How Italian treasures survived WWII

De Rinaldis informed Cott that most of the works of art in Rome had been safely stored in the Vatican….the Vatican [itself] possessed one of the greatest collections of art in the world. [During the early 1940s, however, it housed as well] the temporary addition of works from the Brera Picture Gallery in Milan, Accademia in Venice, Borghese Gallery in Rome, Museo Nazionale in Naples, the holdings of dozens of less prominent museums, and many priceless riches from the nation’s churches, it now had few, if any, rivals anywhere on earth. Joining its remarkable collection were—to name just a few—the Caravaggios from Santa Maria del Popolo and San Luigi dei Francesi, and oversize canvases by Titian, Veronese, Tintoretto, and Tiepolo from Venice. Never before or again would the results of such creative genius be gathered in one place.

Edsel, Robert M.. Saving Italy: The Race to Rescue a Nation’s Treasures from the Nazis (p. 138). W. W. Norton & Company. Kindle Edition.

Back to Rome for a hot minute: Triumphs and Laments

William Kentridge: Triumphs and Laments, Rome


Last month I had the great pleasure of staying in Rome for a few weeks.  I’ve lived in Rome in years past and, like so many others, have a great affection for the Eternal City.  The city has had its ups and downs, but still has great capacity to beguile.

As is well-known, Rome is suffering under mammoth financial and organizational problems; what is less well known but, quite interesting and inspiring, is how some non-profit organizations have stepped in with armies of volunteers to make a difference in the city.

One instantly noticed area of neglect has always been the banks of the Tiber. While for decades city officials have promised to clean up the river’s banks, little to nothing has been done over the years.  That’s until some volunteers stepped in.


As a result of their work, one of the best new things in Rome is the street art, or I guess I should say the river art, along sections of the Tiber: Kentridge’s Triumphs and Laments. Great stretches of the riverfront walkways that abut the high travertine embankments built after disastrous flooding in 1870 have been covered with images from local–and thereby world–history.



As Rome’s largest contemporary art work, it was unveiled last year with great festivities. Launched by a local non-profit organization, the Tevereterno Onlus, the mission of Tevereterno is to reactivate the Tiber in the heart of Rome. It’s a multidisciplinary cultural organization, dedicated to the site-specific contemporary art on Rome’s urban riverfront, called Piazza Tevere. Overcoming years of administrative opposition and bureaucratic hurdles, the Italian culture minister and others finally gave the green light to the project.


Along a 500-yard stretch of the river’s embankment now appear an incongruous procession of historical characters depicting a series of “Triumphs and Laments,” culled from Rome’s history.

The figures were created using gigantic stencils and power-washing to erase layers of smog, soot and biological patina on the embankment — a process sometimes known as reverse graffiti — to produce beauty from grime.


The ancient statesman Cicero, St. Peter and the she-wolf who nurtured Romulus and Remus are among the dozens of figures, drawn from iconic sculptures, photographs and monuments, along with Bernini’s statue of St. Teresa in ecstasy.

There are celebrities: Anita Ekberg and Marcello Mastroianni from “Dolce Vita” days. And then there are the unknown and anonymous: three women who are the nameless widows of countless migrants who have drowned trying to cross the Mediterranean into Italy.

The artist, William Kentridge, discussed his work: “There’s no specific narrative, except that everyone’s triumphs and glories is someone else’s laments and shamefulness.”



You can read about Kentridge, a South African political artist, here:

You can view the project fully here:

And you can read more about it here:

Isola Tiberino, Roma

If you like to stroll along the banks of the Tiber River, as I do when the weather is fine, you’ll eventually encounter the small river island known as Isola Tiberino.


The Tiber Island is the only island in the southern bend of the Tiber river. The purposely boat-shaped island is approximately 270 metres (890 feet) long and 67 metres (220 feet) wide.  It is  and has been connected with bridges to both sides of the river since antiquity.

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In antiquity, an ancient temple of Asclepius, the Greek god of medicine and healing, was built on the island.

Ancient sources say there was a great plague in Rome in 293 BC and the Senate consulted the Sibyl who instructed them to build a temple to Aesculapius. The Senate sent a delegation to Epidauros to obtain a statue of the deity. As instructed, the delegation went on board a ship to sail out and obtain a statue.

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They obtained a snake from a temple and put it on the ship. It immediately curled itself around the ship’s mast, which was deemed as a good sign by them. Upon their return up the Tiber river, the snake is said to have slithered off the ship and swam onto the island. They believed that this was a sign from Aesculapius, a sign which meant that he wanted his temple to be built on that island.

This location may have been chosen for the Aesculapius Temple because it was separate from the rest of the city, which could help protect whoever was there from plague and illnesses.





The island eventually became so identified with that temple, that it was modeled to resemble a ship as a reminder of how it came to be. The Romans added travertine facing by the banks to resemble a ship’s prow and stern, and erected an obelisk in the middle to symbolizing the vessel’s mast. Walls were put around the island, and it came to resemble a Roman ship. Faint vestiges of Aesculapius’ rod with an entwining snake are still visible on the “prow”.

In 998 San Bartolomeo all’Isola (with a different original name) was built over the Aesculapius temple’s ruins on the eastern side (downstream end) of the island.




The island is still considered a place of healing because a hospital, founded in 1584, was built on the island and is still operating. It is staffed by the Hospitaller Order of St. John of God or “Fatebenefratelli”. The hospital was built on the western half of the island.




Interior ceiling and apse of the Basilica di San Bartolomeo:



Today the island is a popular place to stroll on a fine day, to dine in the couple of trattorie, or to have an ice cream.  African hawkers of knock-off goods line the 2 bridges, selling their wares until officials come along.