What’s HE doing in Rome?

Not all famous painters are Italian, of course; but for many generations it was important for every upcoming artist to come to Italy, either to study or at least to take a long, hard look at Italian art. That’s why it’s so ironic that Rome is happily playing host this summer to an Turner, Decline Carthaginian Empire 1817exhibition of fabulous works by a British artist who not only never came to Italy… he probably couldn’t have cared less.

Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775-1851) was a child prodigy, but he was also the child of decidedly lower-class working folk. Turner’s innate skill was recognized when he was still a boy, and he joined the Royal Academy of Arts when he was only 14 years old. Unlettered and unpolished, he attempted to teach art students how to paint the sunrises, sunsets, and cloudy scenes for which he is legendary today–but his lack of social skill rendered him frustratingly inarticulate. Usually he ended up simply painting such a scene himself, while his fascinated students crowded around him, trying to figure out Just How Exactly He Did That.  His “Decline of the Carthaginian Empire” (1817), seen here, is a great example of his work.

Rome has more than its share of art galleries, but they contain none of Turner’s ingenious works, most of which are still in London. That’s why it’s so exciting to have a special exhibit of Turner’s art in Rome for the very first time ever!

And the location for their presentation couldn’t be better. The Bramante Cloisters were built in the center of Rome around the year 1500, by Pope Julius II’s chief architect–who was Bramante Cloisteralso Michelangelo’s arch-enemy and fiercist critic. Nearly 30 years older, Donato Bramante didn’t take too kindly to the young upstart from Florence, who was inexplicably (to Bramante, anyway!) chosen by the Pope to carry out so many important artistic commissions. Of course the opinion of succeeding generations is rather different….

But while Bramante’s vitriole might make us instinctively cringe today, there’s no denying that he was an architectural genius in his own right, as you can see here. The Cloisters are no longer part of a monastery; instead, they now house frequent artistic exhibitions like this one. Visitors can enjoy both the artworks themselves, and the venue in which they’re being exhibited, at the same time.  In the case of Turner, they can see his genius on display in a distinctively Italian context–something which was never experienced before, even by Turner himself.