ROME — “Because I hate viruses,” the baroness from the Cro-Magnon era says, with a wink, as a Venetian Sicilian wooden sword clangs against an antique European cypress, cracking its carcass into whorls of wine-washed fibers and brassy sparks.
She knows she’s in for a long haul.
Archaeologist and archaeologist-cum-paranoiac has to be a prerequisite to art. As Umberto Capellaretto points out from his bare feet in the doorway to a stuccoed attic, there’s not much of an aesthetic angle to investigating the mysteries of the, uh, details and booby traps left behind by ancient peoples.
“Look,” he says. “This old knight is dressed in the footages of the Tuscan princes. Where are the distant relatives of this self-professed warrior, dressing like a mercenary? What’s their alliance with their great-great grandfather? What’s the theme?”
This sculpture from the 8th century AD, Capellaretto leads visitors through one of the frescoes in a house of aging dynasties in Naples, just inside Campania, the “murderous land” where Italians, French and Germans fought over a passway now protected by Venetian walls and trees so tall they inspire romantic tributes in Korda etchings.
This front door, guarded by 20 bobbing swallows that always make an impression and disappear in breathtaking fashion, has a crack. “We’re going to do some work on that,” Capellaretto says.
These days, archeology is a hobby. “And it can get really, really boring,” he says. So, he periodically sets off on a dig in an Italian country manor or a Roman estate, just to live life a little bit before the culmination of his career is upon him. But, “It’s never boring when you find something interesting in your own backyard.”
Before the “home” welcomes the morning public, Capellaretto will put on his best anachronistic costume. A frock coat with the star-pattern of Dracula. A lute. “Talkies,” it’s his echo of a golden age that won’t be overtaken by television or the high-tech Internet any time soon.
“I have an in-depth knowledge of films, and I like different types of cinema.” Capellaretto says, starting and ending each sentence with a smile. “And films made by the masters have a weird psychology that they can give to the average person.”
Capellaretto will leave his interiors to the resident “archaeologists,” two undersecretaries in a ministry on the chopping block. But he can do things like revive that latest discovery.
He begins the day with an art catalogue prepared by the site, and has written a letter to his archive to say he’s “surprised” by an odd, eroded-looking stone box.
“Troubled in the recent history of the Venice Canal is a Roman amphitheater,” he explains.
Ah, the history of paradise by water, an island-locked canal long defined by evil. Capellaretto is unimpressed by the ancient amphitheater’s wooden design. “There’s a clunky lion,” he says. “But then we have the Four Pillars of Rome, and those are a bit more polished.”
While at work the next day, Capellaretto gives it a good look. What happens next will be soon uncovered in his closing sketch of a 3,000-year-old Buddhist temple at the edge of Pompeii.
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