Galleria Sciarra, women and virtue
Galleria Sciarra, in Rome, celebrates women as angels of the hearth, as mothers, and as brides. Its walls, decorated with colorful Art Nouveau and Belle-Époque motifs, are a visual translation of the bourgeois clichés that were popular after the Italian Unification. The “Scapigliato” poet Emilio Praga summed them up well in his verses: “Yet the image is sweet / of women at home: / they are Muses, they are angels / of the domestic sky”. Giuseppe Mazzini, one of the heroes of Risorgimento, also famously said, “The angel of the family is woman”.
Currently open to the public, the gallery was designed by architect Giulio De Angelis and built in 1885 by entrepreneur Maffeo Sciarra. It was decorated by Giuseppe Cellini between 1886 and 1888. The images Cellini painted – with their emblematic labels: “La Pudica” (“reserved”), “La Sobria” (“sober”), “La Paziente” (“patient”), “La Fedele” (“loyal”)… – are reminiscent of the aesthetic, cultural milieu that revolved around the literary magazine “Cronaca Bizantina”, whose last director was poet Gabriele D’Annunzio. In fact, the Abruzzo-born “Prophet” had a completely different personal vision of the female world, inspired by stereotypes of seductive women and ‘femmes fatales’…
The irony is that a portrait of D’Annunzio has been placed amid this anthology of traditional feminine virtues, in this corner of Art Nouveau within the Baroque heart of Rome.