Restoring the BSR’s Magic Lantern


magiclantern3Our Magic Lantern is working again after over half a century of inactivity thanks to the generosity of The John R. Murray Charitable Trust. John and Ginnie Murray were our guests at the first slideshow held on Friday 4 September together with BSR residents and colleagues on this magical occasion.

We relived Thomas Ashby’s talk given in the BSR Library in 1910 (when we were still in the Palazzo Odescalchi in the centre of Rome) recounting his trip to Lampedusa, Lampione and Linosa in 1908 – one of the first archaeologists to explore these islands off Sicily – and we projected the very lantern slides he used to illustrate his talk, made from the photographs he took during the trip.

Library Assistant Francesca Deli was a natural when it came to operating the Magic Lantern.

Times were certainly different then. Ashby tells us that the late Admiral The Hon. Sir Assheton Curzon-Howe, at that time the Commander-in-Chief of the Mediterranean fleet, was good enough to place a destroyer, H.M.S. ‘Banshee’, at their disposal for the purpose of a safe arrival on the islands. The lantern slides show these islands as they were at the beginning of the 20th century and, side by side, we projected images of the same places today.


We were also able to illustrate ‘then’ and ‘now’ by presenting our new website (at the moment closed access) which includes material from our latest research project, directed by Guido Petruccioli, on the archive of John Marshall, the purchasing agent in Italy for classical antiquities for both the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston and later the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. Friend and colleague of Edward Perry Warren (of the British Museum’s Warren cup fame) he lived in Rome and was a Member of the BSR. He died in 1928 and in his will left us his Library and Archive, which includes photographs of the works of art offered to him for sale as well as his card-file, documents and letters.


One of John Marshall’s photographs, ‘Girl with Doves’, projected simultaneously from laptop and lantern.

We have some lantern slides of Marshall’s photos that Eugénie Strong, Assistant Director to Ashby, probably used in her lectures and one of them shows a mid-5th century BC relief found on Paros in 1785 of a little girl with two doves. Project Director Guido discovered the following interesting information from Bernard Ashmole’s autobiography (he was BSR Director after Ashby and a friend of Marshall). He writes that the owner of the relief, Lord Yarborough from Brocklesby in Lincolnshire, offered it to the British Museum but they declined as it was too expensive. He then offered it to the Metropolitan Museum New York for which Marshall was acting as agent. Ashmole writes:

Now it so happened that not long before, I had visited Brocklesby independently, and had studied the Girl with Doves, which was their chief treasure. Marshall asked me about it and I told him all I knew although I did not realise that the Metropolitan was actually negotiating. When they finally made the purchase Marshall proposed that they should make me some sort of return for the information I had given. I said this was quite impossible but that if he liked, a gift could be made to the School. In this way it was possible to pay for a new fountain basin in the middle of the courtyard, four travertine seats about it and a fountain in the centre consisting of a square basin resting on a large rectangular block of travertine on which I asked John Skeaping to carve reliefs.’

So, it’s thanks to a little girl and two doves that we have the fountain in our courtyard today.


Cortile fountain designed by John Skeaping. Photograph by Angela Catlin.

We also invited Sig. Antonio Di Carlo, who with great care and expertise gradually and lovingly cleaned, repaired and restored our magic lantern, which dates to the early 1900s. It was in a pretty bad state – the heat from the lights had damaged the wood internally, in fact there were signs of burning, and it had been lined with asbestos at some point, aesthetically it was very ugly as parts had been replaced over the years and some parts were missing including the caminetto (which in the past really had the same role as a chimney) which Sig. Antonio had to construct from scratch as the original is missing.

Antonio Di Carlo (centre) explaining the Magic Lantern’s hidden secrets to John Murray (right).

We were able to reveal that the ‘anonymous donors’ of the Magic Lantern to the BSR were probably Dora and Agnes Bulwer, friends of Ashby and photographers themselves, the daughters of Archibald Bulwer, who is remembered on the brass plaque.

Dora (or Agnes?) Bulwer. Image courtesy of BSR Photographic Archive, Dora & Agnes Bulwer Collection, dab-misc.52.

Soon the beautifully restored Magic Lantern will be on display in the entrance hall for all to admire. Thank you John and Ginnie from us all!

By Valerie Scott (Librarian)

Images by Natalie Arrowsmith unless otherwise stated