One of the things I love about Rome is its collection of smaller, less-visited museums. These little gems can offer a very different experience than the massive crowds of the Vatican Museums and the Colosseum. Even better, some are also free!
Just north of Piazza del Popolo is Villa Helene, a giant, very pink, palazzo. This house museum was the studio and home of the Norwegian-American artist Hendrik Christian Andersen, an artist whom, quite frankly, I was utterly unfamiliar with. But looking for a convenient and free afternoon activity, off we went.
Andersen was primarily a sculptor, and the palazzo is filled — and I do mean filled — with his work. One thing it was not filled with was people. We were the only ones there, except for two enthusiastic docents. English-language laminated cards were available for each room on the ground floor, which the docents helpfully provided.
Andersen’s oeuvre was massive, monumental, classically inspired sculpture. Many of them are nude — the kind of nudes with bulging muscles and “classic” features that I associate with the early 1900’s (and the political movements of that time). Truthfully, much of it was not to my taste.
It was very interesting to ponder, however, the purpose of these sculptures. Intended for monumental showcasing, many were designed to be seen from afar. They may seem surprisingly generic and have exaggerated features when viewed up close. Indeed, it felt like the bodies and faces were practically interchangeable, including their mild expressions. Definitely, these sculptures were merely symbols of an ideal, and not of representations of individuals. And, when a baby is depicted, it’s… well, totally creepy.
The few pieces that had more human personality were, in my opinion, much more interesting and engaging.
One room contained his urban drawings of a very symmetrical, and apparently very utopian, city full of massive buildings and monumental fountains. Besides reminding me of Hitler’s architect Albert Speer, these drawings also also brought EUR to mind, though Andersen’s city never came to fruition.
Then we headed upstairs, to his paintings, which, to my surprise, I loved. More on that in a later blog post.