It was Federico Fellini’s film, ‘La Dolce Vita’, that cemented what everybody already knew. Rome was a cultural icon; the city itself was a work of art. When actress Anita Ekberg wades through the water of the Trevi Fountain, wearing that black dress, it was a moment of cinematic climax that is rarely reached: the backdrop became as beautiful as the story. Rome was as beautiful as the dazzling Ekberg.
Fellini didn’t only make Rome the setting of ‘La Dolce Vita’, he made the city his home. The director was once asked if Rome was culturally dead. His response: “Rome does not need to make culture. It is culture. Prehistoric, Classical, Etruscan, Renaissance, Baroque, Modern. Every corner of the city is a chapter in an imaginary universal history of culture.”
Rome has always been a cinematic city. Iconic film after iconic film has been set on its streets, from William Wyler’s ‘Roman Holiday’ in 1953 and Michelangelo Antonioni’s ‘L’Eclisse’ in 1962, to Anthony Minghella’s ‘The Talented Mr Ripley’ in 1999 and Paolo Sorrentino’s ‘The Great Beauty’ in 2013.
Film isn’t the only kind of art to be exported out of Rome. As Fellini said, Rome is culture. Art spills out of endless galleries, breathtaking architecture lines cobbled streets and the remains of Ancient Rome lies at the city’s feet. They say the best museum in Rome is the city itself. Unpick the fabric of the city, cruising from one piece of culture to the next and hire a car in Rome with easyCar.
Painting and sculpture take centre stage here. Art oozes from every inch of the city; from Michelangelo’s painted ceiling in the Sistine Chapel to the Etruscan sculpture of Romulus and Remus in the Musei Capitolini.
Like Michelangelo, Bernini – one of history’s greatest sculptors – has also left his mark on Rome. His sculptures are everywhere – in the Piazza Navona, St Peter’s Basilica and in Piazza di Spagna. Caravaggio masterpieces are also scattered across the city – find them in the churches – San Luigi dei Francesi, Santa Maria del Popolo and in Sant’Agostino. They’re also inside the galleries – in Galleria Nazionale d’Art Antica and in the mind-blowing Galleria Borghese.
The Galleria Borghese may be one of the world’s greatest art collections – with its collection of Caravaggio and Bernini – but it’s not Rome’s only top-class gallery. Musei Capitolini is the oldest public museum in the world and home to works by Rubens, Titian and again, Bernini. Beyond the museums, art lovers can discover classical sculpture in Palazzo Altemps or marvel at the golden ceilings of Santa Maria in Trastevere.
But Rome, like all great artists, has adapted with the times. Despite its great artistic legacy, it is constantly evolving. More and more contemporary art is cropping up all over the city. MACRO is a contemporary art gallery spread across two locations – an old Peroni beer factory and an old slaughterhouse. MAXXI is another national museum set up to raise awareness of Italian contemporary, creative practice, in both art and architecture. Smaller, more avant garde galleries can mostly be found in the cool Monti district.
Galleria Lorcan O’Neill Roma is one of the best private galleries in Rome – here you can see big international names like Tracey Emin or Martin Creed, as well as London upstarts such as Eddie Peake. Set up by a London art dealer, there is more of a focus on international pieces rather than on Roman artwork. Monitor, Furini and Frutta, are all galleries that are raising the profile of a new generation of artists in Italy. For something a bit different, try Ermanno Tedeschi Gallery, the space aims to create a bridge between the Italian and Israeli art scenes.
The love of art has slipped down generations of Romans, evolving as it does so. Today street art is booming in the city – murals have emerged all across town by international and Italian artists. The art form has been used to transform Metro stations; The Urban Breath Project assigned five street artists a suburban station each; an effort to inject creativity into the city. Visit MAAM, an old cured pork meat factory, on Saturday to see how the ex-industrial site has been transformed into a gallery of urban art.
You can find the work of quality street artists scattered across the district of San Lorenzo. Here, there are pieces by Alice Pasquini, C125 and Borondo. Explore the street scene further in Ostiense, an area in southern Rome with ever-rising street cred, where the walls are decorated with murals by ROA, Sten&Lex and Lucamaleonte.