June Mostra 2018 / Meet the artists…John Rainey

As we approach the June Mostra, our third exhibition of this academic year, we will be publishing a series of blogs taking a closer look at the individual practices of our seven resident artists. Today’s interview is with John Rainey, our Arts Council of Northern Ireland Fellow.


Photo: Antonio Palmeiri

You recently participated in EVA International. Tell us more about this experience…

EVA is an international biennial that takes place in Limerick, in the west of Ireland. For this year’s EVA I was commissioned to create a new piece of outdoor sculpture – an architectural intervention onto the facade of a Georgian building called the Hunt Museum.


John Rainey, ‘Going to ruin (you)’, 2018. EVA International installation.

The commission demanded much of my attention in the first 3 months of my BSR fellowship and was finally delivered in mid-April. There were a lot of new approaches for me with this project, including working on a much larger scale, and working with a steel fabricator in Ireland, while I was based here in Rome. This kind of remote management of the project was a challenge, but ultimately good experience.

At the end of March I returned to Ireland to do the final stage of the fabrication, and was based in a studio at the Irish Museum of Modern Art in Dublin, where I had a short production residency. The finished work was a staging of a section of the building’s façade falling into ruin, so the development and production periods coinciding with my fellowship in Rome felt especially relevant. My time spent at ruined sites around the city, particularly thinking about fragmentation, destruction and conservation practices are still influencing my planning of new work.


John Rainey, ‘Going to ruin (you)’, 2018. EVA International installation.

Will the work you show in the June Mostra be connected to the work you presented in Ireland?

Not directly, though it will share some of the thinking about control, destruction and imitation with the ruins project. This time I’m picking up on a dialogue with classical statuary form.

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“Variants (Addendum)” (detail), 2017. Image: Simon Mills courtesy of Golden Thread Gallery, Belfast

In visiting collections in the Museums of Rome, my existing interest in the copy has narrowed in on ideas about repetition, states of repair and provenance. Specifically copies of Polykleitos’ Doryphoros, one of which I saw recently at the National Archaeological Museum in Naples. I will be presenting a series of variations of this form on a reduced scale, developed through 3D printing and traditional casting processes.


Doryphoros at National Archaeological Museum, Naples.

I am working with new materials in Rome, such as silicone, jesmonite and printied vinyl (as with the interior ruins piece I showed in the March Mostra), so the work in the upcoming June Mostra will feature a combination of these.


John Rainey, ‘Going to Roman ruin (you)’, 2018. BSR March Mostra. (Photo: Roberto Apa)


You recently visited the excavations at Pompeii, as you were particularly interested in the plaster cast bodies. Explain how this trip affected you?

The Pompeii casts are especially interesting for me because casting in one of the main processes I use in my work. I create moulds to cast into, but at times I’m also casting from life.

More aligned with the tradition of death casting, the cavities created by the bodies in Pompeii acted as ready made moulds after the decomposition of soft tissue. The results of this natural casting process (following the intervention of Giuseppe Fiorelli who filled the spaces with plaster) are artefacts that resist classification – part artwork and part corpse.


Pompeii plaster casts

Similarly, seeing the artefacts first-hand is not a singular experience – they’re beautiful and horrifying at the same time. This dual experience is something familiar to a lot of the corporeal work that I make.


Pompeii plaster casts


John Rainey, “Face Off”, 2016

There’s another significant resonance between the Pompeii bodies and my practice in terms of the use of digital scanning processes. In recent years the bodies have been subject to CT scanning which has revealed the skeletal remains and other matter that lies inside the solid forms.

Pompeii Cat scan on casts of the victims of the eruption of Vesuvius

Pompeii plaster cast, 3D scan and CT scan. (Picture by: NApress)

This information has really expanded our knowledge of the society they represent, while also correcting long-held assumptions about the victims, such as the causes of death, gender, and social status. This example of material and digital technologies rendering the human past with greater lucidity, when applied to this historical, real-world investigation, has been useful for thinking about the wider context of the processes I use.

John’s work will be exhibited alongside the six other resident artists in the June Mostra. The opening will take place on Friday 15 June 18.30-21.00. Opening hours 16.30-19.00 until Saturday 23 June 2018, closed Sundays.

Interview by Alice Marsh (Communications & Events). Photos by John Rainey.


June Mostra 2018 / Meet the artists…Murat Urlali

As we approach the March Mostra, our second exhibition of this academic year, we will be publishing a series of blogs taking a closer look at the individual practices of our seven resident artists. Our first interview is with Murat Urlali, our National Art School, Sydney, Resident


The decorative motifs of the Cosmati mosaic floors that you saw in San Clemente have begun to appear in your work. These mosaics take inspiration from the Eastern Byzantine tradition overlapping with the Western Classical. How are ideas of cross-cultural exchange explored in your work?

The cross-cultural exchange or interculturalism is a really important for me and for my art.

The Quebec philosopher Charles Taylor says that multiculturalism encourages the Ghettos and Ghettoism in a country. But interculturalism emphasises the integration, which is exactly what I agree with. Multiculturalism requires equal rights for different cultures, but there is no requirement for them to interact with each other, except through a common spoken language in a country. But interculturalism promotes interaction, understanding and respect: integration between different cultures and different ethnic groups.  Exploring cross-cultural exchange is, I suppose, at least part of “my thing”!!!

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What is important to mention here is that I do not come from a Judea Christian background. When I decided to study art, at the National Art School, Sydney, I suddenly found myself plunged into a world of assumed knowledge of tradition and experience of a Biblical narrative – this was a real cultural shock!!  I suppose that exploring cross-cultural exchange is my way of coming to terms with this.

Before I came to Rome, much of my practice was informed by trying to connect the idealised Western imagery, which is traditional painting, with the spiritual symbolism of the Islamic world. Thereby creating a dialogue between the Western and Eastern viewers of my work. Considering the times in which we are living this dialogue is both useful, and I believe necessary.

In Rome you spend so much of your time looking up; to intricately decorated ceilings and to breath-taking sculptures in the Galleria Borghese. These little squares that I have made, inspired by the Cosmati floors, remind you to look down – to see down to what you are walking on. These mosaics are so beautiful and so much work has gone into these cut marble floors. This is what I have tried to reflect in my small squares, my tondi.



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You work on a variety of different subjects in your paintings. Tell us more about what you have been exploring while here in Rome?

As an artist who embraces the kitsch and camp, Rome provides such a rich source of inspiration. Even, if you ask me, the Vatican City and the Catholic Church — so theatrical with so many colours.

I have been using my time here sensibly to explore churches, galleries and Museums taking the opportunity to get up close and personal with works of my artistic heroes.  I have visited some galleries quite a few times. One church, Santa Maria del Popolo — I honestly can’t remember how many times I have been there — every time I head back to the BSR I pop in and look at my two favorite Caravaggio’s.

This is my first time in Rome and I am trying to look-up and embrace as much as I possibly can!

The tondi ‘Same sex intimacy’ and the ‘Medusa’, I have completed while I have been here.  I think it is clear that I have viewed Michelangelo’s and Caravaggio’s work through a rather Camp lens.  For the third tondo that I am working on now, I found inspiration at Porta Portese in Trastevere. This market is so big and the streets are so full. I was walking in the market, I saw this Venetian mask and thought, YES — this is what I have to do! I love the mask idea as it lends itself to my practice, letting me reflect on mystic and mystery as well as intimacy and ambiguity. This is why I started to focus first on the eyes of the figure.

Looking to the small works again, I have been fascinated by the patterns that you can find all over Rome. Especially interesting, to me are those that have been influenced by Eastern art, the Cosmati Mosaic floors.

Some people may view working on very precise, geometrically exact and the repetitive patternation as restrictive, but I certainly do not! I have found it quite liberating. By creating these multi textural bejeweled surfaces, that make a density and are dazzling in the light. I hope to capture a light dance and sense of liberation about them. I am trying to invite the viewers to intimately engage with the details and examine the works in detail.

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Do you think that you shall take these tondi designs back to Australia?

Certainly, indeed when I go back to Australia I am planning to use some Cosmati patterns in my work. But in Australia I shall work on a different scale 2m in height.

One thing that I know is that I shall be coming back! I don’t know how after all these years I have not been in Rome, I shall be back very soon!

Murat’s work will be exhibited alongside the six other resident artists in the June Mostra. The opening will take place on Friday 15 June 18.30-21.00. Opening hours 16.30-19.00 until Saturday 23 June 2018, closed Sundays.

Interview by Alice Marsh (Communications & Events). Photos by Murat Urlali (excepting church of San Clemente, copyright free image). 

BSR Library Special Collections. Gift from Mark Getty, BSR Chair of Council.

Professor David McKitterick introduces a selection of the latest addition to the BSR Library’s Special Collections.

Quite apart from its modern collections, the BSR owns a remarkable collection of early printed books, many of them from the library of Thomas Ashby, to which other benefactors have given since. But the BSR has not been able to add to these for a long time. When in February the collection of books about Rome assembled by Sergio Rossetti came onto the market in Milan, there was an unprecedented opportunity to enrich the library.

Rossetti’s four-volume bibliography of Rome was published in 2000-4, and he built up his own remarkable collection alongside. Thanks to the imagination and prompt generosity of Mark Getty, the BSR was able to acquire over a hundred volumes at the auction, dating from the early sixteenth century to the late nineteenth.


Mark Getty with Director Stephen Milner and Librarian Valerie Scott

Some were magnificent illustrated books, such as Pietro Castelli’s volume of engravings of rare plants in the Farnese gardens (1625), or Pietro Ferrerio and Giovani Battista Falda’s engravings of palazzi (c.1660) many of which have now disappeared, while the great etchings in the folio Rovine del castello dell’Acqua Giulia (1761) show Piranesi’s interests as simultaneously antiquary, architect and hydraulic engineer.

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Engraving from Pietro Ferrerio, Palazzi di Roma di più celebri architetti, Roma [1655-70]


Engraving from Giovanni Battista Piranesi, Le rovine del castello dell’Acqua Giulia situato in Roma presso S. Eusebio…..…, Rome 1761

The copy of Giacomo Lauro’s collection of views Antiquae urbis splendor (1637) is in an impressive gilt binding with the arms of Pope Urban VIII. A group of sixteenth-and seventeenth-century books about the Tiber focusses , not surprisingly, on the periodic floods. An illustrated volume by Nicolai Alemanni on the Lateran palace (1637) focusses on Pope Leo III’s grand new ninth-century dining room, or triclinium, decorated with mosaics and only some of which survives.

At the core of this wonderful accession is a large group of guidebooks, in Latin, Italian, French and English, to be added to the already notable collection of these already on the shelves in the BSR. While such books are obviously reflections of local identity and are invaluable for anyone trying to unravel the history of ownership of works of art, they are also some of the closest ways we can come to seeing the world through the eyes of earlier centuries.

Just to read the ever more detailed guides, meeting the needs of seventeenth-century tourists such as John Evelyn or John Milton, or a host of eighteenth-century visitors, is not only to begin to see with their eyes, but also to wonder at the energies of people who (if they followed some guidebooks’ instructions) were expected to see Rome sometimes in as little as three days: the Vatican and Trastevere could easily be dealt with in just one. But these guidebooks tell us more.


Frontispiece from Pompilio Totti, Ritratto di Roma antica……….., Roma 1645

Pompilio Totti, the much-printed author of the best of the seventeenth-century guides, showed how Rome could be divided into antica and moderna.  By the time we come to read his even more popular successor, the archaeologist Antonio Nibby (first published shortly after the Napoleonic wars and widely available in Italian and French) there are new concerns, arising from the ever-more revealing excavations. How should ruins be preserved, and how should they be shown off? These remain no less topical questions today.


Frontispiece from Pompilio Totti, Ritratto di Roma moderna……….., Roma 1645

Of the later books, one further might be selected among these prizes. Matthew Dubourg’s  Views of the remains of ancient buildings in Rome and its vicinity  (London, 1820) has become rare because so many copies have been broken up for the sake of the lovely hand-coloured illustrations. But the text is worth reading as well, influenced by the fashion for gothic novels and written by a person informed by the dramatic paintings of Salvator Rosa. This is the Rome of the romantics, published just a few months before Keats died. Not surprisingly, Byron is quoted on the Colosseum: ‘a noble wreck, in ruinous perfection’. All these books invite further study, and all are being added to the union catalogue URBiS (www.urbis-libnet.org).


From Matthew Dubourg, Views of the remains of ancient buildings in Rome and its vicinity…………, London 1820

Meanwhile, a selection is currently on display at the Entrance Hall of the BSR.

Text by David McKitterick, Emeritus Honorary Professor of Historical Bibliography, Trinity College, Cambridge.


David visited the BSR and gave a fascinating talk to staff, residents and award-holders about the new arrivals.



The research potential of our Special Collections has been enhanced by this remarkable gift and our aim now is to seek funding for specific BSR Library awards to generate more opportunities for research projects based on our rich collections.

Text by Valerie Scott, Librarian

Photos by Antonio Palmieri

Ashby Adventures 2018

Last week we hosted our Ashby Patrons visit to Rome. This is always a very special weekend in the BSR’s calendar when we welcome our Ashby Patrons to the BSR for an action-packed few days of adventures both inside and outside the city. This year was no exception with a full and expertly tailored programme of excursions!

Always an important part of the weekend, is the opportunity for the Patrons to speak with resident award-holders and to visit the studios of artists resident at the BSR. This year was no different. On arrival the group were treated to a visual feast (indeed, a sneak preview of what is to come in next month’s June Mostra) by three of our artists in residence – Murat Urlali (National Art School, Sydney, Resident), John Robertson (Abbey Scholar in Painting) and Oona Grimes (The Bridget Riley Fellow). After visiting the studios the group joined BSR residents and staff for dinner.


Murat Urlali (National Art School, Sydney, Resident) in his studio

The first full day began with a visit to the Venerable English College, the Catholic seminary in Rome which trains priests from England and Wales.


After a hearty welcome from Ryan Service, a Seminarian from the Archdiocese of Birmingham, the group had the privilege of being led around the college, current exhibition and the archives, by Archive Coordinator and BSR Research Fellow Professor Maurice Whitehead. This visit was also an opportunity to explain to the group the British School at Rome’s ambition to work in collaboration with Venerable English College to open access to their archives, facilitating the opportunity to bring UK scholars to Rome to study them.


Sustained by a fine lunch, the group progressed to the second visit of the day, a guided tour of Palazzo Pamphilj (situated within Piazza Navona and now home to the Brazilian Embassy in Italy) led by Assistant Director Tom True.


Within the Ashby group we were lucky to have BSR Former Chair of council Timothy Llewellyn, expert on the frescoed ceiling of Pietro da Cortona, who explained the story of Aeneas depicted on the ceiling above. We were then treated to a spectacular view from the balcony to the piazza below.

After a day of visual and gastronomic treats, those who had the strength, stomach and courage, rounded off the day with a gelato at Giolitti!


Relaxed and refreshed, the second day saw the Ashby group venture out from Rome to Lake Bracciano, to enjoy a guided tour of Castello Odescalchi bathed in sunshine.



After the tour the group enjoyed a delicious feast comprised of locally sourced ingredients at an agriturismo in Trevignano. Yet, this was not the end of the days programme, upon arrival back to the BSR, Marco Iuliano (member of the BSR Faculty of Archaeology, History and Letters) gave a presentation entitled ‘Notes on the Cartography of Rome’, with particular reference to special holdings from our Library, including a map by Giovani Battista Cingolani della Pergola (1704), which depicts Lake Bracciano.


The advent of the final day revealed that some of the best treasures had been saved until last. Valerie Scott (Librarian and Deputy Director) presented the Library’s latest addition, a gift of rare books presented to the BSR earlier this year by Chair of Council Mark Getty.

To round off the trip, Director Stephen Milner brought the Ashby’s up-to-date with his vision of the future for the BSR, prompting a lively discussion. As per tradition, the weekend concluded with brunch at Caffè delle Arti with reflections on the activities and success of the weekend.

It was a delight to host the Ashby Patrons, and was a chance to say thank you for their continued support and guidance, which is wholeheartedly appreciated and valued by the whole BSR community.

Roll on next year…!


Blog and photographs by Alice Marsh (Events and Communications Assistant) 


‘Bridging the Tiber’: a new doctoral training programme at the BSR

Currently serving three universities and due to expand to encompass a further four, the Northern Bridge doctoral training consortium embarked this year on a new initiative. Sixteen doctoral students, drawn from across the arts and humanities, spent a week at the BSR including valuable time at Keats Shelley House.  The aim was for the students to engage with a series of case studies in advanced research, and to be enriched by that most powerful of things, time in the BSR’s interdisciplinary environment to chew over ideas with one another and the BSR’s award-holders in residence.


Northern Bridge doctoral students at the BSR (Photo by Antonio Palmieri)

The event had its genesis in a meeting with the BSR’s then director, Christopher Smith, the outgoing director of the Northern Bridge consortium, Michael Rossington, Newcastle University’s PVC for Humanities and Social Sciences, Julie Sanders, and myself, but its development and successful delivery owed a huge amount to a much larger team.  BSR Director Stephen Milner offered a warm welcome to the group and delivered an outstanding session on the bioarchaeology of the book, an exemplar of the kind of interdisciplinary thinking we sought to showcase in the programme. Assistant Director Tom True offered invaluable guidance on the development of the week and led a delightful tour through some of Rome’s finest less well-known churches, and Christine Martin anticipated and mastered every logistical hurdle with consummate efficiency.


Tom True leads a tour (photo by Annie Tindley)

While the absence of Michael Rossington on his well-deserved retirement from Direction of the Northern Bridge was keenly felt, the whole endeavour was magnificently taken forward by his successor Annie Tindley, whose research in Britain’s relationship to Roman imperial history offered an ideal case study for our attendees.  Developing on one of Michael’s key insights, the value of the Keats Shelley House connection and that institution’s own fine research history, was Jon Quayle, a great addition to the team. Jon was able to draw on his own experience both as researcher in residence at the Keats Shelley House and as an early career scholar whose PhD was funded by the AHRC to help raise students’ awareness of its holdings, and was joined by the Curator, Giuseppe Albano in a fascinating presentation.

Our wonderful cohort contained students from many fields not normally represented at the BSR, but from the moment they arrived on Monday morning, they soon found themselves at home. Robert Coates-Stephens led a perfectly pitched tour of the Roman Forum on the first afternoon. This was followed the next day (Tuesday) by a trip led beneath the Lateran Basilica in which I sought to explore not just the subterranean world of Rome, but also the potential of Digital Humanities.  A stimulating session on Italian Cinema in the long sixties by Jacopo Benci kept colleagues talking and thinking about film studies throughout the week. Richard Terry from Northumbria University, soon to join the Northern Bridge consortium, kindly made the trip out to Rome to join us for a well-received plenary on ‘Literature and life assurance’, an absolutely fascinating topic.


Visiting the artists’ studios (photo by Annie Tindley)

Given the strength of the BSR and the richness of research in creative practice, we were keen to expose attendees to work in this area.  Accordingly, Marco Palmieri kindly arranged for a special tour of the BSR studios on Wednesday morning, with resident artists outlining how they were setting about their projects.  The session was a resounding success.  It was followed that afternoon with another highlight, a case study led by Helen Berry which drew upon her work on the life and times of the celebrated eighteenth-century opera singer Giusto Ferdinando Tenducci.  The rich discussion that followed, on the nature of academic publication and on the media’s engagement with research, was just the sort of debate we had hoped the week would yield.

Helen’s session was followed by ‘team time’, an opportunity for our students to spend time in their teams planning their group projects. Using the fine library resources of the BSR, their own skills and imagination, the students are to deliver projects on a theme of their choice on the topic of the UK and Italy to their peers at the Northern Bridge Summer Conference in June.

Thursday and Friday were delightfully occupied by the excellent case study sessions of Tom True, Stephen Milner, Jon Quayle and Annie Tindley, described above, before a closing address from Stephen. Stephen’s comments underscored the depth of the BSR’s commitment to engaging across the research community and reminded all present of just how much the BSR does and can continue to do to support cutting edge work across the arts, humanities and social sciences.

While there are always lessons to be learnt, the unanimous conclusion of all who participated was that this was one of the most exciting, energising and fruitful experiences of their research careers.  Planning is already underway for next year’s event. I feel enormously privileged to have been a part of it all.


Professor Ian Haynes (Newcastle University)



The true Italian pop-art… with Nicholas Hatfull


In February, artist and former BSR Sainsbury Scholar in Painting and Sculpture Nicholas Hatfull gave the third Felicity Powell Lecture, following on from last year’s talks by Padraig Timoney and Marc Camille Chaimowicz.

Taking the 1973 drawing by Andrea Pazienza The True Italian Pop-Art as a jumping-off point, Nick embarked on a picaresque hopscotch, connecting reflections on artefacts ancient and recent with novelistic vignettes from his time in Italy. His lecture was followed by a conversation with Marco Palmieri, and here they continue that conversation two months on from the talk. Attachment-1.png

NH: Marco, it was very nice to be talking together at the BSR, which has been, and is a special place for both of us. Something Paul Holdengraber is fond of quoting on his podcast is ‘when we talk, things fall out of our pockets’. So let’s see if there’s anything tangled up in our keys…?

MP: When I think back to your talk, I remember quite vividly the enjoyable tasty morsels of imagery your words and presentation brought forth. Funnily enough (as per our previous conversations), your talk reminded me of the book you love so much, The Book of Dreams by Federico Fellini.

You presented so enjoyably post-it note ideas and snapshots of moments of Rome, that over the past years, have been wonderfully woven into your practice; your paintings, sculpture and writings.

Do you think that Fellini’s book has influenced the way you approach – in the broadest sense – the art of making?


NH: Yes, probably in more ways than I can articulate. It’s too hot to handle. I remember being pleased, having left it back in London while on the Sainsbury Scholarship in Rome – it’s a whopper – coming across some loose sheets from his Book of Dreams on display in a small gallery in Via Margutta. Double-sided, displayed on a hinged frame.

Condensed, febrile vignettes. But the book, and his films, as the best art does, affect the way you experience and reflect on the world, your immediate environment. I remember seeing a coachload of tourists, pressed against the vehicle’s windows, filming the Colosseum, and it had this faintly ludicrous, archly stylised aspect. The coach seemed haloed, yet a little menacing. These things are gift-wrapped moments.

I was just describing to someone the Pizzeria Da Michele, which Gabriel (Hartley) showed me on Via Flaminia. Completely invisible from street level, one enters it through a children’s museum. Suddenly you are not in central Rome but a motorway service station, but a service station that serves fantastic Neapolitan pizza, so molten it’s more like a soup than many. This bleeding of one associative experience into another is the working (il)logic of Fellini. Speaking of Gabriel, while visiting the BSR it was my good fortune to visit the studios of artists I knew and was yet to know.

Few things are better for the soul than visiting another artist’s studio, and it was nice to able to make a few suggestions of what the scholars might take a look at, having worked in Rome myself. It was a treat, also, Marco to come see your studio off Via Tuscolana in advance of your exhibition in Milan.

Felicity Powell Lecture 2018

Nicholas Hatfull in conversation with Marco Palmieri, February 2018 (Photo by Antonio Palmieri)

MP: I think this layering of ‘experiences’, from having a gelato, to seeing a bus full of tourists gawking at the colosseum, compounded with the pre-existing archive of memories and artworks one keeps safely stored in the back of one’s head, seems to unfold quite feverishly – but also with a sense of ease – in your work. A hard balance to pull off. I see it in your paintings, your sculptures, and writing. I would be curious to know more of which experiences, between your past Roman life (or lives, since you have been a resident in Rome more than once) and current life in London, are rubbing against each other at the moment? You have always had a real knack for composing surreal open associations!

NH: We just spent some days on Holkham beach, which reminded me of the – quite different – dunes at Ostia. And on the morning of my departure from Rome, the arrival Siberian air…a playground in Testaccio in the snow – all ochre, saffron and forest green mottled by dirty white. And, a little to my horror, gelato. Gosh, it certainly sounds like I deal in cliché. But of course I suspect there is an abyss to be uncovered beneath these moments.

Not to mention driving back from Arezzo in the snow, listening to Songs for Drella. Preparing the BSR talk was a nice chance to write, assembling those faintly comic, memoirish vignettes.


MP: Well it is interesting that you mention clichès. I remember a few years ago Lucy Coggle writing a piece on the power of the clichè, not as an endpoint in language, but a possible new alphabet to create inventive forms of prose/narratives/meaning. I think neither of us are against the pleasures of clichès or the kitsch. The iconic figure of the Italian gelato holds its ground just as much as a Caravaggio painting.

I guess I am interested in knowing more how you navigate this big pot of images, memories, and experiences; how do you sift through this all, and decide what things are allowed to ‘fall out of your pocket’. I guess my question involves your opinion on questions of selection, appropriation and editing…

Does writing, perhaps, help shape a very distinct ‘handwriting’?

(I guess this could be seen as a necessary tip of the hat to the likes of Cy Twombly and Howard Hodgkin)


NH: I hadn’t specifically related Hodgkin’s mode of image making to the idea of the trophy before preparing the talk, and I have been chewing on it in the weeks since. A number of Twombly’s paintings of the eighties seem inflected by his love of being driven on particular routes, scrolling blurred landscape out the window. Both these artists, of course, arrive at something melting, quivering, but condensed and powerfully eloquent.

Regarding your point on navigating options, I must say it rarely, if ever, feels like a decision as such. It is a case of following the only route that appears viable at that time. Perhaps you could call it a stock pot on the boil, but all I can do is skim off the matter that has risen to the surface -scum?

MP: It’s interesting to hear you talk about your decision-making with such a light grip. When you were giving your talk – and once again these past days – John Ashbery came to mind, specifically his poem Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror. His approach, and yours, seem to have something in common; an experience, or in this specific case an image, conjures a concatenation of words and images that seem to flow quite effortlessly, with puncuating moments spread throughout. Do you see something in this poem that might relate to the way you make or think?


NH: If I called to mind Ashbery then I was doing something right, but I’m too English not to baulk at the comparison! Not long ago I was reading a recent collection, Breezeway. I very much like the simultaneous courting of charges of meaninglessness, while the poems bristle with fugitive or potential meaning.

MP: I think Ashbery is a good fit. Both of you manage to draw out so many nutrients (be it words or images) from various experiences in such a rich way.

I guess I would like to finish off our interview with a question about Rome; what have you brought back with you to London from this recent trip? I ask, hoping to be left with some teasers that we might see eek out in future works or projects.

MP to NH:

NHMP photo

NH: I love this picture. What a suitable ending…


Walking the via Flaminia: following in the footsteps of Thomas Ashby and his companions

Janet WadeJanet Wade is the current Macquarie Gale Rome Scholar, resident at the BSR from January to June 2018. Janet’s research project is titled Walking the via Flaminia: following in the footsteps of Thomas Ashby and his companions. As part of this project, Janet plans to traverse the entire length of the via Flaminia on foot (and bicycle), along with previous Macquarie Gale Rome Scholar, Nicole Moffatt. Following on from BSR Archivist Alessandra Giovenco’s blog on the many faces of Ashby, here Janet talks in more detail about her own exploration both of the via Flaminia and of the rich collection of material in Thomas Ashby’s archives at the BSR.

‘In one’s less sternly moral moments one even acquires the feeling that every fine day spent indoors, with the Campagna so close, is in a sense wasted.’

Thomas Ashby, The Roman Campagna in Classical Times (London, 1927), 18.

I couldn’t help but recall Thomas Ashby’s words as I wandered along the perimeter of Augustus and Livia’s estate in Prima Porta on a warm, sunny day in April. I was tracing the line of the ancient via Flaminia through Prima Porta, starting from the remains of an arch and wall that originally flanked the road. Both ruins are now incorporated into the walls of a medieval church and a restaurant on either side of the modern Via della Villa di Livia. A stroll up the hill took me to the extensive ruins of Livia’s Villa, with its commanding views of the surrounding countryside, the via Flaminia and Tiberina. At the Villa, high above the traffic with a light breeze rustling the trees and birds chirping, it was easy to imagine the tranquility and seduction of the Roman Campagna of Ashby’s day. I had to remind myself of a less serene walk from the Aurelian walls to Prima Porta that my partner Matt and I did two months earlier, attempting to stick as close to the ancient line of the via Flaminia as possible. We darted across major arterial roads on several occasions, hugged the rock wall of the cliffs of Saxa Rubra to keep at least half a metre between us and the oncoming traffic, and searched in vain for a way to get a glimpse of a piece of the via Flaminia antica that we knew was hiding behind a high fence near Due Ponti station. Ashby’s Roman Campagna was not so easy to visualise that day! It has survived–as too has the via Flaminia–but not in the same form as it existed either in antiquity or the early twentieth century.

4th century arch in the walls of the Church of Saints Urbano and Lorenzo at Prima Porta

4th century arch in the walls of the Church of Saints Urbano and Lorenzo at Prima Porta (Photos by Thomas Ashby (courtesy of the BSR Photographic Archive) and Janet Wade).

The Via Flaminia Antica running through the middle of a car sales yard on the way to Prima Porta.jpg

The Via Flaminia Antica running through the middle of a car sales yard on the way to Prima Porta (Photo by Janet Wade).

Ashby’s exploratory tours of the countryside extended along Italy’s ancient roads beyond the borders of the Roman Campagna. Much of Ashby’s research on the Roman road system was done when he was at the BSR, firstly as a student and then as Director from 1906 to 1925. A century on, Ashby’s publications on the Roman roads of Italy are still largely definitive. His research in the library was meticulous; Ashby consulted whatever books, maps and prints he could get his hands on. Yet, ultimately, it was Ashby’s personal observation of the roads and their surrounding sites that enabled him to map and record the Roman road network so effectively. He tried to visit every inch of a road–or encouraged award-holders at the School to do so–before publishing on them. Ashby knew Italy’s ancient roads so well because he walked or cycled them. His series of articles on the Roman roads are thorough and detailed accounts, but they don’t always reveal the depth of the man’s passion. The collection of Ashby’s notes, correspondence and photographs in the BSR Archives tells us so much more.

Scribbled on the back of envelopes and previous correspondence (in fact, any paper that Ashby could find) are copious notes taken from the works of previous scholars. There are untidy drawings of sites, like Otricoli on the via Flaminia, which Ashby copied from early modern maps and excavation reports to take with him into the field. Military maps with scrawled annotations in the margins show obvious signs of outdoor use. Even more numerous are the scribbled notes from Ashby’s own exploratory tours; hastily drawn maps, personal observations, and measurements. And, of course, there are his photographs. Not always framed or focused perfectly, these photos still provide a wonderful record of the state of the roads and their surrounds in the early 20th century. Ashby’s photos and letters reveal both the pleasure he derived from hiking along ancient routes and the fruitfulness of missions often undertaken in the company of BSR award-holders. Letters sent to the Honorary General Secretary in London, Evelyn Shaw, recount excellent tramps up the Tiber valley, productive and enjoyable walking tours of ancient roads, and Ashby’s belief in the importance of this type of travel for the BSR Director and award-holders. Ashby’s correspondence also highlights the encouragement he gave to BSR scholars to study the ancient Roman road system. Certainly, he could not have mapped, recorded and published as much as he did without them.

One of the IGM (Istituto Geografico Militare) maps used by Thomas Ashby when he explored a section of the via Flaminia, including the town of Otricoli.jpg

One of the IGM (Istituto Geografico Militare) maps used by Thomas Ashby when he explored a section of the via Flaminia, including the town of Otricoli (Courtesy of the BSR Special Collections/Photo by Nicole Moffatt).

Map of the site of Otricoli copied by Ashby from Giuseppe Antonio Guattani’s Monumenti Antichi inediti ovvero Notizie sulle Antichita’ e Belle Arti di Roma, vol. 1 (Rome, 1784)..jpg

Map of the site of Otricoli copied by Ashby from Giuseppe Antonio Guattani’s Monumenti Antichi inediti ovvero Notizie sulle Antichita’ e Belle Arti di Roma, vol. 1 (Rome, 1784). (Courtesy of the BSR Special Collections/Photo by Janet Wade).

My interest in the archives was initially focused on the via Flaminia and the work that Ashby and BSR award-holder, R.A.L. Fell, did together on the road in 1920-21. But the via Flaminia has emerged as a perfect example of Ashby’s wider methodology and his collaboration with others. Ashby’s via Flaminia project straddled the pre and post WWI years of the BSR’s history. The archive material reveals a changing attitude to life and work at the BSR in the early 1920s­, when research on the road was being finalised. Student files held in the archives also reveal the intensely collaborative environment at the BSR amongst artists, architects and archaeologists in this same period. The number of current and previous scholars and friends of the BSR who were involved in Ashby’s publication on the via Flaminia exemplifies this. Indeed, the fascinating and talented group of scholars at the BSR in the early 1920’s deserves to be treated as a separate topic entirely (one that I hope to pursue in the near future).

Two of Ashby_s companions on the via Flaminia near Civita Castellana. Photo by Thomas Ashby.

Two of Ashby’s companions on the via Flaminia near Civita Castellana. It is likely that these men are Stephen Rowland-Pierce and Edward William Armstrong, the two architects who accompanied Ashby to this section of the via Flaminia to survey the valley of the river Treia (Courtesy of the BSR Photographic Archive/Photo by Thomas Ashby).

Arnold J. Toynbee in Cesi as part of a tour of the via Flaminia and its surrounds in 1911-12. Ashby and Toynbee_s bikes are pictured in the background. Photo by Thomas Ashby.

Arnold J. Toynbee in Cesi as part of a tour of the via Flaminia and its surrounds in 1911-12. Ashby and Toynbee’s bikes are pictured in the background (Courtesy of the BSR Photographic Archive/Photo by Thomas Ashby).

But let’s return to Thomas Ashby. He is a central figure in the history of Italy’s Roman roads and its changing landscape. J.B. Ward-Perkins, in his introduction to the 1970 edition of Ashby’s The Roman Campagna in Classical Times asked whether even then, almost fifty years on, we had ‘lost something of the capacity for direct personal observation which was at the root of all that Ashby did’. I think we have. Yet there is still something to be said for exploring roads and sites on foot as Ashby did; following a line of road or a faint track to see where it might lead. When used alongside modern scholarship and technology, there is no better way to investigate how an ancient road or monument has survived in its new, modern landscape. And this is exactly what Nicole Moffatt and I intend to do. With the aid of Ashby’s notes, correspondence and photographs, and with Ashby and Fell’s 1921 article as our guide, we will walk the via Flaminia from Rome to Rimini, documenting its new meaning and place in the 21st century.

The Arch of Augustus at the end of the via Flaminia in Rimini

The Arch of Augustus at the end of the via Flaminia in Rimini (Photos by Thomas Ashby (courtesy of the BSR Photographic Archive) and Janet Wade).


Nicole and Janet walking along the via Flaminia at Carsulae, near San Gemini (Photo by Jeff Moffatt).

Janet Wade (BSR Macquarie Gale Rome Scholar 2017-18)

Profile photo of Janet by Antonio Palmieri.