The Centro Studi Americani and the loveliness(?) of the Ghetto

Double-post day! Since the last couple days I was orientating for the grant that is funding my stay here in Italy I got a day behind in my posts. Luckily one day of the orientations was located at the Centro Studi Americani in the Palazzo Mattei, a seriously fancy late 15th, early 16th century palace built by Carlo Maderno and decorated with total painting slouches like Pietro da Cortona. The Centro includes a lovely library based on American studies and included the only editions of David Foster Wallace’sĀ Infinite Jest (among a lot of other really awesome American authors, Kurt Vonnegut anyone?) that I’ve yet seen in a library here in Italy. And while the insides of the Palazzo were awfully impressive, the architecture of the building is what really made my art historical heart palpitate. Check out the embarrassing abundance of antique sculpture loaded up in the courtyard:

pretty courtyard
they maybe could use a few more antique sculptures, I don’t think they have enough
I mean really, it’s so minimal, you would think they could go for a little decoration

The place was covered with antique statuary in a way that I have never seen before. It was out of hand. Apparently they found it all when they were digging the foundations of the palace. Part of the orientating program was also a tour of the Jewish Ghetto to see how, particularly in that specific part of Rome, buildings had multiple lives, used, re-configured and re-used as something else over centuries. I haven’t spent much time in the Jewish Ghetto, but it is an undeniably lovely part of the city, even if it is indicative of centuries of discrimination and segregation:

these mosaics sparkled when hit by the light
fancy inscriptions!

What are the moral implications of finding a place like the Jewish Ghetto lovely? I certainly don’t know. The architect who was giving the tour off-handedly commented that during WWII all of Rome’s Jews were rounded up and sent to Auschwitz, which was marked by a number of plaques around the streets. But it makes me feel morally squishy for appreciating the beauty of a neighborhood that was intended for discrimination and segregation. It seems like almost saying that slave chains or whipping posts have a certain loveliness to them (which of course makes me think of Fred Wilson’s amazing artworks and his “Mining the Museum” exhibition). I suppose I would have to find all of Rome ugly if I were trying to be really conscious and egalitarian about it, because in the Classical period the city was completely supported and built by slaves. But I suppose things like this can remind us to not forget the terrible (and also good) events of the past, which is nearly impossible here because it’s so blatantly scattered all around:

bits of ruins just lying around

History is awfully heavy when you start to recognize past atrocities that took place on the very street you are standing in. But I suppose in a place with a history as deep as Rome, it’s impossible to avoid. Hmm. Anyways, something to think about over the weekend.




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