It’s a short climb from the Arch of Constantine up to the platform where the Temple of Venus once stood. Redesigned with a structure in imitation travertine, the box hedges and central fountain of an Italian garden stand before the massive apse of a sacred building punctuated by ceiling coffers. The temple, Ancient Rome’s largest, was commissioned by Hadrian, who was most likely behind its design in 121 AD, placing it on the eastern side of the Forum between the Basilica of Maxentius and the Colosseum. It was dedicated to the goddesses Venus Felix (Venus the Bringer of Good Fortune) and Roma Aeterna, and according to legend, Rome was born here. Unsurprisingly then, the cult of its eternity was practiced in the temple — the religion of its mystical essence. Roma Amor. Previously, the site had welcomed Nero’s Domus Aurea, including a bronze statue of the emperor soaring over 35 meters tall. Today, the LVMH Group has allocated a fund of 2.5 million euro towards its restoration.
The evocative sounds of Fellini’s hypnotic Satyricon float in the air. It’s seventies archaeology with lysergic fragrances. Silvia Venturini Fendi, the creative spirit, and CEO Serge Brunschwig. The sunset is in technicolor as stripes of flamingo pink, purple and liquid gold lambast the canvas of light, which splits and falls into the night. The Colosseum, the dream of Grand Touristes, is center stage, looking like a centerpiece for giants and heroes. The show runs to the repetitive beats of electronic music, played by the Berlin-based Italian performer Caterina Barbieri. Roma Quanta Fuit becomes The Dawn of Romanity. Inspirations are drawn from the epics of marble and porphyry. Mass media and stone codes, materials that embody two thousand years of Rome’s existence, from antiquity to the middle ages, from the renaissance to the baroque, right up to twentieth century rationalism. Fendi has made this epic of stones and colors, of veining and fossil intrusions its own. Fifty-four looks, the number of years Kaiser Karl stood at its helm. Twenty-one new pieces appear in the défilé, while the rest reinterpret the archives. Crinolines, renaissance style puff and hanging sleeves, graphic necklines, Empire line dresses and suits, palazzo pants in moiré and marbled gazar, grilles of octagonal beads. Herringbone embroidery in raffia on a gold laminate surface. Baskets and floral patterns on grilles in leather, ‘70s robes manteaux and pulsations of mink like veins of serpentine and red porphyry, the stone of emperors in Rome and Byzantium, the seal of heroes and of martyrs. Weaving techniques are manifested on the fur Baguette, transparent sandals and boots, with herringbone and corollas emerging from the tulle. Marbles and nature, a waft of Vienna Secession that again leads back to the hallmark of Karl Lagerfeld. The models all have the same hairdo that recalls Sylvie Vartan and 1977’s Histoire d’Eau, the film by Jacques de Bascher and a milestone in Fendi’s history.
Marmora Romana is a book by Raniero Gnoli first published in 1971 by Edizioni dell’Elefante, and reissued for the third time in 2018, by La Nave di Teseo as part of the Le Costellazioni series. The book analyzes the consistency and color of these amazing stones, the quarries they came from, their symbolic meanings and their use. It documents their places and their special characteristics. Marmora Romana is the starting point in a journey that stretches as far as North Africa, around the Mediterranean basin. Inlayed furs — sustainable and redefined with a new life, mixed with fabric supports are transformed into the polychrome mosaics of the Domus Tiberiana. They recreate the Cosmatesque floors of Santa Maria Maggiore, the Escheresque damier of the Santi Quattro Coronati and of Santa Maria in Cosmedin, or the raised apse of Santa Francesca Romana, a church like a theatre, standing just a stone’s throw away. Breitschwanz transforms into gilded bronze. Exegi monument aere perennius, wrote Horace in the Odes. The Fendi Astuccio, the iconic fur from 1971, inlayed on tulle and even appearing in the dresses. The silk trench with sable lining worn by the Marquise Bianca Brumonti, the iconic role played by Silvana Mangano in Visconti’s Conversation Piece (1974) is reinterpreted in looser, more fluid forms. Mangano here is a sibyl by Desubleo, with a baroque ivory face and prophetic byzantine eyes. A distracted Cassandra, with gestures as neurotic-chic as they are prophetic. She is always late, proud and alert like a beast in the jungle. The plot stands on a dreamlike Rome, sepia-tinted and toxic, intertwined with fateful beauty, conspiracies and violence. Et in Arcadia ego.
Ranieri Gnoli, author of Marmora Romana, orientalist and Sanskrit scholar, religion historian and full professor of Indology for over three decades at the La Sapienza university in Rome, was a pupil of Giuseppe Tucci, buddhologist, explorer and head of archaeological expeditions in Tibet, India, Afghanistan and Iran. Tucci, who in 1933, together with Giovanni Gentile founded the Italian Institute of the Middle and Far East in Rome, was considered the greatest Tibetologist in the world. To retrace his map made up of stones — stones that contain the earth’s mysteries and alchemy — Raniero Gnoli visited all the main locations and monuments in the Mediterranean basin where ancient marbles are found. A man of sharp elegance, he’s a storyteller who savors and perfects every word, whose British humor occasionally lights up his face, borrowed from a painting by Hogarth or Zoffany. A master of brilliant spirits, cult of a circle of experts and a sharp and witty conversationalist, he lives in secluded castle facing a seemingly boundless wood, not far from Rome: a home he has transformed into a playground of inventions and which he has transfigured, combining findings and ancient fragments, rarities, objects, and furnishings he makes himself. He uses ruin marble and jasper to build ebonized cabinets, and creates crazy mannerist Wunderkammer-style monsters with shells and concretions, clashing arms with Arcimboldo and Rudolf II in Prague, with the Ancient and Alessandro Albani. Emulator of Monsignor Leone Strozzi of the famous Litoteca, with him it’s easy to lose yourself in Mons Porphyrites in Egypt, on the Middle Eastern routes to Ephesus and Emesa, in the Kingdom of Trebizond, in Baalbek or in Ostia, where he was the first to recognize the figure of Christ in the domus of Porta Marina. Marmora Romana reveals just how broad the author’s field of research truly is — a mirror of his multitudinous interests. Exotic city quarters, palaces, dynastic and religious splendors. Gnoli, the tireless traveler of the kind that recalls more Robert Byron than Bruce Chatwin, succeeds like no one else in combining a philological approach, imagination, literary enjoyment and intellectual honesty. Raniero Gnoli is also responsible for the only full Italian translation of Tantraloka still in existence by the Indian philosopher, mystic, musician and aesthete, Abhinavagupta, who lived between the first and second millennium.