The Death of Richthofen

Tags

, , , , , , , , ,

MVR

Anyone visiting the Great War cemetery of Heilly in the valley of the Ancre is standing on the site of a casualty clearing station which was swamped with wounded troops evacuated from the Somme battlefield on July 1 1916. It is, like so many of these war grave sites, peaceful and melancholy. On the high spur between here and the Somme valley, glowers a prominent chimney rising above low buildings. This is the brickworks of St. Colette and near it, on 21st April 1918, Baron Manfred von Richthofen was shot down into a nearby field and killed. His  dying word, heard by troops who ran across the field to the site of his crashed aircraft was “Kaput”…

3In  the last photograph taken of Richthoven, he lies dead; his glazed eyes still open. Shortly before this death portrait was taken, he had been subjected to a crude field hospital autopsy, where the bullet entry wound was connected through his torso to its exit with a length of crude fencing wire… The photograph is irregularly criss-crossed by crease lines formed by folding it into a pocket, betraying a certain disregard of its importance by the allied authorities.

Richthofen has been used as an exemplar of an archetype which probably never existed; the gallant knight of the air. Certainly he himself would not have recognised this idealisation. He always sought out prey operating less manoeuvrable, slower and inferior-armed craft. He carefully calculated the odds and only struck when they were heavily stacked in his favour. Which is presumably why he enjoyed a relatively extended career as an ace.

His end was uncharacteristic of this self preserving and cautious predator. Hungry for another kill, he trailed novice Canadian pilot, Lt Wilfred May. Blind to impending danger, he was lured into trouble. The Sopwith Camel was not alone. He was being protected by Captain A. Roy Brown, a Canadian pilot. Brown latched onto the red tail and fired off his machine guns at the three-winged craft. The plane dropped into a field by the brickworks and Brown became a national hero and convenient poster boy for the RAF; newly formed on April 1st. The man who shot down the Baron.

2Except he didn’t. Richthofen’s low-level pursuit path down the Northern edge of the Somme valley had taken him over allied lines where Australians on the ground were manning Lewis machine guns mounted on posts to permit anti-aircraft activity. Employing post-mortem documentation and plotting the route of the plane over the several gun positions of the candidates offered up, Sergt. Cedric Basset Popkin, [24th Australian Machine Gun Company] is now generally credited with killing Richthofen.[1]

Histories generally hold a particular brief and realign inconvenient facts to relate a more palatable narrative. Knowing this now, I no longer feel so bad about the inaccuracy of my childhood war games, where I would ambush my Father’s Fokker DR1 with SE5a’s and part-completed models from the Second World War period.

4 Like many kids, assembling aircraft kits was my entreé into the field of military history. I would watch my father carefully glue sections together after painting the elements in accordance with the colour scheme instruction sheet. He would resist any exhortations to rush the process. Only when the decals were immersed in a dish of water to help them slide easily from their backing papers onto the model’s surfaces could I see the end in sight and the plane roll out of its hangar..

Most of the planes themselves have now been lost across the intervening fifty-odd years. All that remains are some of the assembly sheets which came with the kits. What interested me as as a youngster was the variety of paint jobs each plane displayed.  Depending on which manufacturer’s product one bought, even a plane as characteristic as Richthofen’s DR1 dreidekker displayed variations in colour scheme -because he had several different machines at his disposal within the JG1’Flying Circus’.  it is generally accepted  now that the machine he flew on the 21st April [FOK Dr1 425/17] was indeed the all red livery -though the finish was apparently uneven as shortages forced the paint-shop to dilute the pigment down, giving an uneven, streaky coverage across both the fabric and metal cowling. [2]

1       Squeezed by  regular work shifts and overtime, my father gave up his precious spare time to entertain his only kid and his friends. He would probably have preferred to have been playing local league cricket with his brother, or watching his football or rugby league team, but I was the lucky recipient of his indulgence. He always stoically accepted the inevitable endgame whatever activity we engaged in; predestined as it was by the series of rules rigged against him. My friends  and I played him in table football fixtures where his every goal was ruled offside. We raced cars around a Scalextric track over which he was condemned to drive the slower car. He would play football in the park with us; either being urged to run around the park evading clumsy tackles or consigned to goalkeeping duties where he would be forced to re-enact every goal scored against him in choreographed ‘slow motion’. 

A treat was to take the planes we made together to the park where, withstanding the ignominy of always being cast as an enemy flyer, he would be relentlessly pursued by a swarm of children aiming their not always historically accurate allied aircraft at him in a menacing fashion. 

This is just one way in which I remember my father, but it is perhaps the most evocative. He died just a few weeks after I had moved to Wales in 2004 and almost immediately, I had the idea for a painting on this theme.

Over a period of several years, I made many sketches, playing with composition and viewpoint when I had spare time between other, more pressing painting projects. As time passed, it gradually became almost too important for me to tackle. I developed  something of a block. I employed strategies to avoid commencing such a personal venture. I could see some firm image, yet I wouldn’t commit it to canvas.  Only this spring, after I had cleared the studio deck of two projects  inspired by the works of George Orwell and found no other imagery competing for my attention [and almost exactly one hundred and one years after the baron’s death], did I finally decide to cash in this long-standing cheque. 

Of course this is not exactly how Richthofen died on the plains East of Amiens.

zThere is, in this first version anyway, no Australian infantry element and I deeply resent the erasure of their contribution here by early histories [as I do the gross mismanagement of their talents at Gallipoli].  However, it does record how the Baron met his fate several times across Manston Park and on our back garden lawn in East Leeds. When I read something new about Richthofen, I try everything in my power to take myself  back to the Great War period -and to this period alone, buttressed only by our rich archive of stills photos and cinematography, but I do also still see our model aircraft and Dad’s plane in the cross-hairs of my mind. Still, don’t we all read history as a synthesis of known fact leavened with our own experiences, imaginings and interpretations?

I miss my Dad; barely a day goes by without my thinking of him. Even now.

 

[1]   https://net.lib.byu.edu/~rdh7/wwi/comment/richt.htm

[2]   http://www.fokkerdr1.com/

Advertisements

Selected Works 2000-2019 @Stiwdio3 Cardigan June 10 – July 13

Tags

, ,

Stiwdio3 poster

Press Release:

Resident in Newcastle Emlyn for fifteen years, Glenn left a career as a Scenic Artist for film and television [several years with BBC]. This work had provided opportunities for him to practice trompe-l’oeil techniques and visual trickeries on an industrial scale. The methods he employed and the visuals he was responsible for creating there have continued to nurture his own subsequent artwork.

“For more than thirty years, the focus of my art has been the human figure, painted in a representational idiom built upon an accumulation of particular details.This approach extends to commissioned portraiture; but any prospective client seeking flattery is recommended to look elsewhere.”

 The title of this exhibition reflects his role as something of a storyteller, though as narrator, his voice may be rather unreliable. Details of fact may be subjected to manipulation, but always in the attempt to reveal a deeper truth.

“Although I hope that my work can be appreciated on a purely aesthetic level, much of my work is propelled by socio-political subtext. ‘Consignment’, a project developed over a period of six years was a response to human trafficking and extraordinary rendition. “Smoke and Mirrors” addressed the deceits of political spin. ‘Targets and Barcodes’ was inspired by the writings of Orwell and those aspects of our technologically driven contemporary world which take us closer to his dystopia in spite of his warnings.”

Death of Lieutenant-General Picton

Tags

, , , , , , ,

first

I think it illustrates an admirable trait of the British character that its people are more likely to be able to name the sculptor of the lions guarding the foot of Nelson’s column in Trafalgar Square [Landseer of ‘Monarch of the Glen’ fame], than the artist responsible for the seventeen foot high figure of the admiral standing 172 feet above them.

His name is E.W. Baily, RA [1788- 1867] and an excellent piece of his carving resides in the delightful Carmarthenshire County Museum in Abergwili on the edge of the county capital. This example of his artwork also commemorates the struggle against Napoleon.

Lieutenant-General Picton was, according to his commander The Duke of Wellington, “a rough foul-mouthed devil as ever lived”, but proved himself a military success during the Peninsular War of 1807–1814. He met his death at Waterloo in 1816. Within the year, subscriptions were invited from the populace of Carmarthen to meet the cost of a monument to their local hero. With a statue topping a 75 foot high column and defended by four cannons bristling at its base, the structure would have been far more elaborate and impressive than the bleak obelisk we now see in Johnstown. Its plinth was to be decorated with a frieze depicting Picton in battle action.

Because Waterloo was perceived by contemporaries as a victory of epic proportions, Baily, as a sculptor immersed in classicism and with an established reputation in the London art scene, seemed the natural choice for this commission. he had drunk his fill at the font of that most revered set of classical sculptures, the ‘Elgin Marbles’.[1] These sculptures had been removed from the Parthenon in Athens and shipped to England between 1801 and 1805; eventually purchased by Parliament for the nation in 1816.[2] As a member of the Royal Academy, Baily had advance access to these masterworks and they exerted a profound influence on his art.[3] They also served as the compositional basis for his Carmarthen panels.

10aBy the very nature of its limited physical depth, entablature is a highly stylised medium. Baily established three distinct spatial planes. Shallow bas-relief is employed to indicate distant soldiers. Though background players, these troopers are given specific features. Skirmishing troops in the middle ground foliage are more deeply modelled; their equipment and uniforms are finely detailed.

7The central figures of Picton and his Highlanders are the most fully realised in three dimensions; barely connected to the stone support. The head of the commander’s horse emerges as the most fully formed element of the panel in a style which owes more than a faint aesthetic relationship to the Greek frieze which he had studied closely, and which at the time of writing still resides in the British Museum.

2The whole is a most convincing, if idealised portrayal of the moment when Picton’s Fifth Infantry division, concealed on a low ridge behind a sunken lane, attack French troops struggling to advance through a hedgerow. As his men deliver a devastating volley at a range of less than twenty yards, and following this up with a crucial bayonet charge, Picton is shot in the head and falls from his horse into the arms of a Highlander, becoming the highest ranking victim of the battle on the Coalition side.

Artistic license extends to the Lieutenant-General’s attire. Here he is resplendent in military costume, not the shabby old greatcoat and round [or top] hat which he was reportedly wearing into battle.

The heroic monument was completed in 1828, but the people of Carmarthen did not long enjoy it. The frieze had been carved from inferior, weather-prone material. Baily delivered a second set of tablets but these arrived after the entire edifice had been demolished in 1846. [4] The section on display at the museum is one of these replacement panels having been retrieved from a garden in Johnstown in the 1970’s.

 The Picton frieze would be the centrepiece of most county museum collections, as it is here at Carmarthen. However, there is so much more to engage any visitor to this wonderful collection. Any gallery would be proud to own a portrait by William Dobson or Peter Lely. Carmarthen has one by each artist.

portsThere are some very finely preserved fossilised marine plants and animals and an engaging collection of boldly designed Medieval floor tiles.

tilesThere are glimpses into various aspects of Welsh domestic and industrial life across a wide time span. This is everything a county museum should be; a springboard encouraging a leap into a new pool of knowledge. It rewards with something new which was not noticed during the previous visit. This month, it was the gold funerary mask which has that delightfully timeless quality common to the very best Egyptian sculpture.

EgyptAnd yet, as I made my way to the exit, I find myself taking just one more look at a detail of Baily’s masterwork; perhaps close up, or from a different angle….

12

Carmarthenshire County Museum
The Old Palace Bishop’s Palace | Abergwili, Carmarthen SA31 2JG, Wales
Tel Number: 01267 228696
Opening times: Wednesday to Sunday, 10:00-16:30  Open every day during school holidays

Notes
1] I use quotation marks here because the popular name for these artworks is an insult to both the ancient and the modern Greek people. Thomas Bruce, 7th Earl of Elgin was a vandalising thief of the worst kind, using his position as ambassador to the Ottoman Empire between 1799 and 1803  to extract isolated elements from their original context and damaging what could not be  successfully moved. Glorifying him by applying his name to the art he looted does rather stick in my craw. He could not even plead duty to country as a defence. The stones had not been obtained on behalf of the nation; Bruce originally intended them as decoration for his own home. They were only surrendered to pay debts. The “Marbles” were bought by Great Britain in 1816 for £35,000 and deposited in the British Museum.

2] These are more properly sculptures from the Parthenon, a marble frieze temple (aka a Doric temple) on the Athenian Acropolis, Greece, built in 447–432 BC and dedicated to the goddess Athena.
They consist of portions of the frieze, metopes, and pedimental sculptures , as well as sculptures from the Propylaea and Erechtheum. The Marbles were transported by sea to Britain. Elgin later claimed to have obtained in 1801 an official decree (a firman) from the Sublime Porte, the central government of the Ottoman Empire which were then the rulers of Greece. This firman has not been found in the Ottoman archives despite its wealth of documents from the same period and its veracity is disputed. Even if this permission could be found, the fact remains that these artworks were obtained from an occupying force, not from the people to whom they belonged as the centrepiece of their cultural heritage.

3] A major argument conducted by the British Museum in defence of their right to retain the Parthenon Frieze sections is that Elgin’s acquisition of the marbles inspired British students and enabled careers of great significance as a result. Baily can be used as an exemplar for this line of argument. However, the counter-argument can also be invoked; how many Greek artist’s careers foundered and failed to blossom because they didn’t themselves have first hand access to these works made by their own forefathers?

4] Picton’s legacy is commemorated by a second notable public monument; erected to his memory in St Paul’s Cathedral, by order of Parliament. This was sculpted by Sebastian Gahagan (c.1778 – 2 March 1838)

RWSW @ Aberglasney Gardens

Tags

, , , , , ,

 

fb RWSW poster

This show is a joint exhibition between The Royal Watercolour Society of Wales and Associazione Italiana Acquerellisti based in Milan, Italy. The second leg of the show will be in Milan, Italy, in the spring of 2020.

The Royal Watercolour Society of Wales (RWSW) was formed by six like-minded artists, living in and around Cardiff, to exhibit and promote this medium by holding regular exhibitions of their work throughout Wales. The first exhibition was held in 1959 at the National Museum of Wales in Cardiff. Today the Society has around 40 members all professional artists living and working in Wales and entry to the Society is by election, and in this way the Society maintains high standards of work as well as attracting new talent to its ranks.

The Royal Watercolour Society of Wales exists to promote and showcase the art of watercolour, through the paintings of its members. RWSW aims to provide a forum for the continuing appreciation and development of the medium, along with some water based mixed media.

The Associazione Italiana Acquerellisti (AIA) was founded in 1974 in Milan on the initiative of a small group of Italian famous painters who wanted to revive the watercolour technique in Italy. AIA promotes “pure watercolour” that is just water and colours without the use of other components.

Currently AIA counts about 150 members from all over Italy. To achieve its statute purposes AIA organizes and takes part in exhibitions at national and international level, organizes workshops and festivals and publishes a half-year magazine “L’Acquerello”.

In 1998 AIA launched, along with the Belgian Association AIB, the European Confederation of Watercolour Societies (ECWS) which today includes 14 watercolour European associations from Belgium, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Iceland, Norway, Poland, Spain and Sweden.

There will be an open evening for the exhibition on Saturday 18th May from 6.30pm. The evening is open to all. Normal admission to the Gardens does not apply on the evening, but does at all other times.

http://aberglasney.org/events-and-exhibitions/art-in-the-mansion-the-open-evening-for-the-royal-watercolour-society-of-wales-and-associazione-italiana-acquerellistis-exhibition

Aberglasney Gardens
Llangathen
Carmarthenshire
SA32 8QH
UK

tel: 01558 668998

info@aberglasney.org

MOTHS: hiding in plain sight

Tags

, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

early grey2

Early Grey: watercolour 61x46cm

 The natural world has offered up so much material to inspire me through my life. And though elements from nature have been been co-opted for incidental effect, I have spurned almost all of it as central source material for my own art. The spotlight over my stage has been shone instead on the human figure and its psychological condition. I have seen the work of too many artists who have invested their entire lives and artistic skill sets into almost perfect captures of flora and fauna that I would be unable to satisfactorily compete. Does the world need yet another merely competent picture of a Barn Owl? 

My partner Carole bought me a very special birthday present in 2017. It was an actinic light trap for attracting moths. She had picked up on my casual comments about wanting to know which of these creatures was sharing our local environment with us after dark. We had seen some wonderful day flyers; Humminbird Hawkmoths, Garden Tigers, Sallows and had disturbed beautiful heralds [looking like little battle shields] in our workshop outbuildings. This trap allowed us to view the night flyers at close quarters.  The light attracts then; they trip and doze.. I photograph  and record their numbers. [an July example] The captives are unharmed  by the following dusk. They take to the wing again, leaving the box with its egg cartoons [a traditional material used to accommodate them in their post-luminary state]  completely empty by the following morning…

 Lepidopterology presented an alluring aspect of nature to which, until recently, I had only paid casual attention. It offered a striking opportunity to visualise two different preoccupations simultaneously. 

1 The nature of obsession

Obsession

Obsession: watercolour 61x43cm

obsession    /əbˈsɛʃ(ə)n/   noun: obsession fixation, ruling/consuming passion, passion, mania, idée fixe, compulsion. 

Spectacle

Spectacle: watercolour 61x43cm

 ’Spectacle’ is one of an ongoing series of watercolours which reflect the development of and total immersion in one’s personal preoccupations.  A visual encapsulation on the nature of obsession to the exclusion of all other interests and responsibilities; pushed to the point where the subject and the self merge. The degree of assimilation varies from composition to composition, from almost full portrait,

Small Welsh Quaker1

the Small Welsh Quaker: watercolour, 61x43cm

– to just a partially occluded eye within the object of desire.. pulled deeper into the fabric of the idée fixe.

faded flyer2

Faded Flyer: 30x43cm

2 Hiding within Plain View

fb arches

Beneath the Arches: 43x30cm

crypsis   /ˈkrip-səs   noun: the ability of an organism to conceal itself especially from a predator by having a colour, pattern, and shape that allows it to blend into the surrounding environment

Though 2019 marks the 70th anniversary year of the publication of George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty Four, it’s central concept remains, ominously, as relevant as ever. How is the artist/ dissident to express unpalatable truths and criticisms of contemporary society and the state apparatus  whilst still being able to function as one of its citizens; free from official persecution?  When I first read this masterwork, it did seem as if western society at least, had insured itself against the risks headlined through its pages. Now it seems that perverse humanity has collectively snatched defeat from the jaws of what was perhaps in retrospect a mirage of victory. My own body of work since the turn of the Century  has alluded to different facets of the struggle for the individual voice to be heard within an unsympathetic kultur.

mibx3

stills from the film ‘Tatsuko’ 44minutes, B&W

Tatsuko [film details] investigated the strategies required to make a life while living in secret in a foreign environment with potentially hostile forces at close quarters.

8

the ‘Smethwick Twins’: oil on canvas from the series, ‘Smoke and Mirrors’

‘Smoke and Mirrors’ depicted visual deceits employed to create and protect ‘second lives’.

LofB 8

Landscapes of Betrayal; Do it to Julia: graphite on paper  61x86cm

“Do it to Julia’ echoed the activities of George Orwell’s everyman and reluctant hero Winston Smith in attempting to evade detection by making the narrator into an anamorphic cast thrown across the paper’s surface; his words converted into a cryptograph consisting of negative spaces. Both speech and image hidden in plain sight.

This series of moth paintings is an attempt to find an imagery which might encapsulate these related concepts. To marry ideas of surreptitious discourse with techniques of crypsis

Frosted Man and [right] Underneath the Arches: both watercolour, 43x30cm

In this way, the freethinker may give voice to his or her ideas publicly, rather than in secret, by appearing to be saying one thing, but smuggling through a subtext under a surface covering to convey a quite different meaning. The visual deceptions observed in the structure, patterning and coloration present in moth families  provided me with a visual equivalent for operating under the radar; fully functioning in plain view, but hidden from all but the closest scrutiny. An inversion on the idea of sleight of hand; this time, not by leading the eye away from the real subject, but rather fooling it into misreading evidence presented directly to the eye.

self purple b

Self in Purple: watercolour 61x43cm

‘Quotes’: Orwell and the ‘Target’ project

Tags

, , , , ,

Front coverGlenn Ibbitson Quotes

“Quotes: Inspirational quotations; creative responses.” Compiled and edited by Andy Wild and Mike Healey, contains the work of 68 contemporary artists, each of whom were asked to select a quote by someone famous, explain why that quote resonates with them and then select an example of their own work that best exemplifies their text.
210 x 210 mm in size. 140 pp, full colour throughout.
ISBN: 978-1-9164788-1-7
Now available. contact ANDY WILD at : andywild29@hotmail.com

Quotes retails at £15 + £2.55 (UK) postage and packing
If you live abroad it will cost more but Andy will tell you exactly how much and where to send your payment when you place your order

“Preludes”: works on paper at Stwdio3

Tags

, , , , , , , , , ,

 ‘PRELUDES’ A selection of works on paper 1979 – 2017

“Preludes” consists of a selection of drawings spanning four decades, most of which have been worked directly from the model and have been used as preparatory studies for subsequent paintings -some of which Stwdio 3 will be showing at a later date. They are all works on paper utilising the versatility of charcoal, graphite and gouache; often in combination. Several are being shown publicly here for the first time.

Glenn’s work is resolutely representational in a classical style owing much to a lifelong study of the figurative Masters. “Abstraction has never held that much interest for me; it lacks that vital element of deception…’

 Self Portrait: charcoal pencil

 Softlit Nude: charcoal pencil and white gouache

Foreshortened Nude: charcoal pencil

 Flat Top: graphite pencil

The exhibition is on show for two weeks commencing February 5th.

Stwdio 3 is open Monday to Saturday: 9 am to 5 pm

Make it in Wales   Stiwdio 3
3 High Street    Cardigan
SA43 1HJ

Tel: 01239 758088

Learn more about ‘Make it in Wales and Stwdio 3 by following the links below

https://www.makeitinwales.co.uk/stiwdio-3/

https://www.instagram.com/p/BtgctiPlcGc/

Moths, Masks and the nature of consuming passions

Tags

, , , , , , ,

aBeneath the Arches       watercolour      60x42cm

bThe Obsessed       watercolour      60x42cm

cThe Moth Widow       watercolour      60x42cm

dBleached Blossom I      watercolour      60x42cm

eBleached Blossom II      watercolour      55x37cm

A Modern Sisyphus

Tags

, , , , , , , , ,

46709220_2341278295900925_2462323923530809344_o

‘Sisyphus’ acrylic and oil on canvas 123x91cm

Condemned to push a large rock up on a steep hill, only to find it rolling back on nearing the summit…in perpetuity.

A rock comprising an aggregate of personal neuroses; personal health, financial, career, state sanctions and curtailed liberties, ethical living. We all carry our own boulder up our own mountain…

A Roman Menagerie

Tags

, , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

P1060132

Open a typical guidebook covering Rome and you will be tempted by a city offering riches to the archaeologist and the gourmand; the classicist and the believer; the artist and the tippler. The writing style is understandably enthusiastic, if somewhat optimistic. My ‘Rough guide’ suggests at one point, a day itinerary taking in the Colosseum, the Forum and Capitoline Hill -before lunch! [Followed by visits to the Trevi Fountain, Spanish Steps, Ara Pacis and the Galleria Borghese before a well-deserved dinner…] This pace could kill you and leave you with memories too blurred to recall a day later. Either severely edit your list of target sights, or give yourself more than just the  few days usually accorded a city break. Rome isn’t simply a town, it is cultural immersion chamber.  I was fortunate to have ten complete days to devote to the experience and this proved insufficient.

I drew up outline plans for the holiday well in advance. Pre-booking tickets for the main attractions online before arrival by-passes the queues. I had a list of churches and galleries holding artworks by Michelangelo Merisi and Bernini with which to map a trail across the city and this mission proved to be a highlight,  though a partially occluded one, as a touring Caravaggio exhibition had borrowed several of his works from the city’s palace collections. Genius is a sadly over-used term; its worth degraded by application to sportsmen, clothes designers and celebrity presenters. It should be reserved for the very few. Caravaggio is one of that small number. Galleria Borghese had retained the magnificent “Madonna and Child with St. Anne (Dei Palafrenieri)”. A detail from this painting helps illustrate my theme animal life to be found in the cultural fabric of  ‘the Eternal City’.

P1050914

Once in the city, one thread which began to run in parallel with my route-finding from one pre-planned point of interest to another was the prominence given to the depiction of fauna across Rome. By this I do not mean equestrian statuary, that is a staple of most large Western cities [though on the steps of the Vittorio Emanuele monument you will find the final word on this genre in the gigantic centrepiece on the stairs above the eternal flame. The people on the balcony behind the statue give some sense of scale].P1050803

I am writing of  animals, often of an ‘exotic’ [non-indigenous] nature which populate the city today in artistic representation. Here are a few images which might be used for an alternative ‘itinerary on a theme’ which might help take you away from the crowds wielding selfie sticks and placing themselves centre-stage –with their backs to their chosen subject of interest.

Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi

P1050750

Start at the Piazza Navona and its central Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi. You have a horse of course; here provided by Bernini, so it’s a good one. It forms part of the tableau representing the Danube.

P1050755P1050748

But it is the Nile which presents us with two more interesting beasts; a gloriously malevolent generic snake and a wonderful crocodile, which looks like an elephant wearing plates of armour. Something sculpted on heresay rather more than from direct observation.

Citizens under the empire would have seen crocodiles at first hand of course, as well as a host of other animals, imported into the city from across its territories. Rhinos, giraffes and a variety of big cats were all used as sacrifice to the crowd’s blood lust at ‘games’ held at the Colosseum.

Ostia Antica: Roman Port

At Ostia Antica, once Rome’s port at the mouth of the Tiber and now a wonderfully preserved town, there is a square, Piazzale delle Corporazioni, where shipping merchants, responsible for the city’s supplies, kept headquarters.

P1060410P1060411

They advertised their specific business by location and commodity in mosaic form, on the floors in front of their premises. Several show animals which they would be able to import to order; deer and boar from Europe and elephants from Africa.

Baths of Neptune

P1060379P1060383

In the public baths dedicated to Neptune, a variety of fish and dolphins [in a style taken up by the entire western world], swim across the mosaic floor in the company of men and Neptune himself. Look carefully and there is also a captivating lobster walking across the floor.

Terme dei Sette Sapienti

P1060451P1060452

Further along in the Terme dei Sette Sapienti, or, Baths of the Seven Sages, easily identifiable depictions of deer, tiger and bear comprise some of the wide variety of the quarry in an elaborate, swirling composition showing a hunting scene.

Piazza del Popolo

P1050960

Much of the animal importation of African origin would have used the Nile as its channel  into the interior. As well as live tigers and lions, the Romans also transported artefacts to the empire’s centre. I lost count of the number of obelisks in Rome; they can be found in St. Peter’s Square, Piazza Minerva, in front of the Pantheon; in the centre of Piazza del Popolo. The latter, Obelisko Flamino is guarded by the four impressive Egyptian lions of the Fontana dei Leoni.

Fontana dell’Aqua Felice

P1060142

Egyptian Lions also guard Fontana dell’Aqua Felice across town, disgorging water in a more nonchalantly sideways manner.

Elephant and Obelisk: Piazza Minerva

P1060134

The Roman preoccupation with exotic creatures did not end with the decline of Roman Empire. Perhaps the most endearing  sculpture in all Rome is another elephant, this one of Baroque origin. A pachyderm supports an Egyptian obelisk on its back at the Piazza Minerva. Rather than sculpt a conventional ‘elephant and castle’ with the animal facing forward in a conventional manner, Bernini carves his elephant looking over its left shoulder as it rubs its flank with its trunk, lending the piece a beautifully realistic movement.

The Fontana delle Tartarughe

P1050685P1050691

The Fontana delle Tartarughe, in its original design presents us with four dolphin/fish forms; each used as footstools. There were four more in the original design but were replaced by the turtles we see today. If the attribution of these additions to Bernini is accurate, and if Wikipedia is correct, they may have been cast from actual living turtles. [This begs the question; Did he cast from an actual elephant for his Minerva statue?]

I never managed to connect my visits to the private contemporary art galleries around the Pantheon area to their opening times, but many keep their shutters up in the evening and allow a view through the windows.

P1060139

The Roman preoccupation with the classical nude persists; here keeping company not with angels, but with a row of Yellow Legged Gulls which now reside in numbers along the Tiber. [alas, I was unable to see any signature]

If you connected these few locations together, the walk would offer you encounters with many of the more high profile sites of interest in Rome -it is that kind of city. Interests overlap and one’s attention is often diverted by something unexpected, which requires just a little of your time away from your original mission. I only encountered the Fontana dell’Aqua Felice lions because I had to see St. Theresa experiencing ecstasy in the nearby church of Santa Maria della Vittoria.

P1050745aKeep your eyes out too for the living fauna around you. You will not be alone as you take up Rome’s offerings. Yes, that is an Italian Sparrow bathing in the River Plate in Piazza Navona and those are Monk Parakeets feeding outside the Ostia Antica museum.P1060273