Thursday, May 24, 2007

Where's Donatello?

On Saturday morning, May 19, 2007, the CAS Rome group met at the Campidoglio. Our agenda was to browse the two museums at the top of the Capitoline, where Hawthorne sets the first chapter of THE MARBLE FAUN and the later chapter where the pivotal crime takes place as the Model is thrown from the Tarpeian Rock.

Saturday was still part of "culture week" in Rome, and so admission to the museums was free. We were surprised to discover, one after another, that the Marble Faun was not on his pedestal in the salon at the head of the stairway in the Museo Capitoline, the room of the dying Gaul. Instead, there was a sign on the pedestal, informing Hawthorne pilgrims that the Praxiteles faun is on loan at the Louvre until June 19.

But we were in luck. There is a copy of the Marble Faun in the tunnel connecting the two museums, near the stairway leading up to the other museum. We passed the word among the groups and all had a chance to see the figure that started Hawthorne's speculation about Donatello. If you look closely, you can even see the statue's pointed ears. You can see his amiability--which Hawthorne ascribes not only to a semi-magical faun ancestor, but seems to identify in part with the remoteness to which he assigns virtually all other Italians in his book. Hawthorne mostly ignores the contemporary Italy of 1860 (not to mention ignoring the contemporary United States of 1860). when he does describe Italians, they are given minor roles, or sometimes treated with a kind of Protestant distaste of their Catholicism. So, the faun is, for readers who have been exposed to contemporary cultural studies, a somewhat uncomfortable figure. And yet the romance beckons us into its own concerns, depicting a self-enclosed world of American artists, living among other artists in Rome, just before the beginning of tourism. Just as Rome gives them freedom of artistic action, it gives Hawthorne, and the willing reader, a freedom of the imagination and speculation, and a genuine exploration of the risks and opportunities of identity that can come with the displacements of travel, the discovery of a place with a different relation to the past than is typical in American culture, and a necessary re-invention of the obligations of community and conscience.

We have placed ourselves, if we are willing, to experience in our own ways the challenges that Hawthorne engaged in his way.

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