Rome: Pictorial Space and the Albertian window

Thinking about the Albertian notion of the picture plane as a window frame, I have been looking from my window here. I am staying on the 5th floor (100 steps and no lift) of a block in the Centro Storico. It is difficult to tell the age of the building. I would think the façade is probably 18th, might be 17th, Century. But the maze of intersecting buildings it covers could be much, much older.

The point is, that these arrangements, still on a mediaeval street pattern, hold a familiar form and what do I see from my window? I see stories, many other windows randomly arranged with different lives, all autonomous, all operating in their own complex spaces, all with their own ‘agency’.

There is for example, as there always is in these built up ancient centres where people live as they have done for centuries, a child screaming; there is always a child screaming somewhere. In this case, I can see him in a window across a little piazza to my right, about 2 storeys down. I can see bunk beds and a tiny head just reaching up to the window ledge. The screaming has stopped, he, (and it has to be a he) raises his arm above his head so it can clear the open  window frame and throws a toy out into the world- through his own picture plane to land in an unknown, inaccessible world below.

To my left is a church that proclaims strong missionary connections on a board outside the doors. One of the transepts has an altana (roof terrace) I have seen young priests hanging out their washing sometimes. This evening a man in a white T shirt is jogging on a running machine. The machine faces the wall, not the view of the Roman sky line and a striking, setting sun.

There is shouting opposite, the errant boy disappears suddenly and an enormous woman wearing vast black underwear fills the entire open window, her bra bulges ominously as she leans out of the window to look down. She does not pierce her picture plane so much as grow through it, the giant cupolas of her undergarments jostling for space with a small fleshy head. More rapid shouting, down in the piazza old women, sitting on the inevitable white plastic chairs, give helpful advice. This is almost exactly the scene you can see in Canaletto’s ‘The Stonemasons’ Yard’

http://www.nationalgallery.org.uk/paintings/canaletto-the-stonemasons-yard

On the first floor of a building, left hand side of that painting, you can see an identical, though slightly thinner, woman leaning out a window to shout at children below.

Narratives in windows, seen through an open window frame written on Windows 2010.

If I leave the window and step out onto my altana, (a rather grand term for a scrubby bit of roof with 32 pots of dying shrubs and geraniums) from this rather small and sad space I can see the dome of San Andrea della Valle; the church where Puccinni set the first act of Tosca. Turning the other way, I can just see the top of San Pietro in Montorio, on top of the Janiculum Hill. To see either, you have to look through a thicket of TV aerials and satellite dishes and inventive arrangements of cables to connect them and stop the things blowing down. I suppose they provide our current open windows on the world.

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