MONSTER WINDOWS & MONSTER INLAWS
Any trip to Rome is likely to conjure memories of the 1953 film “Roman Holiday,” with Audrey Hepburn in her first starring role, and Gregory Peck. One of the most famous scenes in the film occurred at Rome’s famed “Spanish Steps.”
The film stands as a pinnacle in the romance genre, even though (spoiler alert!) Peck and Hepburn don’t get married at the end of the movie. But Peck did meet his future wife in real life—Paris-based reporter Veronique Passani– on his way to Rome. Real life doesn’t always include a Hollywood ending, but for Peck and Passani? The two married on December 31st, 1955 and remained married for the rest of Peck’s life.
Love does, even today, often lead to marriage. As Frank Sinatra famously sang, “Love and marriage… you can’t have one without the other.”
But there’s no doubt that marriage represents the ‘real-life’ side of love, with all the challenges that come with it… including Mothers-in-Law (sometimes referred to as ‘monsters-in-law,’ no doubt with tongue firmly in cheek).
There’s an old joke:
Seeing a large crowd in a farmer’s yard, the local pastor stopped and asked the farmer why the large crowd.
“My donkey kicked my mother-in-law in the head, and killed her,” said the farmer.
“Wow!” said the pastor. “She must have a lot of friends!”
“Not really,” said the farmer. “These guys are all here trying to buy the donkey.”
So what does this have to do with “Roman Holiday,” and the Spanish Steps?
Well, while the Spanish Steps might help ignite love—a love that leads to marriage—just a short walk away is another Roman destination that might seem more appropriate for some seeking a link to one ‘reality’ of marriage—the Mother-in-Law.
It’s the Palazzo Zuccari, standing on the piazza Trinità dei Monti. Built in 1590 by the Italian painter Federico Zuccari, the Palace features a door and two windows that are conceived to be gaping mouths of hell– so-called ‘mascherone.’ And no, ‘mascherone’ does not translate as Mother-in-Law, but rather as ‘grotesque mask.’
There are literally thousands of churches and old buildings in Rome that have ornate, decorative architecture. Images of saints, famous Renaissance paintings and more abound. But the Zuccari Palace is unabashedly referred to as “The Monster House,” or “Casa dei Mostri.”
Queen Marie Casimire Louise of Poland occupied the Palace, and while she was there it became an artists’ destination, welcoming the likes of Joshua Reynolds, Johann Joachim Winckelmann, Jacques-Louis David and the Nazarenes. Their frescoes were panted there, but were later moved the National Gallery of Berlin.
Palazzo Zuccari was written about by frequent guest Gabriele d’Annunzio in his novel “Il Piacere”.
And the last owner, Henrietta Hertz, left her collection of paintings to the Italian state in 1902, and ever since the building has housed the Bibliotheca Hertziana – the Max Planck Institute for Art History.
So monster windows and a door that looks like a mouth that is always open. Something to think about if love rings a bell while you are in Rome!
The entrance points to a home bring life to the façade and light to those who live inside. It’s no wonder that artists throughout the centuries have lavished so much attention on them.
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