In Rome, thousands of tourists and citizens every day get off at the stop of the Metro A called Flaminio: People Square is adjacent to it, and just a few tens of meters to take Via del Corso, a street that literally cuts in two the historic center of Rome.
Nevertheless, in spite of this daily crowd of tourists and workers, few people know that taking Via Flaminia in the opposite direction, a few steps from there stands a small Villa immersed in the quiet and full of charm, open almost every day and completely free, able to tell an extraordinary story. It is a place of incredible charm, a forgotten temple, a shrine protected by gigantic sculptures buried by the patina of time. It is thanks to the story of the Rome Guides Association that we will open its doors, entering inside the house-museum of Hendrik Christian Andersen, which houses all his works, with over 200 sculptures, 300 graphic works, and 200 paintings.
To reconstruct in a few paragraphs the extraordinarily eclectic personality of this extraordinary sculptor and painter, born in 1872 in Bergen (Norway) and emigrated as a child with his family to Rhode Island (USA), to interpret the results of his impressive sculptural production, is almost impossible: crossing the threshold of the Villa, the visitor is welcomed by a people of giants, heroes, athletes, flying figures, soaring horses biting an invisible brake, chubby and playful cherubs, surrounded by a multitude of muscular and elastic men, and female figures more like Juno than Aphrodite.
Behind the creation of this universe of bodies, which might seem a bit rhetorical in their delayed neoclassical language, lies a story absolutely out of the ordinary. What the visitor can admire is the story of a man(Norwegian by birth, American by citizenship, and Italian by adoption) who lived in pursuit of a grandiose dream, to which he dedicated all his physical, mental, and material energies.
It was the creation of a “World Communication Center”, a gigantic International City, a place to channel the best minds in the world to develop projects, produce culture, stimulate debate and provide intellectual guidance in science, art and economics. Entering the Room I, in fact, the visitor is forbidden. On a Venetian floor, under a stucco coffered ceiling and large windows, you can see on the walls dozens of projects of buildings, squares and entire cities designed between 1901 and 1911 in collaboration with the French architect Ernest Hébrard, in order to realize the ambitious(and probably utopian) project of the realization of a World City.
Andersen’s goal was to create a great world center of communication, a common heritage of all civilized nations of the world and a multipurpose laboratory of ideas in the various fields of knowledge, passing from science to the arts, to religion, touching on law and physical culture. The City of Andersen had to represent a hub that could offer all men of intellect the opportunity to come together to develop their opinions in vast programs of learning and improvement of each discipline. In 1913 the enthusiasm for this project led the two creators to publish in Paris the book ‘Creation of a World Centre of Communication’ in a double version, English and French, illustrated by 24 engraved panels. The project was more than ambitious, but it was not without a (though vague) possibility of realization. Andersen’s project was not born like a flower in the desert: the pacifist ideology at the base of his conception was already widespread among his contemporaries and the ideals that Andersen tried to exalt expressed a necessity shared by a large part of the society.
In addition to the exponents of the political and cultural world who accepted and supported the project’s propaganda, there were some key figures who made its realization possible, first of all the artist’s sister-in-law, Olivia Cushing, a member of a wealthy family in Boston, who spent many years with him, sharing the same ideals, the same projects and the same thoughts. The artist’s mother, Helene Andersen, was also essential in his life, so much so that the Villa (built between 1922 and 1924 as a home and sculpture workshop) is still called “Villa Helene” in honor of her mother.
The Museum literally preserves all that remains of this grandiose project: the monumental sculptures, already prepared to be installed within the urban circuit of the World City, such as stand-alone decorations or admirable and daring fountains, sketches in plaster and clay, models of some buildings, popular materials. Room II is, in this sense, a preferential entrance in Andersen’s head, as it was intended by the artist as a laboratory for the modelling of sculptural forms. The room is still equipped with a large skylight (to encourage sculpture under natural light) and a rough concrete slab floor.
So, while the project of the World City remained on paper, although translated into precise drawings, the colossal sculptures that were supposed to embellish and decorate it were created: the Fountain of Life, the Joy of Living, the Brotherhood, the Progress of Humanity, the Horses tamed by human intelligence grew in number and size overcrowding the spaces of the atelier.
Henry James, with whom Andersen maintained close and affectionate relations of friendship, manifested his concern and concern in the face of that proliferation of giants far removed from any immediate form of real-life or any hope of gain. But the “young heroic master of grand style”, as James affectionately called him, did not give up and continued to pursue his fantastic vision, despite the catastrophe of the First World War.
Among the most interesting works, the visitor remains incredulous before the bronze group “Angel of Life” of 1912. Destined to the Non-Catholic Cemetery, placed above the family tomb, it was removed in 1933 due to injuries to the structure and was no longer accepted in the Cemetery because of its rough nudity. The balance of the two bronze bodies, suspended in a tightrope walking balance only through the toes, always leave the spectators breathless. As the last resting place of the artist, who died here in 1940, the Museum preserves not only his works but also his memories, images, thoughts, notebooks, photographs, official and private letters. The first floor, once the artist’s home and still visitable today, is the testament of an entire life, a multitude of pieces of a mosaic that, only once reassembled, can return the full and fascinating image of this multifaceted artist. 4
To this day the museum does not boast a large number of visits, sometimes even touching the sad record of zero visits in the whole day, overshadowed by the glory of the other monuments of Rome. Considering the charm of the site, the Association Rome Guides can only hope for a more assiduous attendance by tourists in the coming years, to discover an oneiric and marvelous place. In the end, dreaming doesn’t cost anything…
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