Sunday, 31 October 2010

'EMPIRE' ! 'EMPIRE' ! .... MARIO PRAZ "House of Life "

In 1934 he went to live at the Ricci Palace, in the via Giulia. Then, that particular meander of baroque Rome lived tranquilly in a city of provinces. And the book, with a title as suggestive as The House of Life, tells the story of how that gloomy Roman palace, aged but noble, became filled with beautiful things, objects of the past found in European antiques markets. Empire-style furniture and small artefacts that the history of art with a capital 'A' considered simply to be 'art mineur' or at the very most decorative art. And there he spent his days in that over-refined setting, surrounded by trinkets, a little bit beyond life itself, like the reflected images of the Empire-style mirrors which decorated his house, and which the writer loved so much. They are, said Praz talking of the mirrors, like the glass of an aquarium which separates our own state from another, populated by silent creatures. Happy in his shipwreck - melancholy is the joy of being sad, said Victor Hugo - his life was blighted by the thought that true happiness was to be found elsewhere, in places never visited or seen, and for which he felt a profound nostalgia. The House of Life was a finalist for the 1958 Strega Prize, awarded to the prince of Lampedusa for The Leopard - a novel which was also made into a film by Luchino Visconti, with Burt Lancaster playing the part of a ruined aristocrat who the old professor in Gruppo di famigita in un inferno would later remind us of. This coincidence in the same literary event signified the meeting of two voices which belonged to the time of reflection during the postwar period, the moral landscape of Europe having changed, where writing seemed to be the only way to immortalize the old ways. The Majorcan writer Llorenç Villalonga, soul brother to the Sicilian Prince, was also have been tuned in to that time. Remember that what The Leopard and Beam, two books published simultaneously, have in common is the aristocratic decadence of two Mediterranean islands. To read any of these three authors is to return to a serene, balanced style of writing, that is to say neoclassical, which exudes clear nostalgia for the past, a lack of faith in the present, and curiosity for the future. It could be said that they lived convinced that the only paradise was paradise lost.


Mario Praz Memorial House
Museo Mario Praz
Palazzo Primoli
Via Zanardelli, 1

This museum stores over 1,200 objects dating from the late 18th and mid 19th centuries that were owned by the collector Mario Praz, as described in his book La Casa della Vita ("The House of Life").
Open Tuesday through Sunday 9am-1pm and 2:30-6:30pm
Guided tours every hour
Closed on Mondays

On the top floor of the Palazzo Primoli—the same building (separate entrance) that houses the Museo Napoleonico—is one of Rome's most unusual museums. As if in amber, the apartment in which the famous Italian essayist Mario Praz lived is preserved intact, decorated with a lifetime's accumulation of delightful baroque and Neoclassical art and antiques arranged and rearranged to create symmetries that take the visitor by surprise like the best trompe d'oeil. As author of The Romantic Sensibility and A History of Interior Decoration, Praz was fabled for his taste for the arcane and the bizarre; here his reputation for the same lives on. The apartment, prettily done up in Empire style, can only be seen on group tours. (fodor's)

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