Rome is the city of eternal re-invention. From being the largest and grandest city in the world, the capital of the Roman Empire dwindled to become a tiny, fractious fragment of its former glory. But Rome re-established itself amid the ancient ruins as the centre of western Christendom and seat of the papacy. Quanta Rome fuit ipsa ruina docet: that which Rome was, its ruin teaches.
Popes and princes of the Church relaunched the idea of the Eternal City. In terms of temporal power and artistic accomplishment (if not, on the eve of the Reformation, of spiritual authority) this process culminated in the High Renaissance of the early 16th century. Artists were drawn from all over Italy and beyond for this Renovatio Urbis. Bramante, Raphael and Michelangelo were key players but there were uncountable others. The ancient Basilica of St Peter began to be rebuilt and the Vatican Palace enlarged and dazzlingly refurbished. With the Sack of Rome in 1527 came a pause, but the city recovered later in the century as the Counter-Reformation gathered steam. Then came the Baroque, the first global style, of which Rome was the progenitor and centre.
The buildings and artworks selected date largely from the High Middle Ages to the 18th century. We rediscover some of Rome’s hidden riches and experience its familiar masterpieces either in private sessions or at quieter times of the day. The climax is the exclusive visit to the Sistine Chapel, after public opening hours and free from the madding crowd.
Among the other places visited by special arrangement are the Palazzo Colonna, one of the great Roman baronial family palaces with its magnificent Baroque gallery, and the Casino Ludovisi, a retreat for cardinals and the location of a Caravaggio. This artist’s meteoric rise from connoisseur’s choice to public figure of avant-garde controversy will be explored in his major works in galleries and churches. The flowering of the Baroque culminates in the achievement in both sculpture and architecture of the presiding genius of 17th-century Rome, Gianlorenzo Bernini. This tour provides a unique and privileged picture of Rome in its greatest era of splendour since Antiquity.
Fly at c. 12.45pm (British Airways) from London Heathrow to Rome Fiumicino.
See the stunning collection of sculpture and painting in the Villa Borghese and visit the 16th-century Villa Medici, now the seat of the French Academy. The ‘Holy of Holies’, the Sancta Sanctorum, was the private chapel of the medieval popes at the Lateran palace and was inaccessible for centuries. It was rebuilt in the 1278 by the Cosmati firm with frescoes and mosaics which prefigure the Renaissance. Also see Michelangelo’s Moses on Julius II’s tomb in the church of S. Pietro in Vincoli.
Villa Ludovisi houses Caravaggio’s early ceiling painting Jupiter, Neptune & Pluto and Guercino’s ceiling painting Aurora. Bernini’s own favourite among his churches was S. Andrea al Quirinale; compare it with Francesco Borromini’s nearby S. Carlo alle Quattro Fontane. In the evening there is a private visit to the Vatican to see the Sistine Chapel. With Michelangelo’s ceiling fresco, his Last Judgement on the end wall, the quattrocento wall frescoes and Raphael’s frescoes in the Stanze, this is the most precious assemblage of painting in the western world.
Palazzo Colonna is an agglomeration of building and decoration of many centuries, and has a collection which includes works by Bronzino, Veronese and Annibale Carracci. The Grand Gallery is surely one of the most magnificent secular rooms in Europe. The ceiling fresco by Guido Reni in the Casino dell’Aurora in the garden of the Palazzo Pallavicini Rospigliosi is one of the greatest works of 17th-century classicism. The church of S. Ignazio has a simply amazing illusionistic ceiling painting by Andrea del Pozzo.
The delightful Villa La Farnesina has frescoes by Raphael. Palazzo della Cancelleria, begun in 1485 by Cardinal Raffaele Riario, is a masterpiece of Early Renaissance secular architecture and has frescoes by Vasari of the life of Pope Paul III. Santa Maria in Trastevere is said to be one of the first churches in Rome in which Mass was celebrated, and has impressive 13th-century mosaics by Pietro Cavallini.
Palazzo Doria Pamphilj holds a famous picture collection (early Caravaggios and Velasquez’s terrifying Pope Innocent X). There is some free time before the flight; arrive at London Heathrow c. 7.00pm.
This gives a fair picture of the tour, but there may be substitutes for some places mentioned and the order of visits will probably differ.
Dr Michael Douglas-Scott
Dr Michael Douglas-Scott mixes scholarship with accessible discourse, wit with reasoned opinion, and is highly sought-after as an art history lecturer. He has lectured for New York University (London campus) and is an Associate Lecturer at Birkbeck College, University of London, specialising primarily in 16th-century Italian art and architecture. He studied at the Courtauld and Birkbeck College and lived in Rome for several years. He has written articles for Arte Veneta, Burlington Magazine and the Journal of the Warburg & Courtauld Institutes.
Price, per person
Two sharing: £2,960 or £2,810 without flights. Single occupancy: £3,330 or £3,180 without flights.
Flights (Euro Traveller) with British Airways (Airbus 320); travel by private minibus; hotel accommodation; breakfasts; 1 lunch and 3 dinners with wine, water, coffee; all admissions, including a private visit to the Vatican Museums; all tips for waiters, drivers and guides; all taxes; the services of the lecturer.
Hotel Bernini Bristol: 5-star hotel excellently located on the Piazza Barberini. Single rooms are doubles for sole use.
Unavoidably, there is a lot of walking on this tour. The historic area is vast, and vehicular access is increasingly restricted. Minibuses are used on some occasions but otherwise the city is traversed on foot. There is a lot of standing in museums and churches. A good level of fitness is necessary. It should not be attempted by anyone who has difficulty with everyday walking and stair-climbing. Average distance by minibus per day: 9 miles.
Between 10 and 22 participants.
Before booking, please refer to the FCDO website to ensure you are happy with the travel advice for the destination(s) you are visiting.
'It was truly wonderful to have a private visit to the Vatican Museum and have the Sistine Chapel to ourselves. A fantastic experience and privilege.'
'This was our first MRT tour. We shall certainly look forward to others.'
'I feel very privileged to have been to many of the sites. They were once-in-a-lifetime experiences.'