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For art’s sake

September 22, 2023 - Dynamic and fast-paced, Rome is packed with major historical attractions and world-class art. It’s enough to drive your step count off the chart, so why not take an extra day to soak up the life-affirming art that adorns Six Senses Rome?

I’m standing beside a severed head, two in fact. One human, one equine. But nothing about this scene is remotely gruesome. Quite the opposite, there’s a gentle hubbub of diners tucking into delicious lunches in the bright, airy, plant-bedecked BIVIUM Restaurant-Café-Bar as I arrive to meet art curator Federica Sala at Six Senses Rome

Alongside the eye-catching head sculptures is a sophisticated and subtle array of textile wall art, bright ceramics, pictures, and paintings. And that’s just on the ground floor. Six Senses Rome has a carefully curated selection of artworks throughout the hotel, as I’m about to find out.

When life imitates art

A renowned independent art curator, design advisor, and Editorial Director of ‘The Good Life Italia’ magazine, Federica joined forces with Patricia Urquiola, founder of architecture and design firm Studio Urquiola and the lead designer on the first urban retreat in the Six Senses Italian portfolio. Her north star? To open up a dialog with Patricia’s interiors through a selection of artworks offering a fresh perspective on Roman classicism. As Federica says, “Rome lives in a fine balance between the past, present, and future, and we wanted to honor that accomplishment.”

The entire process took over three years, as Federica elaborates, “We collaborated - Patricia, myself, the artists, and the Six Senses team - over a number of years, and it was one of the most uplifting, creative, and enthusiastic environments to work in. The entire team brought an infectious energy and commitment to the project throughout.” 

With Federica as my guide, it’s clear that this energy and commitment has resulted in a selection of artworks that mirror and magnify each other with their low-key radiance. Everything is beautiful, but nothing dominates its surroundings nor strives to stand out. There is a perfect harmony between each element. As she’s keen to point out, each piece was commissioned not only for the hotel but as a site-specific artwork, which is a highly unusual approach to hotel design.

This, however, is a highly unusual property. Palazzo Salviati Cesi Mellini positively echoes with history, from the monumental marble staircase with its decorative skylight to the restored 600-year-old columns in the main entrance. Not forgetting the large baptismal bath dating back to the fourth century, visible beneath the glass floor tiles next to the property’s Earth Lab.

When in Rome

As we stroll around the artworks and sculptures, Federica tells me a little more about the creative process, “By incorporating the Six Senses commitment to working with, and championing, the local community, we chose to commission mostly young, contemporary Italian artists or international artists based in Rome. Their interpretation of the brief resulted in playful, joyful, and sometimes quirky artworks.”

Each artwork has its own distinct chapter, while together, they form a multifaceted and illuminating story. Look out for Paolo Giordano's concrete face sculptures that prop up the entrance hall tables, Andrea Mauti’s oils on canvas, and T-Yong Chung’s interrupted sculptures, photographed and hung in guest bedrooms.

Despite the urban setting, there is a strong sense of reconnection with nature on display in Caroline Gavazzi’s botanical photographs found in guest bathrooms. Beatrice Bonafini and Eliška Konečná textile art in BIVIUM Restaurant-Café-Bar and digital art created by Andreas Wannerstedt at the Six Senses Spa entrance continues the theme.

From Marco Emmanuele’s paintings made from glass collected on nearby beaches that greet you on arrival to the limited-edition Bitossi Ceramics carefully placed throughout the ground floor areas, each piece of art forms part of a cohesive entity.

Exquisite and elegant aesthetic 

This sense of balance is weaved throughout, from the muted green colors to the choice of local materials, all wrapped up to create an enduringly elegant aesthetic. A feeling of calm comes over me, in contrast to the pace and energy of the streets steps away, just as the design intended. As Federica says, “The artwork is supposed to encourage deep relaxation. We wanted guests to sink into that leisurely feeling of being on vacation.” 

Artists were guided by themes and certain materials but were otherwise left to explore their creative process unimpeded. Federica made studio visits both before and during production, a process she relished, “To see the artworks come alive before my eyes gave me such pleasure, and I know the entire team enjoyed being so closely involved.”

A vital capacity for living life

Federica nurtured a hope that her art curation would open up a dialog between guests, and it’s easy to believe she has achieved this. At every turn, there’s something exquisite to notice that makes you want to pause and ponder. Daniele Accossato’s caged wing at the foot of the grand marble staircase is clearly a conversation starter.

I can appreciate the appeal of taking time to enjoy the hotel’s art. There’s no need to spend your entire visit to Rome rushing at breakneck speed through the city, ticking off each major historical attraction. There should be time on any city break to exhale, sink into a plush sofa, and take a moment to contemplate a broader view of art and how it transcends and informs our world, how it opens the heart, mind, and soul, and shows our vital capacity for living life to the fullest. 

Or, as the Roman Emperor and philosopher Marcus Aurelius said, “Your days are numbered. Use them to throw open the windows of your soul to the sun.”

Carmen McCormack visited Six Senses Rome in August 2023.

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