BSR summer summary

As the summer draws to a close, we reflect on the hard work and events that have gone on at the BSR over the summer months, and look forward to the advent of a new academic year ahead.

An exciting new addition to our facilities inaugurated the summer at the BSR – we were delighted to add a new fully-facilitated flat to our residence. As a result, we were able to host three more researchers over the course of the summer. The creation of the new flat coincides with the re-organisation of our office space over the past few months: our finance, communications and administration have recently been relocated in spacious new offices, and we now have new lab facilities for our archaeologists.

A huge thank you and congratulations to our brilliant Library team, who worked tirelessly over the summer on the annual update of the Library collection. This task saw some 100,000 volumes accounted for, and our ever-growing collection was reordered, ready for the return of our Library members in September.

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The super Library team hard at work on the annual summer update

Each summer, the BSR welcomes back into its fold former Fine Arts award-holders to make use of the studio space. In addition this year we hosted three artists on the Mead Rome PhD Studio Residency (in collaboration with University of the Arts London) as well as one David & Mary Forshaw Newcastle Residency. Many of the artists opened up their studios to other residents and staff to take a peak at their work in progress.

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The first half of September saw another successful Summer School. Each year, a group of undergraduate students studying Ancient History, Archaeology and Classics join us for an intensive two-week course led by Cary Fellow Robert Coates-Stephens, and Ed Bispham (Rome Scholar Humanities 1994–5). Each day’s visits took on a different theme, preceded by an introductory lecture at the BSR, and covering various elements of the city and its surroundings. The students left Rome with a comprehensive understanding of the city under their belts, after a fantastic fortnight – not even a biblical deluge at Tivoli’s Villa Adriana could dampen their spirits! Thanks to the tireless efforts of Robert, Ed and Stefania Peterlini (Permissions Officer), the group gained privileged access to a vast range of Rome’s most fascinating sites, and many commented that the course will continue to inspire them throughout their studies.

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2017 Summer School group with Robert Coates-Stephens and Ed Bispham (photo by Antonio Palmieri)

Meanwhile in Pompeii BSR Archaeology Officer Stephen Kay and his team and colleagues from the Ilustre Colegio Oficial de Doctores y Licenciados en Letras y Ciencias de Valencia y Castellòn, Departamento de Arqueologia and the Museo de Prehistoria e Historia de La Diputación De Valencia completed the final season of excavation at Porta Nola (Pompeii) — you can find out more about the latest discoveries in our previous blog.

The summer concluded with a visit from a group of members of the Attingham Trust. The Trust offers specialised courses on historic houses, their collections and settings, and on the history and contents of English royal palaces. This year their Study Programme came to Rome for the first time and was organised by former award-holder Dr Andrew Moore (Paul Mellon Rome Fellow  2006-7) in association with the BSR. The participants — curators, architects and art collectors — have visited several palazzi and villas in Rome and Naples as part of their ‘Attingham Grand Tour’. We were  thrilled to welcome back to the BSR, as a participant of this study programme, Allison Goudie (Rome Award 2012-13) who since her BSR award has worked in various roles at the National Gallery and the National Trust.

The group were treated to a lecture by BSR Director Christopher Smith, and a tour of the Library and Archives, including some closed access material relating to the Grand Tour.

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The Attingham Study group view rare books in the Library (photo by Antonio Palmieri)

 

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The Attingham Study group (photo by Antonio Palmieri)

The evening concluded with a lively dinner, bringing the BSR dining room back to full capacity after the summer months. This special dinner was also the first in residence for incoming Director Stephen Milner, who formally steps into the position at the beginning of October — benvenuto Stephen! We look forward to the start of the new academic year and the exciting programme of events to come.

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New discoveries from the necropolis of Porta Nola, Pompeii

A final season of excavation at the necropolis of Porta Nola (Pompeii) was undertaken this summer by a joint team from the BSR, the Ilustre Colegio Oficial de Doctores y Licenciados en Letras y Ciencias de Valencia y Castellòn, Departamento de Arqueologia and the Museo de Prehistoria e Historia de La Diputación De Valencia. With the participation of 24 students and a number of specialists, and the support of the Parco Archeologico di Pompei, the work focused on two areas within the necropolis.

In the mid-70s the Soprintendenza di Pompei, whilst extending the excavation of the necropolis to the west of the gate along the circuit road, discovered a series of burials belonging to Praetorian soldiers opposite the tomb of Obellius Firmus. The excavation at the time focused on the recovery of the funerary stele. The new excavations conducted this past month reopened the area with the aim of both locating the cremation urns of these soldiers, as only two had reportedly been recovered, as well as testing the hypothesis that earlier burials lay underneath these Praetorian tombs.

Working systematically along the road side, the 2017 excavation relocated the positions of the burials recorded in the 1970s. The first tomb, identified as that of L. Betutius, had previously been excavated and two cremation urns had been recorded. This year, exploring the area immediately behind the tomb, a further cremation urn was discovered together with a number of funerary items including a lamp depicting a satyr.

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Excavated cremation urn (Photo Stephen Kay)

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Lamp with a satyr (Photo Charles Avery)

 

Progressing westward the excavation identified two further tombs where only the funerary stele had been recovered. The excavation discovered both the cremation urns which had been placed behind the stele, the second of which, belonging to L. Manilius Saturninus, was accompanied by a small jug and animal bones.

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Small jug from the burial of L. Manilius Saturninus (Photo Trinidad Pasies)

The fourth and most westerly tomb excavated contained the cremation urn of Sex. Caesernius Montanus who had served for eleven years, so was therefore between 29 and 31 years old when he died. These four new cremations will be studied over the course of the next year, potentially offering a further insight into the lives of these Praetorians.

Alongside the discovery of these four cremations, an area was also opened immediately to the north of the tomb of Obellius Firmus, between the tomb and a precinct wall. First investigated last summer, at the close of the excavation a large area of burning, containing ash, charcoal and burnt human bone was identified. This area was fully excavated this year, and whilst this area yielded material associated to funerary practices, a further two burials were also discovered, placed alongside the northern side of the tomb of Obellius Firmus. The first of these cremations was placed inside a pit lined with stone blocks and sealed with an upturned bowl, covering which was ash and hundreds of fragments of a spectacular bone funerary bed.

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Fragments of a funerary bed (Photo Charles Avery)

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Excavation of a further burial behind the tomb of Obellius (Photo Charles Avery)

The discovery this season of six new cremations from the necropolis of Porta Nola at Pompeii significantly furthers our knowledge about the use of this necropolis and the associated funerary practices. The study season which ran alongside the excavation and which will continue into 2018 is beginning to reveal a fascinating history of this necropolis which was in use up until the final days of Pompeii.

The Porta Nola Necropolis Project is extremely grateful for the support shown by the Parco Archeologico di Pompei, in particular the Direttore Generale and Honorary BSR Fellow Professor Massimo Osanna and the Funzionario for the area Dott. Fabio Galeandro. In the field, the team was kindly supported by the Parco Archeologico di Pompei excavation assistant Geom. Vincenzo Sabini. The project is directed by Llorenç Alapont, Rosa Albiach and Stephen Kay with the support of a team of specialists: Trinidad Pasies (Conservator), Letizia Ceccarelli (Finds Officer), Ilaria Frumenti (Surveyor), Fabio Mestici (Numismatist) and Pasquale Longobardi (Health and Safety Officer). The project directors are grateful to the team of specialists who work on the project: Tomas Jirak, Monika Koroniova, Pilar Mas, Antoni Puig and Victor Revilla. The 2017 excavations were supervised by Pedro Corredor, Joaquin Alfonso and Ana Maria Miguelez. Finally, a huge thank you to all the students who participated in the excavation this year making it such a success.


Stephen Kay

Archaeology Officer

Il Palio dell’Assunta

In April, it was revealed that the winning flag – or drappellone – for the August Palio di Siena would be painted by Sinta Tantra, who was residing at the BSR at the time as our 2016—17 Bridget Riley Fellow. After months of preparation and research and many trips to Siena, the drappellone was presented at Siena’s Palazzo Pubblico, and six days later claimed by Onda (Wave), the victorious contrada (district) of the race. Here we take a look at a week in the world of Palio.

While the elements that are to be included in each drappellone — the symbols of the competing contrade, the symbols of the city and government, the image of the Madonna — are always featured, the design, colours and content of the drappellone was shrouded in secrecy. Only a small handful of people were allowed to see the flag in its various stages of development before its presentation in the Palazzo Pubblico of Siena, six days before the race. Each drappellone has a theme, and Sinta was charged with dedicating her flag to the Sienese sculptor Giovanni Duprè to commemorate the two-hundredth anniversary of his birth. The drappellone is hugely coveted by each contrada, and the victorious district which claims it as their own hangs it with pride in their own museum.

On the evening of 10 August, Sinta joined a panel of the Palio committee to present her drappellone to the press and the people of Siena. The Mayor of Siena, Bruno Valentini, was the first to introduce the drappellone. He commented,

‘In the era of Brexit, the choice of a British artist corresponds to the desire to keep the ties between our city and the United Kingdom strong, and to seal a historic and cultural link which must not weaken. I therefore thank the ambassador of the United Kingdom, Jill Morris, a great friend of Siena, for the collaboration with the artist which she presented to us’.

You can read the full text of his speech (in Italian) here.

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Mayor of Siena Bruno Valentini presents the drappellone.

The art historian Margherita Anselmi Zondadari, who acted as a mentor to Sinta throughout the process, then explained the artist’s practice, the inspirations behind the design, and the various elements of the drappellone. You can read the full text of the speech (in Italian) here.

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The ‘drappellone’ designed and painted by Sinta Tantra

The arc of painted circles at the top of the flag represent the barberi, wooden or earthenware balls, whose colours indicate the contrada to which they belong; top-centre is the Madonna dell’Assunta, to whom the August Palio is dedicated, and who takes her form from that of the Madonna in the stained-glass window above the altar in Siena’s Duomo; the architectural elements are inspired by a fresco from the Piccolomini library, and by a 1971 drappellone which also took inspiration from this fresco; below the arch are the contrasting energies and elements of the moon and the sun; the central figure depicts Saffo Abbandonata, a sculpture by Duprè, which happened to be located in the archives of the BSR’s neighbour, the Galleria Nazionale D’Arte Moderna; the symbols of the city and government are shown on the band below; the bottom section is a recreation of the paved floor of the Duomo. The drappellone combines the traditional elements of the city and the festival with Sinta’s contemporary style and the bright, bold colours that are characteristic of her work.

Sinta gave the third and final speech, in which she thanked those who had supported her throughout the process and reflected on the time she had spent in Siena and the impression the city and the Palio had made on her.

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Sinta delivers her speech to the Comune. To the right is art historian Margherita Anselmi Zondadari

Saturday marked the day on which the pool of horses put forward to run is narrowed down from around 40 to the final ten. A spell of rain meant that all those who had arrived at the piazza at 5 a.m. eager to see the first test runs were turned away disappointed, returning in the afternoon once the track was dry.

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Lining up for the first test-run

In the three days following the selection of the ten horses for the Palio, two prove (trials) take place each day, one in the morning and one in the evening. Shortly after the first prova, the Mayor conducts a lottery which assigns a horse to each contrada. The test runs of the previous day meant that the best-performing horses were highly sought-after, and each assignation was greeted with cheers or groans by the respective contrade. Once the horses are assigned, each contrada sets about trying to obtain the best possible jockey and forming alliances amongst themselves: if they cannot win, the next best result is that their rival contrada lose.

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Crowds gather for the lottery assigning a horse to each contrada

A great deal of Italian media attention is given to the Palio, and during the days in between the unveiling of the drappellone and the race, Sinta was interviewed for various media outlets. Click here to read some of the features on the drappellone from the Italian press.

On Monday, with two days to go before the race, the drappellone was carried from the Comune to the Duomo in the corteo storico, a procession through the streets of Siena of drummers, trumpeters and flag-bearers, all in traditional medieval costume. Once at the Duomo, a service took place in which each contrada and then the drappellone were blessed.

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The procession (corteo storico) which leads in the drappellone

On Tuesday evening the prova generale took place. Being the day before the Palio, the jockeys take care not to push the horses too much in this trial. This prova also features a display by the mounted carabinieri. A formal dinner in each contrada follows the prova generale, and in the competing contrade speeches are made by the priore, capitano and fantino (jockey).

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The mounted carabinieri in the prova generale. Photo by Alessia Bruchi via sienafree.it

On the morning of 16 August – Palio day – the final prova was run and the jockeys were blessed in a mass which took place outside the Palazzo Pubblico. Shortly after this, the drappellone was retrieved from the Duomo and taken to the Comune in another procession of drums and trumpets. In the meantime, each horse was taken into the church of its respective contrada to be blessed in advance of the race.

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The blessing of the horse in the church of the contrada of Selva

The grand event began in the late afternoon. For around two hours, another corteo storico featuring musicians, flag-displays from all the contrade (not just those competing) and the mounted carabinieri paraded around the piazza, with the final circuit before the horse race featuring Sinta’s drappellone pulled on a carriage by four enormous oxen.

After so much build-up and anticipation, it all came down to the horse race. Tensions rose as the starting line-up was determined by a lottery, and the excitement of the horses meant that the line-up had to be disbanded and reformed several times before they were controlled enough to start. The tenth contrada to be drawn from the lottery stands a short distance behind the other horses, and determines when the race starts. This jockey therefore aims to start at the moment that is most advantageous for their own contrada and those it is allied with.

The race, which lasts just some 70 seconds, was this time won by Onda (Wave) – an unexpected victory, and a first-time win for both the horse and jockey. Madness ensued in the piazza, with huge celebrations by Onda and the drappellone victoriously claimed and paraded through the streets, first to the Duomo and then to Onda’s church, carried by a mass of cheering, singing and crying contradaioli.

In the end it was very fitting that Onda should win, as Duprè, to whom the drappellone was dedicated, belonged to the contrada of Onda! Many who congratulated Sinta told her with delight Duprè è tornato a casa – Duprè has returned home.

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Sinta raised aloft in the celebrations in the church of Onda


Ellie Johnson (Communications & Events)

Wrapping up 2016-17: our year in events

As the final event of our 2016—17 events programme, AHMM’s Architecture and the Art of the Extra Ordinary exhibition, is about to close, it is with great pride that we look back on a fantastic year. Our calendar this year has been one of the richest yet, with some 90 lectures, conferences, exhibitions and seminars. To showcase the wide range of events we have hosted and the diversity of the disciplines cultivated, here is a taste of the fantastic cultural programme we are proud to have hosted over the past ten months.

From 19—21 September, the BSR hosted the conference The Lateran Basilica, which saw specialists in archaeology, architecture, art history, liturgy and topography come together to present and discuss new research on the Basilica. The conference included not only a rich programme of lectures, but also a site visit to the excavations of the ancient foundations of the Basilica.

In October, the exhibition Emplacement by Miroslaw Balka, which was the first of our 2016—17 Architecture programme Meeting Architecture: Fragments curated by Marina Engel, drew to a close with the artist in conversation with Joseph Rykwert. Focusing on Otwock, near Warsaw, Balka’s home town and Rykwert’s childhood holiday home, the artist and architectural historian discussed their respective work in the context of architecture and memory and architecture and ideology.

You can watch the video of the conversation here.

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Joseph Rykwert (L) in conversation with Miroslaw Balka (R), chaired by Pippo Ciorra (C). Photo by Antonio Palmieri.

The first event of our Fine Arts programme, curated by Visual Art Residency and Programme Curator Marco Palmieri, was a talk by British artist Emma Hart, who last year won the Max Mara Art Prize for Women. Emma discussed her practice and elaborated on recent works, motivations, and projects.

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Artist’s talk by Emma Hart. Photo by Antonio Palmieri.

Also taking place in November was our annual Molly Cotton Lecture, which this year was given by Maria Paola Guidobaldi. Her lecture Arredi di Lussi da Ercolano: I più recenti rinvenimenti dalla città e dalla Villa dei Papiri gave an insight into new findings at Herculaneum. Click here to listen to the audio podcast of the lecture.

You can read about Molly Cotton and her legacy in this piece written by Archaeology Officer and Molly Cotton Fellow, Stephen Kay.

The first three months of our 2016—17 programme culminated in the December Mostra, which gave us the first glimpse of the new works by our Fine Arts award-holders. As always, the Mostra was a great success and we were blown away by the quality and diversity of the works on show.

From 26—27 January, the BSR hosted the conference for Rome’s Mediterranean Ports Project for the second year in a row, a five-year research project funded by the European Research Council and led by the University of Southampton. This conference was another international event which brought together new research from a broad range of scholars.

You can read more about the project here.

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While the BSR recently celebrated its 100th birthday, a talk by John Osborne marked the 150th birthday of a significant advancement in photography. In this lecture, Charles Smeaton, John Henry Parker and the earliest photography in the Roman catacombs, John Osborne discussed the innovation of using magnesium wire to take photographs, which allowed images to be captured without natural light. The impact of this was that Roman catacombs could be documented with photographs for the first time. This is a topic close to the BSR, as the collection of photographs by Thomas Ashby (Director 1906–25) is a treasure of the BSR Archive. We are also very much looking forward to welcoming John as one of 2017–18 Balsdon Fellows!

For Assistant Director Tom True’s reflection on the talk, follow this link. You can watch the lecture on our YouTube channel by clicking here.

 

We thank Robert Coates-Stephens for captaining another fantastic City of Rome course, in which eleven postgraduate students spent eight weeks in Rome on an intensive residential course, with a rigorous itinerary of site visits and research. The course is accompanied by the City of Rome lecture series, and in this we were treated to seven fantastic lectures on the ancient city.

In June, no less than four conferences were held at the BSR. The first, Oltre Roma medio repubblicana: il Lazio tra i galli e la battaglia di Zamaformed the second part of the conference series which seeks to address anew the themes of growth and transformation of the city of Rome and its territory.

Scholars convened at the BSR for the the Rome Art History Network (RAHN) conference Le collezioni degli artisti in Italia, which considered the impact of social change between the 1500s and 1700s on art and artists in that period.

Hot on the heels of this, the first day of the two-day conference Sensing Divinity: Incense, Religion and the Ancient Sensorium came to the BSR. Many were drawn out into the cortile by the smell of incense wafting through the corridors.

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Sensing Divinity conference. Photo by Antonio Palmieri.

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Sensing Divinity conference. Photo by Antonio Palmieri.

The fourth and final conference in June was rounded off with Hortus inclusus: Expanding Boundaries of Time and Space, which marked twenty years since the landmark Horti Romani conference which opened new directions for the study of cultural landscapes.

The final event of the 2016–17 programme was a lecture and accompanying exhibition by Simon Allford of Allford Hall Monaghan Morris Architects. Architecture and the Art of the Extra Ordinary explores the idea of the Universal Building, demonstrated in six projects in a range of physical, political and cultural contexts. For the video of Simon Allford’s lecture, please click here.

We are already looking forward to a fresh set of events beginning in September! New programme coming soon…


Ellie Johnson (Communications and Events)

 

A look back at the June Mostra 2017

In June the BSR saw the third and final Mostra of our 2016–17 programme. Our seven Fine Arts award-holders put together a brilliant exhibition of works produced during the course of their residencies. Here we bring you a selection of Roberto Apa’s fantastic photographs of the Mostra works. You can read more about the practice of each artist by clicking on their name.

The exhibition has been made possible thanks to the support of The Bridget Riley Foundation, the Helpmann Academy, The Incorporated Edwin Austin Abbey Memorial Scholarships, The Linbury Trust, The National Art School, Sydney, and the William Fletcher Foundation.

 

Chris Browne (William Fletcher Foundation Scholar)

Clockwise from top left: Carrara, oil on canvas, 45 x 85 cm; Portrait Study, oil on canvas, 32 x 30 cm; Sub, oil on canvas, 26 x 54 cm.

 

Gary Deirmendjian (National Art School, Sydney, Resident)

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Clockwise from top-left: gripping, lead, 20 x 26 x 16 cm; skull & bones, lead, 30 x 29.5 cm;  classica, lead, 30 x 29 cm; tendency – BSR theatre wall, thread and tape, 975 x 300 cm.

 

Peter McDonald (Abbey Fellow in Painting)

Clockwise from top: Kiss, A4, acrylic and gouache on paper; Volpetti, A4,
acrylic and gouache on paper; Dinner, BSR, A4, acrylic and gouache on paper.

 

Catherine Parsonage (Sainsbury Scholar in Painting & Sculpture)

Clockwise from top-left: Carry me from Garbo’s, Indian ink, pastel, oil pastel on
fabriano paper in perspex frame, 66 x 111 cm; Campari Spring, coloured pencil, pastel, watercolour on fabriano paper in perspex frame, 66 x 111 cm; sticky as an ant, and
shining like a hothouse flower, acrylic on canvas, 85 x 120 cm.

 

Kate Power (Helpmann Academy Resident)

Insidious distance, timber, cardboard, bubble wrap, papier mache, gesso, paint, fabric,
dimensions variable.

 

Catherine Parsonage and Kate Power

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a condition for doing things together, single channel video, 20 mins 11 secs.

 

Sinta Tantra (The Bridget Riley Fellow)

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Tuca Tuca – Spring Time in Rome, tempera on linen, 130 x 180 cm.

 

Vivien Zhang (Abbey Scholar in Painting)

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Bonbon circuit, mixed media on canvas, 122 x 102 cm.


All photos by Roberto Apa

Fresco frenzy at the BSR

BSR scholars and artists were recently invited to take part in a fresco painting workshop organised by Anna de Riso and Eliana Billi. Assimilating the techniques and materials of ancient and Renaissance painters, the workshop presented the opportunity to recreate a fresco to a high degree of authenticity. The workshop complemented the interest in fresco painting of many of the group, with several having already visited Naples where they had seen the fantastic frescoes excavated at Pompeii and Herculaneum.

The day began with an introduction to the history of fresco painting from its ancient Greek origins, when it was used to decorate prestigious buildings and the homes of the wealthy. The earliest Greek examples are now lost, with most of the knowledge on this craft coming from literary sources.

For wall-painting in the Roman era, one of two techniques – fresco or secco – would have been employed. Both had as their base pozzolana (volcanic ash) which was mixed with water to make it set, and they differed in how the paint was applied. With the fresco technique, pigment was ground with water to make the paint and then applied on top of wet, fresh lime mortar or plaster, then left to carbonate and set. With the secco technique, the plaster was still dry when the paint was applied, necessitating the binding of the pigment with egg or glue to make it stick. Clay-based pigments were often used in fresco-painting in the Roman era and this type of pigment could be polished, giving the fresco a shiny finish.

Both techniques had their drawbacks: the pigment on secco frescoes was more susceptible to flaking off over time, however the fresco paintings had to be completed quickly, before the plaster set, and accurately, as mistakes could not be corrected once painted.

Fresco painting continued into the Middle Ages, however the images depicted were simpler and less refined. A turning-point was reached at the end of the 14th century with the pioneers Cavallini and Giotto, who headed a new-found interest in the depiction of space and volume. With new styles came new techniques, the most important of which were: fewer layers used to build up the panel; the use of sinopia, a reddish-brown pigment used to create a preparatory drawing on the panel before the paint was applied; and the combination of the fresco element of painting on wet plaster with that of the secco technique, in which further details were added once the panel had been painted and set.

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‘The Last Judgement’ fresco by Cavallini in S. Cecilia in Trastevere

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‘The Dream of Joachim’ fresco by Giotto, Scrovegni Chapel, Padua

With the outline of the tradition and the technical aspects explained, it was time to put the new-found knowledge into practice. The group was split into two, with half recreating Pompeian frescoes and half following the Renaissance technique, and both groups following designs from that period.

The Pompeian group began by mixing together the mortar formula and spreading it on their panels. They then sketched their designs onto the surface with pigment, then traced along the sketch with a knife to make a small engraving of the design. Plaster was then applied over the engraved base layer, through which the design showed through and was then reapplied on the plaster layer. With the design in place, the painting could begin.

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Mixing the mortar. Photo by Stephen Kay.

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Applying the mortar layer. Photo by Ellie Johnson.

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Outlining the design in paint. Photo by Stephen Kay.

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Adding details to the plaster layer. Photo by Antonio Palmieri

The plaster layer was applied to just half of the panel, to show the different stages of the process.

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James Norrie (Rome Fellow), Vivien Zhang (Abbey Scholar in Painting) and Peter McDonald (Abbey Fellow in Painting) with their Pompeian frescoes

Those following the Renaissance technique began by drawing their designs on tracing paper, then puncturing small holes along the outline of the drawing. They then applied the cement layer to the panel, softening the mixture with water and working it with a spatula until it was smooth. The tracing paper was placed over the top, and then the sinopia pigment was applied, permeating the punctures to give the outline of the design.

With the general outline in place, the sinopia pigment was mixed with water to create a paint which was used to complete the outline, and then the designs were completed with coloured paint.

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Helpmann Academy Resident Kate Power – painting in progress. Photo by Stephen Kay.

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The Bridget Riley Fellow Sinta Tantra – painting in progress. Photo by Stephen Kay.

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William Fletcher Foundation Scholar Chris Browne – painting in progress. Photo by Antonio Palmieri

Many thanks to Anna de Riso and Eliana Billi for organising a fantastic workshop.


Ellie Johnson (Communications & Events)

June Mostra 2017 / Meet the artists… Catherine Parsonage

There are still three days left to see the fantastic show put together by our resident artists for the June Mostra! In the final instalment of the Meet the artists blog series, we spoke to Sainsbury Scholar in Painting & Sculpture, Catherine Parsonage, about her residency and how her practice has changed over the course of the past nine months.

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Photo by Antonio Palmieri

Catherine Parsonage uses painting and sculpture to pursue the ultimate reduction of the female form, condensing the body to its most elementary essence through single deft lines. The drawings and paintings carefully choreograph the body as the fashion photographer might its subject, creating a distilled mis-en-scene, where the subtle shifts in weight and angle are imbued with movement and poise.

With this being your third Mostra, you have by now worked alongside three different groups of artists with very different practices. Have you noticed your work changing in response to this? If so, how?

Every three months when the new artists arrive an entirely new energy is exchanged at the BSR. I think that watching and understanding how different artists approach their work but perhaps more importantly their time at the BSR has been really valuable. I think I am still absorbing a lot from my first three months here where the conversations and relationships I had shifted everything about my approach to painting; similarly recent conversations have encouraged me to work through my ideas in other mediums.

In the past few months, you have been collaborating with artists both inside and outside the BSR. How did these projects came about, and are these collaborations are a new practice for you?

Yes, they are a new practice for me, the collaborations and conversations I have been part of during the last few months have been so nourishing for my approach to thinking and making. The exhibition FULL FOR IT with Tomaso de Luca and the process of making the video a condition for doing things together with Kate Power have resulted in work I am not only excited by but which I know will have a huge impact in the future.

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Still of video installation ‘a condition for doing things together’ by Catherine Parsonage and Kate Power.

Artist Celine Condorelli cites in her work on the politics of friendship this beautiful quote by Bertrand, which comes to mind when I think about these relationships and collaborations:

The main things which seem to me important on their own account, and not merely as means to other things, are knowledge, art, instinctive happiness, and relations of friendship or affection.

In your last interview, you mentioned that you have been working with stained glass. How did you go on with that in the last three months?

Some of the smaller pieces have in fact just arrived in the studio, and I think they will be exhibited in Italy in late Autumn. The development and production of the stained glass pieces has been a long process: the initial ideas and drawings have had to be constantly adapted through conversation and tests with Paolo Corpetti, the artisan I have been working with. There has been a reciprocal push and pull to find a balance between the vision for the work and the potential and limitations of the materials themselves; I think this is one of the most significant elements of these exchanges – for example even seeing the pieces in my studio this week has shifted how I will install and treat them and this forced fluidity is a welcome challenge.

Do you feel an affinity with these new mediums – performance,  glass, printmaking– and do you think you will explore them further after your residency?

Definitely, I think I am still processing my thoughts about the video a condition for doing things together with Kate Power: the piece involves a single shot of Kate and I at dawn wearing these stilt-like pointed shoes which we made from pieces of wood left around the workshop; the experience of performing in these shoes – of falling, struggling, supporting one another was an incredibly intense, rich and new one for me. Kate and I will continue to work together and in this performative manner in the future.

With all the other 2016-17 residencies ending at the end of June, the next three months at the BSR will no doubt have a very different atmosphere to work in. Can you anticipate how this might affect your work? Do you know yet how you intend to use that time, which will be more open-ended than the October—June period?

The residency thus far has been an intense time of change for my work, I hope that the upcoming months will provide a quieter moment to digest and reflect on these shifts and to process the immense visual fullness one experiences in Rome.  I will be spending these months working towards solo shows in London and Italy later in the year.


Catherine’s work is currently being exhibited alongside the six other resident artists in the June Mostra; open 16.30-19.00, Friday 16 June until Saturday 24 June 2017, closed Sundays.

Interview conducted by Ellie Johnson (Communications & Events)