The British School beyond Rome: finding Trajan in Benevento

amy-russellAmy Russell is Lecturer in Classics and Ancient History at Durham, and is spending the autumn of 2016 as a Research Fellow of the British School at Rome as part of her AHRC-funded project Senatorial Monuments: a new approach to the social dynamics of ideology formation in the Roman empire. Here Amy tells us about ‘seeing [her] own sites through new eyes’ during a three-day research trip to Benevento with fellow BSR residents.

‘One of my favourite parts of spending time at the BSR, whether as a Research Fellow, award-holder or regular visitor, has always been the chance to immerse myself in other visitors’ research and practice. The interdisciplinary interaction we have every day over tea or dinner constantly opens my mind to new possibilities and new research directions. Often, one colleague’s site or gallery visit ends up becoming a group trip, and we get the chance to see something we never would have known to look for. And seeing my own sites through new eyes is even better!

A group of award-holders and I took this philosophy to the extreme this past week, as they agreed to come with me on a three-day research trip to Benevento. The core of the trip was the Arch of Trajan, which features in my current project on monuments built by the imperial Senate, but we added on visits to museums and churches in Naples, other sites in Benevento, and the Reggia di Caserta.


Our trip started and ended with Hercules: the two statues of the weary hero from the Baths of Caracalla, originally displayed next to each other, both entered the Farnese and then the Bourbon collections but were then separated, with the more famous of the two ending up in the Museo Archeologico Nazionale at Naples and the other at the foot of the great staircase at Caserta. A Monday conversation with Jana Schuster [Giles Worsley Rome Fellow] about how it might feel to come across the Naples example while walking naked through the baths was complemented by a debate on Wednesday about which one is better, and what the visual impact of seeing them both together might have been.


Arch of Trajan, Benevento

Arch of Trajan, Benevento. Photo by Arthur Westwell.

Detail of Arch of Trajan

Detail of Arch of Trajan, Benevento. Photo by Amy Russell.

In Benevento, all eyes were on the arch, a monument to Trajan’s reconstruction of the Via Appia. It was the road that gave Benevento its importance in the imperial period, as it brought countless travellers through on the way from Rome to Brundisium and the east. I counted senators until the light went and climbed up on bollards in undignified fashion (Arthur Westwell [Pilkington Rome Awardee], always dignified, helped) to check whether they were wearing appropriately senatorial shoes; Maria del Carmen Moreno Escobar, our Portus Project representative, was excited to find a representation of Trajan founding Portus – note the anchor.


Photo by Jana Schuster

This is not me climbing the arch, but a slightly more dignified scramble to give a sense of the lengths ancient historians will go to to investigate spolia… It wasn’t all ancient in Benevento. The town was a Lombard capital from the sixth to the eleventh centuries, enjoying (some of the time) a remarkably peaceful existence which has resulted in some fantastic surviving early mediaeval architecture.


Photo by Jana Schuster


Photo by Serena Alessi

Arthur and I might have exhausted the patience of less doughty companions with our transports of joy over the eccentric eighth-century Santa Sofia. Jana Schuster’s eye for building phases helped us reconstruct the fate of some of the vaulting, but the plan, which is part-radial, part-axial, and part star-shaped, gave us plenty to work with on imaginative reconstructions of Lombard liturgy and movement through the building. Meanwhile, modernist Stefano Bragato [Rome Awardee] was quietly gathering information, and impressed us later by calmly laying out the phasing of a late mediaeval wall we passed on the way to dinner.



Photo by Amy Russell

He and Serena Alessi [Rome Fellow] found something closer by a few centuries to their own research when we visited another of Benevento’s hidden secrets, a 1992 sculpture garden by the Italian artist Mimmo Paladino. As if he knew that our little interdisciplinary group was coming, Paladino based his garden on the mediaeval monastic concept of the hortus conclusus, a hidden sanctuary for thought and reflection.



Photo by Arthur Westwell


Photo by Serena Alessi

There was plenty more crammed into the three days, from the mixture of Egyptian and Roman faux-Egyptian sculpture from Domitian’s temple to Isis at Benevento to the glorious English Garden at Caserta, where guests get a peek at the bathing Aphrodite (just after being warned by a gory fountain sculpture of Diana and Actaeon that spying on goddesses rarely ends well). The trip left us tired but intellectually refreshed: I could say the same of the whole of my time here at the BSR’.



An olive oil masterclass at the BSR

As well as painting, sculpting, researching and writing, our award-holders can now include olive oil making in their repertoire of skills! Yukiko Kawamoto, our current Rome Awardee in Humanities, has a great deal of experience in making olive oil, as she makes it every year at home in Japan. She kindly agreed to give our residents a masterclass in producing olive oil by hand, made possible by our Maintenance Officer Fulvio Astolfi, who grew, picked and donated a batch of Lazio’s finest olives.


Olives from our very own Fulvio Astolfi

The first step was to wash the olives before using a potato masher to crush the olives into a rough paste, which was then spread out onto plastic bags. The most energetic part of the process followed: the olives had to be massaged for several hours to make them much softer and to start producing the liquid.


The paste was then put into pieces of fabric, the contents of which were squeezed into a pan, then decanted into bottles where the paste would be left to separate.



After clearing up the olive carnage and allowing three days for the paste to separate…



… the top layer of oil could then be very meticulously spooned out into bottles. We are hoping to have some labels for our BSR olive oil designed by our resident artists very soon!


Yuki putting her decanting skills to the test


Almost finished…

A lot of work by many people resulted in three small bottles of oil. The highly anticipated tasting session is coming soon!


The final product!


Ellie Johnson (Administrative Assistant (Communications and Events))

All photos by Yukiko Kawamoto


A week in the life of a BSR award-holder

Living in such a culturally and historically rich city as Rome means that a wealth of opportunities are on offer, and our award-holders and residents have been making the most of this! Numerous excursions, gallery tours and conferences are attended each week, and here we take a look at the ‘extra-curricular’ activities of a typical week at the BSR.

All of our residents were invited to the opening of the Japanese House exhibition at the MAXXI last Tuesday, which runs until late February 2017, after which it will move to the Barbican Centre and then on to the National Museum of Modern Art in Tokyo. The exhibition featured a series of photographs and models exploring the development of postwar domestic architecture in Japan.


Opening of the ‘Japanese House’ exhibition. Photo credit: Jana Schuster


Opening of the ‘Japanese House’ exhibition. Photo credit: Jana Schuster


Back at the BSR: as part of the research for her AHRC Leadership Fellowship, Amy Russell, 2009-10 Ralegh Radford Rome Scholar and current BSR Research Fellow, gave a fantastic lecture on the imperial senate and the way in which it interacted with both the emperor and the city. Joining us from slightly further afield, yesterday evening’s guest speaker William Gudenrath (Corning Museum of Glass, New York) gave a talk on the history of glasswork and the glassblower from early Roman antiquity through to its ‘golden age’ in the Renaissance.


Amy Russell on ‘The imperial senate and the city of Rome’. Photo credit: Arthur Westwell


William Gudenrath discusses different glassblowing techniques. Photo credit: Stephen Kay

These lectures will soon be available to watch again on YouTube, and you can always find out more about our upcoming events on our website.

As always, both lectures were followed by a lively question-and-answer session, with the discussions continuing in the atrium for a rinfresco and cena speciale.


Discussion and rinfresco following a talk. Photo credit: Antonio Palmieri


BSR tiramisù ready for a cena speciale!

The great wealth of history and art in Rome means that our residents have the chance to demonstrate their expertise on a huge range of topics. Last Thursday, our current Henry Moore Foundation–BSR Fellow in Sculpture, Simon Barker, led a trip to Tarquinia to see the stunning Etruscan tombs. Simon enlightened the group with his extensive knowledge of the Etruscan period, and the artists gave their perspectives on the styles and techniques of the artefacts and tomb paintings.


Detail of one of the painted Etruscan tombs at Tarquinia


Wandering through the National Archaeological Museum of Tarquinia

Friday saw our award-holders take on stone carving for the first time. Led by sculptor Peter Barstow Rockwell, each person was given a slab of stone to work on and instructed on how to work the material. Everyone returned exhausted from the effort of the carving, but had a fantastic time in the process!


Photo credit: Jana Schuster


Photo credit: Jana Schuster


Photo credit: Jana Schuster

On Sunday 13 November 2016, Jacopo Benci (Senior Research Fellow in Modern Studies and Contemporary Visual Culture) organised and participated in an informal roundtable on women and artistic practice at  Centro Studi DARPS (Donne Arte Pensiero Società), where the five women artists currently in residence at the BSR (Kelly Best, Maria de Lima, Maria Farrar, Catherine Parsonage and Vivien Zhang) discussed with Marica Croce Caldarulo (director of DARPS), Serena Alessi (literary critic and women’s studies scholar; BSR Rome Fellow, Oct 2016-June 2017), Lucrezia Cippitelli (art critic; lecturer in Aesthetics, Florence Academy of Fine Arts; lecturer in Art Theories, University of Addis Ababa); Costanza Mazzonis (contemporary art consultant, Sotheby’s Italy), and Marina Micangeli Sanfelice (entrepreneur).


Enjoying some burrata at the DARPS event

One of the many perks of being a BSR resident is the access to sites that are usually closed to the public. Today marked a particularly special trip: Cary Fellow Robert Coates-Stephens led a visit to the Casa Bellezza, a series of fantastically preserved frescoed rooms from the late Republican era which sit underneath a 1930s structure which was the home of conductor Vincenzo Bellezza.


Photo credit: Vivien Zhang


Photo credit: Maria Farrar

Just another week at the BSR!

Ellie Johnson (Administrative Assistant (Communications and Events))


Nancy Milner, Gill Ord and Emily Speed in ‘Dark Geometries’

We are always happy to hear news from our alumni, but we were especially excited recently to hear from three of our Fine Arts alumni who got in touch to let us know about an upcoming show they were collaborating on.

Nancy Milner (Abbey Scholar in Painting 2014-15), Gill Ord (Abbey Fellow in Painting 2014-15) and Emily Speed (Derek Hill Foundation Scholar 2014-15) met at the BSR at the start of their residencies in 2014.

Here, Emily explains how the idea for Dark Geometries – an exhibition with Seth Ayyaz which runs until 27 November at Coleman Projects – came to fruition.

‘We knew quite soon after we had all left Rome that we wanted to work together again and I think that’s testament to the impact that the residencies at the BSR have on the artists who stay there. We’re all still working through the experiences and research that we gathered during our residences and the time at the BSR will most likely continue to inform our practices for many years to come.


Installation time at Coleman Projects


The exhibition started with a lot of conversations, so not dissimilar to popping in and out of each other’s studios at the BSR, meeting in the kitchen while making coffee or discussions over dinner. Using the space at Coleman Projects as a starting point, we tried to explore connections between our different practices and a shared interest in architectural forms and the reverberative play of sound and colour.


Seth Ayyaz ‘adding another layer of depth to the investigations’ with his sound pieces.

Seth Ayyaz was invited to join us, his sound pieces adding another layer of depth to the investigations. During the opening event, his sound performance created a really intense experience in collaboration with a film by Gill Ord and it was great to see the work layered in that way. Each work in the exhibition can be considered as a node within an underlying matrix of potential relations and hopefully relationships between the pieces become apparent when going through the space.


Rubbed smooth, Emily Speed (2016)

The front gallery space hosts new paintings by Gill and Nancy, as well as a sculptural work by Ayyaz. In Rome, Gill made paintings in a variety of ancient, underground spaces, and often with little light. Nancy is interested in the occurrence of intense moments of light glimpsed briefly, like the experience of emerging from a dark church into the glaring, midday sun. The shift that occurs from light to dark while travelling through the spaces at Coleman, from the bright gallery through to the large, dimly lit shed, draws attention to these qualities. In my own work, I am considering the relationship between architecture and the body. Rubbed smooth, a work containing repeated imagery at the rear of the gallery, takes the idea of the city as palimpsest, where buildings rather than words are erased, rebuilt and replace, and where inhabitants leave visible traces of their presence. This exhibition feels very much like another discussion or working out of ideas and hopefully future collaborative ventures will follow.’

Emily Speed (Derek Hill Foundation Scholar 2014-15)


Emily, Nancy and Gill take some time out during installation.

Photos courtesy of Andy Cohen.

Cultural heritage management and the social value of beauty


Director Christopher Smith with the British Ambassador Jill Morris

The BSR has always been interested in Italy’s cultural heritage, and one of our September blogs picked up some recent events exploring this theme. But even more has been happening since!

Dame Fiona Reynolds – former Director-General of the National Trust and our guest in September – has written a wonderful book entitled The Fight for Beauty: Our Path to a Better Future, and this was the theme picked up in a recent workshop in which UK think tank ResPublica and Italian think tank Trinità dei Monti, with support from the British Council, debated the idea of beauty as a civic right. Also speaking was the Director of the wonderful new development, V&A Dundee, who gave us a glimpse into future projects.

The workshop ended with a lively debate between Caroline Julian from ResPublica, and Pippo Ciorra from the MAXXI. How is beauty best defined? What does it mean? Can chaos be beautiful?  All questions which provoked a lively debate, which you can hear on our podcast, but Fiona Reynolds’ words remain with me:

‘Beauty is not a luxury we can only have when we are rich; it is a way of shaping the changes we need and want so that they make a positive contribution to everyone’s lives, as well as protecting the things and places we most value. To succeed we need to be clear about our objective; and beauty, sustainability and genuine public engagement must be at their heart.’

Christopher Smith (Director)

The podcast of the event The Social value of Beauty is available on the BSR YouTube channel.

40 years on from the excavations at San Giovanni di Ruoti


‘Alastair Small (Rome Scholar 1965-7) began work near the small village of San Giovanni di Ruoti in Basilicata (ancient Lucania) in the 1970s with Robert Buck, and with the encouragement of Dinu Adamesteanu, the great superintendent of the region. The local historian Gerardo Salinardi had drawn attention to the potential of the site, then accessible only by mule. The excavation from 1977 to 1984 revealed a stunning villa site, occupying a beautiful position looking down the Valley of the Fiumara di Avigliano, towards the ever receding hills.

The site produced splendid late Roman mosaic floors (now in the museum at Muro Lucano), and had its own bath building. It was on two floors, with a large absidal building, and perhaps the most significant aspect is its continuity. There appears to have been an early phase which began around the time of Augustus and continued just into the third century, but when the villa sparks back into life in around 300 it continues into the mid-seventh century.


Site tour with Alastair and Carola Small.


Life was not entirely ordered – the disused areas show extraordinary amounts of rubbish and animal remains – but at the same time, San Giovanni di Ruoti remained connected, especially to Adriatic trade.



Alastair speaking at the presentation of the new volume La villa romana e tardoantica di San Giovanni di Ruoti (Basilicata). Una sintesi.

Alastair returned earlier this month to San Giovanni for the presentation of a synthesis of the excavation, produced with Francesco Tarlano.  The volume, La villa romana e tardoantica di San Giovanni di Ruoti (Basilicata). Una sintesi (published superbly by Pisani Teodosio Edizioni) is a sharp, clear and well-illustrated account of this important villa site, summarising work published in the more imposing Phoenix supplements which experts will know (two more volumes are due).

I was privileged to be part of the event, and it was yet another illustration of the passion Italians have for their heritage. Alastair and Carola Small, indefatigable as ever, were at the heart of everything – a tour round the site with an eager audience, talks in the evening in a packed hall; and many memories.  This was a dig which had engaged a community, and archive photos of the 1970s team were eagerly scrutinized for friends and relatives. Some of the Canadian team came too – husband and wife Eric Haldenby and Rosemary Aicher, who met at Ruoti, and Joann Freed who worked on the pottery.  Luisa Troiano, who had moved to America in the 1960s, and whose generosity made the whole project possible, gave a gracious speech and was cheered to the rafters. Everything was managed impeccably by Felice Faraone, whose idea it had all been.

The following day, Alastair, Carola and I travelled to Muro Lucano to see the mosaics and the other treasures of this super museum, directed by Salvatore Pagliuca, who has created a little gem, with a stunning sixth-century grave from Baragiano to gladden my heart.


Salvatore Pagliuca with a group at the Muro Museum.

I stayed in the aptly named and very lovely Dimora di Bacco, where Luigi Nardiello and Giuseppina Matturro were bringing in the vintage from their vineyard. Much in Basilicata has not changed, and perhaps in particular its capacity to run at a different pace from the rest of Italy, just as in antiquity its cultural activity outlasted northern neighbours.  Recently, it has been in the news for its acceptance of large numbers of migrants (in late Antiquity it was the Lombards of course).  It scores extraordinarily highly in tourist satisfaction, but is far less visited than other parts of Italy; and San Giovanni di Ruoti is in need of attention – it must either be restored properly or backfilled. Basilicata goes its own way, but investment is needed.

This story can be multiplied almost endlessly – a small town, well excavated by a super team, with huge local enthusiasm, and revealing unknown treasures.  It is what makes Italian archaeology so very remarkable – it is not just a scientific process, it is also a way in which discovering the past makes new memories, creates new communities, and refocuses older ones. This story stands for the many times I have encountered the impact of archaeology in Italy, and in this instance, much is owed to the BSR’s great friend Alastair Small, for whom the affection in this local community was palpable. Bravo Alastair!’


Christopher Smith (BSR Director)

Benvenuti to our new award-holders!

On Monday 3 October, the BSR welcomed sixteen new award-holders into the fold! Their first week has been packed with talks, events and inductions, and it has been a fantastic start to the new academic year.

Highlights of the week included two sessions of introductory talks, in which each award-holder gave a brief presentation on their area of interest and set out what they hope to achieve while at the BSR, and more generally how the experience of being in Rome might enrich their research or practice. It was wonderful to see such a wide range of fascinating topics being discussed, and we are very much looking forward to seeing the fruits of their labours in the coming months!


All sixteen of our new award-holders. Photo credit: Antonio Palmieri

Our award-holders were also treated to a tour of the Forum and Palatine by our very own Director, Christopher Smith. Previous reviews of this tour have heralded it as ‘life-changing’ and ‘legendary’, and it certainly lived up to its reputation! The tour began and ended in the pouring rain, but the award-holders were rewarded for their perseverance with a burst of sunshine at the very end, giving a spectacular view of the Forum.

Back at the BSR on Thursday evening, our staff, residents and award-holders were joined by a number of guests from London Business School to attend a discussion on the EU Referendum hosted by Jill Morris, the UK Ambassador to Italy. Italians and English alike were very keen to have an insight into how the Embassy intends to approach the issue of Brexit, and the lively discussion continued over a buffet dinner, as the attendees had the opportunity to debate further questions with the Ambassador.

The final introductory event was a visit to the Villa Medici, hosted by the French Academy, where the BSR award-holders met their fellow artists and scholars from the other foreign academies and institutes in Rome.


Our award-holders outside the stunning Villa Medici.

We hope that the new award-holders had a fantastic first week, and we are extremely excited to see what the months to follow will bring with them on board!

Click here to see a full list of this year’s award-holders.

Ellie Johnson (Administrative assistant)