictions of St. Agatha, her healing and torture, see here, here, and here.
An interesting modern depiction can be found here.