An Italian at the Court of Queen Victoria: a performance by Barbara Gentili at the BSR, June 2021

As Covid restrictions were modified, the BSR was able to begin to use its Lecture Theatre again. On 15 June, a small audience gathered for An Italian at the Court of Queen Victoria performed by soprano Barbara Gentili, pianist Maurizio Carnelli and narrator Ivan Hewett.

Barbara Gentili, Maurizio Carnelli and Ivan Hewett performing at the BSR in June 2021.

At its core were a selection of the charmingly sentimental and nostalgic songs of Francesco Paolo Tosti (1846–1916), who enjoyed enormous fame as a song composer in the later 19th and early 20th centuries, especially in London where he settled in the late 1870s. The songs were woven into the story of Tosti’s life, told in words and images, beginning with his first successes as a singer, composer and singing teacher in Rome, where his talent was praised by no less a figure than Giuseppe Verdi. Tosti moved to London to escape the scandal caused by his relationship with Queen Margherita of Savoy and spent a good part of the following 38 years in England serving as the singing master to the Royal Family and organising musical entertainments for Queen Victoria.

“For ever and for ever”, caricature of Francesco Paolo Tosti by Ape in Vanity Fair, 1885.

To set Tosti’s more gentle style in relief, Barbara and Maurizio also performed songs by Tosti’s famous contemporaries Giacomo Puccini and Ruggero Leoncavallo, who valued Tosti’s contacts in London (‘a Londra, Tosti è tutto’ said Pietro Mascagni).

In the musical soirées he arranged for the Queen, Tosti assembled performers of international renown and brought to Windsor Castle the latest Italian operas, such as Mascagni’s Cavalleria Rusticana or Leoncavallo’s I Pagliacci. His genius for melodic freshness was matched by his astonishing talent at networking. Tosti operated as a ‘Mr Fixit’ for performers and composers coming to London, including Caruso, Calvé, Grieg, Mascagni, Puccini and many others. Despite his devotion to London, his knighthood, and his British citizenship, Tosti remained close to his poet and artist compatriots, as the long-lasting friendships with poet Gabriele D’Annunzio and painter Francesco Paolo Michetti demonstrate.

From left: A. Franchetti, G. d’Annunzio, G. Puccini, F. P. Tosti, F. P. Michetti, C. Barbella, G. Ricordi. Milan 1906. From the archive of the Instituto Nazionale Tostiano.

The same programme was given at the St Marylebone Festival in London on 21 July 2021.

A stroll through medieval Rome

Maria Harvey (Rome fellow, September 2020-June 2021) writes about her experience during a walking tour of Rome as part of the BSR’s Welcome Week activities.

As part of our Welcome Week events, we went on the traditional walk around Rome in late April (to allow for quarantines). It was a beautiful day, and with Rome still orange (no bars, no restaurants, no museums, no travel for leisure), the city was empty. After a tour of Renaissance and Baroque sites with Harriet O’Neill (Assistant Director for Fine Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences), BSR Director Chris Wickham took us on a stroll though medieval Rome – the catch being that however central the BSR may be now, it was not in the Middle Ages, when the city centre was in the area of the Ghetto, Trastevere and Campo de’ Fiori. To get there, we imagined to be on a pilgrimage route from the north: walking down the Borghese Gardens, through Piazza del Popolo (‘the city wall was here, the square was not’), the Pantheon (‘this existed’) and Piazza Navona (‘This has been an open space since the 1st century AD; in the Middle Ages, it was used for jousting’).

Pilgrims about to enter the city of Rome. Photo by the author.
Piazza del Popolo, which did not exist in the Middle Ages. Photo by the author.
The Pantheon. Photo by the author.
Piazza Navona, used for jousting in the Middle Ages. Photo by the author.

From Piazza Navona, Chris took us through what were the main, processional roads of medieval Rome – roads like Via del Governo Vecchio – that seems tiny now, especially when compared to both the seventeenth-century and the fascist urban renovation. Like Chris, I am a medievalist, but an art historian, and I tend to focus (incorrectly, probably) on single monuments. Chris instead wanted us to experience where people lived and walked and experienced the city on a much more popular, quotidian level. To do this, he showed us some thirteenth-century houses, with their cortili and stairs made of reused classical marble. Houses where real people actually lived (and live). He pointed out the fragmentary remains of medieval towers, and of the very, very little that survives of the Palazzo Orsini, in Campo de’ Fiori. Later, in front of Sant’Angelo in Pescaria, he told us that the area had been a fish market before – archaeologists found 8th century fish bones – and may have always been one. We crossed only on bridges that existed at the time (like the Ponte Sisto – built in the late fifteenth century on Roman foundations), to go visit Santa Maria in Trastevere, before returning to this side of the Tiber to see the Casa de’ Crescenzi.

View of Rome. Photo by the author.
All that remains of Palazzo Orsini is the few visible bricks right at the top. Photo by the author.
View of Rome. Photo by the author.

The Casa de’ Crescenzi, now caught in the middle of a traffic crossing with its neighbours, the Temple of Vesta and Santa Maria in Cosmedin, was once a tower house, in what used to be the city’s urban centre. Although we were not allowed in, the house’ facade is a stunning example of the Middle Ages’ engagement with the Roman past and another demonstration that the Classical past was not discovered in the Renaissance. The spolia has clearly been chosen and arranged to create decorative patterns and borders, not to mention that it is responding specifically to the Roman temple next door. Although most towers were defensive, the Casa de’ Crescenzi was for show, the door is simply too large for it to provide any sort of protection. In fact, Nicola de’ Cencio, the patron, not only clearly memorialised himself through the inscription, but also placed a bust of himself in the window. The grandiosity of the construction becomes even clearer if we consider it in its original 12th century urban context, characterised by the presence of the tower houses of two Roman aristocratic families, the Corsi and the Normanni. But Nicola, of the Baronci, was not noble: the Casa de’ Crescenzi becomes in this way a ‘serious micropolitical intervention’.

From there, we ambled back to the BSR, through the Ghetto; Roscioli pizza in one hand, ice cream in the other.

Researching the English and Scots Colleges in Rome, c. 1603-1707: Archive Use and the Pandemic

BSR Rome Fellow Karie Schultz (September 2020-June 2021) writes about her time spent researching in Rome. She will be giving a lecture entitled ‘Education and identity: the Scots and English Colleges in Rome, c. 1603–1707’, on Monday 17 May 2021. For more information and to register, click here.

In September 2020, I arrived at the British School at Rome with a great deal of uncertainty about starting a new research project during the pandemic. I had applied for a long-term fellowship before COVID-19 struck, hoping to research the studies, networks, and experiences of English and Scottish students who attended their national colleges in Rome during the seventeenth century. The universities in England and Scotland were Protestant in teaching at the time, and students had to subscribe a Confession of Faith to attend. This meant that Catholic students needed to travel to continental Europe for their education. In my project, I planned to examine how the ideas these students learned in Rome (and the experiences they had while living abroad) informed their responses to the crisis of the Catholic church back home. Unsurprisingly, the pandemic disrupted my project plans when COVID numbers in Italy took a turn for the worse throughout the autumn. Many of my archives closed, and those that remained open required appointments to be booked far in advance, quarantined documents regularly, and restricted the number of people allowed in each day.

A view of St Peter’s Basilica from my daily walk to the Propaganda Fide. Photo by the author.

Despite the logistical problems posed by the pandemic, I was able to complete some fascinating research, even if my project ended up looking different than I first anticipated. While I initially planned to only use the archives at the Scots and English Colleges, I quickly discovered that a wealth of material existed in other institutions throughout Rome. In March of this year, I therefore began a series of alternating archive visits to the Archivio Storico de Propaganda Fide and the Historical Archive of the Pontificia Università Gregoriana. The significant amount of previously unexamined material held in these two archives has become the foundation for my project. I have spent my time in the Propaganda Fide sifting through, transcribing, and translating ten volumes of material related to seventeenth-century English and Scottish missionaries, many of whom trained at English and Scots Colleges across Europe.

The entrance to the grounds of the Collegio Urbano where the Propaganda Fide archive is based. Photo by the author.

At the Gregorian University, I have focused on evidence of curriculum and teaching for English and Scottish students who took their courses at the Jesuit-run Collegio Romano. The archive includes lecture notes and manuscript treatises written by professors at the Roman College, in addition to philosophical theses which were defended publicly by students. Together, these sources have given me a better picture of the education and networks of students who came to Rome for their education and who sought to convert England and Scotland to Catholicism when they returned home.

The site of one of my main archives (the Historical Archive at the Pontifical Gregorian University). Photo by the author.

To my surprise, the easiest part of my archive trips has been navigating COVID restrictions and walking upwards of five miles each day to avoid public transport. Instead, my archival sources have caused me the greatest difficulty. Much of this material is uncatalogued, meaning that is always a surprise what you might find each day. While the potential for a new discovery is exciting, it also poses challenges. Often it means spending an entire day sorting through material that ends up being irrelevant to the project. Some of these sources are in poor physical condition, while others were written in a terrible and illegible hand.

One of the sources I have used includes the rules of the Scots College from 1615-1616. Photo by the author.

There is also no internet in the Propaganda Fide which makes translating multiple languages into English difficult. Finally, both archives do not allow researchers to take photographs, so I have spent most of my time simply transcribing over 30,000 words of material. As a result, I have to ensure that my transcriptions are flawless before I leave the archive since I cannot rely on photographs to help me out later! Nevertheless, I am so grateful to be able to enter an archive at all (a true novelty in pandemic times), and I am looking forward to spending the next month finishing up this project before I leave Rome. Although my experience at the BSR has certainly looked different to that of past Rome Fellows, I am fortunate to have had the opportunity to start a new research project while living in one of the most beautiful cities in the world.

My lunchtime view over the Vatican from the grounds of the Propaganda Fide archive. Photo by the author.

The Via Appia, Piranesi and Ashby. Reflections on a composite.

Ben White is an intern from the University of Nottingham working on a Midlands4Cities Doctoral Training Partnership placement at the BSR from September-December 2020.

Part of Rome’s charm lies in its seemingly endless capacity to reveal more of itself in each encounter – and those lucky enough to spend time in the city with peripatetic companions will appreciate that unexpected perspectives are really what “turns Rome on.” During the past few months, my encounters have been enriched by new perspectives, each challenging me to think differently about the city. These perspectives have arisen from placement work at the BSR funded by the Midlands4Cities DTP: assisting Clare Hornsby with the upcoming Piranesi @300 conference; working in the archives with Alessandra Giovenco on cataloguing BSR 1920s correspondence, and learning about Thomas Ashby’s influence; analysing the impact and engagement of the BSR’s events programme; and sharing walks and conversations with the wonderful and dynamic community of artists and scholars in residence.

One of the joys of the BSR is that it pushes us to think outside our usual disciplinary confines. My research focusses on the architectural and social worlds of ancient Rome and I have little academic experience with eighteenth century Rome, the historical landscape of the early twentieth century and also no familiarity with archival science or gallery curatorship. The task, then, of putting on a temporary exhibition which combined these elements was daunting. But it was also exciting. With the exhibition as a framework, this post serves as a reflection on my experiences here in Rome this winter.

A section of the Via Appia pop-up exhibition based around the tomb of Cecilia Metella, November 2020. Photo by Beth Collar.

The pop-up display focussed on the Via Appia and was shown in November 2020 in the Library. While Covid presented its challenges, it was pleasing to be able to overcome them with timed viewing slots and the now commonplace social distancing measures, including face coverings and hand sanitisers. The central aim was to demonstrate the richness of materials housed in the BSR’s library, archives and special collections, and to utilise them in promoting conversations and collaborative thinking between the community of residents. Stemming from an interest in Piranesi, there was an emphasis on the juxtaposition of material in different media – etchings, guidebooks, photography, drawings, etc. – in order to realise a composite of interpretations inspired by this iconic ancient road.

Detail of one of Piranesi’s early works, a fantastical sepulchre. From Prima Parte di Architetture e Prospettive (c. 1743). Photo by Beth Collar. 

I will tell you that these speaking ruins have filled my spirit with images that accurate drawings, even those of the immortal Palladio, could never have succeeded in evoking.”

Giovanni Battista Piranesi (1720-1778) thus underscores his relationship with the layered landscape of Rome. Piranesi’s statement poetically comments on the inadequacy of two-dimensional representation in comparison to the real thing. For him, such depictions are poor substitutes for the immediate experience of ruins, betraying all their three-dimensional complexities. More than this though. Piranesi emphasises the fundamentally creative role that ruins perform. They stimulate the imagination: it is precisely in their incompleteness that ruins invite us into a process of reconstructing the worlds they once framed.

A fantastical representation of the Via Appia, from Le Antichità Romane (1750s). Print from Ashby’s archive Photo by author.

While Piranesi’s prints were found throughout the exhibition, perhaps the most remarkable on display was this iconic representation of the Via Appia. The etching aptly demonstrates Piranesi’s approach to depicting these ‘speaking ruins’: the process of constructing a composite fantasy from the fragments of antiquity he was witness to in his contemporary surroundings. As Horace Walpole comments: “…he has imagined scenes that would startle geometry and exhaust the indies to realise. He piles palaces on bridges, and temples on palaces, and scales heaven with mountains of edifices.”[i]

The intellectual company at the BSR so often challenges you to think more critically. Following warm encouragement from Beth Collar (Augusta Scholar 2020-21), herself experienced in the art of etching and engraving, I wanted to look further into the technical processes behind the impressions. We were lucky enough to be in Rome during an exhibition at the Istituto per la Grafica, part of a series of global cultural events in celebration of the 300th anniversary of Piranesi’s birth. Attending the exhibition together, with Georgios Markou (Rome Fellow 2020-21) and Charlie Fegan (Sainsbury Scholar in Painting & Sculpture 2020-21) joining the party, we got precious time with the exquisite copper plates utilised by Piranesi’s workshop – the pictures really do not do them justice! In the process of inspection, one quickly builds a far greater appreciation of this “strange linear universe,” as Marguerite Yourcenar has described it, that Piranesi constructs, line by line.[ii]

I have always been captivated by Piranesi’s dramatic Roman fantasies, as many have been, but I did not expect my cursory reading and exposure to his work to have such resonance. To be sure, Rome was not built in a day. But there is more to it than that. Rome is not complete, nor will it ever be. The City exists in a constant state of construction and reconstruction, as much in its layered physical fabric as the correlated cognitive structures we build in our minds. Rome is the result of an immeasurable series of “Romes.” This may call up the common nomenclatures of Imperial Rome, Papal Rome, Baroque Rome, even Piranesian Rome, and this is of course part of it, but thinking as such betrays Rome’s complexity. Every encounter with the sights and sites of Rome is framed by our own contexts and each encounter then adds further layers to our experience of the city. We each have our own Rome; one engaged in a constant dialogue with those that came before, and one that exists in a processual state of composition.

Beth Collar (Augusta Scholar 2020-21) taking in the Pyramid Tomb before the Villa of the Quintilli on the Via Appia. Photo by author.

A stroll down the Via Appia today is not quite like the imaginations of Piranesi, but it pleases the senses in alternative ways. Taking the inspiration of Nick Hodgson, the BSR’s Finance Manager and avid Appia walker, Beth, Antonia Perna (Rome Scholar 2020-21) and I set out to walk a stretch of the Via Appia from Rome to Castel Gandolfo. One easily escapes the city, albeit after a quick bustle through Rome’s traffic, into a lush, linear expanse. The congested urban fabric gave way to clear blue skies, interspersed by the broad dark green canopies of Mediterranean pines. Every mile was populated with the monumental remains of tombs, each inviting us to call up the stories they tell, each fragment adding further pieces to our mental libraries.

Walking in an environment helps one to understand it – a key tactic in making space become place. This was a fundamental approach of the other key influence in the exhibition: Thomas Ashby (1874-1931). The impact of this brilliant topographer, photographer, and collector, the third director of the BSR is hard to put into words, and many have done so far better than I. For instance, Alessandra Giovenco, who has come to know Ashby deeply through her extensive work on his materials, has provided many insights into his character during our fantastic Tuesdays working together.

BSR alumni have been equally inspired by the topographer’s assiduous, nomadic approach to the study of the Roman Campagna: Nicole Muffet recounts her experience walking à la Ashby down the Via Appia with a group of BSR residents in 2017; and Janet Wade illuminates Ashby’s influences throughout her research on the Via Flaminia. To me at least, a key component of Ashby’s legacy lies in the collaborative atmosphere that continues to characterise interpersonal and intellectual life at the BSR today.

Thomas Ashby in the festive spirit, BSR Dining Room. Photo by author.

Ashby’s rigorous approach to scholarship resonates in his large and diverse collection of research materials. The BSR constitutes a lived-in archive with an abundance of untapped research portals lying dormant: cabinets, frames and shelves line the School’s shared spaces, resident’s rooms and corridors, all of which stuffed to the gills with material objects, prints, photos, documents, and more besides. Following the BSR’s revamped digital collections website, searching through these collections remotely is a real pleasure. While many have contributed to the materials over the past century, Ashby provided the core and without him this display would not have been possible. As Valerie Scott, the BSR’s stalwart librarian, voiced to me over coffee: if one desires to think like Ashby, they have everything they need and more here at the school; it is as though he is actively encouraging us to continue his work.

Use the slider to compare the images. Left: A section of Ashby’s notes. Here Ashby presents an annotated catalogue of the Piranesi prints in his collection that pertain to the Via Appia. Photo by author. Right: Etching by G. B. Piranesi, depicting fragments form the tomb opposite the Church of St. Sebastian outside the walls. Le Antichità Romane II, Tav. XLVI (1750s). Photo by Beth Collar.

During preparation of the display, I came across Ashby’s notes on the Via Appia. In them, we find evocative glimpses into how he worked. Alongside formal bibliographic notes and catalogues, Ashby scribbles and doodles on the back of any paper he had to hand. In this section of notes, he is drawing up an annotated catalogue of his Piranesi print collection – notice the sketch of the two inscriptions that correspond to Piranesi’s – each cross referenced to his Carlo Labruzzi prints (1794) and the beautifully illustrated monograph of Luigi Canina (1853). We might imagine Ashby sitting with his pencil and paper, surrounded by his Piranesi prints, the Labruzzi series, as well as a copy of Canina’s Prima Parte della Via Appia, preparing his next walking investigation and plotting his next photo of the ancient road.

The Via Appia pop-up exhibition in the BSR Library’s reading room. October 2020.
Piranesi (bottom left, representing a grand ‘ustrinum’ (1750s), referred to in Ashby’s catalogue above), a page of Canina’s Prima Parte (top right (1853), depicting the Villa of the Quintilli), and a section of Ashby’s photo album (bottom right, photos of sights around this part of the Appia). Photo by Beth Collar.

Life often throws up scenarios in which we realize just how ignorant we are. My first encounters with the cimiteri of Rome and its environs this winter have been just that, for I’d never seen such extensive architectural cemeteries. It was fascinating to see the many parallels between ancient and modern practices. Beth and Antonia humoured me as we wandered and wondered through these veritable cities of the dead. Seeing these necropolises as fully alive spaces for the dead, being interacted with by modern Romans, in turn brought the ideas of the Via Appia exhibition to life for us. In many cases, we noticed conscious acts of quotation, for example: a sarcophagus tomb at Cimitero del Verano which immediately called to my mind that of Scipio Barbatus (now in the Vatican). Another example, perhaps more curious and subtle, we encountered rather serendipitously at Cimitero Flaminio a few miles north of Rome opposite Montebello train station while waiting for our train. The modelled exterior decoration of this family mausoleum gives form to the layered conceptualisation of Rome that has been percolating throughout the many voices and experiences during the past few months. Stairs, columns, pediments, windows and other architectural elements play with each other, evoking the type of space Freud called up when thinking about Rome, a space where time is itself collapsed.

I count myself extremely lucky to have had the opportunity to experience this during such a troubling year and I have found in Piranesi, Ashby and the BSR’s 2020 cohort, exceptional companions to experience this city of layers. Rome speaks. Each of its layers tells a story: every piazza, street, building, fountain, column, brick, and stone. The voices compete, climbing in periodic crescendos and equally significant falls. They are entwined together into an organic, fluid entity: an urban composition best performed via the bipedal rhythm of our two feet and our trailing eyes.

I would like to express my gratitude to British School at Rome and the Midlands4Cities Doctoral Training Partnership for facilitating such an enriching placement experience. I would also like to thank the community at the BSR: Harriet O’Neill for her time and ever enthusiastic supervision; Alessandra Giovenco and Valerie Scott for their openness and encouragement throughout the collection of materials for the pop-up exhibition and for trusting me in the special collections; the brilliant residential cohort for their stimulating conversations and collegial support; and, finally, the wonderful BSR staff for making me feel welcome over the past few months. Grazie a tutti!

Department of Classics and Archaeology, University of Nottingham

[i] Walpole, Horace (1786) Anecdotes of Painting, 4th ed. (London), Vol. 4.398.

[ii] Yourcenar, Marguerite (1984) ‘The Dark Brain of Piranesi’ and Other Essays, trans. R. Howard (New York), p. 94. 

The Torlonia Marbles-Collecting Masterpieces

A review by Charlie Fegan, Sainsbury Scholar in Painting & Sculpture (September 2020- September 2021)

“This exhibition-event reveals to Italy and the world the mystery of the Collezione Torlonia, the last Roman princely collection of antique art and the largest to remain in private ownership, which I am delighted and proud to open in the exhibition space of the Capitoline Museums on the ground floor of the Villa Caffarelli re-opened to the public after over fifty years of closure.” Virginia Raggi – Mayor of Rome

Having never heard of this collection previously, my initial reaction was excitement. The last time these ancient art works were accessible to the “public” was in the Villa Torlonia which closed in 1976. Even then, these were only seen by a restricted list of specialists and political dignitaries. The fact that this collection has been hidden for so long (and is stated on all the show’s press information) immediately raises questions about the ethicality of private collections of important antiquities/art objects – collections that we tend to assume belong in public museums. Indeed, the Torlonia collection is a “collection of collections” amassed over centuries by the powerful Torlonia family. The first noteworthy member of the family, who came from France to Italy in the eighteenth century, was Giovanni, a rag and bone merchant who became one of Europe’s greatest financiers for the Vatican. A popular poem at the height of their power and quoted in Ignacio Silone’s Fontamara reads:

“At the head of it all is God, lord of heaven.
Then comes Prince Torlonia, lord of earth.
Then comes the armed guard of Prince Torlonia.
Then comes the hounds of the armed guard of Prince Torlonia.
Then nobody else. And still nobody else.
And still again nobody else.
Then come the farmers . . .”

So with that background, let’s now turn to the collection: upon entering, we are confronted by the gaze of multiple busts. The display is an obvious nod to the famous Hall of Emperors in the same museum. Here, instead of ornate marble, we have a slick continuation of the floor bricks. This first room successfully exhibits how Roman portraiture was something entirely new. The subtle expressions, hair and personality traits expressed in the Roman busts are a stark contrast to the idealised Greek inspired heads with their expressionless solidity.

“The exhibition design was inspired by the printed catalogue of the opening of the original Torlonia Museum in 1884 in which the works were presented on a black background. It consists of brick floors and plinths made by hand from grey clay creating a dark background from which the sculptures emerge. The plinths are conceived as architectural structures extruding seamlessly from the flooring. Each room also features a distinctive coloured background, visually dividing the exhibition into five chapters that illustrate the chronological evolution of the collection.” – David Chipperfield, The Torlonia Marbles: Collecting MasterpiecesCatalogue.

I initially liked the exhibition design, it felt like a simple and rational mode of display. There is very little information in the actual show or leaflet, but from the catalogue I gleaned that the bricks are a “link to ancient Roman architecture, more specifically to the Ancient Temple of Jupiter Optimus Maximus: the largest monument of the Capitoline Hill with foundations that are tectonically and traditionally in blocks of cappellaccio.” This display has more in common with the utilitarianism of Roman architecture than with the ornate rooms upstairs. After a while, however, it began to feel like swimming pool changing rooms, especially given the dazzling bleached look of all the marbles. It also brought to mind the volcanic tiles of Forma Fantasma who did the exhibition design for the recent Caravaggio/Bernini show at the Rijksmuseum. The Torlonia show’s “handmade” bricks lack their tonal variation and surface sensitivity.

Greek athletes drying off after an overly chlorinated dip, their eyes stinging:

Having had all dust and discolouration banished by the jewellers Bvlgari, the works are extremely clean. In some cases, the restorers have exposed the joints and fills from previous “restorations” (most of which occurred during the renaissance). This makes the additions immediately noticeable in a successful and edifying way. A downside to these recent restorations is that they are SO clean that it is hard to believe that they are as old as we are told they are. They have the feeling more of plaster casts. Personally, i find that a lot of the emotive power of classical statuary is generated less by their forms and more the sense of them being vessels and witnesses to an incommensurable length of time and history. In this environment, which still smells of pleasant fresh paint, that wasn’t an experience I had.

Many of the restorations and additions are so old that they have become antiques of note in themselves. This is especially evident in the Statue of Goat (Caprone) whose first-century AD body is overshadowed by its head attributed to Bernini. When restorations make the object “whole”, it usually gains physical mass through additions that interpret what the rest would have potentially looked like. What is lost in this process is the aura of the object’s battle for survival through its vast stretch of existence. The restored nose erases the tape, the finger smashed off as the barbarians stormed the extravagant villa is returned to serenity. The chips and breaks are an important testament to the object as a witness of history and time passing. I find it hard to imagine these objects with a speck of dust on them let alone lying in the dirt for centuries. The exhibition’s conscious reference to the 1884 catalogue was more successful than they perhaps intended. Moving through this show one does get the sense of a catalogue, the objects flattened and all imperfect depth removed. The rooms are fairly small, the objects cramped, one cannot quite get more than a straight on view, similar to a printed image on a page.

A welcome break from this is the Bas Relief with a view of the Portus Augusti. It is a strange relief which oscillates between scales and imagery like a Dada collage. The polychromatic residue still visible on the lighthouse’s flame gives a small but powerful sense of how vivid classical statuary would have originally been. Two works which also really stand out are the Statuette restored as Apollo with the Skin of Marsyas (first century AD, left) and Ancient statuette torso restored as the flayed Marsyas (first-second century AD, right) with additions from the late sixteenth century. The gruesome duo tell the Greek myth of Apollo and Marsyas, the humble shepherd who, emboldened by drink, dared to boastfully challenge the god Apollo at a musical contest. His punishment was having his skin removed whilst alive and hung from a pine tree. This alien sculpture has the characteristics of a science fiction baddie. His head is so shining white and the obvious join in his cracked neck made me initially think this was a twenty-first-century interpretation or “restoration”. In the BSR Library, I found Thomas Ashby’s sixteenth-century book of engravings of the Gustiniani Collection (to which this statue belonged before joining the Torlonia family’s collection). I was surprised to see the additional limbs and head were present in the sixteenth century. As you can see from the diagram only the torso is antique.

In Ovid’s Metamorphoses, Marsyas cries out: “Why do you tear me from myself?” This statuette brings to mind the flayed skin carrying a self-portrait face of Michelangelo held by Saint Bartholomew in the Sistine Chapel’s The Last Judgment. This also deals with similar interpretations about the separation and liberation of the spirit from the body, death and rebirth. The story of Marsyas was seen as a warning against the inevitable disaster when one wields arrogant presumption towards higher powers. Walking past more busts of powerful Romans, I thought about how unlikely it was, with their arrogant stares and death-defying sarcophagi, that they would have imagined that their dominance could come crashing down around their ears, that their way of life could possibly stop. With the lazy boastfulness of Marsyas, we in our own contemporary situation arrogantly proclaim dominance over nature, never truly believing that there might be consequences.

The Torlonia Marbles show is going to go on a Coronavirus-delayed world tour (the Louvre is next). It will be interesting to see whether this was a triumphal display to increase a possible later sale and whether any public institutions will be able to afford them.

Raffaello: a review

Piers Baker-Bates (Rome Scholar 2002-03) reviews Raffaello (Scuderie del Quirinale, 5 March – 30 August) after seeing the exhibition with Peter Fane-Saunders (Rome Fellow 2010-11) and Philippa Jackson (Balsdon Fellow 2017-18).

Entrance to the exhibition. Photo by Harriet O’Neill.

This year of Raphael celebrations has been rather overshadowed by the ongoing pandemic, perhaps however bringing vividly to life the spectre of early mortality that claimed Raphael at the early age of thirty-seven, 500 years ago this past April.  When everything locked down in March the Scuderie del Quirinale had just opened its major exhibition marking the event.  Thankfully as things gradually re-opened the Scuderie were able to extend the run until the end of August, allowing many of us an opportunity that we thought we had missed forever. 

In a sign of the exhibition’s popularity, for the last three days the Scuderie remained open 24/7 and even then, every slot was booked. Thankfully the three of us, ex BSR alumni all, albeit of different vintage, had made our bookings long beforehand and the visit was more than worth both the wait and the attendant hassle. For serious scholars the actual experience of the exhibition was a necessary trial. Marshalled into groups of ten and firmly allotted exactly five minutes in each of the fourteen spaces, there was regrettably no dawdling, and even with two visits in one day one hardly saw everything one wanted. Vice-versa, this did allow close looking at drawings such as is not normally possible in blockbuster exhibitions. Nonetheless, the impression that the visitor was left with was of a visually stunning and intellectually coherent exhibition that, unusually, showed the whole of Raphael’s varied genius to best advantage.

Many recent Raphael shows since the millennium have concentrated on his activities as a painter to the exclusion of all else, but the Scuderie show revealed his protean genius to its fullest extent across multiple media, the organisers having obtained an extraordinary and comprehensive range of loans worldwide.  The major talking point of the exhibition beforehand, however, had been that everything was displayed in reverse so that the narrative began with Raphael’s death and ended with his early years in Urbino. As became clear, this reflected the strengths of the loans. The very first piece in the exhibition proper, an exact replica of Raphael’s tomb, was the work of Factum Arte in Madrid and again reflected what their extraordinary recreations can add to a visitor’s experience, although the exhibition actually began with another unusual inclusion: a couple of nineteenth-century paintings of Raphael’s death, that threw new light on his fortuna critica.  The second space focused on the Letter to Leo X of around 1519, another remarkable loan as it was only acquired by the Italian state in 2016, as the centrepiece of a display based around Raphael’s grand urban projects. 

The Letter to Leo X. Photo by Harriet O’Neill.

This section truly revealed both his increasingly vaunting professional ambition and the range of his talents; Raphael’s remarkably ‘modern’ attitude to the preservation of ancient monuments seemed particularly relevant to the work of the BSR. The third space was a good example of how the exhibition was able to make unexpected connections in terms of Raphael’s creative processes. The organisers had been unable to borrow the actual statue of Jonah from the Chigi Chapel in Santa Maria del Popolo but there was a striking image of the statue to accompany the associated drawings by Raphael and his workshop, and also related classical sculpture. 

Jonah. Photo by Harriet O’Neill.

This was but one part of a much broader display that brought Raphael’s constant engagement with the antiquity that lay all around him in Rome vividly to life.  The next section displayed the late paintings but, to my mind at least, rather showed how thin his genius had become stretched by his death, with paintings such as the Visitation from the Prado.  It did, however again, illustrate, the sheer quality of the loans, containing as it did the Vatican cartoon for Giulio Romano’s, Stoning of Saint Stephen, displayed to best advantage.  After this, the viewer was able to see one of the Sistine tapestries, another unusual loan from the Vatican, for which Factum Arte had been able to re-create the relevant cartoon that could not travel from the V & A.  

Tapestries. Photo by Harriet O’Neill.

On the second floor of the exhibition, Raphael was showcased as an architect; the ability of the exhibition to use new media to best advantage was again demonstrated in a detailed film of the Villa Madama, a site normally inaccessible, which here was accompanied by original drawings for the project.  After that, the exhibition rather tailed off.  There were also some curious attributions, but that may just have been a result of viewer overload following the unavoidably militaristic route march through the earlier rooms. Certainly, the years before Raphael’s arrival in Rome in 1508 were much less well represented in terms of material; though it was a clever touch to end with the self-portrait from the Louvre.  One particular pity, however, after such an excellent exhibition was that the catalogue did not match the high expectations that had been raised; of considerable size, it nonetheless has little new to say.  Even so, this author took away with him a new and renewed appreciation of Raphael—a remarkable achievement on the part of the organisers for an artist whom we all think that we know so well—and a fine foretaste of the Raphael exhibition that is now scheduled for the National Gallery, London, in 2022.

Piers Baker-Bates (Rome Scholar 2002-03).

Digital Epigraphy at the British School at Rome

Thea Sommerschield, our Ralegh Radford Rome Awardee, speaks about her research during her time at the BSR in January – March 2020.

I was once told that, when at the British School in Rome, I should try every day to have at least two serendipitous encounters before breakfast.

I am grateful to the Professor who gave me this whimsical advice back in January, for as the months of my Award flew by, I found myself taking his advice almost to the letter. I say ‘almost’, not exclusively, because making it to hall in time for breakfast could sometimes be a challenge. More seriously in fact, by late February the steady flow of visiting scholars had dried up as worldwide events unfolded and Italy responded to the COVID-19 pandemic. By mid-March, the School had shut its newly varnished doors. Social distancing measures were put into place and we too at the BSR watched in shock as Italy descended into total lockdown.

It seemed increasingly likely that the serendipitous encounters the Professor had encouraged me to seek out were but a distant memory.

This, of course, was not true. Sadly, the toll the pandemic had on my country, Italy, was very real. Today, the lockdown measures are being eased step by step, and hope for a new beginning strengthens day by day. But during those months at the BSR, and perhaps most intensely over the course of those final weeks with my fellow award holders, I met people who inspired, supported and encouraged me, both personally and academically, through some of the most momentous events of my higher education. To these people I am forever grateful.

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BSR cohort, Spring 2020, depicted invading the American Academy in Rome. Photograph by Thea Sommerschield.

Between January and mid-March, I submitted my doctoral thesis in Ancient History at the University of Oxford, and I embarked on a new chapter of my academic career with a new research project using Machine Learning models to study the epigraphic cultures of the ancient Mediterranean.

My doctoral thesis investigated how migrant and indigenous communities settled in western Sicily adopted and adapted their socio-cultural identities between the late Archaic and Classical period in response to local contexts and historical circumstances. I examined whether the written and material cultures of key sites could be used as evidence of groups and individuals expressing and negotiating these identities in order to assert social requisites and priorities, going beyond common ethnic labelling approaches to the agents and processes in this region.

Throughout my doctorate I undertook extended fieldwork in Sicily, especially to collect and study the epigraphic and material evidence I would use as case studies. On the island of Mozia I examined the tophet markers, stone votives dedicated to the god Baal Hamon alongside urns containing the cremated remains of infants and small animals. At Selinunte I studied curse tablets, lead lamellae inscribed with a curse often directed against the victim’s tongue. I also visited the necropoleis of Palermo, Monte Castellazzo, Solunto and Montelepre. The resources of the BSR, its excellent library and its support in accessing the libraries of other institutes and universities in Rome were of crucial value to my research. My thesis went on to show that distinct social groups are visible in the ways the written and material cultures of western Sicily were consciously and strategically constructed, and that certain patterns of practice worked as a medium for — and a forum of — the expression, display and negotiation of socio-cultural identities.

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The tophet of Mozia. Photograph by Thea Sommerschield

In parallel with my doctorate, I co-directed a research project applying machine learning techniques to the discipline of Epigraphy — the study of ancient inscribed texts. Inscriptions are often damaged over the centuries, and missing parts of the text must be restored by specialists. This is a complex and time-consuming task, albeit a rewarding one: restoring a text means getting one step closer to understanding the historical context which produced it. We developed the first ancient text restoration model which recovers missing characters from a damaged text input using deep neural networks. We named the model Pythia, after the woman who delivered the god Apollo’s oracular responses at the Greek sanctuary of Delphi. Bringing together the disciplines of ancient history and deep learning, Pythia offers a fully automated aid to the text restoration task, providing ancient historians with multiple textual restorations, as well as the confidence level for each hypothesis.

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Pythia’s architecture. Image previously published in ACL Anthology.

Pythia was trained on ancient Greek inscriptions (texts written in the Greek alphabet dating between the seventh century BCE and the fifth century CE). At the BSR, I began the expansion of this project to Latin inscriptions. The first step in this pipeline is gathering, sampling and preparing the data the model will be trained on. A key part of this process was therefore rendering the data machine readable and machine actionable by pre-processing it in Python, which began in the BSR library against an impressive green and red backdrop of Loebs. Cleaning a dataset and open-sourcing it represents a valuable contribution to the current digitisation and standardisation efforts for ancient textual corpora. In these initial stages of my research I continuously updated my knowledge of the relevant background literature in both Machine Learning and Epigraphy, and met with professors of Digital Humanities and Ancient History in Rome.

It was during this period that I refined the scope, aims and impact of my postdoctoral research proposal. I intend to explore and interpret the nature, distribution and significance of discernible patterns of practice in Greek and Latin epigraphic cultures using recent advances in the field of Machine Learning. Using computational methods to track textual connections and epigraphic parallels on an unprecedentedly large scale, this project would enable the first big data analysis of Greek and Roman epigraphic habits, thereby enriching the study of the written cultures of the ancient Mediterranean and making a transformational contribution to the study of Ancient History. Once again, the library of the BSR was fundamental for undertaking the background research concerning this ambitious project’s implementation, as were the discussions with visiting scholars and guest lecturers, fellows award holders, Roman academics and the BSR staff. I am currently applying for postdoctoral positions with this project.

To conclude, even at the height of the pandemic, the BSR offered me a conducive environment for undertaking some of the most important steps and transitions in my academic career, providing me with the resources to aid my research, and fostering an environment where at least two serendipitous encounters with inspiring people before breakfast were a welcome inevitability. These people are now my friends and colleagues, with whom I’ve shared much more than a Roman lockdown.

Thea Sommerschield (Ralegh Radford Rome Awardee, 2019–20)

‘Bad Luck’ and ‘Irresistible Force’: Framing Violence against Women (1919–30)

How should a good wife behave? Which are the boundaries between the acceptable and the unacceptable? Does her past affect her present? Violence against women is a longstanding phenomenon. Sara Delmedico (Rome Awardee 2019–20) provides an insight into the research on violence against women she has undertaken at the BSR.

In the Fifth Canto of Inferno, Dante imagines himself meeting the Lustful in his journey through Hell. One of them, Francesca of Rimini, approaches Dante with these words:

‘O animal grazïoso e benigno
che visitando vai per l’aere perso
noi che tignemmo il mondo di sanguigno’

(O living creature gracious and benignant,
⁠Go a  pilgrimage through the purple air,
Visiting us who stained the world with blood)

Dante, Inferno, V, 88–90

Francesca of Rimini stained the world with her own blood: she had been murdered by her husband because of an extramarital relationship with her brother-in-law. Many centuries later, Giselda Zanolo suffered a similar fate. She has been murdered by her husband Vittorio Consalvi in their house in Cusano Milanino, a village near Milan, in August 1923. It was considered a crime of jealousy, caused by an affair that Giselda allegedly had with Ugo Consalvi, Vittorio’s brother.

Uxoricide was widely studied by scholars of the time. Scientists and jurists such as Scipio Sighele, Cesare Lombroso and Augusto Guido Bianchi defined it as a crime or a pseudo-crime of love, thus implying that violence, and murder as well, could be considered a component of love itself. In a series of works from the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, they analysed cases of men who killed their wives or lovers. Particular attention was given to the behaviour of victims, who were considered to have somehow been the cause of their own death, suggesting that often ‘it was genuinely difficult to distinguish the victims from the real culprits’. The cultural industry, too, contributed to delivering this idea, for example, by using a touch of irony for those crimes which were considered minor (see image of Il Popolo D’Italia, 24 January 1920) or by minimising and significantly suspending the culpability of the attacker.


An extract from Il Popolo d’Italia, 24 January 1920, Photograph: Sara Delmedico

The Consalvi case is an interesting example for understanding how gendered stereotypes defined the boundaries of what was disreputable and what was not, and how socially unacceptable behaviour affected a woman’s reputation, and conditioned the outcome of a case to the extent that the murdered wife could be considered a culprit rather than a victim.

Giselda and Vittorio met in Trieste where he was stationed with his battalion in the period immediately after the war. The two got engaged, married, and went to live in Cusano Milanino, together with Giselda’s mother and Vittorio’s brother Ugo.

Articles dealing with the case and published in the newspapers Il Popolo d’Italia, La Stampa and Corriere della Sera gave a fictionalised description of both the murder and the trial. Corriere della Sera, for example, describes Vittorio Consalvi as a ‘painful figure of a man, still very young, but already bent and destroyed by misfortune’; and Giselda’s homicide was triggered by ‘the tremendous nightmare of his young and beautiful wife betraying him with his brother, and in a red-hot August afternoon, in Cusano Milanino, in a field near their quiet little villa, he shot her two, three, four times’. Then, ‘the woman fell dead, her face disfigured by the blows: the uxoricide, still shuddering with hatred, trampled that lifeless body: then he bent over to kiss her hair sprinkled with dust […] and ran away, mad of horror and remorse’ (Corriere della Sera).


An extract from Il Popolo d’Italia, 17 January 1920, Photograph: Sara Delmedico

The parade of the witnesses brought in by Vittorio’s lawyers described him as ‘a romantic, sentimental and reserved man, an excellent person from every point of view’ (La Stampa), and was clearly aimed at ruining Giselda’s reputation. After the testimonies, the General Attorney gave his address, stating that Giselda ‘perhaps liked being courted’ (Il Popolo d’Italia) and, although Vittorio did not see Giselda betraying him with his brother, it was evident that she did it. But, in fact, there was no evidence at all. Therefore, the General Attorney concluded that Vittorio ‘saw what he wanted to see’, and prayed that ‘peace and forgiveness could radiate from the victim’s grave’ (La Stampa). Corriere della Sera reported that ‘his speech was welcomed by the public with a thunderous and prolonged applause that was difficult to interrupt’.

The public and the General Attorney empathised with Vittorio. Vittorio was declared mentally ill, absolved and sent to an asylum for a few years.

Il Popolo d’Italia commented that, in this case, ‘there was no need to find the guilty one. It was misfortune that murdered Giselda Zanolo’, therefore, suggesting that there could be someone other than Vittorio who was guilty of Giselda’s homicide, maybe Giselda herself, whose past behaviour and bad reputation made her the culprit of her own homicide.


An extract from Il Popolo d’Italia, 16 January 1925, Photograph: Sara Delmedico

Six centuries after Dante’s Comedy, Giselda, like Francesca of Rimini, was not just a victim. Vittorio, the witnesses, the court and the public maintained that Giselda, because of her past, ‘actively’ contributed to her own homicide; she was the culprit, and stained the world with own blood.

Sara Delmedico (Rome Awardee 2019–20)


Ovid in Cheap Prints: Re-writing Mythological Tales in Renaissance Rome

Marta Balzi (Ralegh Radford Rome Awardee 2019–20) provides insights on her research recently conducted at the BSR.

One of the many perks of residing at the BSR is the opportunity to enjoy the quiet, greenery and panoramic views of the Villa Borghese Gardens, which lie just a few minutes away from the BSR. A walk to the Temple of Asclepius, a run around the oval track in Piazza di Siena and a coffee at Casina del Lago became a cherished distraction from a day of study in the library. Further within the park there is also the Borghese Gallery, which is an unmissable reference point for Renaissance scholars. It is precisely with the Borghese Gallery, or better with a painting housed in this art gallery, that I would like to introduce this brief account of the research I conducted during my residency at the BSR.

Rutilio Manetti’s Andromeda: Ovidian myths and their translations

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Figure 1. Rutilio Manetti, Andromeda, c. 1612, oil on canvas, 177 × 20, Galleria Borghese, Rome.

The painting Andromeda by Rutilio Manetti (c. 1612) illustrates an Ovidian myth from the Metamorphoses that was particularly dear to sixteenth- and seventeenth-century artists: the myth of Andromeda and Perseus.

According to the classical myth, Andromeda was offered in sacrifice to a sea monster in order to appease the gods. Just before the slaughter, the hero Perseus happened upon Andromeda, naked and chained to a rock. Inflamed by her beauty, Perseus engaged in a battle with the monster and rescued her from the monster’s assault.

This painting conveys the rich eroticism and wittiness of Ovid’s narration, but a closer look reveals that the Latin Metamorphoses was not Manetti’s primary source of inspiration. Ovid had Perseus fly in winged sandals, and not on a winged horse:

pennis ligat ille resumptis

parte ab utraque pedes teloque accingitur unco

et liquidum motis talaribus aera findit.

(Ovid, Met., iv. 665–7)

[Then Perseus bound on both his feet the wings he had laid by, girt on his hooked sword, and soon in swift flight was cleaving the thin air.]

In Manetti’s painting we see an overlapping of Perseus and another mythical figure: the winged horse Pegasus. The link between these two characters was not new to Renaissance art and literature, but it gained currency in the late medieval treatment of Andromeda’s rescue (Javitch 1978).

By the time Manetti composed his painting, the popularity of this version was also intensified thanks to the work of Giovanni Andrea dell’Anguillara (1519–69), the author of the sixteenth-century best-seller translation of Ovid’s Metamorphoses. This Italian translation offered the same combination of Perseus and Pegasus:

Quando su‘l pegaseo veloce ascese

Perseo, e per l’Etiopia il volo prese.

(Anguillara 1563, iv. 411. 7–8)

[Perseus mounted the fast Pegasus, and took off towards Ethiopia.]

The example of Manetti’s Andromeda in the Borghese Gallery testifies to the importance of intermediary sources in the reception of the Ovidian myths in the Italian Renaissance. The Metamorphoses surely constituted the most important repertoire of myths, an encyclopaedic work plundered by writers, musicians and painters. This work, however, was often read through vernacular translations.

Ovid translated in cheap prints

Despite increasing scholarly interest in vernacular translations of the ‘full text’ of Ovid’s Metamorphoses, little attention has been paid to the production and dissemination of vernacular re-writings of the Ovidian myths in cheap prints. The purpose of my research at the BSR was precisely to give visibility to these translations in cheap print and shed further light on the reception of mythological tales in Renaissance Rome.

The term ‘cheap print’ has been employed in recent publications to refer to printed matter more affordable than ‘proper books’ (Watt 1991; Salzberg 2014). These publications could be loosely bound pamphlets printed on a single sheet of paper, which was then folded into an octavo, quarto or even sextadecimo. Alternatively, they could be printed on a single flier or broadsheet. Either way, they were often accompanied by woodcut illustrations that were rarely produced specifically for the text (Rothstein 1990; Salzberg 2014: 21; Niccoli 2017: 188). Despite their affordability, these publications were not definable in relation to a single social group, but were characterised by a high ‘consumability’ that went beyond social boundaries (Braida and Infelise 2010).

One of the fascinating examples of cheap print that I studied in Rome is the Historia di Perseo. This is a loosely bound pamphlet printed in Florence around 1530. Here, the adventures of Perseus are translated in ottava rima, a metre that since the Middle Ages was used by storytellers and also street singers to sing chivalric tales. The woodcuts in the pamphlet suffer from reprinting. They seem not directly related to this publication and were likely rehashed from previous publications.


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Figure 2 La historia di Perseo (Florence: n.p., [c. 1530]), held at The British Library in London (shelfmark: 1071.m.17.(13.))

During my residency, I also had the possibility to study other cheap prints held in the Vatican Library, such as:

  • Lettere amorose, et Sonetti familiari in diversi propositi; Confrontati alle lettere per poter scriver a casi occorrenti, di nuovo posti in luce (Venice: In frezzeria al segno della regina, 1580). (Shelfmark: V681(34));
  • Nuova inventione et poetica fantasia; nella quale si disputa fra Marte, et Nettuno della bellezza di Roma, et di Venetia; Et quale di esse merita preceder, facendone Giudice Paride. Con Un sonetto vago e piacevole dove si va scherzando in metafora sopra alcune cose antiche, e belle. (Venice: [], [n.d.]). (Shelfmark: V681(104);
  • Opera nuova alla ciciliana. De un gentil’huomo, che per amor’ andò a l’inferno, per accusar la sua innamorata dinanzi a Plutone. Con la risposta del Demonio cosa molto dilettevole: aggiontovi alcune ottave alla ciciliana ritrovate da Alfonso Cortese alias trastullo di succio muccio di Castrocucco ([n.p.]: [], [n.d.]). (Shelfmark: V681(50)).

Lettere amorose e sonetti familiari is a collection of love letters and sonnets involving mythological characters. Nuova invenzione e poetica fantasia re-writes the ancient myth of the judgment of Paris, who, in this new version, was appointed to select the most beautiful city between Venice and Rome. Opera nuova alla ciciliana is a parody of the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice.

The place I will miss the most: the BSR library

In the BSR library, I found a vast secondary literature that proved essential to expand my knowledge of Renaissance popular culture in Rome. The beautiful spaces, the quiet and the professional help of expert librarians made the library my favourite room in the BSR. A safe space where I focused on my new research and also worked on my forthcoming publications.


Braida, L., and M. Infelise (eds), Libri per tutti. I generi editoriali di larga circolazione tra antico regime e età contemporanea (Turin: Utet, 2010)

Bucchi, Gabriele, “Meraviglioso diletto”: la traduzione poetica del Cinquecento e le Metamorfosi d’Ovidio di Giovanni Andrea dell’Anguillara (Pisa: Edizioni ETS, 2011)

Burke, Peter, ‘Oral Culture and Print Culture in Renaissance Italy’, ARV: Nordic Yearbook of Folklore, 1998, 7–18

Carnelos, Laura, ‘Words on the Street: Selling Small Printed “Things ” in Sixteenth- and Seventeenth-Century Venice’, in News Networks in Early Modern Europe, ed. by Raymond Joad and Noah Moxham (Leiden: Brill, 2016), pp. 739–55

D’Ancona, A., La poesia popolare italiana, 2nd edn. (Leghorn: Giusti, 1906)

Daniels, Rhiannon, Boccaccio and the Book: Production and Reading in Italy 1340–1520 (London: Legenda, 2009)

Degl’Innocenti, Luca, and Brian Richardson and Chiara Sbordoni (eds.), Interactions between Orality and Writing in Early Modern Italian Culture (Farnham: Ashgate, 2016)

Degl’Innocenti, Luca, and Massimo Rospocher and Rosa Salzberg, ‘The Cantastorie in Renaissance Italy: Street singers between Oral and Literate Cultures’, Special Issue of Italian Studies, 71.2 (2016)

Di Mauro, Alberto, Bibliografia delle stampe popolari profane dal Fondo Capponi della Biblioteca Vaticana (Florence: Olschki, 1981)

Guthmüller, Bodo, ‘Cantari cinquecenteschi di argomento mitologico’, in Mito, poesia, arte: Saggi sulla tradizione ovidiana nel Rinascimento (Rome: Bulzoni, 1997), pp. 187–212

‘La Historia de Orpheo: modelli e tecniche narrative’, in Il cantare italiano fra folklore e letteratura, ed. by Michelangelo Picone and Luisa Rubini (Florence: Olschki, 2007), pp. 301–37

Ovidio metamorphoseos vulgare, trans. by Paola Picchioni (Fiesole: Cadmo, 2008)

Infelise, Mario, Prima dei Giornali. Alle origini della pubblica informazione (secoli XVI e XVII (Rome and Bari: Laterza, 2002)

Ivaldi, C., ‘Cantari e poemetti bellici in ottava rima: la parabola produttiva di un sottogenere del romanzo cavalleresco’, in Ritterepik der Renaissance, ed. by K. W. Hempfer (Stuttgart: Franz Steiner Verlag, 1989), pp. 35–46

Javitch, Daniel. 1978. ‘Rescuing Ovid from the Allegorizers’, in Comparative Literature, 30: 97–107

Masetti Zannini, G. L., Stampatori e librai a Roma nella seconda metà del Cinquecento: documenti inediti (Rome: Palombi, 1980)

Milner, Stephen, ‘“…Fanno bandire, notificare, et expressamente comandare…”. Town Criers and the information economy of Renaissance Florence’, I Tatti Studies in the Italian Renaissance, 16.1/2 (2013), 107–51

Niccoli, Ottavia, Profeti e popolo nell’Italia del Rinascimento (Bari: Laterza, 1987)

Niccoli, Ottavia, ‘Italy’, in The Oxford History of Popular Print Culture, ed. by Joad Raymond (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2017), pp. 187–95

Novati, F., Scritti sull’editoria popolare nell’Italia di antico regime, ed. by E. Barbieri and A. Brambilla (Rome: Archivio Guido Izzi, 2004)

Petrucci, Armando, Scrittura e popolo nella Roma barocca 1585–1721 (Rome: Quasar, 1982)

Rothstein, M, ‘Disjunctive images in Renaissance books’, Renaissance and Reformaiton, 14:2 (1990), 101–20

Rozzo, Ugo, La Strage Ignorata. I Fogli Volanti a Stampa Nell’Italia Dei Secoli XV e XVI (Udine: Forum, 2008)

Salzberg, Rosa, Ephemeral City: Cheap Print and Urban Culture in Renaissance Venice (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2014)

Segarizzi, A., (ed.), Bibliografia delle stampe popolari italiane nella R. Biblioteca nazionale di San Marco di Venezia (Bergamo: Istituto Italiano d’Arti Grafiche, 1913)

Ugolini, Francesco A., I cantari d’argomento Classico (Geneva and Florence: Olschki, 1933)

Ugolini, Francesco A., ‘I cantari di Piramo e Tisbe’, in Studj Romanzi, 24 (1934), 19–208

Watt, T., Cheap Print and Popular Piety 1550–1640 (New Haven: CT: Yale University Press, 2005)

Marta Balzi, Ralegh Radford Rome Awardee 2019–20.



A trip to Reggio Calabria

Dustin McKenzie (Macquarie Gale Rome Scholar, 2019–20) recalls his recent time spent at the BSR and his trip to South Italy as part of his research focusing on the Strait of Messina, and the cities of Messina and Reggio Calabria.


Waterfront and Monument of Athena, with Sicily in background. Photograph: Dustin McKenzie

In January 2020 I took up residency at the British School at Rome as the Macquarie Gale Rome Scholar, and began, almost immediately, to think about how space shapes our experiences — the BSR’s position on the edge of the Valle Giulia, looking out at the other academies; the seemingly endless routes a taxi can take between the BSR and Termini; the proximity to the city, while being just far enough away that each trip out the door is a journey. I am currently undertaking a PhD at Macquarie University, Sydney in ancient history and archaeology — titled ‘Landscape, Empire, and Identity in the Roman Strait of Messina’ — and much of the focus is on the relationship between ancient peoples and their natural and constructed environments. It is not surprising that Rome is an excellent case-study of this relationship. Whether it be how the hills and valleys shaped the city in antiquity, how the Tiber impacted infrastructure decisions in antiquity and the modern day, or how the lack of a metro to Trastevere still makes organising your Friday ‘aperitivo’ for ten people a logistical nightmare, this relationship between people and the spaces they inhabit captivated me during my time in Rome.

While I have been fortunate enough to visit the Eternal City on several occasions, I cannot stress the degree to which the varied experiences, disciplines and backgrounds of my fellow award-holders made my residency. Not only am I now proud to call these colleagues friends for life, but their own experiences and interests in Rome led me to spaces I never would have found on my own. One particular day led us down into the undercroft of the Basilica di San Clemente, opening my eyes once more to the stratified history of Rome — the current Basilica was built in the twelfth century, atop a fourth-century Roman basilica, which itself was built atop the ruins of a Republican era villa. While Rome is always a joy to walk through, I must confess its true purpose for my research was as a forward research base while I travelled south to my true destination, and the focus of my PhD research – the Strait of Messina, and the cities of Messina and Reggio Calabria.

The Strait of Messina separates Italy from Sicily by only a few kilometres, but that short distance has a long history. The waters of the Strait are infamously changeable, and in antiquity were the inspiration behind and mythical home of Scylla and Charybdis. The uplands of the Strait were inhabited by early bronze age groups before its coasts were colonised by Greek settlers in the eighth century BCE. By the end of the third century, Rome controlled the Strait, and Messina and Reggio Calabria each played major roles in securing not only the waterway, but the whole of South Italy and Sicily for the Republic. The close relationship between Messina and Reggio Calabria, despite their separation by the Strait, was well understood in antiquity and throughout history, with the prospect of a bridge across the Strait being proposed by no less than the Romans, Charlemagne and the Normans, with a further nine attempts made since the unification of Italy. In my opinion, this is beside the point — the strength of the relationship between Messina and Reggio Calabria is not in the potential of a bridge, but in the ways people have been bridging this gap for thousands of years through a shared sense of space and identity.


Reggio Street, looking to Sicily. Photograph: Dustin McKenzie

Before the pandemic I was able to spend a week in Reggio Calabria, having visited Messina years prior on a separate research trip. Owing to my research interests in space and landscapes, I opted to catch the train. While these trips took the better part of an entire day by themselves at a brisk seven hours  each way, it was fascinating to watch the landscape shift and change as the train travelled down the coast, darting inland or through tunnels when it wasn’t hugging the coast. I spent most of my time in Reggio walking through the city and visiting the public archaeological sites and museums, and was taken aback by the degree to which the city has adapted to its environment and physical space. First and foremost, there is a strong sense of navigability in Reggio. Much the same way as I navigate Rome by knowing my location relative to manmade and natural landmarks, I could find my way through Reggio with relative ease. Many of the east–west oriented vie have clear lines of sight to Sicily, which dominates the western horizon, and to the Aspromonte Mountains to the east. While the streets and levels of Reggio can be a little disorientating or steep at times, these aspects of the landscape actually allowed me to re-orientate myself, and firmly placed in my mind not only the impact of physical space on an individual’s everyday experience, but how such a space encourages identification and engagement with those experiencing it. Moreover, while a lot of my research has me thinking of horizontal space (distances from A to B, city limits, urban layouts), Reggio Calabria and Rome reminded me of the importance of vertical space.

Piazza Italia sits at the centre of Corso Garibaldi, Reggio’s main commercial and pedestrian-only street, and is the seat of the municipal government and provincial administration. While I was aware that the Piazza was built atop the location of the Greek agora and Roman forum, I had no idea part of the Piazza was excavated and viewable. Like the Basilica di San Clemente back in Rome, the square rests atop centuries of viewable history, with a section of subterranean excavation revealing the earliest storefronts of the Greek agora and a portion of the Roman-period street. Elsewhere, a few streets east and uphill, are what remains of the Greek odeon, now located behind a locked door within a gated residential block. While seeing the odeon proved, uh, ‘tricky’, it quickly became clear that thanks to its elevation and orientation, the audience in antiquity would have enjoyed an uninterrupted view downhill and across the Strait (similar in scope to the vistas afford by the amphitheatres of Taormina and Segesta in Sicily), a suitably poetic backdrop for the presentation of the arts. The constructed waterfront of Reggio Calabria seems to have maintained this desire for a poetic and picturesque vista.


Roman street under Piazza Italia. Photograph: Dustin McKenzie

The coast of Reggio Calabria and the lungomare (waterfront) heavily influenced my understanding of the space of the Strait and the impact it continues to have on those living there. A friend and PhD student at Sapienza — Università di Roma, who was showing me around the city, proudly claimed that early twentieth-century Italian poet Gabriele D’Annunzio referred to the lungomare as ‘il più bel chilometro d’Italia— ‘the most beautiful kilometre in all of Italy’ — and with its views of Sicily from Cape Pelorus to Mount Etna on a clear day, it is easy to see why. Indeed, to stand on the beach in Reggio and look north towards Cape Pelorus is to believe you are on the shore of a lake rather than a strait. This illusion has duped many in the past — one tradition, preserved by first-century CE Roma geographer Pomponius Mela, claims that Cape Pelorus is named for Hannibal’s helmsman of the same name. Upon sailing into the Strait, Hannibal scanned the horizon and, believing the shore to be continuous and impassable, killed Pelorus for betraying him. The waterfront also houses some Roman period remains, including tombs, a section of a baths complex, and part of the impressive city walls, as well as numerous signs detailing the ancient foundation of the city on the waterfront, each of which serve to highlight the continued inhabitancy of the city for nearly 3,000 years.


Waterfront Roman baths. Photograph: Dustin McKenzie


Waterfront ancient city wall. Photograph: Dustin McKenzie

During our day together, my PhD friend, with her own roots in Reggio, was taken aback that I had been studying Reggio for over a year and had never visited. ‘If I want to understand the city’s history’, she reasoned, ‘I must understand the present city and its people.’ My home in Australia may be on the other side of the world, and the global pandemic may be keeping us all in our homes for now, but I have made a start in understanding Reggio Calabria, and I will be back for another attempt


Waterfront looking north. Where does Italy end and Sicily begin? Photograph: Dustin McKenzie

Dustin McKenzie (Macquarie Gale Rome Scholar, 2019-20)