Daily Inspiration from the Eternal City

Follow the ICAA daily from June 4th through June 10th 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 Ben Bolgar, Senior Director at the Prince’s Foundation – London; Richard Piccolo, acclaimed painter and educator; and Thomas Rajkovich, preeminent classical architect and urbanist. Daily blog posts are provided courtesy of tour participants.


June 9th and 10th, by Sebastian von Marschall: Perhaps the hardest part of spending a week in Rome is knowing where to start. Thankfully, the ICAA’s curriculum for the 2017 Christopher H. Browne Rome Drawing Tour provided a framework that quickly immersed us in the unparalleled architectural fabric of the Eternal City.  

Under the supervision and guidance of the outstanding instructors Tom Rajkovich, Ben Bolgar, and Richard Piccolo, we were pushed to challenge ourselves and break from our predisposed approaches to drawing and analysis – all while in the shadows of some of the most spectacular architecture of antiquity, the Renaissance, and the Baroque.  

The Campidoglio in Rome

The Campidoglio in Rome

Tour participants sketch on location at the Church of Sant’Ivo alla Sapienza

Tour participants sketch on location at the Church of Sant’Ivo alla Sapienza

After a magnificent day in Tivoli on Thursday, the tour returned to Rome for some of the most noteworthy and challenging subjects of our schedule. Friday started at the Campidoglio, one of Rome’s famous seven hills. Tom briefly introduced the historic context as well as the forces that shaped Michaelangelo’s mid-16th century design for the Piazza and the Palazzo dei Conservatori, highlighting key architectural concepts that became critical underlying elements in our subsequent drawings of that site. The complexity of the architectural composition, as well as the dynamic nature of the light, made this site particularly challenging but also rewarding to draw.  

The Church of Sant’Ivo alla Sapienza

The Church of Sant’Ivo alla Sapienza

The afternoon session focused on the courtyard of the Church of Sant’Ivo alla Sapienza, a few short blocks from the Piazza Navona. Francesco Borromini’s 1640s design was reminiscent of Donato Bramante’s courtyard at the church of Santa Maria della Pace (a site of study from the previous Sunday afternoon), with an added level of complexity. The undulating plane of the west-facing church facade, as well as the highly symbolic and unique spire were a reminder of Borromini’s inclination for complex geometries and mature Baroque detailing, leading to both whimsical interpretation and rigorous execution.

Tour participant Sebastian von Marschall's sketch of the Church of Sant’Ivo alla Sapienza

Tour participant Sebastian von Marschall’s sketch of the Church of Sant’Ivo alla Sapienza

The fruition of Bramante’s genius was exposed on Saturday morning at one of the most seminal works of the Renaissance, the Tempietto, located in the courtyard of the church of San Pietro in Montorio, on the Janiculum Hill. The temple, commissioned by Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain (for context, the same monarchs who funded the voyage of Christopher Columbus), marks the location of St. Peter’s crucifixion.

Tthe Tempietto, located in the courtyard of the church of San Pietro in Montorio

The Tempietto, located in the courtyard of the church of San Pietro in Montorio

Architecturally rooted in the realms of both the spiritual and the temporal and influenced by Bramante’s focus on perfect geometries, the circular temple draws on historical precedent while asserting the power of Christian Rome as the successor to the great Empire of antiquity.

The interior of the Tempietto

The interior of the Tempietto

The Italians have an expression, “Roma, non basta una vita” (For Rome, a lifetime is not enough) in which case a week is perhaps no more than a scratch on the well-worn Travertine surface. Nevertheless, the wealth of classical architecture was brought to life by the passionate instructors and cheerful participants of the week-long tour, an experience worth celebrating at dinner on Saturday evening. The whole group had a chance to reminisce about the experience and plan future adventures below the baroque facade of Sant’Ignazio Church, bathed in the gold and purple glow of the setting Roman sun.  

The tour group at the ruins of Tibur

The tour group at Tivoli

June 8th, by Carolyne Yeow: Today the group ventured out of Rome on a road trip to Tivoli, where we visited the Villa Adriana and the Villa d’Este. The incredible villas are huge in scale while also emphasising the nature, water and land surrounding them.

Tour participants sketch on location at the Villa Adriana

Tour participants sketch on location at the Villa Adriana

The Villa Adriana was our first stop, where our instructors insightfully explained the complex geometry of the buildings. Hadrian was known as a humanist, master of rhetoric, and lover of art and architecture. The Villa Adriana helped set a standard for Roman architecture and was created to represent places around the world that had been conquered by Hadrian.

The Villa Adriana

The Villa Adriana

After a morning spent working on sketches and watercolors, the group stopped for a traditional Italian lunch at La Sybilla, located at the foot of the ruins of Tibur, and the cliff overlooking the River Aniene.

View of the gardens at the Villa d'Este

View of the gardens at the Villa d’Este

We then spent the afternoon at the gardens of Villa d’Este. It is understood that the architect Ligorio spent 15 years or so designing the symmetry of the garden to create synergy between nature and art. The gardens were something to behold – every view was breath taking!

Tour participants sketch on location at the Villa Adriana

Tour participants sketch on location in Tivoli

Today we were really challenged in terms of the enormity of detail, complex geometry, and scale that we had to capture in our sketches. The focus on perspective is becoming increasingly critical in our work. As we learn and continue to develop our skills, we also realise that with intricate subjects, improvements in learning are not linear. The beauty of today’s complex and detailed villas highlights the importance of practice, practice, practice, and to have fun on the journey.

Tour participants sketch on location int he Roman Forum

Tour participants sketch on location at Circus Maximus, overlooking Palatine Hill

June 7th, by Sasha Pokrovskaya: To understand something, one has to draw it. To see its depth – watercolor. That was how we discovered the Roman Forum.

The constant stream of tourists enlivened the forum views, seeming appropriate for what was once the center of commercial activity in Rome.

Tour participants sketch on location int he Roman Forum

Tour participants sketch on location in the Roman Forum

Although the magnitude and complexity of the site seemed overwhelming at first, all elements felt comfortable as they related to the human scale. It was inspiring to see ancient capital fragments lying in the former cow pasture, compare the size of a dentil to one’s hand, and experience the pink morning light and copper oxidation on ancient Corinthian capitals.

Tour participants get a close look at dentils in the Roman Forum

Tour participants get a close look at dentils in the Roman Forum

Several participants also remarked how studying the forum felt like a continuation of the legacy of centuries of students learning from the ancient masters.

Tour participant Sasha Pokrovskaya's watercolor sketch of the Palatine Palace

Tour participant Sasha Pokrovskaya’s watercolor sketch of the Palatine Palace

The afternoon’s activity involved a long study of the Palatine Palace. Formidable in its grandeur, the palace presented a perfect opportunity to play with depth of shadows. As the hot sun set, the terracotta bricks were washed in a golden hue and we departed, ready to spend tomorrow in Hadrian’s Villa.

Tour participants sketch on location int he Roman Forum

Tour participants sketch on location at Circus Maximus

Tour participants sketch on location at Trajan's Market

Tour participants sketch on location at Trajan’s Market

June 6th, by Christine Gros: The morning began with an impromptu stop at the Trevi Fountain, where our instructor Ben Bolgar pointed out the Mannerist, distorted perspective that was designed into the rustication around the ground floor windows of surrounding buildings.

View from Trajan's Market

View from Trajan’s Market

We spent the morning in Trajan’s Market and Museum on the perimeter of the forum, where we developed our sketches and watercolors.

Tour participants sketch on location at Trajan's Market

Tour participants sketch on location at Trajan’s Market

After the midday heat of the market, a lunch in a charming nearby café was very welcome. The place was very busy, but still gave us an opportunity to try out our Italian with the friendly wait staff.

Tour participants sketch on location at the Arch of Constantine

Tour participants sketch on location at the Arch of Constantine

After lunch we went to the Arch of Constantine next to the Colosseum, where we made our first foray into watercolor after a brief demonstration by instructor Richard Piccolo. We spent some time working on our wash technique before moving onto several studies of the Arch. All in all, it was an ambitious afternoon.

Tour participants sketch at Piazza Sant'Ignazio in Rome

Tour participants sketch at Piazza Sant’Ignazio in Rome

June 5th, by Martin Burns: On yet another gorgeous Roman summer morning, the tour group departed for Piazza Sant’Ignazio. Pausing at the alleyway entrance, our instructor Thomas Rajkovich highlighted the key features of the square. Playful perspectival forms and deliberate urbanism united the curving configurations of Filippo Raguzzini’s Rococo buildings and the similarly curving apsidal side altars of the Church of Sant’Ignazio. The architecture and place felt appropriately eclectic for its cosmopolitan and complex Jesuit history.  

Piazza Sant'Ignazio in Rome

Piazza Sant’Ignazio in Rome

We soon set up shop on our respective stools, using various media to sketch different views of the Church facade and whimsical Raguzzini buildings.

Tour participant Martin Burns' sketch from Piazza Sant'Ignazio

Tour participant Martin Burns’ sketch from Piazza Sant’Ignazio

Sketches completed, we wound our way up to the charmingly composed and institutionally inspiring American Academy in Rome. We were fortunate to receive a guided tour of the building, grounds, and rare book room inside the elegant Academy library. Our group shared lunch alongside fellows and residents of the Academy in the gently shaded and aromatic courtyard arcade.

American Academy in Rome

American Academy in Rome

Stomachs and spirits full, we sketched and watercolored the grounds for the afternoon, our instructors insightfully improving the process.

We caught a panoramic glimpse of the Eternal City from Fontana dell’Acqua Paola and concluded the day with a quick stop at the Palazzo Mattei di Giove.

American Academy in RomeAmerican Academy in Rome

American Academy in RomeAmerican Academy in Rome

The day was full of architectural variety, inspiration, and fellowship, and served as an excellent opportunity to cultivate our skills for the rich days ahead.

Tour participant Martin Burns' pantheon sketch

Tour participant Martin Burns’ pantheon sketch

Christopher H. Browne Rome Drawing Tour participants sketching at Piazza Navona

Christopher H. Browne Rome Drawing Tour participants sketching at Piazza Navona

June 4th, by Elena Belova: The first day of the Christopher H. Browne Rome Drawing Tour was an incredible experience. We spent the morning at Piazza Navona, attempting to capture one of Bernini’s sculptures. The focus of the morning was figure drawing, which was challenging, but definitely inspiring.

Endless groups of tourists kept peeking at our sketches, but despite this distraction, being immersed in the space was a great tool for analysis. The instructors were encouraging and devoted a lot of attention to every participant on the tour.

Elena Bulova's watercolor sketch from Piazza Navona

Elena Belova’s watercolor sketch from Piazza Navona

In the afternoon we visited the courtyard at the church of the Santa Maria della Pace, designed by Bramante. The perfect geometries filling the space created a sense of tranquility and serenity. Here we were encouraged to practice one-point perspective drawing to describe the proportions of the courtyard.

The church of Santa Maria della Pace

The church of Santa Maria della Pace

Afterwards, we shared our thoughts about the day, set up goals for the week, and received some feedback from the instructors.

Elena Bulova's watercolor sketch from the church of Santa Maria della Pace

Elena Belova’s watercolor sketch from the church of Santa Maria della Pace

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