On The Spanish Steps

Piazza di Spagna in an 18th-century etching by Giovanni Battista Piranesi, seen from south. The street on the left is Via del Babuino, leading to Piazza del Popolo.

 
 

The Spanish Steps or Scalinata della Trinità dei Monti are a set of steps in Rome, Italy, climbing a steep slope between the Piazza di Spagna at the base and Piazza Trinità dei Monti, dominated by the Trinità dei Monti church at the top.

The monumental stairway of 135 steps (the slightly elevated drainage system is often mistaken for the first step) was built with French diplomat Étienne Gueffier’s bequeathed funds of 20,000 scudi, in 1723–1725, linking the Bourbon Spanish Embassy, and the Trinità dei Monti church that was under the patronage of the Bourbon kings of France, both located above — to the Holy See in Palazzo Monaldeschi located below. The stairway was designed by architects Francesco de Sanctis and Alessandro Specchi.

 
 

In the piazza, at the corner on the right as one begins to climb the steps, is the house where English poet John Keats lived and died in 1821; it is now a museum dedicated to his memory, full of memorabilia of the English Romantic generation.

 
 

At the top the stairway ramp up the Pincio which is the Pincian Hill. From the top of the steps the Villa Medici can be reached.

During Christmas time a 19th-century crib is displayed on the first landing of the staircase. During May, part of the steps are cover
ed by pots of azaleas. In modern times the Spanish Steps have included a small cut-flower market. The steps are not a place for eating lunch, being forbidden by Roman urban regulations, but they are usually crowded with people.

 
 

 
 

In the Piazza di Spagna at the base is the Early Baroque fountain called Fontana della Barcaccia (Fountain of the ugly Boat), built in 1627-29 and often credited to Pietro Bernini, father of a more famous son, Gian Lorenzo Bernini, who is recently said to have collaborated on the decoration. The elder Bernini had been the pope’s architect for the Acqua Vergine, since 1623. According to a legend, Pope Urban VIII had the fountain installed after he had been impressed by a boat brought here by a flood of the Tiber river.

 
 

The film Roman Holiday (William Wyler, 1953), starring Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck, made the Spanish Steps famous to an American audience

 
 

The apartment that was the setting for The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone (José Quintero, 1961) is halfway up on the right

 
 

The Steps were featured prominently in the film version of The Talented Mr. Ripley(Anthony Minghella, 1999) starring Matt Damon in the title role

 
 

To watch Morten Harket’s Spanish Steps music video, please take a gander at The Genealogy of Style’s Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/pages/The-Genealogy-of-Style/597542157001228?ref=hl

A Joy for Ever

A THING OF BEAUTY (ENDYMION)

“A thing of beauty is a joy for ever:
Its lovliness increases; it will never
Pass into nothingness; but still will keep
A bower quiet for us, and a sleep
Full of sweet dreams, and health, and quiet breathing…”

John Keats

 
 

Stills from Roman Holiday (William Wyler, 1953). Enjoying her freedom, on a whim, Anya gets her hair cut short in a barbershop. Joe follows and “accidentally” meets her on the Spanish Steps, Rome (Italy)

A Supposed Lie Detector

Alfred Hitchcock at La Bocca della Verità (The Mouth of Truth) in Rome

 
 

La Bocca della Verità is an image, carved from Pavonazzo marble, of a man-like face, located in the portico of the church of Santa Maria in Cosmedin in Rome, Italy. The sculpture is thought to be part of a first-century ancient Roman fountain, or perhaps a manhole cover, portraying one of several possible pagan gods, probably Oceanus. Most Romans believe that the ‘Bocca’ represents the ancient god of the river Tiber.

The most famous characteristic of the Mouth, however, is its role as a lie detector. Starting from the Middle Ages, it was believed that if one told a lie with one’s hand in the mouth of the sculpture, it would be bitten off. The piece was placed in the portico of the Santa Maria in Cosmedin in the 17th century. This church is also home to the supposed relics of Saint Valentine.

 
 

Joe (Gregory Peck) shocks his royal friend (Audrey Hepburn), pretending to have lost his hand to the Mouth of Truth

 
 

The Mouth of Truth is known to English-speaking audiences mostly from its appearance in the film Roman Holiday (William Wyler, 1953). The film also uses the Mouth of Truth as a storytelling device since both Hepburn’s and Peck’s characters are not initially truthful with each other.

 
 

This scene from Roman Holiday was parodied in the film Only You (Norman Jewison, 1994) starring Robert Downey Jr. and Marisa Tomei

Fascinated by the Shape of Butterflies

“….I was practically born holding a pen between my fingers, I started tracing shapes which recalled women’s legs at an age when female anatomy was not at all interesting to me. Probably I was not more than five or six years old. I think that it all came from the fact that when I was a child I loved to leaf through the Paris fashion magazines my mother left scattered around the house: of course they had illustrations of women sometimes wearing lingerie or see-through negligées (…) I was fascinated by shapes, lines, graphic signs which lured my observing and precocious eye…”

Renè Gruau
1994

 
 

Undated Gruau’s illustrations

 
 

Eisenberg Originals Butterfly-Printed Tulle Stole, Evening Gown, 1951

 
 

Crescendoe Gloves Advertisement, circa 1954

 
 

Advertising for Cori, 1959

 
 

“A butterfly surrounded with a thick tissue of the Maison Givenchy, thus creating a beautiful costume especially for Audrey Hepburn.” International Textiles, edition of December 1966. The actress Audrey Hepburn portrayed by René Gruau in Paris (France), after the filming of How to Steal a Million (William Wyler, 1966), in November 1965. This illustration is also known as Lady Butterfly

Thwarted by Outside Forces

Romeo and Juliet as depicted by Joseph Christian Leyendecker, 1929

 
 

“Star-crossed” or “star-crossed lovers” is a phrase describing a pair of lovers whose relationship is often thwarted by outside forces. The term encompasses other meanings, but originally means the pairing is being “thwarted by a malign star” or that the stars are working against the relationship. Astrological in origin, the phrase stems from the belief that the positions of the stars ruled over people’s fates, and is best known from the play Romeo and Juliet by the Elizabethan playwright William Shakespeare. Such pairings are often but not always said to be doomed from the start.

The phrase was coined in the prologue of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet:

“From forth the fatal loins of these two foes,

A pair of star-cross’d lovers take their life” (5–6).

It also refers to destiny and the inevitability of the two characters’ paths crossing each other. It usually but not always refers to unlucky outcomes, since Romeo and Juliet’s affair ended tragically. Further, it connotes that the lovers entered into their union without sufficient forethought or preparation; that the lovers may not have had adequate knowledge of each other or that they were not thinking rationally.

 
 

Wuthering Heights (William Wyler, 1939)

 
 

Examples of famous star-crossed lovers vary in written work. Pyramus and Thisbe are usually regarded as the source for Romeo and Juliet, featured in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and Catherine Earnshaw and Heathcliff from Wuthering Heights are considered one of the greatest love stories in literary works. In Wuthering Heights, the narrative tells the tale of the all-encompassing and passionate, yet thwarted, love between Heathcliff and Catherine Earnshaw, and how this unresolved passion eventually destroys them and many around them.

 
 

The Parting of Lancelot and Guinevere, Julia Margaret Cameron, 1874. Albumen silver print from glass negative. David Hunter McAlpin Fund, 1952

 
 

Lancelot and Guinevere are often remembered for their affair. Guinevere was the queen of Camelot and wife of King Arthur, while Lancelot was a trusted knight of Arthur’s Round Table. In some versions of the tale, she is instantly smitten, and when they consummate their adulterous passion, it is an act which paves the way for the fall of Camelot and Arthur’s death.

 
 

The End of The Song,  Edmund Leighton, 1902

 
 

The legend of Tristan and Iseult (also known as Tristan and Isolde) is an influential romance and tragedy, retold in numerous sources with as many variations. The tragic story is of the adulterous love between the lovers. The narrative predates and most likely influenced the Arthurian romance of Lancelot and Guinevere, and has had a substantial impact on Western art and literature since it first appeared in the 12th century. While the details of the story differ from one author to another, the overall plot structure remains much the same.

Hero and Leander is a Greek myth, relating the story of Hero (Greek: Ἡρώ), a priestess of Aphrodite who dwelt in a tower in Sestos, at the edge of the Hellespont, and Leander (Greek: Λέανδρος, Leandros), a young man from Abydos on the other side of the strait. Leander fell in love with Hero and would swim every night across the Hellespont to be with her. Hero would light a lamp at the top of her tower to guide his way.

 
 

Sarah Bernhardt in Pelléas et Mélisandre

 
 

Pelléas and Mélisande (French: Pelléas et Mélisande) is a Symbolist play by Maurice Maeterlinck about the forbidden, doomed love of the title characters. A classical myth, was a common subject for art during the Renaissance and Baroque eras.

Troilus and Cressida is a tragedy by Shakespeare, believed to have been written in 1602. The play (also described as one of Shakespeare’s problem plays) is not a conventional tragedy, since its protagonist (Troilus) does not die.The play ends instead on a very bleak note with the death of the noble Trojan Hector and destruction of the love between Troilus and Cressida.Venus and Adonis is classical myth during the Renaissance. Heer Ranjha is one of the four popular tragic romances of the Punjab.

 
 

The fainting of Laylah and Majnun, Author unknown, c. 1550-1600

 
 

Layla and Majnun ( by the Persian poet Nizami Ganjavi) is a classical Arabian love story . It is based on the real story of a young man called Qays ibn al-Mulawwah from the northern Arabian Peninsula, in the Umayyad era during the 7th century. There were two Arabic versions of the story at the time. In one version, he spent his youth together with Layla, tending their flocks. In the other version, upon seeing Layla he fell passionately in love with her. In both versions, however, he went mad when her father prevented him from marrying her; for that reason he came to be called Majnun Layla, which means “Driven mad by Layla”. To him were attributed a variety of incredibly passionate romantic Arabic poems, considered among the foremost examples of the Udhari school.

 
 


The Butterfly Lovers is a Chinese legend about the tragic romance between two lovers, Liang Shanbo and Zhu Yingtai. The legend is sometimes regarded as the Chinese equivalent to Romeo and Juliet.

 
 

Other classic star-crossed lovers include Devdas and Paro (Parvati) in Devdas, Paris of Troy and Helen of Sparta in The Iliad, Oedipus and Jocasta in Oedipus the King, Mark Antony and Cleopatra during the time of the Roman Empire, Khosrow and Shirin during the time of Sassanid Persia, Heloise and Peter Abelard during the Middle Ages, and Emperor Jahangir and Anarkali, Cyrano and Roxane in Cyrano de Bergerac, Hagbard and Signy and Maratha Peshwa (Prime Minister) Bajirao and Mastani during the peak of Maratha Empire.