I met these two little darlings at the Galleria Doria Pamphilj in Rome. Actually, they appear in Breughel’s “Allegory of the Earth”. It was painted in 1618 and, since Guinea Pigs come from South America, I was slightly surprised to see them in such an early painting. However, I looked it up and apparently (well according to Wikipedia!) Queen Elizabeth I had a pet Guinea Pig so these two are early immigrants. I like to think they might have been the Breughel family pets. My own Guinea Pigs, Prudence and Isabella, were unimpressed when I told them but they’re hard to please
The Galleria Doria Pamphilj is a fantastic gallery I visited for the first time recently. It’s housed in a Palazzo right on the Via del Corso in Rome and is a perfect antidote to the madness of Rome’s main shopping street. Step inside and the first thing you see is a beautiful courtyard garden which reminds you why these big houses face inwards away from the dirt and noise of the street and makes you want one of the apartments which still house smart Romans today.
The Palazzo is primarily an Art Gallery these days with an amazing private collection which includes works by Caravaggio, Titian and the aforementioned Breughel as well as sculpture, furniture and even family nick-nacks! The Doria Pamhilj family still exist and own the collection (and have issues to face over its future thanks to Italian law http://www.telegraph.co.uk/family/6348571/Who-will-inherit-the-Doria-Pamphilj-familys-legacy.html ) and still live in the Palazzo at least some of the time. The paintings are numbered rather than labelled so do buy the £1 guide unless you’re an Art History expert. Galleria Doria Pamphilj may not be the slickest or the best interpreted gallery in Europe but it’s got buckets of charm and really is, to use a horrible cliché, a hidden gem.
The Museo Ara Pacis Augustae is controversial. It is the first modern building in the centre of Rome for 50 years and the current Mayor of the city, Gianni Alemanno, has declared his desire to see it demolished. Thankfully for the rest of us he has also said it’s not a priority. Mr Alemanno is, frankly, wrong! The Ara Pacis Museum is not some blot on the landscape but a very beautiful and sympathetic addition to the banks of the Tiber.
From the outside the building is a statement and stands out against the other buildings around it, none of which are in themselves particularly exciting while at the same time reflecting them in its glass facade. You might even argue it does a sterling job of hiding the shabby monstrosity of the Mausoleum of Augustus next door. It’s cool and sleek and, hey, it’s got a fountain outside! How Roman do you want?
However, it’s inside that this museum hits you. There is just one artefact in the main gallery – the Ara Pacis (or Altar of Peace) itself. When I stepped through the door from reception it took a fairly large dose of self-restraint to stop me running squealing toward it. When I say altar, of course I don’t mean the cloth draped table we associate with Christianity. This is pagan pomp at its most pomp-y! It was commissioned by the Roman Emperor Augustus to commemorate pacification of western provinces (that’s France and Spain to us!) We won’t go into whose idea of peace at this stage and let the victor write the history. The gallery is glass and stone and while it’s beautiful in its own right, it also serves as a perfect backdrop for the creamy marble of the altar.
Downstairs are education areas and a temporary exhibition gallery and a small gallery telling the story of the Altar’s discovery and restoration. If I have one criticism of the museum it is that the interpretation is separated from the Altar. If you didn’t go downstairs, you’d never learn anything about the Altar and its history. You would also miss the fantastic interactive which shows the likely colour scheme of the original. As much as I love the upstairs gallery and the beautiful altar sitting proud in the centre, I do worry that most visitors will miss this important feature.
In short, the Museo Ara Pacis Augustae is a stunning piece of architecture, inside a stunning piece of architecture. Get there before the bulldozers move in!