Daily Inspiration from the Christopher H. Browne Rome Drawing Tour
Follow the ICAA daily from June 2nd through June 9th as we study the architecture, urbanism, and landscapes of Rome through observational drawing and watercolor on the Christopher H. Browne Rome Drawing Tour. The tour is led by Architect George Saumarez Smith; Painter Richard Piccolo; Urban Designer, Architect, and Artist David Mayernik; and 2016 Rieger Graham Prize Winner Brendan Hart (Teaching Assistant). Blog posts are provided courtesy of tour participants.
June 9th, by James Lenahan
A bright Saturday morning sun illuminated the Forum Boarium as tourists queued nearby at the legendary Bocca della Verità or Mouth of Truth. The locale was familiar; a nearby farmers market on the via San Teodoro was a stop earlier in the week on the way to Appia Antica and Cecilia Metella. We’d returned to the onetime bustling cattle market of ancient Rome to study the round Temple of Hercules Victor.
The morning session sketching in sanguine pencil built on the week’s education in light and form, while also adding a new focus, rendering trees. Framed by picturesque umbrella pines, the temple served as a focal point against the trees’ darker range of values in the background.
Instructor David Mayernik emphasized seeing the ‘structure’ of a tree in order to create a compelling representation. Referencing works by masters of sanguine pencil rendering such as Hubert Robert and Jean-Honoré Fragonard, students learned hatching techniques to create tone and value within the forms of the trees.
It was fitting (for the sake of symmetry) that on our final afternoon of the program we returned to the Campidoglio, where our first introduction to Rome had taken place a week earlier. The dynamic and bustling piazza was the stage for our final sketch in watercolor, as the group set out to capture the dynamic play of afternoon light and shadow.
The theatrical layering of statues and buildings in view included the medieval church of Santa Maria d’Aracoeli, the magnificent piazza of the Capitol, and glimpses of Roman Forum beyond. As crowds and wedding parties moved through the dynamic space, the dark equestrian figure of Marcus Aurelius stood silhouetted against the golden buildings, the supporting statuary a crisp white set against deep green cypress trees. Engrossed, we hardly noticed time passing until it was time to wrap up for the day.
The group gathered in the Alberto Santa Chiara’s courtyard for a final review of our work over a glass of prosecco. A celebratory dinner followed, at the Ristorante al Pompiere, where lively conversation flowed. Each student would be returning home with new insights, breakthroughs, and many lessons learned from our talented and passionate instructors. As the warm evening light fell through open windows, the group raised glasses to an inspiring week of drawing and watercolor, of fascinating history and conversation, and taking in the beauty around Rome’s every corner.
June 8th, by Eric Kerke
A drawing tour in Rome wouldn’t be complete without a trip to the Roman Forum. Today we examined the three triumphal arches of Septimius Severus, Titus, and Constantine. Instructor David Mayernik explained to us how the ancient Romans would have had victory parades through makeshift arches with the spoils of war, and then these stone arches were erected to memorialize the triumph. The reliefs on the arches tell the stories of battles, victories, and triumphant homecomings. Centuries later we can still bask in the accomplishments of the Romans through these eloquence designs, and this was at the forefront of our minds as we were drawing.
Capturing the scale of these arches in our drawings was a challenge. Not only did we need to place the arch dominantly on the page, but we also had to design the surrounding environment to lead the viewer’s eye back to the arch, as it is the job of the environment to support arch’s monumentality.
While painting the Arch of Constantine our instructors reminded us to observe the vivid effects of light. We sought to capture the play of warm and cool in those forms facing light as well as those in shadows.
June 7th, by Cindy Black
Today we travelled along the Appian Way to the countryside to explore the Castelli Romani, the towns of the Alban Hills that overlook the valley of Rome. In ancient times, the hills provided a respite of fresh air from the valley and were believed to be favored by the gods. We followed in the tradition of escaping to the villages and traveled to Ariccia to see Bernini’s Church of Santa Maria Assunta.
Our instructor, David Mayernik, guided us up along the ascent through a forest trail and into the hillside town - this pilgrimage offered us the opportunity to see Bernini’s dome and bell tower framed by the narrow streets of Ariccia. Bernini designed the church as well as the surrounding buildings to form both the building and space around the curved form. The result is a powerful object that composes the space of Piazza della Repubblica, with a view of the hills beyond, and at the same time has a delicate integration with the context of the village buildings. We spent time drawing in the piazza and enjoying a coffee before heading out.
Our group made a stop for lunch in Frascati, a region known for its white wine and porchetta. We ate at Trattoria Zarazà, a supporter of the Slow Food movement, and our lunch included handmade gnocchi in radicchio pesto and white wine made from a vineyard down the road. We enjoyed the setting overlooking the valley and the company of our new architect and artist friends. After another round of coffees, we headed to Villa Aldobrandini.
The Villa commands a view like no other - it sits high above the piazza of Frascati below, with a view of Rome beyond that. The focus of our visit, however, was in the back of this building to see the gardens and fountain. The Teatro d'Acqua, designed by Carlo Moderno, is a wonderfully elaborate fountain with the central focus being a depiction of Atlas bearing the world on his shoulders. This sculpture represents the battle between reason and passion, and certainly challenged our sketching abilities with its abundant figural detail.
After an amazing day in the Castelli Romani, we headed back to Rome. As a bonus, our group was invited to the American Academy in Rome for their open house. We enjoyed the opportunity to see the McKim, Mead and White designed campus, as well as some of the works being produced this year.
June 6th, by Elisabeth Saint-Amand
Post-Impressionists, it is said, intentionally flattened the surface of their paintings by reducing value; the ICAA coursework today enhanced our ability to achieve just the opposite - to convey volume.
This week in Rome so far, we’ve explored the value of shadows, but today our lens integrated the use of color. There are multiple opportunities in this realm, one can add hue to the surface of white paper, or allow toned paper to serve as a middle value to highlights and shadows.
We began the day studying Vignola’s gate to the Palatine Hill, using the plein air form of work to its best advantage. Instructors David Mayernik and Richard Piccolo shared insights into working outside, and how this can help us perceive colors to their best advantage. For example, each student illustrated the foliage framing the gate differently in terms of hue. In our pin-up discussion, David and Richard analyzed and explained how various colors can be taken from cool to warm and how students’ works portrayed a wide array of effect.
In the afternoon, we moved uphill, south of the Vignola gate, to the church of San Gregorio Magno al Celio. Here, we explored a discipline exemplified by Bernini - adding highlights. In the exercise, we learned that using toned paper can be a means of great efficiency, earned through the application of tremendous discipline and rigor. The achievement in this end is one of sparing language so to speak, to reserve the middle tones of the paper through the select addition of bright white and shadow.
All-in-all, today we enjoyed adding breadth to our skill set through the exploration of color. For those of us fortunate enough to sit in the garden of the San Gregorio Magno al Celio church while we painted, we also encountered the sound of nuns singing nearby, along with wild strawberries at our feet.
June 5th, by Sal Cicerelli
Today started on the ancient street Via Della Lungaretta, the original spine of Trastevere, from where we made our way to the Tempietto, the focus of the day’s studies. The Tempietto, designed by Donato Bramante and built in 1502, is a small temple tucked away inside the courtyard of San Pietro in Montorio.
Since Bramante was trained as a painter, the drawings used to construct the Tempietto were in perspective views, so our first assignment for the day was to draw in this way as well. As we began, we realized the Tempietto is in the Doric order, with the temple’s round shape providing a unique solution to the placement of the metopes, which are placed evenly along the frieze, instead of having to navigate abutting edges, as in angled buildings.
Once we finished, we discussed the complexity of geometry in perspective and the many plays of shadow on the circular forms in direct and indirect light.
After lunch, we returned to the courtyard for a study in measured drawing. Since the courtyard was built before the Tempietto, Bramante was working in a limited space. However, using the exact size of the Pantheon’s oculus as precedent, he was able to make it fit with an overall proportion of 2:3. We drew various details, ranging from floor plans to floor tiles, to try to read the mind of the great Bramante.
As a bonus for the end day, we were able to see Bernini’s sculpture of Saint Francis in Ecstasy in the Raimondi Chapel before leaving our site. We also saw Antonio Gherardi’s Avila Chapel at the Basilica of Santa Maria in Trastevere, which uses perspective in real three-dimensional space to create a theatrical scene.
June 4th, by Ben Shelton
After yesterday’s excursion to the ancient ruins lining the Appian Way, we turned today to the early Renaissance - a period when the codified principles of Vignola and others were yet to be put to paper.
Under the direction of instructor George Saumarez Smith, we set course across the Tiber river for Trastevere, where the Villa Farnesina is located. This spectacular villa, built for Agostino Chigi, is one of Peruzzi’s masterpieces and adorned with frescos by Raphael and others.
After a quick tour of the interior, we settled into our morning assignment - a measured drawing along the villa’s (shady!) facade. With our pencils, sketch books, scales, and measuring tapes in hand, we followed George’s lead and began transferring linear measurements from a section of the Tuscan pilasters along the villa’s exterior to our sketchpads. The process reminded us to look closely and use our tactile experience to recognize things we might have otherwise missed.
With our day’s first task complete, and contented stomachs from a meal enjoyed together at a nearby restaurant, we retraced our steps over the Ponte Sisto footbridge, which spans the Tiber river, to the Palazzo della Cancelleria. The Cancelleria’s gem is its rectangular interior courtyard lined with arches set on columns, and as such, this space provided a perfect subject for an exercise in one-point perspective. To compete this job, first we established a proportional pencil or sanguine rendering of the five bays at the opposite end of the courtyard. Then, by determining the vanishing point we rendered the side walls projecting toward us. Finally, just as the Mediterranean sun began to reach its full vibrancy in the late afternoon, we applied the deep shadows that blanketed the space.
Together, these two exercises offered us important lessons in seeing the details of a design along with ways of representing the assemblage of details in perspective and light.
June 3rd, by Tommy Vince
Our first drawing study in the morning was of the Arch of Drusus using sanguine pencil. Here we focused on understanding perspective and the values of shade and shadow.
Following this, we enjoyed lunch on the Appian Way near San Sebastiano Fuori le Mura, where we had the opportunity to see the last sculpture Bernini completed in his lifetime, Salvator Mundi.
We spent the afternoon drawing Cecilia Metella in monotone watercolor. I felt a sense of humility and joy knowing that I sat in the same place that Piranesi and Hubert Robert composed their works of art. My fellow students and I are excited to continue our tour and look forward to learning and growing with the help of our incredible instructors amongst the beauty of Rome.
June 2nd, by Tommy Vince
Our first meeting in Rome was at Albergo Santa Chiara, steps away from the Pantheon, where we began with introductions from Tour participants and instructors. It was wonderful to see the diversity in our group, with participants ranging from students and painters, to doctors and practicing architects.
Instructor David Mayernik began our tour saying, "We are here to confront excellence." This was an inspiring introduction to the Christopher H. Browne Rome Drawing Tour and all it has to offer for an intense and wonderful week. This also resonated with my desire to study and learn from the Masters of architecture and fine arts from antiquity in "the eternal city," Rome.
In the evening we enjoyed a leisurely stroll, or passeggiata, where we talked about Michelangelo’s redesign of the Campidoglio, and enjoyed the view of the Roman Forum.