The Lost Murals of Renaissance Rome

In the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, many palazzos and public buildings in Rome had elaborate painted facades.  The scenes were executed in fresco, a technique that binds paint with wet plaster, forming a hard surface when dry.  Favorite subjects were the battles and heroic feats of the ancient Romans. Most murals were painted in simple tones of gray or brown, which were chosen to simulate the stone reliefs of antiquity.

Among the most famous paintings in the city at the time, most of these narrative facades have now disappeared.  The elements eventually took their toll on the exposed artwork.  However, at their peak during the Renaissance, artists flocked to Rome to admire the murals and sketched copies to take home.  Their drawings and prints preserved their fame throughout the subsequent centuries.

Mural by Taddeo Zuccaro

The J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles presented an exhibition called “The Lost Murals of Renaissance Rome” through September 4, 2022.  The first gallery showed the drawings and prints of the painted building facades.  The second gallery presented the rags-to-riches tale of the Renaissance muralist Taddeo Zuccaro (1529 – 1566), as illustrated by his younger brother, Federico Zuccaro (c. 1541 – 1609).

At the age of 14, Taddeo left his provincial hometown of Sant’Angelo in Vado, near Urbino (Le Marche) to seek his fame and fortune in Rome as an artist.  One of the first drawings by Federico shows Taddeo Leaving Home Escorted by Two Guardian Angels.  Federico depicted himself clinging to his mother’s skirt; he was one of 8 or 9 children in the family.  Throughout the series of about 20 drawings, Federico inscribed them, labeling Taddeo and himself and adding text to explain the contents of the scenes.

Taddeo suffered many hardships on his journey to become an artist.  He eventually secured an apprenticeship, but in a studio where he was starved and mistreated.  In Taddeo in the House of Giovanni Piero Calabrese, he is seen twice: grinding colors at the back of the room, watched over by the mean-spirited wife of the painter; and holding an oil lamp so that his master, Calabrese, can study a drawing by Raphael.  The center text reads, “You deprive me of that which I desire most,” referring to Taddeo’s anguish at not being able to study the Raphael drawing himself.  Bread is kept in a basket hanging from the ceiling—with a bell attached, so that Taddeo could not steal it.

Taddeo eventually achieved success as a mural painter and became one of the most famous artists of his time.  Federico, who also became famous as an artist, planned this series of drawings in the Getty collection as designs for the interior of his lavish Roman palace.  He intended the building to become an academy and hostel for young artists visiting the city, to save them from the trials that befell his beloved older brother.  The project never came to pass due to squabbles among his heirs.

Federico tells the story of his brother in a charming fashion.  The series of drawings also gives us insight into how young artists learned to draw in Renaissance Rome by making copies of works by Michelangelo, Raphael and others.

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Pancetta e Guanciale

Queste due carni italiane hanno molte somiglianze, ma anche molte differenze. Entrambe provengono dal maiale e sono stagionate per prevenire la crescita dei batteri e per ottenere i loro gusti distinti. Entrambe sono salate e grasse ma senza l’affumicatura della pancetta americana. Entrambe conferiscono sapori distinti alle classiche ricette italiane.  (A proposito, la ventresca di maiale è un tipo di pancetta arrotolata, tipica dell’Umbria e altre regioni.)

La pancetta è fatta con la pancia di maiale, mentre il guanciale è fatto con le guance di maiale ed è più grasso. Oltre al sale, le spezie per condire la pancetta sono tipicamente pepe, finocchio, pimento e noce moscata. Il guanciale è tradizionalmente curato con pepe, rosmarino, timo e aglio. La combinazione di spezie può variare a seconda della regione d’Italia in cui viene prodotta. Il processo di stagionatura è simile: la carne viene strofinata con abbondanti quantità di sale e spezie e poi appesa ad asciugare in un locale fresco e asciutto. La pancetta stagiona per circa quattro settimane; il guanciale di solito si cura per un periodo più lungo, anche fino a sei mesi.

I salumi si conservano naturalmente grazie ad una grande quantità di sale e all’eliminazione dell’acqua in eccesso. I microrganismi non possono riprodursi in queste condizioni, consentendo alla carne di essere conservata al sicuro in un locale fresco per mesi nella confezione originale. Tuttavia, devono essere consumati entro due settimane dall’apertura.

Sia la pancetta che il guanciale sono tra le carni più grasse che si possono trovare. La pancetta contiene 426 calorie e 39 grammi di grasso per cento grammi…più che in una quantità equivalente di cioccolato. Il guanciale contiene 589 calorie e 59 grammi di grasso per cento grammi, quasi il doppio della stessa quantità di panna montata. Tuttavia, il grasso in entrambe le carni non è saturo e può essere tranquillamente consumato in porzioni inferiori a 45 grammi al giorno. A causa dell’alto contenuto di sale, queste carni non sono consigliate a persone con malattie renali, problemi cardiaci cronici o diabete.

Il guanciale è principalmente una specialità del centro Italia, mentre la pancetta è ampiamente utilizzata in tutto il paese. La pancetta è più facilmente reperibile del guanciale negli Stati Uniti e viene venduta a fette sottili, tagliata a cubetti e occasionalmente trovata in una lastra. Poiché entrambe le carni sono stagionate, possono essere mangiate da sole, servite su un piatto di carne o consumate con il pane. Di solito, però, si cucinano con altri ingredienti. 

A causa delle differenze di sapore e consistenza, la pancetta e il guanciale sono tradizionalmente utilizzati in piatti diversi. Tuttavia, molte ricette specificano che ciascuna può essere un sostituto dell’altra. Entrambi sono usati in pasta, zuppa, insalata e numerosi altri piatti. Il guanciale è famoso in alcuni piatti romani come i bucatini all’amatriciana, gli spaghetti alla carbonara e i rigatoni alla zozzona. La pancetta compare nelle fettuccine all’abruzzese e più in generale nei risotti, nelle verdure e nei primi piatti come le pappardelle con piselli, asparagi e pancetta.

Sia la pancetta che il guanciale sono amati dai non vegetariani in Italia e in America, soprattutto tra italofili e buongustai.

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Pancetta vs. Guanciale

These two Italian meats have many similarities, but also many differences.  Both come from pork and are cured to prevent bacteria growth and to achieve their distinct tastes.  Both are salty and fatty but without the smokiness of American bacon.  Both lend distinct flavors to classic Italian recipes.

Pancetta is made from pork belly, whereas guanciale is made from pork cheeks and is fattier.  Besides salt, the curing spices for pancetta typically are pepper, fennel, allspice and nutmeg.  Guanciale is traditionally cured using pepper, rosemary, thyme and garlic.  The spice combination can change depending on the region of Italy where it is made.  The curing process is similar:  The meat is rubbed with generous amounts of salt and spices and then hung to dry in a cool, dry room.  Pancetta cures for about four weeks; guanciale usually cures for a longer period, even up to six months.

The cured meats are naturally preserved thanks to a large amount of salt and to the removal of excess water.  Microorganisms cannot breed in these conditions, allowing the meat to be stored safely in a cool room for months in the original packaging.  However, they must be consumed within two weeks after they are opened.

Both pancetta and guanciale are among the fattiest meats you can find.  Pancetta contains 426 calories and 39 grams of fat per 3.5 ounces…more than in an equivalent amount of chocolate.  Guanciale contains 589 calories and 59 grams of fat per 3.5 ounces, nearly twice more than the same amount of whipped cream.  However, the fat in both is non-saturated and can safely be consumed in servings of less than 1.5 ounces per day.  Because of the high salt content, these meats are not recommended for people with kidney disease, chronic heart problems or diabetes.

Guanciale is primarily a central Italy specialty, whereas pancetta is widely used throughout the country.  Pancetta is more readily available than guanciale in the United States and is sold thinly sliced, chopped into cubes and occasionally found in a slab.  Because both meats are cured, they can be eaten on their own, served on a meat platter or consumed with bread.   Usually, however, they are cooked with other ingredients.

Due to flavor and texture differences, pancetta and guanciale are traditionally used in different dishes.  However, many recipes specify that each can be a substitute for the other.  Both are used in pasta, soup, salad and numerous other dishes.  Guanciale is famous in certain Roman dishes like bucatini all’amatriciana, spaghetti alla carbonara, and rigatoni alla zozzona.  Pancetta appears in fettuccine all’abruzzese and more generally in risotto, vegetable and pasta dishes like pappardelle with peas, asparagus and pancetta.

Both pancetta and guanciale are beloved by non-vegetarians in Italy and in America, especially among Italophiles and foodies.

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