Monday, January 11, 2010

Dish washing extravaganza

While reading the winner of the 2009 Man Booker Prize, Hilary Mantel’s: Wolf Hall, and wondering whether Henry VIII will ever manage to get rid of his first wife, Katherine, I stumbled over this anecdote about Agostino “Il Magnifico” Chigi. Chigi lived from 1466-1520 and he built the sumptuous renaissance palace called Villa Farnesina in Trastevere, Rome, where he entertained his guests among frescos by Raffaello, Sebastiano del Piombo and other eminent artists.

“In Rome there was a banker called Agostino Chigi. In Siena, where he came from, they maintained he was the richest man in the world. When Agostino had the Pope around for dinner he fed him on gold plates. Then he looked at the aftermath – the sprawled, sated cardinals, the mess they left behind, the half-picked bones and fish skeletons, the oyster shells and orange rinds – and he said, stuff it, let’s save the washing-up.

The guests tossed their plates out of the open windows and straight into the Tiber. The soiled table linen flew after them, white napkins unfurling like greedy gulls diving for scraps. Peals of Roman laughter unfurled into the Roman night.

Chigi had netted the banks, and he had divers standing by for whatever escaped. Some sharp-eyed servant of his upper house-hold stood by the bank when dawn came, and checked off the list, pricking with a pin each item retrieved as it came up from the deep.” Hilary Mantel: Wolf Hall (p 313)
Next time I go to Rome, I will remember to visit the newly restored Villa Farnesina and imagine the pretence and extravagance practised by European leaders 500 years’ ago. For an online preview visit the world’s oldest scientific academy, Accademia Nazionale dei Lincei.

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