Raphael and his drawings: a conversation with Angelamaria Aceto


© Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxford.

What lies behind Raphael’s drawings and sketches?

To find out, read our interview with expert Angelamaria Aceto (Ashmolean Museum) who will be speaking at the BSR on the 5th of March. Her lecture entitled ‘The archaeology of Raphael’s drawings: uncovering new sketches and methodologies’ will coincide with the opening of the major exhibition ‘Raffaello’at the Scuderie del Quirinale.


© Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxford.

Can you tell us about your contribution to the forthcoming exhibition ‘Raffaello’ at  Scuderie del Quirinale in Rome?

I co-authored an essay with Prof. Di Teodoro on Raphael’s architectural drawings – an aspect that is in need of a critical re-assessment.  It is an incredibly difficult field because of the lack of architectural drawings that have come down to us and yet we recognise Raphael as one of the most influential architects in Western history. It is a slight paradox, but an intriguing one for an art historian! We examined how the drawings attributed to him are made, their ‘stratigraphy’ (I love the concept borrowed from geology), but we also considered the traces of architecture in his figural drawings and this has shown how careful scrutiny can enrich art historical discourse. It is a work in progress.

 What is the most revealing aspect of Raphael’s drawings?

His restless inventiveness, nurtured by a profound visual culture, which still surprises us today as we look beneath the surface of his drawings.

Among the many themes, the Scuderie exhibition wonderfully illustrates the ambitious and talented artist responding with incredible ease to the stimuli that surrounded him through the act of drawing, whether it was the art of senior masters, nature, or indeed classical antiquity. Drawing was (and still is) an essential cognitive tool through which artists learnt, experimented and fixed ideas, but it has layers, like a painting. This is something drawing scholarship has increasingly acknowledged, but not enough in my opinion. Such a shift is certainly much needed in Raphael studies. The lecture will take you through some cases-studies, or ‘reading exercises’ so to speak, and show you what a focus on the materiality of his drawings can do.

What does Raphael say to contemporary audiences?

Everyone, regardless of their knowledge of the artist and his historical context, will be captured by the beauty of the objects he executed or perhaps just designed, and by his versatility. His genius manifested itself beyond painting and architecture.

Above all, Raphael remains one the greatest storytellers of all the time. Many of his narrative paintings reflect concerns of the time, and may not feel ‘modern’ to us today. Yet, his technical virtuosity, paired with his visual intelligence, are such that our eyes are drawn to these incredible orchestrations. In every story, whether unfolding in large-scale frescos, in a Sacred Family, in portraits, or in a swift sketch realised with minimal marks of the pen, Raphael succeeded in striking the balance between rhetoric and reality. It is an art imbued with human emotions, and as such it manages to transcend the boundaries of time and space.

The lecture is a collaboration with Scuderie del Quirinale



© Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxford.

The ‘Rome and the Colonial City 2020’ Conference


Rome, following Greek models, spread its power across the Mediterranean by founding hundreds, if not thousands of new cities. Unlike older cities, Athens and Rome included, which evolved over time through a more organic, laissez-faire development, these colonies were based on a grid layout.


Falerii Novi Archeological structure, Credits to Roberta Orsini

That layout then influenced the formation of new city foundations in Medieval Europe, in the New World after 1492, down to its most brazen imitation by Mussolini. What were the ideals that lay behind these new cities, and particularly their grid layout? The grid has both egalitarian, and authoritarian characteristics. This conference pulls together specialists on antiquity, the middle ages and the modern period to question some of the “colonialist” assumptions in the literature, and to look at the changing ways in which antiquity has influenced modern urbanism.


Artwork by Sofia Greaves

The papers span from antiquity through to the twentieth-century. Speakers consider colonial cities from Greek foundations in Italy, to Roman foundations in Italy, from Spanish Latin America in the 16th century, to British North America, Australia, and Africa.

The conference, which is free to attend, will be held over three days in Rome (28-30 January 2020). Papers are organised thematically, so that each day covers antiquity through to the modern period. The first day will focus on theoretical writings about the city in the colonial context; the second looks at colonial foundation as a process of experimentation with urban models; the third looks at the ideological underpinnings of the grid, its use whether for egalitarian ideals or social control.

Days 1 and 2 will be held at the British School at Rome; Day 3 will be hosted by the Dutch Institute (KNIR) across the valley from the BSR.

Papers will be 30 minutes, followed by 15 minutes of discussion. It is expected that the conference will result in a book publication.

The Project

The ‘Rome and the Colonial City 2020’ Conference is organized by the ‘Impact of the Ancient City Project’ under Professor Andrew Wallace-Hadrill in Cambridge, funded by the European Research Council under the European Union’s Horizon 2020 Research and Innovation programme (Grant Agreement No. 693418).

Visit the project website here: https://impanccit.wixsite.com/impanccit

Artwork is by project member Sofia Greaves. https://sofiagreaves.wixsite.com/sofiagreaves


Pompei e Santorini: L’eternità in un giorno exhibition at the Scuderie del Quirinale

The exhibition Pompei e Santorini: L’eternità in un giorno at the Scuderie del Quirinale in Rome (running 11/10/19-6/1/20) covers a lot of ground. The two ancient sites are linked by their tragic histories as places both devastated and preserved by volcanic eruptions. Pompeii met its fate just under two thousand years ago in AD 79, while the site of Akrotiri was destroyed somewhere around the middle of the second millennium BC (the exhibition dates the eruption to 1613 BC). Through a combination of ancient objects and more recent works of art, the display offers its visitors a look at the sites’ ancient lives and at the efforts of later audiences to uncover and respond to their remains.

Linking Greek and Roman cities by the natural disasters which befell them has an ancient precedent. When philosophically musing about how all things have to come to an end, the second century AD Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius listed Pompeii together with Herculaneum and the Greek city of Helike which was destroyed by a tsunami in 373 BC (Meditations 4.48). Even cities do not last forever. Despite its title, the exhibition rarely actively compares the two ancient sites. Aside from the first main room, both Pompeii and Akrotiri have their own spaces on separate floors.


Frescoes, ceramic vessels, and bronze objects in a room dedicated to Pompeii. Photo by A. Kozlovski

As with many other exhibitions on Pompeii, the rooms dedicated to the city are largely organised around different spaces in a Roman house. With sections on the domus, the garden, and the triclinium, frescoes line the walls and a mosaic sits on the floor. A beautiful display of a lararium is accompanied with bronze statuettes of the lares, while jewellery and ceramic, metal, and glass vessels of all kinds line the cases. Some highlights from the Roman rooms include a hunting scene graffitied onto a fresco from the House of the Cryptoporticus and the remains of a large and elaborately decorated metal chest with a complicated opening mechanism. A panel entitled ‘L’ultima cena’ speaks to the modern consciousness of Christianity’s beginnings, a masterpiece of Renaissance art, and another current exhibition on Pompeii. Andy Warhol’s Vesuvius (1985) and a video work by James P. Graham ends the section.

The site of Akrotiri gets a slightly different treatment. Beginning with a video which details the history of excavations, the display focuses on the major themes of archaeological interest such as social status, daily life, and cult and ritual. While a variety of ceramic vessels dominate this section, the famous Fisher Boy frescoes from the West House and the plaster casts of furniture are welcome additions. The section ends with a video by Francesco Jodice entitled A great disturbance in the palace (2019).


Plaster casts of furniture from Akrotiri. Photo by A. Kozlovski

The final two rooms contain art from the last few hundred years, punctuated by a few more finds from Pompeii. The first room includes striking works by artists such as Jan van Oost and Damien Hirst, hauntingly curated among the copies of Fiorelli’s casts of Vesuvius’ victims. The final two rooms contain works by William Turner, Giovanni Maria Benzoni, and many others. Since much of this section deals with the very human cost of the disasters that have allowed this exhibition to happen, it is a great shame that not a single work is by a woman, even though, as is common in art spaces, many of the bodies on display are.

Ultimately this exhibition is a story of reception and response. Response to ancient tragedy and the accident of preservation. All made meaningful through the efforts of archaeologists, the words of Plato and Pliny, the travels of Grand Tourists, the reconstructions of conservators, and the work of contemporary artists. While a timeline panel appears twice, the layout of the entire display speaks against an easy chronology for all these responses. The show starts in 2019 and jumps back and forth between the present and the different pasts that the objects have come to represent. It shows that a past preserved is much trickier and more multifaceted than the story of a volcanic eruption which freezes a city in a day implies.


Works of contemporary art set among copies of Fiorelli’s casts of the victims of the eruption at Pompeii. Photo by A. Kozlovski

This multiplicity of stories also provides the opportunity for visual variety. While the ancient Greco-Roman world has long been curated through mostly stone and clay, with occasions of metal, glass, and plaster, this exhibition has much more. Ancient powdered pigments, carbonised trees, a fishing net, shells, and soil. All put alongside more recent paper pages, resin, hair, a canvas of flies, and velvet. What might be a disorder of forms and materials is disciplined and drawn together by a beautiful display which makes their colours bright and their shadows crisp. Such a visual mixture speaks closer to how a world actually is – composed of many more shapes and textures than those physically robust enough to last thousands of years without a layer of ash to preserve them. Some of the gallery texts refer to these materials: one points out that the Roman nymphaeum on display was lined with solidified lava to create a grotto-like effect. Ancient Pompeii, therefore, was not only already made from the fruits of the volcano that destroyed it, but its ancient inhabitants engaged with their visuality long before any of the modern receptions on display here. Another panel speaks of ‘mausoleums full of ashes’, metaphorically tapping into the material ambiguity between the burnt remains found inside the funerary ash urns that feature in so many archaeological museum displays and the volcanic ash that covered these two cities.

Pompei e Santorini: L’eternità in un giorno is worth seeing while it is still in Rome. Although both sites have interesting stories and have yielded fantastic finds, the display does make it clear just how hard it is to compete with the Vesuvian cities for attention. Pompeii gets much more space, both on the exhibition floor and in its narrative. It is a great fortune to see the finds from Akrotiri but they are ultimately more distant, having travelled further and occupying less of our collective imagination. Pompeii, on the other hand, we are very used to seeing on display.

Upon entering the exhibition we are promised ‘eternity in a day’. As we leave and go down the staircase with its large glass windows which reveal a vista of Rome, the stories of Pompeii and Akrotiri cannot help but take up an odd space. Having pondered the meaning of an eternity made through the destruction of an instant and the memories of centuries, we are left to return into the city which has long worried about its own decline. Eternity has long been at stake here. It is, after all, the città eterna.

Alina Kozlovski (Hugh Last Rome Awardee, Sept-Dec 2019)

Inaugural recipient of the Thérèse and Ronald Ridley Scholarship, Donna Storey

This year I was named as the inaugural recipient of the Thérèse and Ronald Ridley Scholarship, established to support a current PhD candidate in the Classics and Archaeology department at the University of Melbourne, Australia. The scholarship provides for the successful recipient to spend two months in residence at the British School at Rome (BSR) between September and November to undertake research to assist PhD completion. My thesis, entitled ‘Race and Romanità in Fascist Italy’ sits at the intersection of Roman history and its modern political reception. It investigates the Italian Fascist regime’s use of ancient Rome for Fascist propaganda, particularly as justification for policies of forced Italianization in annexed borderlands.

Donna Storey and Ron Ridley.jpeg

Donna Storey with Ronald Ridley

The incredible resources at the BSR are rich and plentiful; in particular, for my work, the ability to access Italian periodicals such as Capitolium was invaluable. Additionally, the library contained many books which were instrumental to furthering my research. Of course, one of the fantastic things about being a resident at the BSR is the opportunity to visit other academic institutions in Rome; as such I was also able to utilise the wonderful libraries at the German Historical Institute, the Austrian Historical Institute, and the Belgian Historical Institute. I was welcomed with open arms at each of these institutions, which is indeed indicative of the generous nature of the academic community in Rome. Finally, I was able to utilise the resources of the Central State Archives in Rome, as well as the National Library. The combination of these resources contributed to a very productive couple of months of research.

Visiting Ostia Antica _photo credit Donna Storey

Ostia Antica, Donna Storey

Additionally, I visited some wonderful sites and exhibitions while in Rome, including Parco Archeologico di Ostia Antica, the Sepolcro degli Scipioni, and the exhibitions Pompei e Santorini — L’eternità in un giorno at the Scuderie del Quirinale, and the Carthago: The immortal myth at the Colosseum. The latter was of particular interest given that BSR Assistant Director for Archaeology, Dr Peter Campbell, had been involved in the recovery of some of the artefacts on display. It was great to be able to hear Peter’s experience in the field first hand. I was also able to visit relevant Fascist sites and monuments, including the former Fascist youth headquarters and the Foro Italico (formerly Foro Mussolini). I was even able to attend a football game (soccer for us Aussies) for a true Roman experience, A.S. Roma v Napoli. A.S. Roma won of course!

The Columbarium at the Sepolcro degli Scipioni_photo credit Donna Storey

The Columbarium at the Sepolcro degli Scipioni, Donna Storey

Part of the joy of living at the BSR is the camaraderie with fellow residents. I met many people who made my stay a wonderful one, including the BSR Award Holders; all amazingly smart and talented artists and scholars, working on brilliantly interesting things. It was a delight to get to know each and every one of them, and I feel incredibly richer for having done so. However, it is of course the incredible staff who make an institution like the BSR really tick, and though I cannot list them all here, I sincerely extend my deepest gratitude to each of them for making me so welcome. Although I do feel compelled to make a particular note of perhaps the most important member of staff: resident feline Fragolina, without whom life at the BSR would not be anywhere near as delightful as it is.

With fellow residents at the Sepolcro degli Scipioni_photo credit Donna Storey

With fellow residents at the Sepolcro degli Scipioni, Donna Storey

My time at the BSR and the opportunity to undertake research in Rome was absolutely invaluable, and the generosity of Thérèse and Ron in making this possible will make such a difference for postgraduate research at The University of Melbourne, not only for myself, but also for future recipients, and indeed to the Melbourne Classics and Archaeology program. It was wonderful for BSR Director Stephen Milner to welcome them with a special dinner on Sunday 3 November, and I would like to extend my heartfelt thanks to them both for their very humbling generosity.

Donna Storey, PhD Candidate
The School of Historical and Philosophical Studies
The University of Melbourne

The Thérèse and Ronald Ridley Scholarship is supported by the generous contribution of Emeritus Professor Ronald Ridley and Mrs Thérèse Ridley. Professor Ridley began his career in 1962 in the (then) History Department at the University of Melbourne as a researcher, teacher and supervisor, before joining the faculty as a Lecturer in 1965. Following the awarding of a DLitt in 1992, Professor Ridley was appointed as a Personal Chair in ancient history in June 1997, becoming Professor Emeritus following his retirement in 2005. He is a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries (London, est. 1707), the Royal Historical Society (London), the Pontifical Academy of Roman Archaeology (Rome) and the Australian Academy of the Humanities.

Thérèse and Ron Ridley

Thérèse and Ronald Ridley

Cardinal Alessandro Albani: collecting, dealing and diplomacy in Grand Tour Europe

On December 11th-13th, 2019 The British School at Rome and the Centro di Studi sulla Cultura e l’Immagine di Roma are presenting an international conference entitled Cardinal Alessandro Albani: collecting, dealing and diplomacy in Grand Tour Europe. The opening evening and first day will be at the BSR with the second and final day hosted by our partners the Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale di Roma, where the Centro Studi Roma has its base.

This conference had its origins in conversations between myself – formerly assistant director at BSR, now Research Fellow – and Dr Jonny Yarker, former Paul Mellon Rome Fellow and now a prominent London-based dealer in the art market. We had worked together on the 2010 book published by Yale University Press Digging and Dealing in Eighteenth Century Rome which dealt with the excavation and trade in antiquities and Cardinal Albani (1692-1779) was at the heart of that world. The conclusion of our discussion was that it was time to focus on the figure who is mentioned everywhere in contemporary correspondence and by modern scholars but who has remained somewhat in the shadow, both of his librarian Johann Joachim Winckelmann and of his magnificent collections of antiquities. We approached the Centro Studi Roma through its director Mario Bevilacqua – architectural historian and Piranesi specialist – and the conference collaboration was born. Thanks to a generous grant from the Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art, whose Deputy Director Martin Postle is our special guest at the conference, we have been able to proceed with our planning.


Alessandro Albani as a young man, on his elevation to the rank of Cardinal (1721)

The Keynote lectures on Wednesday 11 December at the BSR at 6 pm will be given by noted senior scholars of classical sculpture and ancient Rome Carlo Gasparri and Salvatore Settis. They are curators of the spring 2020 exhibition at the Capitoline Museums showing antique sculpture from the famed collections of the Torlonia family in Rome who own both the Villa Albani-Torlonia and the antiquities collected there.

The conference will feature groups of papers on different themes relating to Albani’s life and career including his private life, his association with scholars and artists – particularly Winckelmann and Giovanni Battista Piranesi, his diplomatic and political associations, his dealing and networking in the European art market and of course his antiquities collections – both the two he sold and his third collection which remains largely intact. His commission to the architect Carlo Marchionni for the new villa outside the northern walls of Rome to house his collection and as a location to host parties for foreign dignitaries is also examined.

His particular connection with the British – both as Grand Tourists in Rome and politically as allies of the papacy – is a focus of this conference, notably the sale of his vast drawings collection including the Cassiano del Pozzo ‘Paper Museum’ to the English King George III through the dealing efforts of the architect brothers Robert and James Adam; we are delighted to have the partnership of the Royal Collection Trust through its Director Tim Knox; the Cassiano del Pozzo project director Rea Alexandratos, who works at the Royal Collection at Windsor Castle where the Albani drawings are kept, is one of our speakers.


Giovanni Battista Piranesi, View of Villa Albani (1769)

Our third partner is the Fondazione Torlonia and we are grateful to them for engaging with us in the planning of a private visit for the speakers to the Villa Albani-Torlonia. The timing of the conference is serendipitous, coming only a few months before the long-awaited exhibition of the Torlonia collection at the Musei Capitolini – a collection where many Albani objects have been kept. No doubt this gathering of researchers including both established and younger scholars from a variety of disciplines and international backgrounds will provide a valuable focus for discussion of the future directions for study and research on this most important figure of the Roman 18th century.

During the first full day Thursday 12 December at the BSR there will also be a presentation by Adriano Aymonino from the University of Buckingham & Colin Thom from the Bartlett School of Architecture, University College London, introducing the Adam letters digital publication project they are launching. A display of Albani-related rare books and early photographs of Villa Albani from the BSR collections will be held in the Seminar Room, prepared with the kind assistance of Valerie Scott, BSR Librarian and Alessandra Giovenco, BSR Archivist. They will be shown alongside the volumes of The Paper Museum of Cassiano del Pozzo: A Catalogue Raisonné , recently published by the Royal Collection Trust, a series that is nearly complete with a total of 20 volumes across three series.

The conference is open to all without charge; registration is welcome though not obligatory and a volume of essays based on the conference papers is planned.

Dr Clare Hornsby is a Research Fellow at the BSR.

Conference coordination
Mario Bevilacqua, Direttore, Centro di Studi sulla Cultura e Immagine di Roma
Clare Hornsby, Research Fellow, British School at Rome

Honorary Committee
Elisa Debenedetti, Andrea De Pasquale, Marcello Fagiolo, Carlo Gasparri, Barbara Jatta,
Tim Knox, Maria Vittoria Marini Clarelli, Stephen Milner, Martin Postle.

Scientific Committee
Mario Bevilacqua, Amanda Claridge, Clare Hornsby, Ian Jenkins, Harriet O’Neill,
Susanna Pasquali, Jonny Yarker

Conference schedule

Wednesday 11 December at the BSR at 18.00

Carlo Gasparri – La collezione di sculture antiche in Villa Albani a Roma: una storia ancora da scrivere
Salvatore Settis – Lo specchio dei principi: fra Villa Albani e il Museo Torlonia

Thursday 12 December at the BSR at 9.30

Angela Cipriani Il cardinale Alessandro Albani nei manoscritti del Diario di Roma nella Biblioteca Casanatense (1762-1773)
Heather Hyde MinorWinckelmann and Albani: text and pretext
Ginevra OdoneRivalità e gelosie tra antiquari. Il Conte di Caylus, il cardinale Alessandro Albani e i loro intermediari
Brigitte Kuhn-ForteAlessandro Albani e Winckelmann
Maëlig ChauvinIl cardinale Alessandro Albani e i regali diplomatici : l’arte al servizio della politica
Susanne Mueller-Bechtel Il principe ereditario di Sassonia Federico Cristiano, Alessandro Albani e le arti
Matteo BorchiaI vantaggi della diplomazia: Alessandro Albani protettore di artisti tra Roma e l’Europa
Lisa BeavenFashioning a new classical aesthetic: Camillo Massimo, Alessandro Albani and the palace at the Quattro Fontane
Francesca FavaroIl privilegio di copiare: apprendere l’architettura nella biblioteca di Alessandro Albani. Le copie prodotte da B.A. Vittone (1704-1770)
Rea AlexandratosAlbani drawings and prints in the British Royal Collection: George III’s purchase of 1762
Robin SimonThe significance of Alessandro Albani’s patronage of Richard Wilson 
Steffi Roettgen“Noi non siamo venuti che per vedere il Parnasso di Mengs” – note sul complesso rapporto del pittore sassone al cardinal Albani.

Friday 13 December at BNC at 9.30

Andrea De Pasquale Introduzione
Alviera BussottiAlessandro Albani mecenate delle lettere
Brunella PaoliniAlessandro Albani nell’archivio di famiglia di Villa Imperiale a Pesaro
Antonio BecchiBibliotheca Albana Romana: documenti inediti e prospettive di ricerca
Susanna PasqualiPhases of construction at Villa Albani: what we know so far
Patricia Baker and Giacomo Savani‘Contriv’d according to the strictest Rules of Art’: The Reception of Roman Baths and Gardens at Villa Albani 
Elisa DebenedettiVilla Albani nei Taccuini di Carlo Marchionni
Alessandro SpilaCarlo Marchionni a villa Albani: una possibile evoluzione progettuale
Eloisa DoderoDa Palazzo Albani alle Quattro Fontane al Museo Capitolino: la nuova vita della collezione del cardinale Alessandro 
Caroline BarronThe Epigraphic Collection of Cardinal Alessandro Albani
Elizabeth BartmanAlessandro Albani as restorer
Christoph FrankDrawing the Albani Collection: Giovanni Battista Piranesi and some of his Contemporaries



Ancient and modern in the eternal city

Soon after returning from Rome, I logged into Facebook to find a question posed by a friend. She appealed to classicists, asking whether, when they visit Rome or Athens, they navigate using modern landmarks or ancient monuments/topography. Like others who commented on the post, this is a binary choice I find difficult to make, because in Rome the ancient and the modern are so frequently enmeshed.

The relationship between the ancient and the modern is something that all visitors to Rome confront. The many layers of the city’s past are particularly visible at certain sites in the city. At San Clemente, a twelfth-century basilica (still in use today) is built over the remains of a fourth-century church, a second-century Mithraeum (sanctuary of the god Mithras), and houses destroyed in the Neronian fire of AD 64. Piazza Augusto Imperatore today plays host to Augustus’ mausoleum, the Augustan-era Altar of Peace (moved to the square in 1938 and now housed in a glass structure built in 2006), Fascist-era buildings, and a daily-changing outdoor art installation.

The presence of the ancient alongside the modern, and an engagement with the relationship between past and present, is not a contemporary phenomenon; it has been a feature of the city since antiquity.[1] The ancient cityscape was littered with monuments from earlier periods, and writers reflected on the changes or continuities. Vitruvius describes the ancient (albeit heavily restored) hut of Romulus on the Palatine that ‘can recall to our minds and make clear the customs of antiquity’ (On Architecture II.1.5). Juvenal’s Umbricius laments the transformation of the Porta Capena (Satire 3). Perhaps most famously, the Pantheon, though rebuilt by Hadrian in the second century, carries a version of the original building inscription commemorating Agrippa’s erection of the monument a century and a half earlier.

Having time to appreciate the different phases of Rome’s history through long weekends of wandering or conversations over dinner, rather than having to dash from archive to archive on a compressed research trip, is one of the luxuries of a long-term residency at the BSR. The opportunity to consider the modern city against the ancient is especially exciting for me, since the themes of my research (multilingualism, identity, citizenship, migration) frequently invite reflection across the ancient and modern worlds. I have been thinking explicitly about how modern cities can be used to inform our understanding of ancient Rome, and vice versa. In the remainder of this blog, I therefore want to look at three sites of ‘modern’ Rome that each give a snapshot of ways that past and present (or more accurately different pasts and different presents) relate to one another.


Foro Italico

The first site is the Fascist-era sports complex known as the Foro Italico, north of the Milvian Bridge. The complex’s decorative scheme is an expression of Romanità, a movement in post-Risorgimento and Fascist Italy that sought to revive the ideal of ancient ‘Romanness’. The site makes use of ancient Roman visual language. Larger-than-life heroic statues offered by the different provinces of Italy tower over the marble stadium. The main processional way is covered with black and white mosaics in which, disconcertingly, passably classical images of wrestlers and toga-wearing statesmen are interrupted by bobble-hatted skiers, loaded tanks and acclamations to ‘Duce’.


Though the focus of my work is on textual rather than visual sources, seeing such active (mis)appropriation of ancient Romanness was especially interesting to me, given my research into changing conceptions of Romanness across time, and the gap between ancient and modern understandings or assignments of ‘Roman’ as a category. The term Romanità is itself an anachronism: though meant to mirror the Latin Romanitas, this term was not used before the third century AD, in the writings of the Christian author Tertullian.

The lack of in-situ commentary or explanation of the site’s use of ancient visual languages to promote one of the darker chapters of Rome’s history is surprising, all the more so given the site’s continued prominence in the city’s present. The complex is the home ground of AS Roma and Lazio, and hosts the Italian Open tennis and Six Nations rugby matches; it is therefore a site that welcomes visitors from across the world. It is a place where the encounter between ancient and modern shouldn’t go unremarked.

Jewish Quarter

A different perspective on the relationship between ancient and modern is offered in the Jewish quarter, just south of Piazza Venezia and Largo Argentina. The Jews formed a particularly interesting group in the ancient city, being more visible in the inscriptional and archaeological record than other ethnic groups.[2] They marked themselves out by the use of distinctive iconography and by their patterns of language use. In contrast to the inscriptions of the city as a whole, where Latin dominates, the majority of surviving Jewish inscriptions are in Greek, with some also in Hebrew. Language continued to be an important facet of Jewish identity into later periods. An inscribed bilingual Italian-Hebrew box for donations to orphans is still visible on the Via del Portico d’Ottavia. Modern restaurant signs and blackboards also frequently display Hebrew. As I discovered in the poignant Jewish museum, a unique Judaeo-Roman dialect of Italian survives in the streets around the synagogue today.

In other ways, however, the history of the Jews at Rome is not one of continuity. The papacy forced Jews to live in the ghetto between 1555 and 1870 (except for one short period under the Roman Republic of 1798–9). No such enforced ghettoization existed in the ancient city. Though there is literary evidence of the emperor Claudius expelling Jews from Rome (Suet. Claud. 25.4), authorities generally took a relaxed attitude towards migrant groups in the city and did not force Jews or other groups into particular areas. These differences highlight the changing role and attitudes of the state, and its consequences for the place of different ethnic groups in the city.


The ‘English’ cemetery

The place of foreign and migrant groups in the city is also a theme of the final site I want to highlight, the Cimitero Acattolico. (In English, the site is often known as the ‘Protestant cemetery’ or the ‘English cemetery’, and is most famous as the resting place of Keats and Shelley). Despite these anglophone labels, non-Catholics from all over the world, of many different faiths, are buried here.

This site marks a break with the ancient city: in antiquity, there were no burial sites specifically reserved for foreigners. Indeed, foreigners are often surprisingly difficult to trace in the ancient evidence.[3] The presence (or, more often, absence) of different languages is one illustration of this. In the Cimitero Acattolico, there are many different languages on display (English, German, Russian, Farsi, Arabic, Ancient Greek, Latin; sometimes, but not always, accompanied by Italian). In Rome’s ancient inscriptions, comparable multilingualism is relatively rare, though it is worth noting that even in the modern cityscape the multilingualism of the cemetery is itself exceptional.

But foreigners of diverse origins were present in ancient Rome. Writing in the first century AD, Seneca described how ‘more than half’ of Rome’s population came from elsewhere (modern estimates suggest that around 20% of the ancient city were immigrants).[4] Though never concentrated as they are in the modern cemetery, and rarely as explicitly marked out, glimpses of this immigrant population do appear, for example in the Palmyrene texts assembled in the first room of the Capitoline’s Galleria Lapidaria.

The modern cemetery draws attention to the place of foreigners at Rome across time, and the ways they are made both visible and invisible to us. Like the other snapshots I have offered here, it shows how considering the ancient and modern together can enrich our understanding of the eternal city, its changing identities and populations. To answer my friend’s question with a paraphrase: when in Rome, do as the Romans, both ancient and modern.

[1] On the presence of the past in ancient Rome, see Edwards, C. (1996), Writing Rome: Textual approaches to the city, especially Chapter 1, ‘The city of memories’.

[2] On Jews as an exception to other foreign groups, see Tacoma, L. E. (2013), ‘Migrant Quarters at Rome?’, p.127–145 in de Kleijn and Benoist (eds.) Integration in Rome and the Roman world. On Jews in ancient Rome, see also Rutgers (1995), The Jews of late ancient Rome; Leon, H. J. (1995), The Jews of ancient Rome.

[3] On foreigners at Rome, see especially Noy, D. (2000), Foreigners at Rome: citizens and strangers; Tacoma, L. E. (2016), Moving Romans: migration to Rome in the principate.

[4] On migration to ancient Rome and Italy, see especially Isayev, E. (2017), Migration, mobility and place in ancient Italy; Tacoma, L. E. (2016), Moving Romans: migration to Rome in the principate.

Dr Olivia Elder (CRASSH–BSR Research Fellow, Jan–June ’19)

Being Human Festival 2019: Discoveries and Secrets

A photo essay by Assistant Directors Martina Caruso and Harriet O’Neill on the Open Academy | Open Valley walk held here in the Valle Giulia to kick off the international season of this year’s Being Human Festival.

On 11 October 2019 the British School at Rome responded to the Being Human theme ‘Discoveries and Secrets’ with a walk through the national academies which characterise the Valle Giulia. Each Academy presented a secret object which walkers then discussed together, their conversations punctuated by Andrea Ventura, Kinga Ara and Harriet O’Neill’s enlightening interventions. The walk was introduced by Sarah Churchwell, (Being Human Festival Director and Chair of Public Understanding of the Humanities at SAS, University of London) and we set off at 15.30 from the BSR heading over to the Fontane delle Tartarughe opposite the National Art Gallery.

For our first stop, our group of circa 50 walkers looks over onto the Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Moderna which was built for the 1911 International Exhibition where Andrea Ventura from AMUSE (Associazione Amici del Municipio Secondo) plays La fontana di Valle Giulia all’Alba from Ottorino Respighi’s Fountains of Rome.


At the Academia Belgica Charles Bossu introduces us to their library designed in the 1930s by Gino Cipriani and Jean Hendrickx.IMG_6652

Asker Pelgrom from the Royal Dutch Institute KNIR making us laugh over correspondence he found in the archives from the 1930s describing the raucous behaviour of Dutch award-holders and their consequent banning from the BSR.IMG_6657

The Dutch Institute’s secret object was a beautiful statue of Rhea Silvia with her sons, Romulus and Remus by Corry Franzen-Heslenfeld, winner of the Dutch Prix de Rome in 1929. It was placed at the Royal Netherlands Institute in 1935.IMG_6659

At the Swedish Academy Fredrik Tobin illustrates the shared tools of archaeologists and looters.IMG_6666

The secret object of the Danish Academy hides behind gates, apparently impermeable to the gaze: a sculpture titled Aurora Septentrionalis in travertine marble by Danish sculptor Søren Georg Jensen which Adelaide Zocchi responded to in both a historical and personal way.IMG_6671

The leaders of the walk Harriet O’Neill, Kinga Ara and Andrea Ventura on Piazza José de San Martin where we learn about Pope Julius III’s activities in the Valle Giulia.IMG_6680

Walkers rapt by the Romanian Academy’s Director, Rudolf Dinuwith, with the Egyptian Academy in the background.IMG_6682

The Romanian Academy’s secret object was the 1930s pigeonholes recently re-used in a contemporary art experiment involving award-holders from academies across Rome writing in.IMG_6686

Moving on from the Passo dell’Arco Oscuro where we learned about bandits and the Madonna, walkers climb the steps up to our next stop…IMG_6691

On the 1930s staircase of the Austrian Historical Institute that was intended to welcome Mussolini and Hitler but was never inaugurated.IMG_6705

An unusual sunset view from the Austrian Historical Institute overlooking the Church of Sant’Eugenio.IMG_6710

Another unusual view from the Japanese Cultural Institute overlooking the Villa Giulia Museum and gardens.IMG_6712

And the secret Japanese Garden revealed from behind a sliding door made from rice paper.IMG_6719

A lantern sculpture is the hidden object set in the Japanese garden, it once offered guidance in case of a snowstorm.IMG_6720

The final stop on the steps of the BSR where dancers from the Compagnia Excursus/prod. Pindoc hint at our secret.


Have you guessed yet?


Culminating in the rose garden, Harriet O’Neill reveals the tome-like exhibition catalogue featuring three works by Alma Tadema which hung here during the 1911 international art exhibition and inspired the dance, from an idea by Theo Rawler.IMG_6743

Ricky Bonavita, the choreographer of the dance and founder of Compagnia Excursus/prod. Pindoc with Theo Rawler gives a final speech to describe the troupe’s vision and his site-specific response to the BSR’s neoclassical architecture with dance as a means of research and enquiry.IMG_6749

Photos by Martina Caruso.