In my first years as a pavement artist in Rome, I came to know many of the street people, such as the old crone selling roses. She was a common sight and looked to be about 110 years old, with a wizened troll-like face and a wooden leg. She wore many layers of old skirts, which bloomed out from her waist like a large, tattered flower. According to Roman legend, she had squandered her fortune in her youth and was now doing penance. “The Flower Girl”, as she was called sarcastically, would walk many miles each day with a limping gait that caused the huge bundles of roses she carried to sway from side to side. She fervently peddled the nearly dead blooms, (said to be stolen from graves), for exorbitant sums. If a man handed her a 1,000-lira note (about 75 cents) he might receive only one petal!
When my painting site was especially crowded, the Flower Lady would appear out of nowhere and push her way through the spectators. Pretending to berate me, she would work the crowd, waving her hands in the air crying,
“What’s this? Not again! I keep telling you not to paint these large, complicated works. What do we know about art? Give us some little Madonna or a saint and we’re happy. Forget these large masterpieces! You work for days, and does anyone understand it? No, they don’t. Just look at these baskets — empty! You make nothing. Just paint some simple little Madonna and then people will give you something!”
Naturally, her harangue would cause the crowd to drop lots of money into the baskets. After they had dispersed, she would quietly circle the painting and pluck a couple of bills from each of the baskets as compensation. Before departing, she would leave behind an offering of some particularly sad roses.
She seemed as eternal as the city itself and it is difficult to imagine that she must be gone now. A city like Rome imparts the feeling of the eternal to experiences which can only be transitory.
In this photo I was practicing a composition of an original work on the theme of the “Deposition”. I did several works on this theme and prepared drawings as well. The second drawing shows another composition that I did for the competition at Grazie. This one got trampled at the event, and I later reworked the center part, but never completed it.