Sunday, April 3, 2011

Roman Forum

This is a drawing made by my daughter of Mabel Watson Payne some while back, which I have lifted from the borrowed baby book, soon to be returned. Unintentionally but undeniably this drawing turned out to resemble a Roman Emperor, and as such serves to introduce a few thoughts about and images of the well-known Roman Forum.

I first went to look at this famous spot on the Ides of March in the company of my fellow travelers.

Nothing I saw that day encouraged me to feel any emotions that I would want to endorse. We descended into a pit where the sunlight seemed to cast no shadows. The place had obviously been picked over and knocked around and rearranged since forever and was now hedged in by scaffolding and crowd control barricades of a dozen different designs and huge plastic tarps. Artifacts of any actual quality that were not bolted down must have long ago been removed to museums for protection – as witness the surviving fragment immediately above, loose on the ground in the Forum, which would surprise nobody if they found it in a suburban garden center.

My daughter had a theory that the Forum was designed to look good in images, starting with engravings and paintings during the Grand Tour era, and still applying to photographs in the present day. The space, she said, was not really designed to be walked through. It lacked integrity. It lacked coherence. And in some ways, she went on, the apartment where we were staying in the Keats House was the same. There was a small round table in the middle of the sitting room that had no function – it was too far away from all the other pieces of furniture to stand in any relation to them, and in person it merely looked odd where it was placed, but it would, she thought, probably look great as visual punctuation in a photograph of the room.

She did, at least, make the whole phenomenon sound interesting. But I wasn't inspired to take many photographs myself that day even though that was what the Forum was for, according to her theory. However, I saw my daughter's point even more clearly a few days later when I had finished taking pictures of Michelangelo's Piazza del Campidoglio just after sunrise and came around the back of the Capitoline Hill. There I found a series of ramps and platforms that gave me far more flattering views of the Forum than I had dreamed were possible when I was down inside it. And the photographs I took that morning were entirely in the Piranesi style of romantic selectivity.