A Roman Menagerie

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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’.

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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

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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.

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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.

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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

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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

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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

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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

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

Elephant and Obelisk: Piazza Minerva

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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

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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.

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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

 

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The power of “Power and Petticoats”

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when I go to view a production by a company of company of players based in West Wales, I expect to have a generally pleasant evening entertained by half decent actors who can deliver a few moments of cheery laughter along the way. What I don’t expect is to come out after a performance wondering if I ever saw anything with quite the emotional power, acting flair and visual originality I have just experienced at Newcastle Emlyn this evening. “Power and Petticoats “  is quite as accomplished as any theatre I enjoyed in my time in London; on or off West-End.

I have to admit here that I am something of a fan of Newcastle Emlyn’s Attic Players. I have enjoyed many of their past shows and so I knew that this evening’s offering would be worth seeing, but I did fear that I might be entering something of an ‘echo-chamber’. Who these days would question the validity of universal suffrage? When there is nothing to debate, political theatre is as unrewarding as those tired alternative comedy rants against Thatcher through the eighties. However, writer and director Melanie Davies has delivered an intelligent script which makes this historical struggle relevant for our time. there are references to the economic  ‘glass ceiling’ the ‘Me Too’ movement and campaigns of personal smear served up by the media. Plus ça change..

  Davies demands a great deal from a cast of just nine of the Attic Players -they do not disappoint. It would be invidious to pick anyone out of the ensemble cast for special mention, nor is it possible.  There is not a wrong move made by any actor involved in a production which relies on timing for effect. Changes of character keep the audience on their toes, even though there is a colour coding to guide the viewer through a social conflict which builds bridges across the social strata of Edwardian Britain.

If I am making this seem rather earnest viewing, it wasn’t. Changes of pace prevent this work from being a long and level pitched polemic. I found myself laughing one moment, developing a lump in my throat the next.

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There are some deliciously funny moments, such as the four women in a train carriage on their way to Wrexham, two of which are travelling to disrupt an official visit to the Eisteddfod. Their wobblings on their seats -and their synchronised pitchings as the train’s brakes are applied, are a delight of comic timing.  The factory scene has just the right note of ambiguity. Are two of the men on the production line really ignorant of the significance of the WSPU anthem they are humming, or are they taking a sly rise out of their anti-suffrage co-worker? The boxing match where the pros and cons of women’s suffrage are landed as body blows is a smoke-shrouded set-piece of political pugilism .

The boxing match is a visual treat, but just one of many. Visual originality is a vital key to tonight’s success. Here the technical team deserve great credit. The slideshow of posters and photographs from the historical archive is both a narrative thread and a technical device which seamlessly links and overlaps set scenes, preventing the whole from becoming a series of fragments. Stage setting is sparse, but  surprisingly serviceable when a change of aesthetic is required. Significant battle lines in the central argument are elucidated while working across a washing line. A shadow play behind a gauze screen slowly emerges into stark focus to create a town hall riot through a series of freeze-frame poses expressive of increasing violence.

Sadly, as this was the final performance of “P&P”, I am too late to direct you to the ticket office. All I can say is that if the personnel have the energy left to revive this very soon, do not miss it.

The only problem I see with the Attic Players is that with each production, they seem to have cranked up the quality that bit higher. How are they going to top this one?  But I have thought that before and still they get better. Be that as it may, all involved in tonight’s tour de force should be buzzing after tonight. I am.

Glenn ibbitson     September 1, 2018

Photographs lifted from the Attic Players Facebook page

Click here for a link to a promo video by Clare and Melanie 

Tatsuko: showing at Radnor Museum

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“An extraordinary project, and encompasses all of the prodigious skills and talents that a master of their craft can accomplish.”                                                                                                       Gillian McIver, critic and co-director of Studio 75 Gallery, London

TATSUKO:  44 minutes. silent; black and white [mainly] Featuring Carole King. Soundtrack  by Wyn Lewis Jones

Solo Show @Radnorshire Museum

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Amgueddfa Sir Faesyfed
Radnorshire Museum,
Temple Street,
Llandrindod Wells,
Powys
LD1 5DL
01597 824513
www.powys.gov.uk/radnorshiremuseum
www.facebook.com/RadnorshireMuseum
Full details to follow

Tatsuko @Radnorshire Museum

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Tatuko Poster

A showing of “TATSUKO” is planned for Friday 3rd August at
Amgueddfa Sir Faesyfed
Radnorshire Museum,
Temple Street,
Llandrindod Wells,
Powys
LD1 5DL
01597 824513
www.powys.gov.uk/radnorshiremuseum
www.facebook.com/RadnorshireMuseum
The screening will be followed by a Q&A session

watch the trailer here:    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7NwVwNk0NuA

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Newlight Art Prize @ Bankside, London

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27 June 2018 – 1 July 2018

Situated on the South Bank in central London and sitting next door to Tate Modern, it is just a bridge away from the City.

Open daily 11am to 6pm – Free Entry

Thames Riverside, 48 Hopton Street, London SE1

Radnorshire Open Art Exhibition

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Radnorshire Museum Open Art Exhibition
15th -30th June 2018. preview 14th June 4-7pm. All welcome

Radnor Museum: Temple St, Llandrindod Wells LD1 5DL

Hours

Wednesday 10am–4pm
Thursday 10am–4pm
Friday 10am–4pm
Saturday 10am–4pm
Sunday Closed
Monday Closed
Tuesday 10am–4pm

 

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“Shortlist”: Saul Hay Gallery, Manchester

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A selection of work from artists featured in the New Light Art Prize 2017-18.

9th June – 22nd July 2018

Preview: Friday 8th June 6 – 8.30pm

https://www.saulhayfineart.co.uk/glenn-ibbitson

Shortlist

RBSA: Prize Exhibition 2018

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Barcode: Profiling       oil on canvas    74x90cm

has been accepted for inclusion in the RBSA Prize Exhibition 2018

Exhibition on show at the RBSA Gallery, 4 Brook Street, St Paul’s, Birmingham, B3 1SA

Thursday 10 May – Saturday 23 June

Gallery open Monday to Friday 10.30am-5pm, Saturday 10.30am-5pm, Sunday 1pm-5pm. Closed on Bank Holidays.

Tel. 0121 236 4353    E-mail. rbsagallery@rbsa.org.uk       Website. www.rbsa.org.uk

The Royal Birmingham Society of Artists (RBSA) is an artist-led charity which supports artists and promotes engagement with the visual arts. It owns the RBSA Gallery in the Jewellery Quarter. Visit us to find out how you can exhibit with us, take part in adult, family friendly or school workshops, watch free art demonstrations by practising artists, buy original pieces of art or craft and much more… Admission free, donations welcome.