Among the em­per­ors and an­gels in the cen­tre of Rome

A cafe-mu­seum cel­e­brates the legacy of a fa­mous sculp­tor

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Travel & Indulgence - SU­SAN KURO­SAWA

WOULDyou like a torso with your tortellini, a winged god with your espresso?

At the un­usual Canova Tadolini cafe-mu­seum on via del Babuino in Rome, just along from the Span­ish Steps, din­ers sit all but el­bow-to-el­bow amid a re­mark­able dis­play of loom­ing works by lead­ing neo­clas­si­cal sclup­tor Antonio Canova — that great favourite of the Bona­partes who worked in the 18th and 19th cen­turies — and his con­tem­po­raries. Via del Babuino’s her­itage pa­rade is still known as Rome’s ‘‘street of artists’’ and masters such as Ni­co­las Poussin and Peter Paul Rubens once lived here.

Also in the neigh­bour­hood is the Keats-Shel­ley Memo­rial House; poet John Keats died of tu­ber­cu­lo­sis in this pink-painted res­i­dence in 1821 and it’s now a trove of mem­o­ra­bilia and manuscripts.

The me­an­der­ing war­ren of rooms in the cafe-mu­seum was once the ate­lier of Canova and his prized pupil Adamo Tadolini, and re­mained in the lat­ter’s fam­ily for four gen­er­a­tions, un­til 1967. Re­stored as an eatery in 2000, it houses dozens of plas­ter mod­els and busts by the famed sculp­tors and an ar­ray of their tools and draw­ings. Although there are a few roped-off ex­hibits, the works are mostly ar­ranged with ca­sual ease, along with se­lected pieces by the two men’s peers, such as Tadolini’s son Sci­p­i­one.

The din­ing ta­bles, scat­tered in ran­dom order and squeezed into re­cesses, are all but dwarfed by life-sized sol­diers on horse­back, comely fe­male nudes and casts of re­clin­ing mem­bers of the Bon­a­parte fam­ily.

In the rear room on the ground floor, the high sky­lights and the deep red walls lend the dis­tinct feel of a bo­hemian stu­dio.

Amid such over­whelm­ing pomp, the food could be but an af­ter­thought, but my lunch of in­salata cap­rese (creamy mozarella, basil leaves and toma­toes of just-picked sweet­ness) and pasta of the house (a moun­tain­ous por­tion of lin­guini in a but­tery, gar­licky sauce with shav­ings of pecorino and a cloud of black pep­per) is mar­vel­lous ( each).

Canova’s works are ex­hib­ited at stel­lar gal­leries such as the Lou­vre in Paris, the V&A in Lon­don and the Her­mitage in St Peters­burg.

To see more of his sculp­tures in Rome, head to Gal­le­ria Borgh­ese in the Borgh­ese Gar­dens. But for an in­stant im­mer­sion and a de­light­ful nosh, this cafe-mu­seum seems al­most too easy an op­tion.

What’s more, my rosy lunchtime Cam­pari (when in Rome and all that) matches the colour of the walls, so here’s a toast to the masters, Canova and Tadolini.

Works at Canova Tadolini

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