Meet the artists… Sarah Pupo

An interview with Sarah Pupo, our January-March 2020, Québec Resident, in which she speaks about the works she produced during her residency at the BSR.

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Installation detail. Image credit: Marta Pellerini

Your paintings give physical expression to the abstract ideas of reflection, shadow and trace. What interests you about these transparent and soft concepts?

Yes, I’m trying to speak to what is intangible and difficult to embody in a physical way. I think this is why I’m using these materials that are that are barely there, that leave imprints or traces of themselves, are made of shadows and light, washes of colour, suggestions of shape and structures that barely hold themselves together. I want to give form to the things we can’t see or put into words, like a feeling that washes over you or a memory of someone, or the resonance a place holds.

These physical elements of the work are tied to ways of thinking that are not linear but more associative, like you see a thing and it reminds you of another, you see a gesture that makes you recollect something in the past that you can’t put your finger on. That sense of familiarity, coincidence, déjà vu, something just below the surface. Rome is an interesting place for that, because there is such a feeling of memory and time here and so many residual traces of the past. The ones that are most interesting to me are not the grand monuments but all the things that are broken or half-erased, all the left-overs.

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Laundry hanging in the street in Naples. Photograph by the artists.

It’s as though you are creating different inhabitable worlds with your sculptures. Where do the ideas for these places come from?

They have emerged from these traces and in between spaces where time moves differently. When I make drawings I see it as a ritual: you sit down in the same space with the same set of tools every day and you are returning to a moment in time. You do this physical practice to try to connect these moments and create a space where time works cyclically, stretches out, decisions happen slowly and different types of thought are able to emerge. In the best moments you are opening yourself to a subconscious, intuitive world, a place of associative thinking and slowing down. I love those little weird moments where I feel lost in time, that’s why I animate too. When making stop motion animation it takes forever to make a small thing move but it also feels like no time at all. It is very meditative and I want to bring people into these in between worlds that become a bit dream-like. Where the rigidity of things soften and they aren’t clear or sharp anymore and you can make more poetic associations. My shadow forms are in the process of becoming something like a full thought and I want to bring people into this soft middle space.

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Ceilings inside the Domus Aurea. Photograph by the artists.

 

Interview by Marta Pellerini (BSR Fine Arts Adviser)

Meet the artists…Sharon Kelly

An interview with Sharon Kelly, our 2020-21 Arts Council of Northern Ireland Fellow, in which she speaks about the works she has produced during the first months of her residency at the BSR.

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Watercolour Torso, watercolour on black paper, 13 × 13 cm, courtesy of the artist

Your practice focuses on investigating the areas of human experience and the body: in what way are you expanding your research in Italy?

My work embraces how it is to be in the world and has been informed by personal experience. I have always been interested in the body and in recent years explored the idea of the body under strain; so for example, I made work in response to the challenges of running; the experience of endurance athletes who push the boundaries of the physical body. This led to explorations around mental challenges and the mind/body synergy. Prior to my coming to Rome, my focus shifted to the area of physical illness, bodily strain, breakdown and bracing.

Early on in the residency I made visits to Museo Universitario delle Scienze e delle Arti in Naples and drew inspiration from the human anatomy collections, which I found very poignant. In Rome I visited the Museo Storico Nazionale dell’Arte Sanitaria viewing the  historical collection of medical exhibits. I was lucky to be here in Rome to see the Sublimi Anatomie exhibition in Palazzo delle Esposizioni.  What has been interesting for me is the contrast between the interior body, the body excavated and liquidity of the body and then being exposed to examples of Etruscan and Roman sculpture that you can see in the Museo Nazionale Romano in Palazzo Massimo for example — suggesting the solidity, mass and permanence of the body.  I’ve been inspired also by time ravaged frescoes and sculptures; the fragmented and broken gestures which have made their way into the work…

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Dry Media, charcoal on paper, 60 × 115 cm, courtesy of the artist

In my research, I have found memorable examples of anatomical votives from the collections in Museo Nazionale Etrusco, Villa Giulia, in churches and on walls in the city itself. The broken or fragmented body is echoed over time in the faded and damaged frescoes from ancient times. Visually and spiritually they have had a big impact on me. My research has embraced the idea of the votive as either healing petitions or reflections of gratitude for healing. This connects strongly with a tradition still practised in Ireland of rag trees and holy wells. A fragment of the clothing of a sick relative is dipped in the holy well and tied to a tree in hope of healing.

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Red Study, watercolour and crayon on paper,
24 × 36 cm, courtesy of the artist

Visiting your studio, one has a feeling of synergy between the body and the mind. Does this psychological aspect interest you, and if so, how?

Indeed such ideas are always present in my mind. The body as our vehicle for our own sense of ourselves — it’s an aspect that I have been researching using the resources in the library, in particular practices of ancient people and questions around how they may have understood their bodies and their relationship with deities and mortality. The vision of the fragmented body can be unsettling and ambiguous. At present I am contemplating many ideas and developing the work through the use of both dry and fluid materials — charcoal and watercolour / ink — which in a sense echoes the previous comments about solidity and fluidity.

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Torso Fluid, ink and watercolour on paper,
30 × 22 cm, courtesy of the artist

Interview by Marta Pellerini (BSR Fine Arts Adviser)

Meet the artists… Paul Becker

An interview with Paul Becker, our January-March 2020 Abbey Fellow in Painting, in which he speaks about the works he produced during his three-month residency at the BSR.

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Image: Skirt of ‘Toilette of Salomé II’
Oil on canvas, 2019. Courtesy of the artist

.Has anything inspired a shift in your artistic practice since your arrival to Rome?

There are lots of things I have been thinking about but more to do with the wider cultural context of Italy. Perhaps not the ancient world or the Baroque but I have always been interested in Italian history and certain cultural events, certain films, novelists, certain artists. More generally I have been interested in the fin de siècle, in end of the century artists and writers and the feeling, the atmosphere present within that time, and how there are obvious correlations with what is happening now in the world: a feeling that we are all slightly doomed, and that society is approaching a crisis, just as people felt just before the beginning of the 20th century (and were proved right). I have been looking at Medardo Rosso, Visconti’s Death in Venice, decadent art, symbolist art, Beardsley, Spilliaert, Max Klinger. But none of these things are referenced specifically, I am just looking and thinking about them. Talking to the props makers at Cinecittá was quite extraordinary. All these histories of film and time, jumbled up and reused: a bust from Spartacus being recycled for Gladiator. A chandelier from Casanova or Salò dusted off for a Gucci shoot. 

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From the props dept at Cinecittà. Chandeliers from Visconti’s Death in Venice and Pasolini’s Salò. Photograph by the artist

You’re a painter, but you’re also a musician and a writer. How do these practices influence one another?

There is a similar approach when I try and make music: a freedom that comes from not really knowing what I’m doing, or where I am going. Making something from nothing. I’ve not got any recognisable skills as a musician but the band I play in (War Dr with Luke McCreadie) still manage to produce good things through our complete lack of virtuosity. So, yes, in that way it is connected to my paintings. As for the writing, I suppose I have more idea of structure, or strategy for how it could function. Perhaps editing is closer to painting? Certainly, the painting and the music have more similarities in locating the subject, the content, the work itself, in the process of trying to formulate it: like writing a poem and the making of the poem becomes the work. I don’t want to impose too much, I am looking for clarity but that doesn’t mean I want things to be explained or to be specific, not in music, not in writing and especially not in painting. It is more about locating an uncertain feeling, an atmosphere, something I cannot explain that is not to do with inspiration, with research or specific references but that is really important to me to try and have in the world.

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Image: Max Klinger Repose from Paraphrase on the Finding of a Glove (1881)

 

Interview by Marta Pellerini (BSR Fine Arts Adviser)

Iberian Diasporities in Baroque Rome

What is a diaspora and what are the ways in which the condition of diaspora can be lived out?  From the Greek diaspora means the condition of being dispersed or scattered, of having to leave one’s homeland to settle somewhere else on account of coercion, duress and persecution, be it real or imagined.  Members of a diaspora can constitute veritable communities in the places they choose to settle or can be silent individuals who, unbeknownst to the fellow dwellers of the places they live in, settled their because they could no longer remain in the place they hailed from.

Rome has often been evoked as the Patria Communis, the centre of the world which accepts everyone and the city in which everyone is welcome and everyone can fit it.  For years I have worked on the life stories of the men and women from Spain and Portugal who settled in Rome at least in part as a result of their Jewish origins, a faith that their ancestors had forcibly converted from in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, known as conversos.  Despite descending from people who embraced the Catholic faith and ostensibly living as Christians in the Iberian Peninsula they were singled out for exclusion due to the origins of their “tainted” blood or on account of suspicions of heresy due to their alleged continuous attachment to some form of Jewish belief and practice.  These Iberian denizens were migrants on several levels.  They were descendants of people who migrated from one faith to another.   They themselves chose to migrate to the Eternal City for several reasons.  Some did so to escape from real persecution or social exclusion.  Others did so in order to get a new lease in life, in order to tell their stories in a different way, to fashion and craft their images anew.  Both for ordinary Romans and, more often than not, for their fellow Iberians living in the city this “stained” family past was not an issue.  It was something which could be obviated or was not considered, all the more so in a period in which conversion from Judaism was often flaunted and instrumentalized in Rome for the prestige of the Catholic Church.

Rome was not just any other city in which they could find refuge.  As the seat of the Catholic Church, it was there in which they could publicly affirm their credentials as stalwart, faith-abiding Catholics as a response to possible suspicion about their true religious adherence.  A stay in Rome could serve those who may have wanted to come and go, those who decided to remain in the Eternal City or their families back home.  It was also the city with its classical past and storied civic institutions which fired the European imagination and hearkened back to the days of old.  It was also a city which offered prosperity and power due to niche markets connected to the Catholic Church.  Some chose to be innocuous, to blend in with the city and its inhabitants and remain anonymous. Others, through art and cultural patronage, made a point of standing out, as prominent Catholic Spanish and Portuguese citizens of the city with, at times, important links to the Church or involvement in the city’s civic institutions.  Throughout the seventeenth century there were several individuals and whole families who, faced with the dilemma of their converso past in Spain and Portugal, settled in Rome.

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Jonah and the sea creature.  Fresco attributed to Cesare Nebbia c. 1584 in the church of Nostra Signora del Sacro Cuore, formerly the Castilian national church of San Giacomo degli Spagnoli.              

The image was part of the chapel of the Resurrection, also known as the Fonseca chapel, which was constructed under the orders of the Portuguese converso banker Antonio da Fonseca (1515?-1588) who insisted on every detail in it which was to serve as the resting place for the Fonseca family.  An obvious integral part of an iconographical program centred around the idea of death and resurrection, the image could also be a telling evocation of exile and diaspora with Jonah being literally expelled from the mouth of the sea creature onto dry land and having been held in its belly for three days.  
Photograph kindly provided by Angelo Marinelli.
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Diego de Velázquez, Portrait of Ferdinando Brandano, c.1650.  Image source: Wikimedia Commons

The sitter was recently identified as Ferdinando Brandano, a powerful Portuguese converso banker and important official in the Apostolic Datary, the office in the Roman Curia charged with conceding matrimonial dispensations, indults and ecclesiastical benefices. His portrait was painted by Velázquez during his 1649-1651 stay in Rome, who he also helped to give access to important contacts in the city and the papal court under Innocent X (1644-1655). Velázquez very likely shared Brandano’s Portuguese converso origins and they lived in close vicinity to each other.
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Diego de Velázquez, Portrait of Ferdinando Brandano, c.1650, Musei Capitolini. Photograph by the author.

The sitter was recently identified as Juan de Córdoba, the Spanish converso diplomatic, commercial and artistic agent in Rome who was instrumental in organising and overseeing Diego de Velázquez’s (1599-1660) stay in Rome during his second sojourn in Italy (1649-1651) and in whose house Velázquez lived during his time in the city in the Iberian hub of Parione. Córdoba was a minor cleric from Córdoba, Spain, who acted, as many conversos did, as an agent and a go-between for clients in Iberia seeking ecclesiastical benefices, to acquire artistic objects, for some diplomatic duties or to secure access to Roman society or to the Roman Curia.
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Gian Lorenzo Bernini, sculpture bust of Gabriel da Fonseca, c.1664. Image Source: Wikimedia Commons

The bust of Gabriel da Fonseca (1586?-1668) by Gian Lorenzo Bernini (1598-1680) was created to adorn the chapel of the Annunciation, also known as the Fonseca chapel in the church of San Lorenzo in Lucina.  Fonseca, a converso from Portugal, was a prominent physician who was Pope Inncocent X’s personal doctor and had grown up and studied in Pisa.  An inhabitant of Rome since at least 1612, he was the owner of a prominent palazzo in Parione where he assembled an important art collection and library.

 

Prof. James W. Nelson Novoa 

Balsdon Fellow (January -March 2020)

SACRED LAOS IN PHOTOGRAPHS: THE MONK’S GAZE

Our Head Librarian Valerie Scott recounts the story of the Buddhist Archive of Photography, an ongoing  project founded by Hans Georg Berger. This project, comprising over 35,000 historical photographs is in partnership with the Endangered Archives Programme at The British Library.

A BSR journey began in 1991 on the island of Elba with BSR archaeologists excavating medieval iron-working sites on Monte Serra overlooking the sea. This led to an encounter and long friendship with Hans Georg Berger, photographer and writer, at the Eremo di Santa Caterina, a small abandoned monastery on the same mountain, discovered and restored by Hans, which had become a retreat for writers, artists, scholars and scientists. This, in turn, led to my meeting Hans and his first visit to the BSR when he invited BSR artists to spend time working at the Eremo: no electricity, no hot water but wood stoves and candlelight, listening to night jars and scops owls on the mountain, the milky way overhead and the full moon’s reflection in the sea.

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Eremo di S. Caterina, Rio nell’Elba (photographs courtesy of Roger Kite

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Eremo di S. Caterina, Rio nell’Elba (photographs courtesy of Roger Kite)

A project to record the life, through photographs, of Buddhist monks and novices in the 64 monasteries in Luang Prabang took Hans to Laos, which became his home, but annual visits to S. Caterina, where we would often meet, continued. Hans recounted the plight of monastic photographic collections in South East Asia. He writes:

‘Most have been destroyed by a difficult climate, by neglect and by poverty, and, above all, the extraordinary political and social changes, war, civil war and revolution that affected the region during the 20th century. The influx of tourism and the development of a capitalist market economy constitute a new threat today’.

He spoke of his friendship with the learned and highly respected Abbot, Phra Khamchanh Virachittathera, who confided in Hans that he had collected photographs throughout his long life and they were safely stored in cupboards in his reception room.  The future of this unique collection, documenting 120 years of photography of Theravada Buddhism, concentrating on monastic life, ceremonies and portraits of eminent monks and scholars was, however, uncertain.

As Hans writes, ‘On the Venerable abbot’s death his photographs would traditionally, be distributed to the monk’s followers, as a Dhamma gift, or the photographs might be cremated with the monk’s body (they are considered carriers of Karmic energies of those portrayed). If the archive falls into the hands of non-Buddhists, neglect, mistreatment or dispersion are very likely’. With great generosity and wisdom the Abbot entrusted his collection to Hans.

News of the British Library’s Endangered Archives Programme was passed on to me by a colleague and reading the following statement on the website made me immediately think of Hans and the monks in Luang Prabang:

‘The Endangered Archives Programme (EAP) facilitates the digitisation of archives around the world that are in danger of destruction, neglect or physical deterioration.’

A simple click on my computer to forward the information to Hans set in motion over 10 years of funding for a number of projects directed by Hans, working with the monks and leading to the creation of the ‘Buddhist Archive of Photography’ of Luang Prabang. The National Library of Laos, the national archival partner and the British Library today host digital copies of the images (the originals will remain in the monastery). To start, an overview of the Venerable abbot’s collection of 10,000 photographs was carried out, the photographs were identified and then digitised and catalogued.  Research on this unique material is on-going considering, for example, Luang Prabang’s importance as a centre of Theravada pilgrimage, and its continuous connections with similar centres all over south-east Asia.

As the project progressed other hidden collections emerged from the nearby monasteries and to date 35,000 images are available online at https://eap.bl.uk/project/EAP177/search and  https://eap.bl.uk/project/EAP326/search.

 

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Two travelling monks from Luang Prabang
photographing an approaching train in Thailand
(X0856)

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Pha Khamfan Silasangvaro,
Studio portrait, early 1930s (C1969)

The BSR journey continues, nearly 20 years later, marked by a special event organized by the Endangered Archives Programme at the British Library in January 2020 to celebrate the success of this remarkable project that has recently been selected by UNESCO as part of its Memory of the World Programme. This event coincided with a major exhibition at the British Library on Buddhism and a smaller one showing some of the Lao archive’s holdings.  Hans gave an inspirational talk about the history of photography within the monasteries in Laos throughout the 20th century and the remarkable results his project has produced. An endangered Archive has not only been saved but also discovered.

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Hans Georg Berger at the British Library
(Photo courtesy of Robert Miles)

And to complete the cycle this occasion also reunited three BSR Award Holders, Sarah Pickstone (BSR Rome Scholar in Painting 1991-2), Duncan Bullen (BSR Rome Scholar in Printmaking 1991-2) and Roger Kite (BSR Abbey Award 1994), artists who have all spent time in residence at the Eremo di Santa Caterina on Monte Serra on the island of Elba where this story began.

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Sarah Pickstone, Hans Georg Berger, Valerie Scott, Duncan Bullen and partner Lorry Eason, Roger Kite

Warm thanks to all at the Endangered Archives Programme for organizing such a memorable event.

For further information on EAP see https://eap.bl.uk/

Valerie Scott, BSR Librarian

Raphael and his drawings: a conversation with Angelamaria Aceto

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© Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxford.

What lies behind Raphael’s drawings and sketches?

To find out, read our interview with expert Angelamaria Aceto (Ashmolean Museum) who will be speaking at the BSR on the 5th of March. Her lecture entitled ‘The archaeology of Raphael’s drawings: uncovering new sketches and methodologies’ will coincide with the opening of the major exhibition ‘Raffaello’at the Scuderie del Quirinale.

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© Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxford.

Can you tell us about your contribution to the forthcoming exhibition ‘Raffaello’ at  Scuderie del Quirinale in Rome?

I co-authored an essay with Prof. Di Teodoro on Raphael’s architectural drawings – an aspect that is in need of a critical re-assessment.  It is an incredibly difficult field because of the lack of architectural drawings that have come down to us and yet we recognise Raphael as one of the most influential architects in Western history. It is a slight paradox, but an intriguing one for an art historian! We examined how the drawings attributed to him are made, their ‘stratigraphy’ (I love the concept borrowed from geology), but we also considered the traces of architecture in his figural drawings and this has shown how careful scrutiny can enrich art historical discourse. It is a work in progress.

 What is the most revealing aspect of Raphael’s drawings?

His restless inventiveness, nurtured by a profound visual culture, which still surprises us today as we look beneath the surface of his drawings.

Among the many themes, the Scuderie exhibition wonderfully illustrates the ambitious and talented artist responding with incredible ease to the stimuli that surrounded him through the act of drawing, whether it was the art of senior masters, nature, or indeed classical antiquity. Drawing was (and still is) an essential cognitive tool through which artists learnt, experimented and fixed ideas, but it has layers, like a painting. This is something drawing scholarship has increasingly acknowledged, but not enough in my opinion. Such a shift is certainly much needed in Raphael studies. The lecture will take you through some cases-studies, or ‘reading exercises’ so to speak, and show you what a focus on the materiality of his drawings can do.

What does Raphael say to contemporary audiences?

Everyone, regardless of their knowledge of the artist and his historical context, will be captured by the beauty of the objects he executed or perhaps just designed, and by his versatility. His genius manifested itself beyond painting and architecture.

Above all, Raphael remains one the greatest storytellers of all the time. Many of his narrative paintings reflect concerns of the time, and may not feel ‘modern’ to us today. Yet, his technical virtuosity, paired with his visual intelligence, are such that our eyes are drawn to these incredible orchestrations. In every story, whether unfolding in large-scale frescos, in a Sacred Family, in portraits, or in a swift sketch realised with minimal marks of the pen, Raphael succeeded in striking the balance between rhetoric and reality. It is an art imbued with human emotions, and as such it manages to transcend the boundaries of time and space.

The lecture is a collaboration with Scuderie del Quirinale

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© Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxford.

Rome is not like any other city…

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Panoramic view of Rome, Wikimedia Commons

John Osborne gives us a glimpse of one of the most beautiful cities in the world, through the lens of Neoclassical sculptor Antonio Canova and the church of Santi Apostoli.


One of the delights of undertaking research in Roman churches is that you continually discover wonderful objects or paintings which bear absolutely no relationship whatsoever to the subject of your study. Take the church of Santi Apostoli, for example, about whose medieval scriptorium I am currently writing a paper for a conference entitled ‘Roma X secolo’ to be held in early April. I needed to check that a sixth-century relic container was indeed still housed in the church’s 19th-century crypt, so on a sunny Saturday morning I walked over from the BSR, my steps taking me most happily through the Borghese Gardens to the Pincio, down the Spanish steps and past the Fontana di Trevi. Sure enough, it was still there, more or less exactly where it had been rediscovered in 1873.

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Antonio Canova, Tomb of Pope Clement XIV, SS Apostoli, Rome. Photo: J. Osborne

What I had foolishly forgotten was that this church also houses one of the great early works of the Neoclassical sculptor, Antonio Canova: his tomb of Pope Clement XIV (1769-1774), completed in 1787. In the second half of the 18th century the great age of the Baroque, with all its gaudy splendour, theatrical exuberance, and decorative excesses, was in the process of being giving way to a new taste for more simple refinement and more sober expression … and here, not much more than a stone’s throw from the trompe l’oeil illusionism of the ceiling of Sant’Ignazio, Canova, who had only recently arrived in Rome from Venice, charted a new course in funerary monuments. It was one that would instantly capture the zeitgeist of his day by evoking the spirit of the ancient world in its clean lines, reduced forms,  and classicizing mourning figures. The pendulum of taste was in the process of swinging, aided and abetted by the archaeological discovery of ancient monuments and statuary, including the discovery and excavation of sites like Hadrian’s Villa at Tivoli, and of course Pompeii. No energetic dynamism here. No insistence on throngs of figures when three will happily suffice. If it ain’t baroque …

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Narthex porch of SS Apostoli, Rome. Photo: J. Osborne

But even this monument seems a bit over-the-top in comparison to Canova’s other work at SS. Apostoli, one that rarely gets any mention in the guidebooks, and nary a sideways glance from visitors to the basilica: the funerary stele of his friend and fellow refugee from the Veneto, the artist (engraver and ceramicist), excavator, and antiquities dealer, Giovanni Volpato (1735-1803), located in the narthex porch. Completed roughly two decades later than the papal tomb, in my estimation this is the real masterpiece of Neoclassicism, and indeed it has long been my favourite of Canova’s many monuments. You will not find a better tribute to the classical value of pietas and the wistful remembrance of loved ones who are no longer with us. Che bella!

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Antonio Canova, Tomb of Giovanni Volpato, SS Apostoli, Rome.  Photo: J. Osborne

Rome is full of such little nuggets, and from every age of European history stretching back some 2500 years. There is no other city like it anywhere in the world.


John Osborne (Distinguished Research Professor, Carleton University, Ottawa; and Honorary Research Fellow, Courtauld Institute of Art, London) has been a visitor to the BSR in every year since 1976.  He held a Rome scholarship in 1978-9, a Balsdon fellowship in 2018, and was elected an Honorary Fellow in 2006. He has published regularly in the Papers of the School, and his forthcoming book, Rome in the Eighth Century: a history in art, will be published by Cambridge University Press in the summer of 2020 in the BSR series.