Saturday in the Museum with Carl

Image: Carl Gustaf Hjalmar Mörner, Italian Harvest Festival at Monte Testaccio near Rome (1825).

This week on the IG, many of the wineries that we follow posted about the beginning of harvest.  Today harvest is celebrated with a beer and a social media post, but once upon a time it was a communal celebration (and to be fair in many places it still is).  So, in honor of the moment and continuing our  communal eating and feasting theme of this year we highlight this painting for our Saturday art postItalian Harvest Festival at Monte Testaccio near Rome is by Carl Gustaf Hjalmar Mörner.  It is in the Nationalmuseum of Sweden in Stockholm.

Finding anything in English on the painting or the painter was difficult, so we rely on Google translation to lift some information from Swedish language sources.

Carl Gustaf Hjalmar Mörner was born in 1794 in Stockholm.  Following an education at the Military Academy Karlberg, he served on a general’s staff seeing battle in Germany from  1813-14 and receiving a medal.   A Swedish aristocrat, he left the military and took up painting.  He suffered from several maladies, including possibly depression, and sought treatment in spa towns as he made his way to Italy. He stayed in Italy for about a decade, where he appears to have been very productive.  In addition to this painting and several others, he produced an acclaimed multi-panel frieze of the Carnevale di Roma.

After Italy he returned to Sweden. Though he painted battle scenes, he was at his best with depictions of folk life.  He was also a pioneer in lithography.  He eventually left home again, first to London then to Paris.  His health continued to deteriorate.  He died in Paris in 1837, only 43 years old.  He is buried at Père-Lachaise.

Mount Testaccio has a strange history of its own.  It is the result of ancient Roman disposal of large amphorae that were used to store olive oil.  The discarded casks were piled up.  Eventually, amphora technology shifted and the refuse site was no longer used.  After the fall of Rome, it was largely a wasteland. The open space, however, did serve as a good place for jousts and tournaments during the Middle Ages and then festivals like the one depicted in the painting.  A contemporary of Mörner captures something like the scene depicted here:

“Each Sunday and Thursday during the month of October, almost the whole population of Rome, rich and poor, throng to this spot, where innumerable tables are covered with refreshments, and the wine is drawn cool from the vaults. It is impossible to conceive a more animating scene than the summit of the hill presents. Gay groups dancing the saltarella, intermingled with the jovial circles which surround the tables; the immense crowd of walkers who, leaving their carriages below, stroll about to enjoy the festive scene.”

Garibaldi used it as a defensive military position in 1849.  It became a stand-in for Golgotha for Good Friday services. Things came full circle when it was discovered the hill made of amphora shards provided excellent ventilation for wine storage caves.  The discarded storage vessels became a hill for storing wine.  After World War II, it became a spot for working-class housing, and now is a trendy neighborhood with an archeological curiosity. The party-goers of the 19th century also have modern-day successors.  The bare-topped hill is clearly visible from above.


If you are looking for  a place to feast in Washington, D.C., our dining guide, we humbly believe, is the best way to find a great place to eat in the District.  Our guide has more than 300 recommended restaurants that you can sort by cuisine, neighborhood, and current operating status (dine-in and/or take-out, etc.) in either LIST or MAP format.

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