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.pub.], [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.pub.], [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)

Medieval medicine meets the digital age

Claire Burridge (2019-2020, Rome Scholar) provides a valuable insight into medieval medicine and the research she has undertaken at the BSR.

Let’s begin with a sample of medical advice from the ninth century — but please note: although these remedies may look tempting in our current circumstances, do not try them at home!

Picture1.pngFor cough: chew oregano on an empty stomach; it is wonderful.

Likewise: drink pounded fennel roots in wine on an empty stomach for 9 days.

Likewise: take mallow with food.

Likewise: drink agrimony with old wine on an empty stomach.

Likewise: betony – 2 [units not given] – ground with honey; take for 9 days on an empty stomach.

Likewise: bake elecampane roots among hot ashes and then soak them in honey; chew as much as possible on an empty stomach.

Picture2For dry cough: skimmed honey – 1 ounce, black pepper – 2 ounces, myrrh – 1 ounce, long pepper [no amount given]; grind this up well and mix it in honey; use 3 spoonfuls morning and night.

Likewise, an electuary for those affected by a cough: butter – 4 [units not given], terebinth – 2, horehound – 4, nard, this is also called spica [i.e. spikenard] – 9; grind and mix together; chew 1 spoonful with honey.

Picture3Picture4For those who cannot breathe: 1 part fenugreek, 9 parts pepper, 10 parts costus – as much as you think seems fit – mix together into a powder and give a full spoon mixed in water.

Picture5Picture6Pills for cough: poppy – 2 scruples, myrrh – 3 scruples, storax – 2 scruples, galbanum – 4 scruples; then make into pills and use.


Pre-modern medicine has been in the news more than usual in recent weeks, with comparisons of our current situation to past plague pandemics, a growing interest in the origins of ‘quarantine’, and so on. Yet unlike many areas within the history of health and medicine, my research offers few potential points of comparison with our present circumstances, though it has provided a fascinating glimpse into the ways individuals in the early middle ages may have sought to treat some of the symptoms associated with COVID-19. (Note: for those interested in how historians of medicine (and not just medievalists!) have reflected on the current coronavirus crisis and responded to the media’s use/abuse of history, I have included some links in an addendum below.) In this post, I shall endeavour to keep things topical by using the remedies for coughs and breathing difficulties illustrated above as an entry point into my current research.

My project at the BSR, ‘The Movement of Early Medieval Medical Knowledge: Exchange in the Italian Peninsula’, is underpinned by two linked objectives: a) the identification of non-classical information recorded in early medieval remedies (and possible sources for this information), and b) an investigation into the role of Italian centres of manuscript production in the introduction and movement of this knowledge. Both objectives are dependent on first transcribing and editing medical recipes from a dozen manuscripts today held in libraries in Rome, and then analysing this material with a combination of recently developed digital tools. Much of my time at the BSR has therefore been focused on assembling this material: transcribing, editing, and translating texts while establishing my digital ‘toolkit’. The creation of a complex database that tracks individual recipes, their ingredients, and any additional information associated with them (such as units of measurement, instructions for preparation, etc.) in concert with their manuscript context allows for a systematic analysis of this material. While it is impossible to condense the full extent of these results into a blogpost, the remedies above showcase a number of important findings from my research so far. In particular, my development of a remedy database has highlighted the vast range of medical knowledge preserved within these manuscripts, a topic we shall explore in more detail below.

Diversity between and within manuscripts

Given the complex processes involved in the composition and production of manuscripts, it has long been accepted that no early medieval codex is identical. When considering manuscripts containing medical texts, this degree of variability can be taken even further: cataloguers and historians have shown that all surviving manuscripts with medical texts preserve a unique combination of writings. My research not only confirms this great diversity between codices, but it also sheds light on the varied nature of the information contained within individual manuscripts. More specifically, by considering not simply the composition of manuscripts as a whole, but by analysing their recipes down to the level of their constituent parts (namely, their ingredients, instructions for preparation and dosage, units of measurement, etc.), it is possible to take a much closer look at the range of material preserved within these texts.

Consider the remedies exhibited above: Figures 1–4 present a total of ten treatments, including seven remedies for a cough (Figures 1 and 4), one remedy for a dry cough (Figure 2), and two remedies for ‘those who cannot breathe’ (Figure 3). These ten prescriptions list a total of 27 ingredients, meaning that this sample contains an average of less than three ingredients per remedy. Significantly, of these 27 ingredients, only four occur in multiple recipes: wine, myrrh and black pepper are each listed twice, while honey appears four times. In other words, there is very little overlap among the ingredients listed in these treatments. In fact, each of the ten remedies offers an entirely unique treatment. This general pattern of diversity holds up when considering the entire sample of remedies in my corpus; although there are examples of parallel or related treatments within the full collection (which contains several thousand remedies), the enormous range in information presented in these prescriptions remains a consistent pattern.

Why does this variety matter, and what can we learn from it? Crucially, the diversity of treatments reflects the differences in the sources used to compile these collections of remedies at two levels. First, variation seen between manuscripts composed at different scriptoria indicates that each site of manuscript production contained a unique collection of sources. Again, consider the remedies exhibited above: Figures 1 and 2 present recipes from Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana (hereafter BAV) pal. lat. 1088, a manuscript written in the area around Lyon in the middle or third quarter of the ninth century, while Figures 3 and 4 offer treatments from BAV reg. lat. 1143, an early ninth-century manuscript composed near Mainz. In addition to the treatments sampled here, both codices contain a number of other medical texts, such as excerpts from earlier medical authors. For example, BAV pal. lat. 1088 contains excerpts from Galen and a medical poem by Quintus Serenus, whereas BAV reg. lat. 1143 includes a selection from Theodorus Priscianus’ Euporiston and Alexander of Tralles’ Therapeutica, revealing that their libraries likely held different collections of medical writings (or at least distinct exemplars on which each of these manuscripts was based). Both manuscripts, however, also contain excerpts from the letters of the late antique physician Vindicianus, testifying to some shared sources.

Secondly, there is a tremendous range in the information contained within a single manuscript. Take the six different prescriptions to treat a cough, Ad tussem, illustrated in Figure 1. The penultimate remedy in this cluster can be traced to a late antique medical treatise that describes the medicinal uses of the herb bettony, De herba vettonica liber. Many recipe collections were structured by their ingredients, suggesting that the compiler of the collection of recipes in BAV pal. lat. 1088 sought to present treatments in a different format, instead arranging them by symptom. This individual would therefore have drawn on a range of different sources, selecting relevant material from other texts; in this case, he or she assembled six recipes related to coughs. As above, this range of information demonstrates that an individual scriptorium likely had access to a diverse array of sources. This diversity has important implications for understanding the process of manuscript production, the movement of knowledge, and the composition of these remedy collections. These topics are all central to my project at the BSR and thus illustrate the value of the new digital tools involved in my research.

While this blog has used remedies for coughing and breathing problems as an inroad into my project, there is much more to share. Perhaps a future post can discuss more specific findings relating to the introduction of new sources for medical knowledge in the Latin west and the role of scriptoria in the Italian peninsula in this process — stay tuned!

Addendum: The history of medicine meets current affairs

Finally, for those interested in how historians of medicine (and not just medievalists!) have reflected on the current coronavirus crisis and responded to the media’s use/abuse of history, I would recommend the following lectures, podcasts, articles, etc.—many thanks to Monica Green, Winston Black, Guy Geltner, and others for sharing them originally:

Brief bibliography

Manuscripts seen above:

BAV pal. lat. 1088, digital facsimile: https://digi.vatlib.it/view/MSS_Pal.lat.1088
BAV reg. lat. 1143, digital facsimile: https://digi.vatlib.it/view/MSS_Reg.lat.1143

Printed sources:

Pseudo-Antonius Musa, De herba vettonica liber, ed. Howald and H. E. Sigerist, Corpus Medicorum Latinorum IV (Leipzig, 1927), 3-11

Secondary scholarship:

Beccaria, A., I Codici di medicina del periodo presalernitano (Rome, 1956)

Bischoff, B., Katalog der festl.ndischen Handschriften des neunten Jahrhunderts (mit Ausnahme der wisigotischen), 3 vols (Stuttgart 1998)

Glaze, F. E., ‘The perforated wall: the ownership and circulation of medical books in medieval Europe, ca. 800-1200’, unpublished Ph.D. thesis, Duke University (1999)

Horden, P., ‘What’s Wrong with Early Medieval Medicine?’, Social History of Medicine 24 (2011), 5-25

Wallis, F., ‘The Experience of the Book: Manuscripts, Texts, and the Role of Epistemology in Early Medieval Medicine’, in D. G. Bates (ed.), Knowledge and the Scholarly Medical Traditions (Cambridge, 1995), 101-26

Figure captions

Figure 1: Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana pal. lat. 1088, f. 36r: For a cough (Ad tussem), 6 remedies

Figure 2: BAV pal. lat. 1088, f. 48v: For a dry cough (Ad tussem aridam), 2 remedies

Figure 3: BAV reg. lat. 1143, ff. 105r–v: For those who cannot breathe (Ad eos qui non suspirant), 1 remedy

Figure 4: BAV reg. lat. 1143, ff. 170r–v: Pills for a cough (Cataputias ad tusse), 1 recipe


Claire Burridge, Rome Scholar, 2019/2020

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