José F. Grave de Peralta
La Torre del Monzone
This Medieval tower, located next to the Temple of Portunus in Rome's ancient Foro Boario (Cattle or "Cowboy" Forum), was known for a long time as La Casa di Pilato -- perhaps because it was traditionally the theatrical location during popular Holy Week reenactments of Christ's Passion, for the scene where Jesus is brought for judgment before Pontius Pilate before the crowds themselves cry out to Pilate, "Crucify him! Crucify him!" , relieving him of "responsibility" for the execution...
According to Emma Amadei, author of the 1933 text, ROMA TURRITA, the word "monzone" is a Roman- dialect derivation from "mansione," or mansion. This highly elaborate old tower, encrusted with ancient Roman cornices, consoles, capitals, and even rosettes -- says the author -- probably belonged to the family of one Nicolo Crescencio,
whose name appears in the inscriptions contained in the various marble lunettes and in the threshold's tympanum, along with poetic phrases supposedly pronounced by the house itself alluding to its elegance and beauty. The Crescencios lived in the 1300s.
While the author also mentions a long-standing belief that the 14th-century Roman tribune, Cola di Rienzo, lived in this tower, she also cites the opinion of archaeologist and restorer Antonio Muñoz to the effect that the tower may have been built as early as the 500s -- which would explain its sort of desperate quotation of classical antiquity, in the style of the enlightened Visigothic viceroy Theodoric (454-526).
The process of drawing La Torre del Monzone began with what turned out to be a meticulous study of its south wall, shown immediately above. In fact, I more or less mindlessly scribbled an ink line on the white before I began the study. One may still see this wavy scribble faintly on the top right corner of the image! At that point, I was simply trying to get a sense of line thickness and especially to see how freely my hand could glide across the sheet of smooth Fabriano paper. With pen & ink, fear can easily trip up line flow and
literally cripple one's hand. This is because one cannot erase an ink line -- there's no going back to white or gray, once the line is there.
The success of pen&ink drawing, for me, depends on a mixture of looseness and control in the draughtsman. Like Yin and Yang. Balance of opposites like straight and curve, heavy and light, verticals and horizontals, masses and voids. The artist must see and draw the general before he pretends to bring in the particulars, and he must constantly -- most constantly -- do a sort of "pulling back" to view wholistically the illusion he is creating on the entire page with the marks and flow of the pen. (A little bit like walking and chewing gum at the same time, as the saying goes.)
The more one loses one's self-consciousness and draws for the sheer study of form and/or for the delight of it, the more fulfilling the experience will be. When I think too much that someone is going to judge my drawing or, worse, that I must produce a masterpiece, I immediately tense up -- and my line shakes, trips up, or splattters ink all over the page.
A drawing is a construction, it is an event! A drawing is an act of building a figure or form out of lines on the paper surface. In the second of my drawings on this page I especially like how the columns of the drawing seem to be doing just that: acting as columns for the paper and "holding up" the top edge of the paper itself -- along with the drawn bricks, the cornice, and the reliefs of sphinxes and flowery garlands, etc.
The Notes on the margin of this sketchbook page that was part of my study process for drawing the Roman Tower del
Monzone ..... include the sort of "mantra" of 16th-century French author Michel de Montaigne (1533-1592).
One of Montaigne's most celebrated phrases is "What do I know?", and the spirit of inquiry and openness to discovery that inspired his famous ESSAYS is something I strive for, often with difficulty, when I draw.
Interestingly, the Latin letters inscribed on the lunette of the balconied window I studied on this page say something about how the house is an effigy or image of its maker. I think the same holds true about how our lines and our drawings are images or effigies of ourselves.