Being Human at the BSR

We asked BSR Research Fellow Peter Campbell to look back on last week’s workshop Lost and Found (part of the festival of humanities Being Human) from his perspective as a researcher in the study of antiquities trafficking networks.

On Friday 27 October, the British School at Rome hosted Lost and Found: Places, Objects and People, a workshop that is part of the Being Human Festival. The workshop brought together experts from various backgrounds to discuss cultural preservation. Looting of ancient sites has recently been in the international spotlight following actions by Islamic State, but trafficking of antiquities has been a significant problem for many decades.

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Cultural heritage is a central component of what it means to be human, so the workshop subject is important to the festival. This is a sentiment expressed by Professor Sarah Churchwell and BSR Director Professor Stephen J. Milner to commence the meeting. Being Human is led by Sarah at the School of Advanced Study (SAS), University of London, in partnership with the Arts and Humanities Research Council and the British Academy. The BSR and Being Human are in a unique position to bring together international experts and discuss topics such as this.

Archaeological sites are being looted and destroyed on a large scale across the world, but how do we quantify and mitigate the loss when we do not know the full extent of the cultural resources? This is what Dr Robert Bewley (University of Oxford) discussed in his talk about the Endangered Archaeology in the Middle East and North Africa (EAMENA) project. Using aerial photography, Robert’s team has been able to identify archaeological sites and revisit them years later, documenting changes to the sites. This is invaluable to those studying looting, as operating on such a large-scale is quite difficult. Over the years Robert has noted a number of different threats to archaeological sites. One of the foremost is the increase in populations, which leads to increased development and infrastructure which cuts through sites. New forms of agriculture and mining have also leveled sites that the team had identified in previous years. Of course, conflict is also a significant threat, such as Islamic State. In one example, Robert discussed how Islamic State may have blown up monuments in order to cover up looting of friezes that were trafficked out of the region for sale on the black market.

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Robert Bewley discusses the use of aerial photography in documenting changes to archaeological sites.

Mosaics are one of the most beautiful forms of ancient art, but also one of the most delicate. Dr Roberto Nardi (Centro di Conservazione Archeologica, Roma) gave a masterful presentation on how mosaics are under threat from conflict and looting, but also poor conservation practices in the past, as well as archaeologists who do not know how to properly preserve mosaics in situ. Roberto has organized a training programme for conservators working in North Africa and the Middle East, named MOSAIKON and funded by the Getty Foundation. In his presentation, as well as in videos made by the conservation students, he showed how the program develops independence, construction of locate labs, and interventions to save mosaics. These interventions were needed not only in North Africa and the Middle East, but in Italy as well.

Dr Anna Leone (Durham University) and Morgan Belzic (École Pratique des Hautes Études) presented their recent work conducting training in North Africa, along with coauthors Dr Corisande Fenwick (UCL) and Dr William Wootton (KCL), who were not in attendance. The presentation was wide-ranging, but the training programs appear to have substantial deliverables. The team has created an app called HeDAP (Heritage Documentation and Protection) that uses photo identification algorithms to make a searchable database for identifying looted artifacts. It is currently being trialed in North Africa, but they hope it will soon be available for broader regions and law enforcement. They raised excellent points about data and storage. What happens during periods of conflict? Who has access to the databases? In one example, museum workers had to build false walls to hide artifacts from Islamic State. There are no good solutions, which led to a substantial discussion. It made me think about the Archaeological Data Service, which hosts a server storing open data, or the use of blockchain technology, which is a decentralized network so that data cannot be corrupted or lost. Perhaps a system where the data is stored across a network, but only accessible to certain individuals would preserve data for the long term. Solutions need to be found in order to protect antiquities and sites in conflict regions.

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Gianluigi D’Alfonso of the Guardia di Finanza on how art and antiquities are used by criminal groups for laundering and profit.

Rarely does the public hear about the law enforcement side of trafficking, which made the presentation by Generale Gianluigi D’Alfonso (Comandante della Guardia di Finanza) particularly interesting. He discussed how art and antiquities are used by criminal groups for laundering and profit. The Generale had several cases where criminal organizations had purchased works of art specifically for laundering, fencing and tax evasion. One of the most gripping examples was a group of Vincent van Gogh paintings that were recently confiscated and returned to a museum setting. The presentation raised a number of questions about how we think about antiquities in the hands of criminals. What percentage of their illegal art is collection and what percentage is laundering? Or perhaps there is no clear distinction.

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Simon Keay on public engagement at Portus

Professor Simon Keay (University of Southampton; BSR) concluded the workshop’s archaeology presentations with an overview of the Portus Project and the new means of collecting and presenting archeological data. The site of Portus is of such a large-scale that many years of research have been required to understand the ancient imperial harbour. Of particular interest, Simon discussed how the site is being presented to the public. Located near Fiumicino Airport, Portus is being advertised to travelers as an easy side trip. The number of visitors has increased each year, showing that this forgotten gem is finally receiving the attention it deserves. Even people who are not in Rome can visit Portus through the online platforms that the project uses, such as an online course and web tour.

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HMA Jill Morris with Paul Sellers (Director, British Council Italy) and Sarah Churchwell (Director of the Being Human Festival, and Professor of American Literature and Public Understanding of the Humanities at the School of Advanced Study, University of London)

The workshop ended with a viewing of the British Council film Desti\Nations. It is a fascinating short piece that discusses migration and movement within the modern world. The film was introduced by British Ambassador Jill Morris, who spoke on the intertwined nature of Britain, Europe, and the Mediterranean world. Jill and the film told of shared cultures, with the film telling of a family with North African and Italian background, as well as the members’ migrations to and from locations around the world. [BSR Director] Stephen concluded the workshop with the observation that not only does modern Europe face these migration, but Medieval Italy did as well. Much like the flow of cultures in the ancient world, modern migrations take place for many reasons such as conflict, employment, and family. The film was a terrific conclusion to the Being Human workshop, which left the audience with much to consider.

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L to R: Stephen Milner, Sarah Churchwell, Anna Leone, Robert Bewley, HMA Jill Morris, Simon Keay, Roberto Nardi, Paul Sellers.

Peter Campbell (BSR Research Fellow)

Photos by Antonio Palmieri.

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Fresco frenzy at the BSR

BSR scholars and artists were recently invited to take part in a fresco painting workshop organised by Anna de Riso and Eliana Billi. Assimilating the techniques and materials of ancient and Renaissance painters, the workshop presented the opportunity to recreate a fresco to a high degree of authenticity. The workshop complemented the interest in fresco painting of many of the group, with several having already visited Naples where they had seen the fantastic frescoes excavated at Pompeii and Herculaneum.

The day began with an introduction to the history of fresco painting from its ancient Greek origins, when it was used to decorate prestigious buildings and the homes of the wealthy. The earliest Greek examples are now lost, with most of the knowledge on this craft coming from literary sources.

For wall-painting in the Roman era, one of two techniques – fresco or secco – would have been employed. Both had as their base pozzolana (volcanic ash) which was mixed with water to make it set, and they differed in how the paint was applied. With the fresco technique, pigment was ground with water to make the paint and then applied on top of wet, fresh lime mortar or plaster, then left to carbonate and set. With the secco technique, the plaster was still dry when the paint was applied, necessitating the binding of the pigment with egg or glue to make it stick. Clay-based pigments were often used in fresco-painting in the Roman era and this type of pigment could be polished, giving the fresco a shiny finish.

Both techniques had their drawbacks: the pigment on secco frescoes was more susceptible to flaking off over time, however the fresco paintings had to be completed quickly, before the plaster set, and accurately, as mistakes could not be corrected once painted.

Fresco painting continued into the Middle Ages, however the images depicted were simpler and less refined. A turning-point was reached at the end of the 14th century with the pioneers Cavallini and Giotto, who headed a new-found interest in the depiction of space and volume. With new styles came new techniques, the most important of which were: fewer layers used to build up the panel; the use of sinopia, a reddish-brown pigment used to create a preparatory drawing on the panel before the paint was applied; and the combination of the fresco element of painting on wet plaster with that of the secco technique, in which further details were added once the panel had been painted and set.

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‘The Last Judgement’ fresco by Cavallini in S. Cecilia in Trastevere

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‘The Dream of Joachim’ fresco by Giotto, Scrovegni Chapel, Padua

With the outline of the tradition and the technical aspects explained, it was time to put the new-found knowledge into practice. The group was split into two, with half recreating Pompeian frescoes and half following the Renaissance technique, and both groups following designs from that period.

The Pompeian group began by mixing together the mortar formula and spreading it on their panels. They then sketched their designs onto the surface with pigment, then traced along the sketch with a knife to make a small engraving of the design. Plaster was then applied over the engraved base layer, through which the design showed through and was then reapplied on the plaster layer. With the design in place, the painting could begin.

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Mixing the mortar. Photo by Stephen Kay.

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Applying the mortar layer. Photo by Ellie Johnson.

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Outlining the design in paint. Photo by Stephen Kay.

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Adding details to the plaster layer. Photo by Antonio Palmieri

The plaster layer was applied to just half of the panel, to show the different stages of the process.

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James Norrie (Rome Fellow), Vivien Zhang (Abbey Scholar in Painting) and Peter McDonald (Abbey Fellow in Painting) with their Pompeian frescoes

Those following the Renaissance technique began by drawing their designs on tracing paper, then puncturing small holes along the outline of the drawing. They then applied the cement layer to the panel, softening the mixture with water and working it with a spatula until it was smooth. The tracing paper was placed over the top, and then the sinopia pigment was applied, permeating the punctures to give the outline of the design.

With the general outline in place, the sinopia pigment was mixed with water to create a paint which was used to complete the outline, and then the designs were completed with coloured paint.

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Helpmann Academy Resident Kate Power – painting in progress. Photo by Stephen Kay.

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The Bridget Riley Fellow Sinta Tantra – painting in progress. Photo by Stephen Kay.

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William Fletcher Foundation Scholar Chris Browne – painting in progress. Photo by Antonio Palmieri

Many thanks to Anna de Riso and Eliana Billi for organising a fantastic workshop.


Ellie Johnson (Communications & Events)

A research trip to Tunisia

Last April, Coleman-Hilton Scholar Jason Blockley travelled to Tunisia to visit a number of sites to complement his research on the economies of late antique North Africa. Over the course of this trip, Jason clocked up an impressive number of miles and site visits, travelling between cities and across countryside, exploring both ancient, medieval and modern sites. Read on to find out more…

During the Roman period the provinces that cover the area that is now Tunisia were among the richest and most productive in the entire empire. Every year millions of tons of wheat, olive oil, fine pottery, and other goods left Tunisia’s shores for sale or distribution elsewhere in the empire. My research investigates the relationship between the state and the economy in Late Antique (c. 300-450) North Africa, which took me on an eight-day trip of Tunisia in April. While there I was lucky to have the expert services and friendship of Sami Harize, a veteran guide and expert on Tunisia’s cultural heritage.
For the first two days of the trip we were busy exploring the many ruins of Carthage, the ancient capital of Roman Africa which today is a suburb of Tunis. Like Rome, Tunis/Carthage is a patchwork of ancient ruins scattered amongst a modern metropolis. The ruins alone reveal the immense size and prosperity of Roman Carthage, a city that would have housed several hundred thousand people. The city boasted all the comforts and infrastructure that Rome had, including splendid baths, theatres, an arena, public aqueducts, and a sophisticated harbour system.

The Bardo Museum in Tunis contains more evidence of the splendour that the citizens of Carthage enjoyed, including a staggering and unparalleled collection of ancient mosaics.

After having visited the major sites and museums in Carthage we set out for a three-day, ~1,000km tour of northern and central Tunisia. To properly describe all the incredible sites we visited along the way would require a short book at least, as it is impossible to travel anywhere in Tunisia without seeing some monument or cultural treasure. On the first day we drove through the verdant lush north of the country to see the cities of Dougga, ancient Thugga, and El Kef, ancient Sicca Veneria. The countryside is incredibly fertile and picturesque, and in antiquity the grain grown here was essential in keeping the city of Rome fed.

Though both Thugga and Sicca Veneria were modest provincial cities they both boasted all the comforts of Roman urban life, including baths, theatres, and fine homes for the wealthy. Many of the ruins of Sicca Veneria have disappeared beneath the modern fabric of El Kef, but the ruins at Dougga are pristine, and a sure rival for sites like Pompeii. Dougga, like many other ancient ruins in Tunisia, coexists with modern pastoralists just as it would have done in antiquity.

On the second day, we started heading south into central Tunisia, where the landscape became more arid and rocky. Not well suited for growing wheat, this area specialised in olives. In fact, the area is practically a forest of olive trees as it was during the Roman period.

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Olive groves in central Tunisia. Photo by Jason Blockley.

Along the way we visited Haïdra, ancient Ammaedara, and Sbeitla, ancient Sufetula. During the early years of Roman rule in Africa Haïdra was an important military site, a role it resumed during the tumultuous Byzantine period. The imposing triumphal arch, partially encased in ad hoc walls, also echoes the military history of the city.

The ruins of Sufetula lie in an impressive archaeological park right next to modern Sbeitla. Again, the ancient city boasted all the signature comforts of ancient urban life, but also has an unusual triple-Capitoline temple as well as several early Christian churches with mosaiced baptismal pools.

On the last day of our tour of the Tunisian countryside we visited Kairouan and El Djem, ancient Thysdrus. Kairouan was settled around 670 CE during the Islamic conquest of Africa, and the city’s Great Mosque was the first in the entire Maghreb. During the early Middle Ages Kairouan became the seat of power, politics, and culture in Tunisia, taking the place that Carthage (now ruined) had occupied during the ancient era. Although Kairouan was the centre for the burgeoning Islamic civilisation in Tunisia, vestiges of the country’s Roman history made its way into the city. The ruins of Roman monuments in Tunisia were used like a quarry to embellish Kairouan, including the Great Mosque – ancient architectural elements can still be seen today.

El Djem, like El Kef, has mostly buried its ancient ruins beneath the modern city – except for its immense amphitheatre, which was among the largest in the Roman Empire. The amphitheatre, sited in the heart of the city, is clear evidence that Thysdrus’ arid environment was no impediment to the Romano-Africans building a prosperous and comfortable city.

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The amphitheatre at El Djem. Photo by Jason Blockley.

After El Djem our tour of the Tunisian countryside and its many cities and towns was finished and we drove back to Tunis. The next few days were spent exploring more of medieval and modern Tunis. The city’s Medina (old town) is a lively and bustling labyrinth full of small shops, cafés, homes, and mosques. The modern city has far outgrown its ancient, medieval, or colonial limits and is today a veritable metropolis.

My journey through Tunisia was rewarding in many ways. It provided needed nuance and context to my research, and I am grateful to Sami for pointing out countless things I would have otherwise missed. Experiencing and learning about modern Tunisia was equally rewarding. Lastly, the people of Tunisia remain a hospitable and generous people despite the hardships they have weathered over the years.


Jason Blockley (Coleman-Hilton Scholar)

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.

‘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)

Transnationalizing Modern Languages at the BSR

The BSR is collaborating on a transformational AHRC Beacon project Transnationalizing Modern Languages, which is devising new approaches to fortify Modern Languages in response to decline in UK provision for the discipline. This project challenges the tradition of containing the study of modern languages within discrete national boundaries by investigating cultural exchange within communities and individuals across time and space.

In October, we hosted a three-day conference Transnational Italies: Mobility, Subjectivities and Modern Italian Cultures examining the mobility of Italian culture through patterns of emigration and immigration, and its interactions with other cultures across the globe.

In this video you can hear the opening talks by BSR Director Professor Christopher Smith, and conference organisers Professor Charles Burdett (Bristol), Professor Loredana Polezzi (Cardiff), and Dr Barbara Spadaro (Bristol).

See the TML website to hear further recordings from the conference including roundtable sessions and keynote lectures by Professor Ruth Ben Ghiat (New York) and Professor Dame Marina Warner (Birkbeck).

The conference was accompanied by a participatory exhibition BEYOND BORDERS. Transnational Italy (curated by Viviana Gravano and Giulia Grechi), displaying research processes and results. The BSR gallery was curated as a domestic environment, a metaphor for how language and culture offer us space to ‘inhabit’ our lives and our relations with others.

Later on in November, two of the organisers, Charles Burdett and Loredana Polezzi, gave a lecture at the British Academy exploring how a new focus on the web of interconnections between cultures is enriching our understanding of language and space.

 


For further information about Transnationalizing Modern Languages visit the project’s website: www.transnationalmodernlanguages.ac.uk


Text by Tom True (Assistant Director)
Videos by Gianfranco Fortuna
Photos by Carolina Farina (Routes Agency)