Bridget Riley Fellow Sinta Tantra to design winning flag for the Palio di Siena

We were very excited and proud to hear that Sinta Tantra, our 2016–17 Bridget Riley Fellow, has been selected to design the drappellone for this year’s August Palio di Siena. She recently visited the city to meet with various members of Siena’s thriving Palio community to learn about the race and the traditions of the city and to gain inspiration from them.

Each summer since the seventeenth century, the medieval Tuscan city of Siena is taken over by the Palio, a horse race around the central Piazza del Campo. Two races take place, the first on 2 July and the second on 16 August, in which ten horses and riders representing a contrada (or district) of the city compete in the race, with the winner claiming the drappellone as the prize for their contrada.

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Photo by Nicole Moffatt (Macquarie Gale Rome Scholar)

In her appointment as the designer of this year’s August drappellone, Sinta continues the tradition begun in 1970 of having an international artist designing the winning flag. While the designs of the drappelloni vary greatly according to the artists’ styles, there are numerous elements that must appear in each: the Madonna of the Assumption (or the Madonna of Provenzano for the July Palio drappellone); the black and white shield which is the insignia of the city; the symbols of the current governing bodies of Siena and the district; and the banner or the animal symbolic of each participating contrada.

On the first day, Sinta was shown the contrada of Selva (Forest). Each contrada has its own church, in which their jockey and horse are blessed before the race, and a museum which houses the memorabilia from previous races, from outfits to flags to musical instruments, some dating back hundreds of years. The museums also proudly display all the drappelloni they have won over the centuries. These collections, along with the stories of historic rivalries between contrade and the passion with which they were told, reinforced the extent to which the Palio is steeped in tradition, and how much this tradition is treasured.

The second day included a visit to the Civic Museum, housed in the iconic Palazzo Pubblico of Siena which overlooks the campo where the races take place. Here Sinta was shown further Palio paraphernalia, including the lottery box (below, top-left) which assigns horses to contrade, jockeys to horses, and determines the starting line-up. This is where the factor of luck is introduced: the contrade do not know which jockey and which horse will be assigned to them until around three weeks before the race, when the lots are drawn.

Three further contradeOca (Goose), Torre (Tower) and Lupa (Wolf) were visited on the third day, when it became clear just how much each contrada wants to bring back the drappellone to house in their museum! Each contrada has a governing body, headed by a Priore Capo (chief), who manage the Palio matters of their district. It was striking to see how so much of the work that goes into the Palio is voluntary. Apart from on race-days, the seventeen contrade work together to ensure that the Palio continues to flourish — however, every 2 July and 16 August the niceties are laid aside!

At the Torre museum, Sinta met the designer of this year’s July drappellone, Laura Brocchi, which gave her the opportunity to discuss designs, materials and painting techniques. Until the mid-1970s, it was deemed that the artist for the July drappellone should be from Siena, after which the pool was expanded to include all Italian artists. This year, however, sees a return to tradition as Laura is from Siena.

The visit to the contrada of Lupa also gave the chance to see last year’s July drappellone, designed by Tommaso Andreini, which has pride of place in the contrada’s church.

A few weeks later, back in Rome, we had a special visit from new Sienese friends, who came to Rome to see the BSR, visit Sinta’s studio and, most importantly, to deliver the silk banner which will bear the design for the August drappellone. After the race, the flag will be carried through the city by the victorious contrada to the duomo of Siena.

The Palio posse visiting Sinta's studio

The Palio posse visiting Sinta’s studio: Senio Corsi, responsabile dell’ufficio Palio; Michela Bacconi, collaboratrice dell’ufficio Palio; Rita Bianciardi, responsabile dell’ufficio economato; Margherita Anselmi storica dell’arte.

Some days later, Sinta hosted a screening of the 2015 documentary film Palio, directed by Cosima Spender, to give a taste of the race and its traditions and to reflect on her involvement in the project so far.

Press:  Corriere di Siena | Corriere Fiorentino | La Nazione (front page) | La Nazione (article) 


Ellie Johnson (Communications & Events)

From Tarquin the Proud to Luigi Ghirri: book publications this week

 

The breadth of research at the BSR has perhaps never been so evident as early this week with two significant book publications taking us from the sixth century BC to the twentieth century AD.

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BSR Director Christopher Smith and Patricia Lulof’s edited volume The Age of Tarquinius Superbus was published by Peeters Publishers.

The volume constitutes the most substantial overview we have of the late sixth century in central Italy. It arises from a conference held at the Royal Netherlands Institute in Rome and the British School at Rome in 2013 and will be presented at the Istituto Studi Romani in May this year.

The volume Luigi Ghirri and the Photography of Place. Interdisciplinary Perspectives, co-edited by BSR Senior Research Fellow in Modern Studies and Contemporary Visual Culture Jacopo Benci with Marina Spunta (Leicester), has just been published by Peter Lang (UK) in the Italian Modernities series directed by Pierpaolo Antonello and Robert Gordon.

It is the first collection of scholarly essays to appear in English on the work of Luigi Ghirri (1943-92) one of the most significant Italian artists of the late 20th century. The book breaks new ground by approaching Ghirri’s work from different angles (including art history, theory of photography, literary and cultural studies, architecture, cartography, and place and landscape studies). Luigi Ghirri and the Photography of Place - book coverThe volume is the final outcome of a two-year British Academy/Leverhulme Trust funded research project Viewing and writing Italian landscape. Luigi Ghirri and his legacy in photography and literature which yielded two conferences held at the British School at Rome in 2013 (in collaboration with the MAXXI on the occasion of the exhibition Luigi Ghirri. Pensare per immagini 23 April—27 October 2013), and the University of Leicester in 2014.

Podcasts from the BSR conference can be found on the project website, and you can watch Jacopo give a lecture on Ghirri and architecture at Campo Space here.

A look back at the March Mostra 2017

In March the BSR gallery saw the first exhibition of work by our Fine Arts award-holders in 2017. Thanks to the fantastic photography of Roberto Apa, those who were unable to attend March Mostra can now take a look at the artwork exhibited below! You can read more about the practice of each artist by clicking on their name.

The exhibition was made possible thanks to the support of The Bridget Riley Art Foundation, Conseil des Arts et des Lettres Québec, The Incorporated Edwin Austin Abbey Memorial Scholarships, The Linbury Trust and the supporters of the Scholars’ Prize in Architecture.

 

Caroline Cloutier (Québec Resident)

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Hidden around the corner, digital print on adhesive vinyl, 275 x 310 cm

 

Morgan Gostwyck-Lewis (Scholars’ Prize in Architecture Winner)

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The coloured cornice, Book, 30 x 25 cm; Coloured cornice, plaster and paint, dimensions variable

 

Neil McNally (Abbey Fellow in Painting)

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Jacques Rancière stopped talking because someone fainted during his speech at the Rome conference on Communism at the Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Moderna (in the future there will be no painters only men and women who paint) / Jacques Rancière ha smesso di parlare perchè qualcuno svenne durante il suo discorso al Rome conferenc sul communismo e alla Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Moderna (nel futuro non ci saranno pittori, solo uomini e donne che dipingono), oil on canvas, 118 x 250 cm; Two venomous snakes concussed or killed by excitedly bouncing too high on a trampoline / Due serpenti velenosi concussi o morti, dopo aver saltato troppo alti su un trampolino,  soil from Lanuvium, paper, ants, alabaster, marble, oil, acrylic, cardboard, plastic, wood, wire, pigment, washing up liquid, tape, glue, wheat, soap, pine nuts, basalt, trampoline, arum italicum 466 x 499  cm.

 

Catherine Parsonage (Sainsbury Scholar in Painting and Sculpture)

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A portrait of friends, oil on gesso panel, 55 x 45 cm

 

Sinta Tantra (The Bridget Riley Fellow)

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The Piranesi effect (screen) tempera on linen 4 panels, 180 x 60 cm each

 

Vivien Zhang (Abbey Scholar in Painting)

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Glitch edit, oil and spray paint on canvas, 122 x 102 cm

 

All photos by Roberto Apa.

‘Mostra d’Oltremare’: A forgotten colonial exhibition in Naples

Zoe Cormack, one of this year’s Rome Fellows, recently visited Naples to see the remnants of the Mostra Triennale delle Terre Italiane d’Oltremare, a fascist-era colonial exhibition, as part of her research into ethnographic collections in Italian museums. Here she reflects on her visit.

The Mostra Triennale delle Terre Italiane d’Oltremare, which opened in Naples on 9 May 1940, was one of Europe’s last colonial exhibitions. Envisioned as ‘the largest and most complete survey of the force of Italian expansion overseas, from Caesar to Mussolini’ it was an extraordinary piece of fascist-colonialist propaganda. However, only a month after opening, Italy entered World War Two and the Mostra d’Oltremare closed. Today, the site in Campi Flegrei is partially accessible and remnants of the exhibition can still be seen.

My interest in the Mostra d’Oltremare arose during my BSR fellowship. I have been researching African ethnographic collections in Italian museums – and many objects from these collections were sent to Naples to be exhibited in the Mostra. The site was bombed in WW2 and all the exhibits were destroyed. In trying to understand the context for the loss of these objects, I’ve become increasing interested in this (largely forgotten) colonial exhibition. At the end of March, I had the opportunity to join a group from the Swedish Academy, led by Marie Kraft, to the site in Naples.

The Mostra d’Oltremare was conceived after the invasion of Ethiopia in 1936. It aimed to celebrate Italian colonial achievements and project the image of an important imperial power.  It was planned at the same time as the better known (although never opened) Esposizione Universale di Roma (EUR) in Rome. Naples was considered a fitting venue because it is an important port, linking Italy with the Mediterranean and Africa. There was also a town planning element – it was hoped the exhibition would contribute toward the development of west Naples and the expansion of the city.

There were three sections of the Mostra. A ‘historical’ section dealt with the history of imperialism from antiquity, to nineteenth century conquests in Africa, to the fascist present. It conveyed the idea of an ancient predestination to Italian colonialism. This was also illustrated in the Mostra’s official poster, which depicted a sandaled foot stepping down on north African soil. The ‘Production’ section included installations carrying messages about the value and potential of the empire. A ‘Geographic’ section contained a pavilion for each of Italy’s overseas territories (the focus was on North and East Africa, but Albania was also represented).

Artefacts were brought from museums across Italy. There were also living exhibits – a feature of European colonial exhibitions more widely. Materials and workers were transported from East Africa to construct authentic buildings for villaggi indigeni. Several families were brought from Somalia, Eritrea and Ethiopia to perform. Horrifyingly, when the Mostra closed they were unable to return to East Africa and were forced to live near the site in terrible conditions, enduring bombing, until they were moved to a former concentration camp for women at Treia in 1943 (more details of this terrible story can be found in Brian Mclaren’s work)

Architecturally, the Mostra d’Oltremare aimed to fuse metropolitan and colonial environments. It was designed to give the visitor an experiential sense of being ‘overseas’. Plant and trees were imported to create a genuine sense of the exotic. One of the planners claimed in 1940 that it might be ‘the only public park to be built in Naples after the departure of the Bourbons’.

Visiting the Mostre d’Oltremare today is a strange experience. Apart from a brief reopening in 1952, it was completely disused until 1998. The site has now been partially rehabilitated as a conference centre, and there is ongoing renovation of some buildings. However, much of the site is overgrown and in ruins.

At the original entrance, you can see what is today called the ‘Tower of Nations’ (formerly the ‘Tower of the Fascist Party’). It is currently being restored to function as an event centre.

We were given access to enter another large building – the Cubo d’Oro (gold cube) – which is all that remains of the pavilion of Africa Orientale Italiana (Italian East Africa).

Inside the Cubo d’Oro there was originally a large globe (representing the reach of the Italian empire) and the walls featured inscriptions from Mussolini’s May 1936 Proclamazione dell’Impero and two frescos by Giovanni Brancaccio, depicting Mussolini’s ‘Triumph’. These extraordinary frescos have survived. The Roman past was widely used to glorify the fascist party, but it is still striking to see Mussolini so explicitly transplanted into the Roman Triumph (and in the context of colonial propaganda). There is another Rome connection here, as Brancaccio’s frescos were the inspiration for one of William Kentridge’s depictions of Mussolini in his recent ‘Triumphs and Laments’ mural on the banks of the Tiber.

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Inside the Cubo d’Oro in 1940, image reproduced in McLaren, 2014

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Brancaccio fresco in the Cubo d’Oro in 2017. Photograph by Zoe Cormack.

In 1940, the Mostra contained over 200 other artworks. Most of these were destroyed in WW2. Another large piece has survived on the wall of the swimming pool/restaurant complex. It is called Ritmi Africani (African Rhythms) designed by Enrico Prampolini and realised by the futurist ceramicist, Tullio d’Albisola.

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‘Ritmi Africani’ in 2017. Photograph by Zoe Cormack

Adjacent to the Cubo d’Oro is a small lake with a replica of part of the castle of Fasilides (Emperor of Ethiopia from 1631-1667) in Gondar. Across the lake is the coptic church (now ruined) and the area which housed the villaggi indigeni.

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Castle of Fasilides in 2017. Photograph by Zoe Cormack

Many of the buildings, such as the extensive ‘Libyan Pavilion’, designed by Florestano di Flauso, are completely inaccessible and decayed

There is so much more to say about the Mostra d’Oltremare, its place in the history of Italian imperialism and what it reveals about the intersections of colonialism, fascism and World War Two. I was initially drawn to the Mostra on the trail of objects lent from ethnographic collections to illustrate Italian contacts in Africa. But there is also a hidden history of violence perpetrated against the East African families who were first displayed, and then effectively interned at the exhibition as WW2 engulfed Naples. Naples was chosen as the site of the Mostra d’Oltremare because of the imperial connections its Mediterranean port represented. Today, in the context of the migrant crisis, the Mediterranean is the site of new and perilous forms of crossing. The Mostra d’Oltremare is an important reminder of the violent and extractive history underpinning contemporary relationships across the Mediterranean – it is worth our attention now more than ever.

I have drawn on the research of Giovanni Arena, Giacomo Dore (in ‘L’Africa in Vetrina’), Brian Mclaren and information leaflets produced by Mostre d’Oltremare to write this blog. More photographs and information about the exhibition can be found in their publications.


Zoe Cormack (Rome Fellow)

‘Hidden mysteries of those receptacles of the mighty dead’

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‘Hidden mysteries of those receptacles of the mighty dead’

From a letter in the Smeaton Archive presented publicly for the first time by BSR Honorary Fellow Professor John Osborne at the BSR in February.

There could have been no speaker, no venue, and no moment more appropriate for last month’s lecture Charles Smeaton, John Henry Parker and the earliest photography in the Roman catacombs than Professor John Osborne, at the BSR, in 2017.

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Professor John Osborne, il nostro Canadese…. Photo by Antonio Palmieri.

150 years into the Canadian Confederation, Professor Osborne ingeniously revealed a (rare) Canadian aspect on early medieval Rome by shedding light on the earliest known catacomb photographs, which were taken by the Canadian photographer Charles Smeaton – known as il Canadese – for the British antiquarian, John Henry Parker. Between 1864 and 1877 Parker spent his winters in Rome where he amassed a vast documentary photographic record of the city’s historic monuments, intended for both scholarly and public audiences. In the pre-electric age, photography in the Roman catacombs at first posed an insurmountable technical problem for Parker’s photographers, due to the total absence of natural light; but in January 1867 (150 years before il nostro Canadese’s BSR lecture) Smeaton overcame this difficulty through the use of a recent invention, magnesium wire.

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Small exhibition of photographs from the BSR John Henry Parker Collection. Photo by Antonio Palmieri.

 

The British and American Archaeological Society, founded by Parker in 1865, owned a collection of these important photographs, which in some instances constitute a unique source of information regarding the nature and condition of the catacombs and their murals. These became part of the BSR’s Photographic Archive in 1926, and have recently been catalogued and digitized (they can be found on our online catalogue URBiS www.urbis-libnet.org/vufind/). Valerie Scott and the library staff demonstrated the rich research value of the BSR’s library and archive resources by assembling an accompanying exhibition of the catacomb photographs in the Parker collection in the adjacent foyer.

John’s lecture led to the attribution of around twenty-five photographs to Smeaton, but also broke new ground by sharing Smeaton’s florid, yet unsettling, eyewitness account of the process, recently rediscovered in a family archive and presented here publicly for the first time. The letter records how Smeaton carried ‘into those dismal dungeons coil upon coil of sunshine in the shape of magnesium wire’ to obtain photographs of murals in the chapel of the catacomb of Priscilla. Smeaton, alone in the dark, exclaimed how the marble slab of a tomb fell at his feet ‘and with it a portion of the bones of its tenant’ and described his ‘terror inexpressible’ when he ‘found his fingers in the eyeholes of a human skull’! John located the horror felt at being underground with the bodies of the dead within a topos, stretching back to St Jerome, passing through Bosio’s band of Counter-Reformation brothers, and reaching the ghoulish gothic fascination of Victorian England.

 

It was a compelling account of Smeaton’s immensely significant, but hitherto mysteriously hidden, contribution in demonstrating definitively the advantages of photography in creating a historical record: a moment from which ‘there has been no turning back’. We left convinced, inspired, yet a little relieved to climb the stairs from the Lecture Theatre and return above ground to a glass of prosecco.

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‘No turning back’.  The heir to Smeaton, award-holder Morgan Gostwyck-Lewis (Scholars’ Prize in Architecture Winner)

 

This lecture’s topics, including the full text of Smeaton’s memoir, will be discussed in the Rivista di Archeologia Cristiana, 2016, to be published shortly.


Tom True (Assistant Director)

Lucus Feroniae: a new survey of the archaic sanctuary and Roman colony

Lucus Feroniae with Alice James - Sophie Hay

This spring has seen the completion of a large scale geophysical survey of the site of Lucus Feroniae, 30km to the north of Rome. Working together with the Sopintendenza Archeologia Belle Arti e Paesaggio per l’area metropolitana di Roma, la provincia di Viterbo e l’Etruria meridionale (with special thanks to Dott.ssa Alfonsina Russo and Dott. Gianfranco Gazzetti) the BSR and University of Southampton have investigated the important sanctuary and town with both magnetometry and Ground-Penetrating Radar.

Lucus Feroniae - Sophie Hay

Following its discovery in the early 1950s, subsequent excavations focused around the central area of the forum, temple and amphitheatre, together with the excavation in 1961 of the close by Villa dei Volusii Saturnini. Whilst the routes of the major thoroughfares, the Via Tiberina and Via Capenate, have been traced, the full extent of the city has never been fully mapped.

Lucus Feroniae

The survey, the preliminary results of which were presented at the UCL and Soprintendenza workshop held at the BSR last November , will be presented at a conference in May hosted by the Museum of Nepi (Director Dott. Stefano Francocci). Building upon the newly published volume Lucus Feroniae: il santuario, la città, il territorio the results of the survey reveal that this was a small town, perhaps serving as an administrative centre, but which was focused around the sanctuary. The results of the survey, which complement the findings of the earlier Roman Towns Project, will shortly be published in PBSR.

Stephen Kay (Archaeology Officer)

Photos by Sophie Hay (Geophysics Officer)

March Mostra 2017 / Meet the Artists… Neil McNally

Tonight sees the opening of our annual March Mostra and there is much anticipation around the BSR to see the new works by our current resident artists and architects produced over the last three months. To round off our Meet the Artists blog series, we bring you Neil McNally, Abbey Fellow in Painting.

Neil McNally has a conceptual approach to painting that questions the fundamental roots of the medium. Using the briefest of gestures and brushstrokes, McNally often declares a work complete at the first available opportunity. Believing that there is now little new that can be done with painting, McNally is engaged in the medium’s endgame, playing the final moves again and again without ever reaching its conclusion: ‘I do not believe I can invent something new in art or painting because whatever I would want to invent already exists.’ Rather than invent something new, McNally’s restrained brushstrokes leave a canvas open and full of possibilities. Like an unfinished sentence, his works leave the viewer guessing what might happen next.

“I am an author, dreamweaver, visionary. Plus actor. Whilst in Rome I have been swimming the Tiber, learning Latin and studying mime. During the day I create masterpieces. International scholars of renown admire my exquisite works. In the evening I go to the opera or the ballet. Seeking inspiration and distraction from the rigours of artistic creation I sometimes visit a nearby church to take in the divine architecture or to listen to Baroque music played on period instruments. Today I share a small photo essay of new work, new friends and new inspirations”. (Neil McNally)

Neil McNally, 'The Winter is Cold'

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10. Dream car

 


Neil’s work will be exhibited alongside the five resident artists in the March Mostra; open 16.30-19.00, Saturday 18 March until Saturday 25 March 2017, closed Sundays.