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Rome: Timeless Images of the Eternal City

Fashion show at the Sorrelle Fontana studio, featuring Ava Gardner, Rome, 1954 (Image: T. Brack's archives)

Fashion show at the Sorelle Fontana studio, featuring Ava Gardner, Rome, 1954 (Image: T. Brack’s archives)

“Playtime Pants” by the Fontana Sisters, Villa Borghese, Rome, 1955 Photographer: Massimo Ascani (Image: T. Brack’s archives)

By Theadora Brack

Dear friends, Romans, and incurable romantics, lend me your pointy cat ears, kid gloves, and sunglasses. Blame it on the balmy breezes blowing to and fro, but I’ve got a strong hankering for a generous spritz of some misty time travel. That’s how we flow.

As promised, this week we’re making a pilgrimage back to Rome with photographer Maurice Sapiro.

So, get to packing! Don’t forget your coins for the Trevi Fountain. However, leave the party ball gowns and “Playtime Pants” at home, because we’ll also swing by the Sorelle Fontana studio, and nip some stylish garb to call our own.

Fontana Sisters

Helping ignite a worldwide love affair with Italian Haute Couture during the 1950s, Micol, Giovanna, and Zoe Fontana outfitted the curves of the likes of Ava Gardner, Grace Kelly, and Kim Novak, along with Elizabeth Taylor, Jayne Mansfield, and Audrey Hepburn.

In addition to her signature draping and beading, Micol Fontana also strutted her stuff as the fashion house’s ambassador at large, fearlessly trekking all over the globe. Victory laps, most likely, because her promotional campaigns possessed “real legs.” Her legs, in fact.

According to one zippy New York Times headline, the enchanting designer traveled with a personal “international wardrobe,” made up of no fewer than 24 custom-made outfits and 70 prêt-à-porter pieces.

“If I had time to make them, I’d wear a new dress every day. I love to change my clothes—I feel that clothes really change one’s mood,” said Micol. I completely agree. And apparently, so did actor Cary Grant, who gave her a lift home after her very first fashion show in Hollywood.

Fancy garb by the Fontana Sisters, River Tiber, Rome, 1955 Photographer: Massimo Ascani (Image: T. Brack’s archives)

Strike up the band

Now, without further adieu, let’s rendezvous with artist Maurice Sapiro.

In 1956, while on tour with the 279th Army Band as a trumpet player, Maurice photographed the narrow streets and ruins of Rome, experimenting with light and architectural texture. Inspired by the saturated colors of the Lumière Autochrome color film process, he sought to capture the vivid glow of the ancient walls of Rome.

His images still make the heart beat faster, like the Eternal City herself.

I bought a Leica IIIF at the Army PX for ninety-nine bucks. It was mid-September, not crowded at all. I was in Italy before the tourist craze began, so most of my photos are uninhabited. The skies were blue, the weather was perfect, and the pizzas were delicious. I remember a restaurant with an “American Menu” neon sign. The only option for breakfast was coffee and apple pie. That was it!

I was there with my twin brother, Erwin. One night we found a little movie theater. The front façade had marble columns, but the interior had sheets covering the ceiling. There were about sixteen long wooden benches, for an audience of about forty viewers. The movie was a film version of the play and opera Tosca. The entire audience knew the songs and sang along with the cast, and we joined in, of course!

The memories of wandering the ruins of Rome, taking photos for future paintings, are still with me, fifty-nine years later.

Rome will stay with me forever.

Now, let’s take a spin around the city with Maurice. We’ll see the Colosseum by moonlight. I’ll trap us a Vespa!

To view more work by Photographer Maurice Sapiro, check out his website: http://mauricesapiro.com/

The Colosseum by Maurice Sapiro, Rome, 1956

The Colosseum by Maurice Sapiro, Rome, 1956

The Colosseum by Maurice Sapiro, Rome, 1956

The Colosseum by Maurice Sapiro, Rome, 1956

The Colosseum by Maurice Sapiro, Rome, 1956

The Colosseum by Maurice Sapiro, Rome, 1956

St. Peter’s Basilica by Maurice Sapiro,  1956

The Forum by Maurice Sapiro, Rome, 1956

Portico of Octavia by Maurice Sapiro, Rome, 1956

St Peter's Basilica

St. Peter’s Basilica by Maurice Sapiro, 1956

Vittoriano by Maurice Sapiro, Rome, 1956

by Maurice Sapiro, Rome, 1956

Ponte Sant’Angelo by Maurice Sapiro, Rome, 1956

The Colosseum by Maurice Sapiro, Rome, 1956

Dressed to the Nines: Maurice Sapiro, Paris, 1956 (Photograph taken by his twin brother, Erwin)

Tosca

 

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70 thoughts on “Rome: Timeless Images of the Eternal City

    • Merci, S.K.! It’s always such a pleasure to work with Maurice. He is so darn talented. For the love of inspiration, I highly recommend checking-out his website. During this summertime trip, he also spent time in Venice.

      Enjoy the day. Sending you positive writing vibes!
      ~Theadora

      Liked by 1 person

  1. Coffee and Apple Pie……..indeed! What a spin you have given us! I so loved the photographs by Maurice…….my goodness what an eye and what a beautiful and historical viewpoint! My favorites are St. Peter’s Basilica with the haunting priest amidst the columns. One must so appreciate the Fashion show at the Sorelle Fontana studio and the perfect tilt of Ava’s head. Always the perfect pose with the parted lips. Oh, Theadora……….this was a grand trip.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Merci, Monsieur Tin Man! YES. Coffee and Apple Pie. Heaven, I’d say! Maurice will also love your thoughtful words. The photographs are haunting. Dreamy. There’s so much detail in each shot. And Ava! What a diva! She loved the Fontana sisters. And they adored her. The perfect fashion storm.

      Safe Travels!
      Theadora

      Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Frank! You should visit Maurice’s website. You’d LOVE it. And Maurice should visit your site. He’d love your photographs, along with your father’s images.

      It’s true!
      ~Theadora

      Like

  2. I just got home and you are making me want to travel again. Asia has nothing on the glorious cities of Europe (IMHO) I so want to take a ride in that Vittoriano coach. Perhaps take my lady for a glorious pasta dish at Il Covento where she would have the occasion to wear some fashionable clothes. Maybe not now….but soon!

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    • Oh, I love your plan. What a gorgeous passage! And now I’m getting homesick for Rome, all over again. Sigh. Seeing the Colosseum at sunset, after spending the day in the Forum will stay with me forever. It wasn’t planned. It just happened. And I think about it often.

      Keep on Traveling!
      T.

      Like

    • Great to hear from you, Renée! Did you visit the flea market? If so, did you find any treasures? I was in Rome about a year ago. I found a tiny “Evening in Paris” perfume bottle at the flea market.

      You would have approved of my score!
      T.

      Like

    • Yes, Maurice still has an eye for light and texture. His paintings are also amazing. I think you’d enjoy his site. Perhaps inspiration for your prose? A(nd yes, the ladies are gorgeous. I especially love the “Playtime Pants” ensemble.)

      Resort wear is also timeless!
      T.

      Like

    • Thank you! I’ll share your words with Monsieur Sapiro. And speaking beautiful and vivid, I loved your recent nod to New York City’s fashion week. LOVE the top shot of the shoes. The shot. And the shoes.

      Fun post!
      Theadora

      Like

      • I also love “Fancy Garb” pic. Here’s editorial description of the dress. Great-looking dress!

        4/24/1955 Rome: On the Bank of Rome’s Tiber River, A model displays a black raffia laced dress, designed by the Fontana Sisters for warm afternoon near the sea or river. It has simple rounded decollete and a black taffeta underskirt.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Oh to be in Rome in the fifties. I start to think maybe I was born too late. But then I realize I might not might have met my beautiful wife, and the regret goes away, leaving only wistful nostalgia. Thanks for the memories, even if they’re only make-believe recollections of a time I didn’t actually get to experience. Dreamy post, T.

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    • Thanks, Martino. Another dreamy passage. Maurice will appreciate your words. I know it! (But was your favorite antique shop in Rome around during the 1950s? I don’t think so!)
      ~T.

      Like

    • Oh, Maurice! Again, Thanks for sharing your gorgeous works. Thanks for taking the time to answer my questions. With patience and wit, always! Working with you is always a pleasure.

      Repeating myself: Here’s to future collaborations.

      Theadora

      Liked by 2 people

      • I left the Army post with 12 rolls of 35MM Black and white film. 36 exposures, thinking that would certainly be enough. The 2 week leave included Rome, Venice, and Florence. I ran out of film the first week, so each day started with finding a camera shop, and loading up on film. I came back to the States with over 600 negatives. A computer, Photoshop, and you revived my interest in them. Wish I could do it all over again.

        Liked by 1 person

    • Dear Alexander, Your thoughtful words always make me smile. Elegant and stylish! I think you’d enjoy Maurice’s work. And I know he’d enjoy your travel photography.

      Again, your recent Paris photos are stunners!
      T.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Theadora, I am just writing what I am feeling. Unfortunately, I did not have picture with runner in Luxembourg Garden. I was so excited there and did not make a lot of pictures of this lovely place. Next time. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      • Well, thanks for looking, Alexander! I really appreciate it. 🙂 (I did find a few pics. The story appeared last week on the Bonjour, Paris website.) Luxembourg is my favorite place to run in the city. And stroll!
        T.

        Liked by 1 person

    • I agree! I’m with you. And by the way, your daily New Orleans photo essays always inspire me. I’m really digging your recent experimental work. Ah, fantastical.
      ~Theadora

      Like

    • Those were the golden days, not batteries, no zoom lens, just a 50 MM , Nothing was automatic,

      It really made you make all the decisions. And, counting frames, each shot really counted. Had to wait till I got back to the Army post to develop the negatives, and wait till I got back to the states a year later to make prints. Sounds primitive to what is happening these days, but it certainly was more fun !!

      Liked by 3 people

  4. The stylish, timeless outfits are wonderful and the coloring of the photos of Rome give the familiar monuments a whole new look. This is a fantastic post!

    Like

    • I know, Meg! Maurice captured the familiar monuments like no other. During this trip with the 279th Army Band, he also traveled to Paris. I wonder how many rolls of film he shot. I’ll ask him.

      I’d like to find more photographs of the ensembles created by the Fontana sisters. In 1956, Micol appeared on the “What’s my Line?” television show. She was in the U.S., hand delivering Margaret Truman’s wedding dress! She is still a looker. And still working with her foundation.

      Theadora

      Liked by 2 people

  5. Merci my friend, what a fabulous post – a very special place in time. From your write-up to the most gorgeous scenes taken by Maurice (the lighting was just spectacular!!) this was a most enjoyable trip to Rome. Thanks for transporting me with your brilliantly written piece Theadora!

    Liked by 1 person

    • As always, thanks for your sweet words, Mary! I agree. Maurice’s photographs are showstoppers. Each time I worked on the post, I was transported back in time. And what a time to be in Rome, just before the tourists! (Roman Holiday was launched in 1953 and Three Coins in a Fountain was released in 1954.)

      Sigh! (And have a creative week. Sending you positive painting vibes.)
      Theadora

      Liked by 2 people

    • Merci, Roberto! And bravo on your upcoming “Colors of An Apocalypse” exhibition! (I wonder if Maurice has seen your work. If not, I’ll send him to your site.)

      Enjoy the week!
      Theadora

      Like

    • Great to hear from you, Anita! Venice? How exciting. I’m looking forward to your report. Have a great trip. And beaucoup photographs! Yes, don’t forget to pack the camera.

      Bon Voyage!
      T.

      Like

    • Thanks, Richard! Repeating myself: I think you’ll enjoy Maurice’s work. And I know he’ll thoroughly enjoy your street portraits, along with the recent experimental works.
      Here’s to two Fab street photographers!
      T.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Four beautiful women – but your eyes are drawn to Ava Gardner. She is perfection. Impossibly beautiful with an impossibly tiny waist. Theadora you have created a Time Machine and I have traveled back to the Fifties when we cinched in our waists, billowed our skirts with multiple petticoats and wore pointy bras. The Sapiro photographs create a longing for times long past, places to be revisited, memories to rekindle. One desires to return to this dream of Rome.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Virginia! I will share your words with Maurice. He’s so generous with his work and time. A doll! And YES. All four women are beautiful. I especially love the expression on the woman next to Ava. I wonder what she’s thinking . . . (And they all have such great-looking eyebrows!)

      Brief background story on the press photograph: Ava was in Rome, shooting “The Barefoot Contessa.” The Fontana sisters had created a few outfits for the film, directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz. Micol Fontana asked Ava to make a cameo at one of their fashion shows. Of course, she agreed!

      ~Theadora

      Liked by 1 person

  7. eh oui, tous les chemins mènent à Rome… 🙂 I love those vintage images d’une autre époque… gorgeous and unique Ava Gardner(a Cappy gal like me!), Frankie Sinatra’s only LOVE… “o tempora, o mores!” or:”où sont les neiges d’antan?…” 🙂
    * * *
    mille merci, Mademoiselle TB! ❤

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    • Merci, Mélanie! Yes, I agree. Times are always a cha-cha-changing. And now I’m humming Frank Sinatra’s cover of “The Way You Look Tonight.”
      Have a great week, Cappy Gal!
      ~Theadora

      Like

  8. Pingback: Plot That pushed Michelangelo to paint the Sistine Chapel

  9. Stunning images! Rome really is the eternal city; there’s so much nostalgia, mystery, and aura there. The photo of St. Peter’s with the priest in shadow – simply breathtaking.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, Erin! Maurice will appreciate your thoughtful words. I also love his photographs of the St. Peter’s Basilica. The figure is so tiny, yet there is so much detail: book and robe. Perfection!

      Have a wonderful week,
      Theadora

      Like

  10. “If I had time to make them, I’d wear a new dress every day. I love to change my clothes—I feel that clothes really change one’s mood,” said Micol. I completely agree. And apparently, so did actor Cary Grant, who gave her a lift home after her very first fashion show in Hollywood.

    My four year old granddaughter changes clothes several times a day! She also wears mainly dresses and quite often very frilly bathing suits around the house, they have no pool. It’s so cute.

    Love the dress on the left in black and white photo with the women.

    Like

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