Colonnade St. Peter

The painting depicts the famous colonnade of St Peter’s cathedral in Rome. Completed in 1675, the colonnade was the masterpiece of the Italian architect and sculptor Lorenzo Bernini. It embraces the huge elliptical Piazza San Pietro in front of the greatest church in Christendom, the immense St Peter’s Basilica. Faithful pilgrims to the Holy City must have been deeply impressed by the whole ensemble.

In Van Genk’s painting it is a cheerfully busy scene. The extremities of the two arms of the colonnade dominate the painting. A sculpture balances on the edge of the roof, extending a blocking hand. In the shade between the double rows of columns, a pipe-smoking artist paints unperturbed at his easel. A couple, two nuns, and a man with a white dog walk calmly around him. A tourist takes photos, someone sits having his shoes shined, a girl with a hair bun licks her ice lolly, a woman stands reading a newspaper, and an invalid offers souvenirs for sale. The policeman standing at the front clearly relaxes while a troop of little black dogs frolics before his feet. The mood could hardly be more genial.

The stream of vehicles on the road at bottom right does nothing to contradict this ambience. Far from being the stereotypical gridlocked chaos of Italian city traffic, it resembles a catwalk display of vehicle marques and types. They include a police car, a fire engine, an ambulance, a taxi, a tourist coach and a double-decker bus displaying destination Termini (Rome’s central railway station). Opel, Volkswagen and Fiat head the parade. The procession of four-wheelers is escorted by motorbikes and scooters.

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