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A summer of madness on the Spanish Steps

15 July 2022

Introducing Rakewell, Apollo’s wandering eye on the art world. Look out for regular posts taking a rakish perspective on art and museum stories.

In 2019, the mayoralty of Rome made sitting on the Spanish Steps a fineable fence (up to €400). While this was a blow to your roving correspondent and to anyone else who might like to imagine themselves in a scene from that classic film, Roman Holiday, the goings-on of this summer suggest that the steps themselves might welcome mere sitters again.

The baroque staircase may be a marvellous piece of urban theatre in its own right, but lately it seems that there are plenty of passers-by who are determined to upstage it. Some methods are, of course, more destructive than others. While, in May, Rakewell was horrified by the video of the Saudi national who drove his (rented) Maserati Levante on to one of the flights leading down to the Piazza di Spagna, she couldn’t help being slightly amused by his claim that he was only following the orders of his sat-nav.

No navigation instruments seem to have been involved in the case of the American tourist who, only two weeks later, threw her electric scooter down Francesco De Sanctis’s dramatic masterpiece. Since the damage caused is estimated at some €25,000, the fine of €400 meted out to her and her companion hardly seems commensurate. The pair have, however, been banned from returning to the scene of the crime.

In 2015, the Spanish Steps were carefully restored at the cost of €1.5m. The project, which required the efforts of some 80 specialist craftsmen, was funded by the jewellery company Bulgari. But it was another luxury company, Valentino, that took over the monument last week for its widely acclaimed Fall 2022/23 haute couture show. Featuring neon-bright, jewel-like colours and bold outlines, the event was something of a triumph – and the photo of Anne Hathaway, Hwasa and Ariana DeBose sitting next to each other and glittering away in identical shades of fuschia will keep anyone who is can’t wait for the Barbie movie going for just that bit longer. But even this rather joyful occasion threatened to break into a dispute when Dior was reported to have demanded €100,000 from Valentino for blocking access to its boutique on the Piazza di Spagna. We are delighted to hear that cooler heads have prevailed and that Dior has since withdrawn this demand but, as Rome continues to swelter, we can’t help wondering what’s next for the Spanish Steps?

Got a story for Rakewell? Get in touch at rakewell@apollomag.com or via @Rakewelltweets.