Among the emperors and angels in the centre of Rome
A cafe-museum celebrates the legacy of a famous sculptor
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