Monday, June 30, 2014

Rome or bust

One of the art forms in which Italian artists seem to be head and shoulders above the rest is sculpting marble busts. 

They're everywhere. Museums, official buildings even parks. The Villa Borghese park, for instance, is like Rome's version of Central Park. And one of it's main entrances features several paths lined with busts of historic Italians. 

It's obvious to even tourists why some of them deserve such an honor -- Marco Polo, Christopher Columbus and Leonardo da Vinci, for instance.

Others -- not so much. 

Take Mr. Secchi. His bust sits outside of the park by a fancy country club. Like many of the busts, it features only his last name (with some of the carved letters faded by weather and time) and few other clues as to who he was and why his head earned a place in the park. 

In his case, Angelo Secchi, born in 1818, was an ordained Jesuit priest who became a physicist and astronomer. He's the rare theologian and scientist blend. And he wasn't just an amateur astronomer. After getting booted out of Italy during one of the revolutions in 1848, Secchi attended courses in England and the United States and returned to Rome to take over the observatory of the Collegio Romano. He made some major contributions by being among the first scientists to study sun flares and declare the sun a star

He's a little weather beaten but still looking at the stars. 

There were politicians/military -- even disgraced leaders like Alfonso Ferrero la Marmora. He was Italy's sixth prime minister. Before and after that, he was military leader. And he was perhaps most known for losing a key battle against Austria despite having superior forces. He spent the rest of his life trying to defend his actions in that battle, including publishing a paper that got him in trouble for leaking classified information. 

La Marmora is not impressed. 

And then there were the heads that would fit in with any Halloween motif. Thanks to erosion and perhaps a little vandalism, poor Girolamo Savonarola looks downright ghoulish. That might be fitting, though, considering he didn't exactly meet the nicest ending to his life. The 15th century Dominican friar from Florence claimed he had visions of a takeover from the north and called for the ousting of the ruling Medici family. The Pope got wind of it and summoned him to Rome. Savonarola didn't go. Eventually he was captured, tortured, confessed to inventing the visions and was hanged and burned with two of his loyal followers. And this is what his bust looks like now. 

The freakiest bust of them all. 

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