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.

‘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)

The British School beyond Rome: finding Trajan in Benevento

amy-russellAmy Russell is Lecturer in Classics and Ancient History at Durham, and is spending the autumn of 2016 as a Research Fellow of the British School at Rome as part of her AHRC-funded project Senatorial Monuments: a new approach to the social dynamics of ideology formation in the Roman empire. Here Amy tells us about ‘seeing [her] own sites through new eyes’ during a three-day research trip to Benevento with fellow BSR residents.

‘One of my favourite parts of spending time at the BSR, whether as a Research Fellow, award-holder or regular visitor, has always been the chance to immerse myself in other visitors’ research and practice. The interdisciplinary interaction we have every day over tea or dinner constantly opens my mind to new possibilities and new research directions. Often, one colleague’s site or gallery visit ends up becoming a group trip, and we get the chance to see something we never would have known to look for. And seeing my own sites through new eyes is even better!

A group of award-holders and I took this philosophy to the extreme this past week, as they agreed to come with me on a three-day research trip to Benevento. The core of the trip was the Arch of Trajan, which features in my current project on monuments built by the imperial Senate, but we added on visits to museums and churches in Naples, other sites in Benevento, and the Reggia di Caserta.

 

Our trip started and ended with Hercules: the two statues of the weary hero from the Baths of Caracalla, originally displayed next to each other, both entered the Farnese and then the Bourbon collections but were then separated, with the more famous of the two ending up in the Museo Archeologico Nazionale at Naples and the other at the foot of the great staircase at Caserta. A Monday conversation with Jana Schuster [Giles Worsley Rome Fellow] about how it might feel to come across the Naples example while walking naked through the baths was complemented by a debate on Wednesday about which one is better, and what the visual impact of seeing them both together might have been.

 

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Arch of Trajan, Benevento. Photo by Arthur Westwell.

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Detail of Arch of Trajan, Benevento. Photo by Amy Russell.

In Benevento, all eyes were on the arch, a monument to Trajan’s reconstruction of the Via Appia. It was the road that gave Benevento its importance in the imperial period, as it brought countless travellers through on the way from Rome to Brundisium and the east. I counted senators until the light went and climbed up on bollards in undignified fashion (Arthur Westwell [Pilkington Rome Awardee], always dignified, helped) to check whether they were wearing appropriately senatorial shoes; Maria del Carmen Moreno Escobar, our Portus Project representative, was excited to find a representation of Trajan founding Portus – note the anchor.

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Photo by Jana Schuster

This is not me climbing the arch, but a slightly more dignified scramble to give a sense of the lengths ancient historians will go to to investigate spolia… It wasn’t all ancient in Benevento. The town was a Lombard capital from the sixth to the eleventh centuries, enjoying (some of the time) a remarkably peaceful existence which has resulted in some fantastic surviving early mediaeval architecture.

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Photo by Jana Schuster

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Photo by Serena Alessi

Arthur and I might have exhausted the patience of less doughty companions with our transports of joy over the eccentric eighth-century Santa Sofia. Jana Schuster’s eye for building phases helped us reconstruct the fate of some of the vaulting, but the plan, which is part-radial, part-axial, and part star-shaped, gave us plenty to work with on imaginative reconstructions of Lombard liturgy and movement through the building. Meanwhile, modernist Stefano Bragato [Rome Awardee] was quietly gathering information, and impressed us later by calmly laying out the phasing of a late mediaeval wall we passed on the way to dinner.

 

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Photo by Amy Russell

He and Serena Alessi [Rome Fellow] found something closer by a few centuries to their own research when we visited another of Benevento’s hidden secrets, a 1992 sculpture garden by the Italian artist Mimmo Paladino. As if he knew that our little interdisciplinary group was coming, Paladino based his garden on the mediaeval monastic concept of the hortus conclusus, a hidden sanctuary for thought and reflection.

 

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Photo by Arthur Westwell

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Photo by Serena Alessi

There was plenty more crammed into the three days, from the mixture of Egyptian and Roman faux-Egyptian sculpture from Domitian’s temple to Isis at Benevento to the glorious English Garden at Caserta, where guests get a peek at the bathing Aphrodite (just after being warned by a gory fountain sculpture of Diana and Actaeon that spying on goddesses rarely ends well). The trip left us tired but intellectually refreshed: I could say the same of the whole of my time here at the BSR’.

 

 

A week in the life of a BSR award-holder

Living in such a culturally and historically rich city as Rome means that a wealth of opportunities are on offer, and our award-holders and residents have been making the most of this! Numerous excursions, gallery tours and conferences are attended each week, and here we take a look at the ‘extra-curricular’ activities of a typical week at the BSR.

All of our residents were invited to the opening of the Japanese House exhibition at the MAXXI last Tuesday, which runs until late February 2017, after which it will move to the Barbican Centre and then on to the National Museum of Modern Art in Tokyo. The exhibition featured a series of photographs and models exploring the development of postwar domestic architecture in Japan.

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Opening of the ‘Japanese House’ exhibition. Photo credit: Jana Schuster

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Opening of the ‘Japanese House’ exhibition. Photo credit: Jana Schuster

 

Back at the BSR: as part of the research for her AHRC Leadership Fellowship, Amy Russell, 2009-10 Ralegh Radford Rome Scholar and current BSR Research Fellow, gave a fantastic lecture on the imperial senate and the way in which it interacted with both the emperor and the city. Joining us from slightly further afield, yesterday evening’s guest speaker William Gudenrath (Corning Museum of Glass, New York) gave a talk on the history of glasswork and the glassblower from early Roman antiquity through to its ‘golden age’ in the Renaissance.

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Amy Russell on ‘The imperial senate and the city of Rome’. Photo credit: Arthur Westwell

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William Gudenrath discusses different glassblowing techniques. Photo credit: Stephen Kay

These lectures will soon be available to watch again on YouTube, and you can always find out more about our upcoming events on our website.

As always, both lectures were followed by a lively question-and-answer session, with the discussions continuing in the atrium for a rinfresco and cena speciale.

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Discussion and rinfresco following a talk. Photo credit: Antonio Palmieri

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BSR tiramisù ready for a cena speciale!

The great wealth of history and art in Rome means that our residents have the chance to demonstrate their expertise on a huge range of topics. Last Thursday, our current Henry Moore Foundation–BSR Fellow in Sculpture, Simon Barker, led a trip to Tarquinia to see the stunning Etruscan tombs. Simon enlightened the group with his extensive knowledge of the Etruscan period, and the artists gave their perspectives on the styles and techniques of the artefacts and tomb paintings.

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Detail of one of the painted Etruscan tombs at Tarquinia

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Wandering through the National Archaeological Museum of Tarquinia

Friday saw our award-holders take on stone carving for the first time. Led by sculptor Peter Barstow Rockwell, each person was given a slab of stone to work on and instructed on how to work the material. Everyone returned exhausted from the effort of the carving, but had a fantastic time in the process!

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Photo credit: Jana Schuster

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Photo credit: Jana Schuster

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Photo credit: Jana Schuster

On Sunday 13 November 2016, Jacopo Benci (Senior Research Fellow in Modern Studies and Contemporary Visual Culture) organised and participated in an informal roundtable on women and artistic practice at  Centro Studi DARPS (Donne Arte Pensiero Società), where the five women artists currently in residence at the BSR (Kelly Best, Maria de Lima, Maria Farrar, Catherine Parsonage and Vivien Zhang) discussed with Marica Croce Caldarulo (director of DARPS), Serena Alessi (literary critic and women’s studies scholar; BSR Rome Fellow, Oct 2016-June 2017), Lucrezia Cippitelli (art critic; lecturer in Aesthetics, Florence Academy of Fine Arts; lecturer in Art Theories, University of Addis Ababa); Costanza Mazzonis (contemporary art consultant, Sotheby’s Italy), and Marina Micangeli Sanfelice (entrepreneur).

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Enjoying some burrata at the DARPS event

One of the many perks of being a BSR resident is the access to sites that are usually closed to the public. Today marked a particularly special trip: Cary Fellow Robert Coates-Stephens led a visit to the Casa Bellezza, a series of fantastically preserved frescoed rooms from the late Republican era which sit underneath a 1930s structure which was the home of conductor Vincenzo Bellezza.

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Photo credit: Vivien Zhang

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Photo credit: Maria Farrar

Just another week at the BSR!

Ellie Johnson (Administrative Assistant (Communications and Events))

 

Collaborating for the cultural heritage of the world: FAI and the National Trust at the BSR

On Wednesday 14 September, the BSR was proud to host an event all about conservation and cultural heritage in collaboration with FAI and MiBACT, including a contribution from Italy’s Minister of Culture Dario Franceschini. Director Christopher Smith looks back on this exciting event within the context of the BSR’s wider research framework.

‘The BSR has had a long and glittering history as a promoter of conservation and heritage management. In a sense, our third Director Thomas Ashby was already speaking to this as he recorded the disappearing Campagna, and it has been a constant theme, right through to the hugely successful Herculaneum Conservation Project, directed by Andrew Wallace-Hadrill, which was important not only for its achievements, but also as a model for public-private partnerships.

The BSR’s research theme on this subject has been populated with a number of important conferences and events, and we recently added to this with an important occasion, bringing together the very best of UK and Italian experience.

The event, entitled Collaborating for the Cultural Heritage of the World: The Role of Public–Private Partnerships, was a joint event with the Italian National Trust, FAI. There were three case studies. Daniela Bruno spoke about the Parco Villa Gregoriana at Tivoli, and its restoration. The spectacular walk through the Parco is attracting record visitors, and is a testimony to the capacity of FAI to regenerate and advertise places of great beauty and importance. James Bradburne presented his experiences at the Palazzo Strozzi in Florence and now the Brera in Milan. His brilliant presentation showed how a gifted and determined museum director can pull a team together and set a gallery at the heart of the cultural life of a city. Finally, the BSR’s own Research Professor in Archaeology Simon Keay and Research Fellow Renato Sebastiani demonstrated the potential of the archaeological park at Portus and Ostia, right by Rome’s Fiumicino airport.

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Paolo Conti (Corriere della Sera) giving his first address

The keynote was offered by Dame Fiona Reynolds, Chairman of the worldwide network of heritage and conservation charities, INTO. Her extraordinarily wide-ranging presentation of different examples of public-private partnerships across the world was held together by a clear focus on what is needed for successful heritage management – clear vision, clear roles and responsibilities, public credibility and support and long-term sustainability. In response, our two very special guests, President of FAI and BSR Honorary Fellow Andrea Carandini, and Italy’s Minister for Culture and Tourism, Dario Franceschini, emphasised the role of international collaboration. The presence of a government minister at what Carandini described as a historic meeting confirmed the importance of this initiative in driving forward a debate about the models which can address the specific circumstances of individual projects in Italy. In concluding, Director Christopher Smith noted that Rome’s foreign academies had a seminal role in bringing together best practice and collaborating to deliver outstanding research results and sustainable heritage management.

Over the coming months, the BSR will host an important international workshop around the concept of beauty in public life, in collaboration with the British Council and think tank ResPublica; and a major conference on conservation and restoration at Portus. Stephen Kay’s international field school at Pompeii taught principles of conservation to an enthusiastic team. Several other projects are under development. From education, to practice, to policymaking, the BSR is leading the way in bringing UK expertise to bear on conservation and heritage management in Italy.’

Christopher Smith (Director)

Photos by Antonio Palmieri.


To read more about the event, see the FAI website where you can also download the PowerPoint by Dame Fiona Reynolds.

BSR in Glasgow: 2016 Society for Renaissance Studies biennial conference

‘At the biennial conference of the Society for Renaissance Studies (SRS), which took place 18-20 July at the University of Glasgow, the BSR put on a series of sessions on the theme of ‘Word and Image in the European Renaissance’. Organised by Piers Baker-Bates (Rome Scholar 2002-3) and Oren Margolis (Rome Award 2012-13), these sessions showed off a range of work being done by scholars of Rome, Italy and beyond: papers covered Siena, Venice, the Aegean and Spain, as well as Rome; big themes such as humanism, religious reform, and artistic patronage; and were broadly interdisciplinary, exploring in a variety of media – from easel and wall paintings, to books, to sculpture, to tapestry – the relationship of words to images, but also words in images and even words as images.

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Conference group at Stirling Castle

As always, it was a sociable conference, especially for the BSR contingent, which sought out some of Glasgow’s finest culinary offerings. An excursion to Stirling Castle gave us a chance to explore one of the country’s most unique Renaissance monuments and discuss the identities of the historical and mythological personages depicted in the carved oak roundels!

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A group of conference attendees in the University of Glasgow West Quadrant

The British School at Rome continues to build on its relationship with the SRS. The BSR’s support for scholars ensures the continued place for Italian (and European) Renaissance studies in Britain, while its encouragement for multidisciplinary research and transnational perspectives will be of increasing importance to the field in years to come.’

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Conference dinner at the Oran Mor

Oren Margolis (Somerville College, Oxford; BSR Rome Award 2012-13)