Piazza di Spagna – The Spanish Steps, a reflection of the times
In 1502 construction began on the Church Trinita dei Monti on the hill above Piazza di Spagna. Construction was completed in 1587 and pressure began to mount to create a connection between the Piazza and the Church. In the early 1600s a project was approved but it was not until the death of the French diplomat, owner of the land Stefano Gueffier, in 1660 and a long probate fight that the project actually went ahead. Francesco De Santis’ design was selected and in 1726 the project was completed.
The design was such that these were not just a way for the people to climb the hill instead they were an outdoor theatre with the buildings on either side enclosing the stage and the church with an obelisk at the top as a ceiling. The steps quickly became the third prong of the trident of Rome joining Porta Ripetta and Piazza del Popolo.
Gianni set his easel in his favorite spot behind the fountain. A little bit of shade arrives in the early afternoon when the sun creates the best lighting. As he had done hundreds of times before he begins to scan the area. The flowers had just been changed and run the length of the stairs on both sides creating a river of colors flowing over a waterfall. Gianni knew that he sees things that do not stand out to others. Perhaps it is the way the mind of an artist works, color, balance and texture seem to be more important than finite details.
The air is still wet with the early morning humidity. A slight breeze carries the scent of the sea you can taste the salt with every breath. An occasional squawk breaks the quiet as the gulls fly overhead toward the river. In just a few short hours the square will pulse with people. Gianni always paints during the week because the stores of via Condotti create less traffic. The tourist will not arrive till much later in the day while the Romans are so preoccupied with getting to work on time they seem to be unaware of the beauty that unfolds every day around them.
Many years had passed since his first attempt to paint Piazza di Spagna. Just after finishing art school he had taken a job with one of the studios in Rome. They paint the icons of Rome and sell them in the open market in Piazza Navona in the evening. He thought it was just a commercial gig, something to get by on. How could this be art, painting the same things over and over, but he had learned over the years, that it is never the same and his painting captured more than just colors and shapes. What he saw reflected the economic, political and cultural tendencies that are ever changing.
He begins his work in charcoal. The 16th century buildings frame the staircase with elaborate curves and images of a skilled artisan. The sun moves higher into the light blue sky and lights the church at the apex completing the illusion of a pathway to heaven. He thinks of the architect whose vision placed the stairs off-center to both the square below and the street above creating the illusion escape from the materialistic forays of the mundane.
A young woman catches his attention as she stops in front of the Armani store showcasing a bright yellow cocktail dress. Her flaming red outfit and white calf high boots contrast yet compliment the dainty dress flaunted by the manikin. The vibrant colors trigger Gianni’s imagination. He chooses the tool for today’s production. He pulls a spatula the size of putty knife from his bag and begins adding color to the charcoal outline on the canvas.
He begins with dark and light grays from the center of the stairs, dark browns and black to imitate the cobblestone square. Bright reds and yellows for the flowers leading to the light blues and gray of the church. The subdued yellow and pastel brown of the buildings draw attention to the vibrant flowers. The terse sky blue fills the upper portion fading into an off white. The morning has passed without distraction. He will finish the painting in the studio later on and within a few days his work will be in Piazza Navona, on sale for those who visit Rome and who desire to take a piece of this marvelous place with them.
Gianni loves his work, a painting is different than a photograph. It contains his perception of the things he loves and allows others to interpret not only the architectural masterpiece but also his feelings. Every painting is a representation of his character and can found across the world.
Piazza di Spagna is a work of art often overlooked by those who pass daily. To many it is just 138 steps, the fastest way to get from via Condotti to Trinita dei Monti. To others it feeds the imagination and fosters dreams. As I would pass by it causes me to pause, to think, to wonder and I think of my good friend Gianni.
Tags:Pizza di Spagna Monte Trinita Monuments Rome Lazio Roma Travel Italy