Schmooze comes from abroad this week, with missives from the profoundly arty worlds of Rome and Florence. It’s been said before of course, but Rome remains a unique pulsating museum of architecture and sculpture from the Etruscan to the Classical, the Renaissance to the Baroque. In the crackling heat, the rifts between worlds ancient and modern blur and shudder further, such that churches once pagan and now Christian seem even more surreal and unholy. If one expects a Rome of Audrey and Gregory’s speedy Vespa and passionate locals, then rest assured it’s all here. The Colosseum, Capitoline Hill, Spanish Steps: they’re all extraordinary, but what amazes are how even the most clich?sights prove pleasing according to a certain contemporary aesthetic. The Trevi Fountain, for instance, is a breathtaking synergy of form and content. Originally the terminal of the Aqua Virgo aqueduct, the fountain spews forth water with delicately planned chaos over rocky shelves as one of Neptune’s Tritons grapples with a cranky sea-horse -“ a scene of aquatic disaster employed to mark an engineering masterpiece of water controlled. Layer onto this the watermark vision of Anita Ekberg casually splashing about in La Dolce Vita and you may never get your breath back.

Florence next, armed with David Leavitt’s guidebook/billet doux Florence: A Delicate Case. A history of artists and exiles with a breezily homosexual focus, there is no better way to explore not just the galleries and churches, but the streets, alleys and piazza. Leavitt writes of artists who are so moved by the level of aesthetic genius in this provincial city they are unable to paint while visiting. It’s also difficult to write anything worthy after Leavitt’s small gem. The Uffizi gallery, the Bargello and the Galleria dell’Academia should be top of the list for visitors, with surprises that only arrive with the environment. Botticelli’s The Birth Of Venus is wonderful, but only appears truly shocking within the Uffizi walls, simply because his decision to re-envision the Virgin Mary as the goddess of love seems more obvious after witnessing a plethora of previous Marys.

It’s worth keeping an eye out too for art events of a more contemporary bent. The Vatican Museum houses not just the world’s most incredible paintjob in the Capella Sistina, but a massive collection of modern representations of Christ. In Florence there’s an exhibition of photographs of the city from the last 150 years, as well as a display of more modern musical instruments which brags an upright pianoforte, two hurdy-gurdies (yes, they’re real things) and not one but three Stradivari violins. Florence keeps breathing, despite acres of statues, tombs and David mousepads.

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