Benvenuti to our 2017-18 award-holders

2017-18 October award-holders

2017-18 October award-holders. Photo by Antonio Palmieri.

Our October award-holders for 2017-18 arrived just last week, and it was great for staff and residents to hear about their projects for their residencies during our welcome week introductory talks. A full list of this year’s award-holders is on our website.

In our October cohort we are pleased to have been able to offer three new residencies.  Loek Luiten is our Judith Maitland Memorial Awardee whose research looks at the Farnese dynasty and power in Saint Peter’s patrimony; on the Fine Arts side we have James Epps who is our Augusta Scholar; and last but not least Pele Cox, our John Murray / Keats-Shelley Memorial Association Creative Writing Resident.

Pele is the BSR’s first resident in creative writing and as part of her introductory talk we were treated to a reading of a poem she had written in response to being awarded her residency at the BSR. Earlier this week she introduced many residents to the Keats Shelley Memorial House — not far from the BSR in Piazza di Spagna — where Julian Sands was giving a poetry reading.

A trip to the Roman Forum has been a staple of welcome week activities in the past few years, and this year the mantle passed from former BSR Director Christopher Smith to BSR Cary Fellow Robert Coates-Stephens. Taking in some sites on the way, the group profited from Assistant Director Tom True’s worldly wisdom in the Campo Marzio.

For those of you in Rome, keep your diaries free on 29 and 30 November when our current senior award-holders Clare Robertson and Philippa Jackson will be giving their lectures on ‘Federico Zuccaro and his intellectual circle’ and ‘Raphael and Sienese circles’ respectively.

And on Friday 15 December we have the opening of December Mostra, an exhibition of works by current Fine Arts award-holders.

There’s a lot to look forward to, and the full list of events we will be holding here in Rome is on our website:

Photos by Antonio Palmieri (2017-18 award-holders) and Alice Marsh (Forum and Campo Marzio)



An interview with our Archive interns


Cristina Iannaccone and Simona Giordano at the BSR

The 2016-17 academic year has seen an incredible fervor of activity in the BSR Archives, ranging from hosting students from Sapienza – Università di Roma to carrying out physical and intellectual work on some important sections of the BSR Administrative Archive. We are delighted to have formalised a collaboration with Sapienza – Università di Roma, who are sending us enthusiastic students to work at the BSR for a period as interns. We have also supported the work of a student from Università Cà Foscari in Venice, thanks to the invaluable input of Professor Paul G. Weston, newly-appointed member of our Faculty of Archaeology, History and Letters. Archivists require both technical and historical knowledge and I know that the BSR is the right place for these skills to be put into practice!

Alessandra Giovenco (BSR Archivist)

We interviewed two recent Archive interns, Cristina and Simona, to find out what they have been up to.

Cristina Iannaccone


Where and what are you currently studying?

I am studying for my MA in History and Library/Archive Management at the Università Ca’ Foscari di Venezia in collaboration with the Università di Padova. The course is designed for those who wish to become archivists and librarians, developing specialist skills in the treatment of material conserved in archives and libraries (whether they be historical or contemporary, public or private).

Sono iscritta al corso di Laurea magistrale in Storia e gestione del patrimonio archivistico e bibliografico presso l’Università Ca’ Foscari di Venezia, attivato in convenzione con l’Università di Padova. Esso forma archivisti e bibliotecari fornendo competenze specialistiche nella trattazione dei materiali conservati presso archivi e biblioteche, siano essi storici o contemporanei, pubblici o privati.

What are you working on at the BSR?

As part of my university training I started an internship at the BSR Archive in March 2017. I have worked on the reconditioning and inventorying of administrative records pertaining to a particular set of awards, ‘Grants in Aid of Research’. This work required me to consult the Reports of the Faculty of Archaeology, History and Letters.

Nel mese di marzo 2017 ho intrapreso il tirocinio curriculare presso l’Archivio dell’Accademia britannica. Ho portato avanti un lavoro di ricondizionamento e inventariazione di scatole contenenti fascicoli dell’archivio amministrativo, relativi ad una delle Borse di studio assegnate ai ricercatori dalla British School at Rome: i Grants in Aid of Research. Per le informazioni necessarie allo svolgimento del lavoro sono stati consultati i Reports della Faculty of Archeology, History and Letters.

What have you learnt from your experience at the BSR?

I believe that professional experience is essential for anyone wanting to become an archivist or librarian. My internship at the BSR was extremely useful and formative; I learnt so much through this hands-on experience which cannot be gained through university study alone. Furthermore, working with the Library and Archive staff at the BSR has shown me the importance of carrying out your work with passion and tenacity.

Ritengo che per la formazione di archivisti e bibliotecari un periodo di esperienza professionale guidata sia imprescindibile. Il mio tirocinio presso la BSR è stato proficuo e altamente formativo; ho imparato tanto attraverso un approccio pratico di cui difettavano in parte i miei studi universitari. Inoltre, ho appreso dai professionisti che hanno guidato la mia esperienza l’importanza di portare avanti il proprio lavoro con passione e tenacia.

What are your plans for the future?

This internship has affirmed my desire to work in an environment like the BSR that allows me to combine the roles of archivist and researcher. Having said this, I am not dismissing the possibility of carrying out further training in the field of archive management, for example through further study in the digital sector.

Il tirocinio svolto ha confermato ulteriormente la mia volontà di lavorare in un ambiente che, come la BSR, permette di stabilire un rapporto di interazione diretta tra archivista e ricercatore. Non intendo tuttavia tralasciare la possibilità di continuare la mia formazione in ambito archivistico, partecipando a Corsi di specializzazione o Master inerenti anche al settore della digitalizzazione.


Simona Giordano


Where and what are you currently studying?

I am currently in my second and final year of my MA in Archival and Library Science (Department of Humanities) at Sapienza – Università di Roma.

Sono attualmente iscritta al secondo ed ultimo anno del corso di Laurea Magistrale in Archivistica e Biblioteconomia (Dipartimento di Lettere) presso l’Università ‘La Sapienza’, a Roma. 

What are you working on at the BSR?

I am working on the ‘Visual Art’ files located in the ‘Awards and Funding Bodies’ section of the BSR Administrative Archive. More specifically I am looking at the sub-series that deals with the various ‘Rome Scholarship’ awards in Painting, Sculpture, and Engraving, and at the ‘Abbey Major Scholarship in Painting’: my job has been to rearrange and label the files and to edit the inventory of administrative documents relating to former BSR award-holders.

Mi sto occupando della serie ‘Visual Art’ del fondo ‘Awards and Funding Bodies’, appartenente all’Archivio Amministrativo della BSR. In particolare sto lavorando alle sottoserie relative alle borse di studio ‘Rome Scholarship’ in ‘Pittura’, ‘Scultura’ e ‘Incisione’ e alle borse di studio in ‘Pittura’ del premio denominato ‘Abbey Major Scholarship in Painting’: il mio intervento consiste nelle operazioni di ordinamento e etichettatura di fascicoli e nella redazione di un inventario dei documenti  amministrativi degli ex borsisti della BSR.

What have you learnt from your experience at the BSR?

As a student of Archival Science, this experience at the BSR is a great opportunity for me to put what I have learned in my university course into practice in a stimulating work environment. To be able to handle documents and files and evaluate them in a real-life context has helped me to understand how an archive really functions, and to appreciate the difficulties that can arise when managing an archive like the BSR’s that houses such a vast array of materials.

Come studentessa di archivistica l’esperienza presso la BSR è un’importante opportunità per mettere in pratica gli insegnamenti del mio corso di laurea in un ambiente di lavoro stimolante e sereno. Toccare con mano carte, documenti e fascicoli, contribuendo a valorizzarli: attività utili a capire il funzionamento di un archivio e ad affrontarne le problematiche, specialmente all’interno di un ente come la BSR, dalla struttura articolata e dotato di un considerevole patrimonio documentaristico.

What are your plans for the future?

I would like to become an archivist! Before my MA in Archival Science. I obtained a BA in Cultural and Linguistics Mediation: not once have I regretted this change of direction, and every day my passion for archives is growing. All too often, the world of archives remains obscure, and there is a danger of it not being appreciated as it should. I hope that in the not too distant future society will learn to pay more attention to its past.

Mi piacerebbe diventare archivista! Prima di iscrivermi al corso di Laurea in Archivistica e Biblioteconomia ho conseguito la laurea triennale in Mediazione Culturale e Linguistica: aver cambiato oggetto di studio non solo non mi ha fatto pentire della mia scelta, ma anzi mi ha indirizzato verso quella che con il tempo sta diventando una grande passione. Spesso il mondo degli archivi è sconosciuto ai più, e altrettanto spesso rischia di non essere valorizzato come dovrebbe: spero in un futuro non troppo lontano di poter far parte di una società più attenta al suo passato. 

Text by Cristina Iannaccone and Simona Giordano. Translation by Natalie Arrowsmith. Photos by Alice Marsh.

British School at Rome 2009-2017

 A final message from Christopher Smith as outgoing BSR Director


Photo: Antonio Palmieri

In March 2016, the British Government set out the reason it funds the British Academy sponsored institutes: ‘Developing research links and collaborations with the best researchers overseas.’

As I look back over eight years as Director of the British School at Rome, and the BSR looks forward to a new Director and a new academic year, it seems appropriate to reflect on how we are doing against this clear and specific mission.

My predecessor, Andrew Wallace-Hadrill, continued to lead the Herculaneum Conservation Project brilliantly through the first years of my Directorship, and with the support of the Packard Humanities Institute and the local authorities, channelled millions of dollars into Herculaneum, and fostered dozens of international partnerships, most visibly in the major British Museum exhibition Life and Death in Pompeii and Herculaneum, and in commendations by UNESCO. Without the BSR this hugely important project would not have happened.

The BSR is involved in several major AHRC projects and a partner in the ERC Horizon 2020 project Unsettling Remembering and Social Cohesion in Transnational Europe.  Simon Keay’s outstanding work at Portus, begun at the BSR and conducted in full collaboration between the BSR, the Rome authorities and the University of Southampton, led to major AHRC grants and then an ERC grant as well as a very popular MOOC. The then AHRC CEO Rick Rylance singled out the BSR’s role as exemplary in terms of international collaboration.

This coming academic year we are hosting eight externally funded research fellows and seventeen humanities scholars (including our first creative writing fellow), and seventeen fine artists, supported by the BSR and our various funding partners.  Topics of research range from Roman clothing to medieval poetry, fascist fountains and the suicide attack on the Italian military police headquarters in Nasiriyah, Iraq in 2003, and range right across the Mediterranean and beyond, from prehistory to the contemporary. This breadth is both extraordinary and par for the course at the BSR!

The breadth and depth of BSR events in the coming three months continues to push British scholarship out to a wide intellectual community through workshops on ground penetrating radar, digital humanities, Roman Catholicism as a world religion, and one of the first events held outside the UK as part of the Being Human Festival of the Humanities, which will bring together UK and Italian experts on heritage management, illicit trade and endangered archaeological sites. This is part of the BSR’s contribution to accelerating bilateral relations between the UK and Italy, led by our Embassy in Rome.

All of our events (90 in 2016-17) command an international audience.  Our library has an international readership yet remains curated with the needs of UK scholars uppermost.  We have led the unification of Rome’s research library catalogues in URBiS, which with 2.6million records from 22 individual institutions is now a global resource. The BSR is itself a proudly international community where UK scholars and artists meet others from across the Commonwealth, the other foreign academies in Rome, and Italy’s best universities and research units.

In 2017 we commissioned an independent and detailed research review along the lines of REF. The results, just received, are highly positive and the openness of the BSR and its role in facilitating intellectual friendships and academic collaborations is repeatedly valued.

What does this look like in practical terms, in real life?  Next week, the new award-holders will arrive into a vibrant, successful and intellectually challenging institution.  They will form a multidisciplinary community drawn from many traditions and countries.

They will meet award-holders from the twenty-seven other research and arts institutions in Rome, participate in events with scholars and experts from St Andrews, the Courtauld Institute, La Sapienza, Tor Vergata, Siena, Austin Texas, Melbourne, and the Italian superintendencies and Guardia di Finanza, the British Embassy and the Italian Ministry of Culture. The activities will be led by our new Director, Professor Stephen Milner, himself a scholar of international reputation and experience.

If past performance can indicate future returns, then these award-holders will return home with both their own scholarship and creativity strengthened and a deep appreciation of what can be achieved when barriers are broken down and collaborations forged. Every one of last year’s humanities award-holders has secured a prestigious research position, and we have many new and exciting projects just beginning. It seemed fitting that the last event held during my directorship, on the Roman Campagna, united projects funded by the Getty, Leverhulme Trust and Australian Research Council, and brought the riches of our special collections, the knowledge of experts across Rome, and new technological advances in digitization and GIS, as well as contemporary artistic practice, to bear on the changing landscape, ecology and climate of Rome’s hinterland from 1000 BC to the present.

For over a hundred years, the BSR has had the mission of being the bridge between the UK, the Commonwealth and Italy. The BSR, together with the other institutions supported by the British government through the British Academy, form an innovative, successful and vital network, facilitating the work of UK HEIs in their regions, and bringing together the very best researchers and practitioners.

The values of internationalism, collaboration and community have never been more necessary.  I am immensely proud of what my colleagues at the BSR have achieved, staff members, award-holders, research fellows and visitors alike, and grateful to you for your support. I am confident that we fully meet the Government’s core objective for our institutions. And I am convinced that the BSR’s role in representing the best of an international United Kingdom in an international world is and will remain an invaluable part of the research and creative landscape which David Cannadine, the President of the British Academy, rightly described as ‘not recreational but fundamental, not optional but essential.

Christopher Smith

Arrivederci to Christopher Smith

DSC_5725This weekend Christopher Smith gave his final lecture as Director of the BSR. Colleagues and friends from the worlds of academia, diplomacy and the arts filled the Sainsbury Lecture Theatre as Christopher gave a whirlwind presentation of the projects and initiatives that have come to fruition over the past eight years. The spontaneous applause at the start of the lecture, and the standing ovation afterwards are testament to the esteem in which Christopher is held by his peers in Italy.

Standing ovation

A standing ovation for Christopher

The sentiment was no less generous back in June when Christopher gave his valedictory lecture in London, offering a personal reflection upon the BSR’s achievements and its future role in inspiring creative research. Introducing the lecture, Chairman of Council Tim Llewelyn rightly said that Christopher’s stewardship of the BSR has been ‘full of imagination and encouragement of research and scholarship’.

You can watch a recording of the valedictory lecture here.

Following Christopher’s lecture in Rome, we presented him with an overflowing box of cards and presents from fans across the world! Thank you to everyone who sent something through, it was very much appreciated!


Kind words were offered by our Assistant Director Tom True, Research Professor in Archaeology Simon Keay, and Christopher’s successor as president of the Unione Internazionale (Rome’s network of foreign academies) Wouter Bracke.

And to top the evening off, all guests enjoyed a slice of the Lapis Niger – in cake form! Perhaps not the first thing that comes to mind when one thinks of ancient Rome, but as every BSR resident who has had the privilege of his fabled forum tour will know, this inscribed stone is Christopher’s favourite Roman monument, and we couldn’t think of a better way to acknowledge this than reproducing it in edible form. Thank you to our chef Luca for making the cake and honing his inscription skills!

Lapis Niger

The Lapis Niger…. in cake form!

On Monday 25 September we held a special staff lunch with Christopher and Susan’s favourite BSR meal – Dharma’s legendary curry!

Special staff lunch

A special staff lunch in the cortile

This was our opportunity to present Christopher and Susan with their gifts. Various members of staff carefully selected images from our Archive collection to be reproduced in a portfolio. These images included photographs of the Roman Forum and Segni, – archaeological sites very close to Christopher’s heart – some images of the BSR’s third Director Thomas Ashby, and to finish a black and white print of Christopher with BSR staff.

Christopher and Susan open their presents

Assistant Director Tom True had expressed concern that after eight years of hearing the bell in the cortile rung daily at 8 a.m., 1 p.m. and 8 p.m., Christopher and Susan may have trouble remembering when to take their meals…it therefore seemed appropriate that we present them with their very own bell to ensure continued prandial punctuality!

Susan inaugurates their new bell

Christopher will be moving on to pursue a Leverhulme Major Research Fellowship, and we have no doubt that his research will continue to bring him back to the BSR in the future. But before embarking on this next stage, Christopher and Susan will be heading to France for a well-deserved rest.

Au revoir et bon courage!

Au revoir et bonne chance!


Text by Natalie Arrowsmith (Communications Manager) and photos by Chris Warde-Jones.

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.

Library Summer

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.


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.

summer school 2017

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.

Library Tour

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



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.

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.


Excavated cremation urn (Photo Stephen Kay)


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.


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.


Fragments of a funerary bed (Photo Charles Avery)

excavation obellius

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.


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.


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.

Drappellone presentation

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.


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.

Palio lottery

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.


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).


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

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.


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.


Sinta raised aloft in the celebrations in the church of Onda

Ellie Johnson (Communications & Events)