BSR Library Special Collections. Gift from Mark Getty, BSR Chair of Council.

Professor David McKitterick introduces a selection of the latest addition to the BSR Library’s Special Collections.

Quite apart from its modern collections, the BSR owns a remarkable collection of early printed books, many of them from the library of Thomas Ashby, to which other benefactors have given since. But the BSR has not been able to add to these for a long time. When in February the collection of books about Rome assembled by Sergio Rossetti came onto the market in Milan, there was an unprecedented opportunity to enrich the library.

Rossetti’s four-volume bibliography of Rome was published in 2000-4, and he built up his own remarkable collection alongside. Thanks to the imagination and prompt generosity of Mark Getty, the BSR was able to acquire over a hundred volumes at the auction, dating from the early sixteenth century to the late nineteenth.

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Mark Getty with Director Stephen Milner and Librarian Valerie Scott

Some were magnificent illustrated books, such as Pietro Castelli’s volume of engravings of rare plants in the Farnese gardens (1625), or Pietro Ferrerio and Giovani Battista Falda’s engravings of palazzi (c.1660) many of which have now disappeared, while the great etchings in the folio Rovine del castello dell’Acqua Giulia (1761) show Piranesi’s interests as simultaneously antiquary, architect and hydraulic engineer.

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Engraving from Pietro Ferrerio, Palazzi di Roma di più celebri architetti, Roma [1655-70]

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Engraving from Giovanni Battista Piranesi, Le rovine del castello dell’Acqua Giulia situato in Roma presso S. Eusebio…..…, Rome 1761

The copy of Giacomo Lauro’s collection of views Antiquae urbis splendor (1637) is in an impressive gilt binding with the arms of Pope Urban VIII. A group of sixteenth-and seventeenth-century books about the Tiber focusses , not surprisingly, on the periodic floods. An illustrated volume by Nicolai Alemanni on the Lateran palace (1637) focusses on Pope Leo III’s grand new ninth-century dining room, or triclinium, decorated with mosaics and only some of which survives.

At the core of this wonderful accession is a large group of guidebooks, in Latin, Italian, French and English, to be added to the already notable collection of these already on the shelves in the BSR. While such books are obviously reflections of local identity and are invaluable for anyone trying to unravel the history of ownership of works of art, they are also some of the closest ways we can come to seeing the world through the eyes of earlier centuries.

Just to read the ever more detailed guides, meeting the needs of seventeenth-century tourists such as John Evelyn or John Milton, or a host of eighteenth-century visitors, is not only to begin to see with their eyes, but also to wonder at the energies of people who (if they followed some guidebooks’ instructions) were expected to see Rome sometimes in as little as three days: the Vatican and Trastevere could easily be dealt with in just one. But these guidebooks tell us more.

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Frontispiece from Pompilio Totti, Ritratto di Roma antica……….., Roma 1645

Pompilio Totti, the much-printed author of the best of the seventeenth-century guides, showed how Rome could be divided into antica and moderna.  By the time we come to read his even more popular successor, the archaeologist Antonio Nibby (first published shortly after the Napoleonic wars and widely available in Italian and French) there are new concerns, arising from the ever-more revealing excavations. How should ruins be preserved, and how should they be shown off? These remain no less topical questions today.

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Frontispiece from Pompilio Totti, Ritratto di Roma moderna……….., Roma 1645

Of the later books, one further might be selected among these prizes. Matthew Dubourg’s  Views of the remains of ancient buildings in Rome and its vicinity  (London, 1820) has become rare because so many copies have been broken up for the sake of the lovely hand-coloured illustrations. But the text is worth reading as well, influenced by the fashion for gothic novels and written by a person informed by the dramatic paintings of Salvator Rosa. This is the Rome of the romantics, published just a few months before Keats died. Not surprisingly, Byron is quoted on the Colosseum: ‘a noble wreck, in ruinous perfection’. All these books invite further study, and all are being added to the union catalogue URBiS (www.urbis-libnet.org).

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From Matthew Dubourg, Views of the remains of ancient buildings in Rome and its vicinity…………, London 1820

Meanwhile, a selection is currently on display at the Entrance Hall of the BSR.

Text by David McKitterick, Emeritus Honorary Professor of Historical Bibliography, Trinity College, Cambridge.

 

David visited the BSR and gave a fascinating talk to staff, residents and award-holders about the new arrivals.

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The research potential of our Special Collections has been enhanced by this remarkable gift and our aim now is to seek funding for specific BSR Library awards to generate more opportunities for research projects based on our rich collections.

Text by Valerie Scott, Librarian

Photos by Antonio Palmieri

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Ashby Adventures 2018

Last week we hosted our Ashby Patrons visit to Rome. This is always a very special weekend in the BSR’s calendar when we welcome our Ashby Patrons to the BSR for an action-packed few days of adventures both inside and outside the city. This year was no exception with a full and expertly tailored programme of excursions!

Always an important part of the weekend, is the opportunity for the Patrons to speak with resident award-holders and to visit the studios of artists resident at the BSR. This year was no different. On arrival the group were treated to a visual feast (indeed, a sneak preview of what is to come in next month’s June Mostra) by three of our artists in residence – Murat Urlali (National Art School, Sydney, Resident), John Robertson (Abbey Scholar in Painting) and Oona Grimes (The Bridget Riley Fellow). After visiting the studios the group joined BSR residents and staff for dinner.

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Murat Urlali (National Art School, Sydney, Resident) in his studio

The first full day began with a visit to the Venerable English College, the Catholic seminary in Rome which trains priests from England and Wales.

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After a hearty welcome from Ryan Service, a Seminarian from the Archdiocese of Birmingham, the group had the privilege of being led around the college, current exhibition and the archives, by Archive Coordinator and BSR Research Fellow Professor Maurice Whitehead. This visit was also an opportunity to explain to the group the British School at Rome’s ambition to work in collaboration with Venerable English College to open access to their archives, facilitating the opportunity to bring UK scholars to Rome to study them.

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Sustained by a fine lunch, the group progressed to the second visit of the day, a guided tour of Palazzo Pamphilj (situated within Piazza Navona and now home to the Brazilian Embassy in Italy) led by Assistant Director Tom True.

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Within the Ashby group we were lucky to have BSR Former Chair of council Timothy Llewellyn, expert on the frescoed ceiling of Pietro da Cortona, who explained the story of Aeneas depicted on the ceiling above. We were then treated to a spectacular view from the balcony to the piazza below.

After a day of visual and gastronomic treats, those who had the strength, stomach and courage, rounded off the day with a gelato at Giolitti!

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Relaxed and refreshed, the second day saw the Ashby group venture out from Rome to Lake Bracciano, to enjoy a guided tour of Castello Odescalchi bathed in sunshine.

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After the tour the group enjoyed a delicious feast comprised of locally sourced ingredients at an agriturismo in Trevignano. Yet, this was not the end of the days programme, upon arrival back to the BSR, Marco Iuliano (member of the BSR Faculty of Archaeology, History and Letters) gave a presentation entitled ‘Notes on the Cartography of Rome’, with particular reference to special holdings from our Library, including a map by Giovani Battista Cingolani della Pergola (1704), which depicts Lake Bracciano.

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The advent of the final day revealed that some of the best treasures had been saved until last. Valerie Scott (Librarian and Deputy Director) presented the Library’s latest addition, a gift of rare books presented to the BSR earlier this year by Chair of Council Mark Getty.

To round off the trip, Director Stephen Milner brought the Ashby’s up-to-date with his vision of the future for the BSR, prompting a lively discussion. As per tradition, the weekend concluded with brunch at Caffè delle Arti with reflections on the activities and success of the weekend.

It was a delight to host the Ashby Patrons, and was a chance to say thank you for their continued support and guidance, which is wholeheartedly appreciated and valued by the whole BSR community.

Roll on next year…!

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Blog and photographs by Alice Marsh (Events and Communications Assistant) 

 

‘Bridging the Tiber’: a new doctoral training programme at the BSR

Currently serving three universities and due to expand to encompass a further four, the Northern Bridge doctoral training consortium embarked this year on a new initiative. Sixteen doctoral students, drawn from across the arts and humanities, spent a week at the BSR including valuable time at Keats Shelley House.  The aim was for the students to engage with a series of case studies in advanced research, and to be enriched by that most powerful of things, time in the BSR’s interdisciplinary environment to chew over ideas with one another and the BSR’s award-holders in residence.

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Northern Bridge doctoral students at the BSR (Photo by Antonio Palmieri)

The event had its genesis in a meeting with the BSR’s then director, Christopher Smith, the outgoing director of the Northern Bridge consortium, Michael Rossington, Newcastle University’s PVC for Humanities and Social Sciences, Julie Sanders, and myself, but its development and successful delivery owed a huge amount to a much larger team.  BSR Director Stephen Milner offered a warm welcome to the group and delivered an outstanding session on the bioarchaeology of the book, an exemplar of the kind of interdisciplinary thinking we sought to showcase in the programme. Assistant Director Tom True offered invaluable guidance on the development of the week and led a delightful tour through some of Rome’s finest less well-known churches, and Christine Martin anticipated and mastered every logistical hurdle with consummate efficiency.

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Tom True leads a tour (photo by Annie Tindley)

While the absence of Michael Rossington on his well-deserved retirement from Direction of the Northern Bridge was keenly felt, the whole endeavour was magnificently taken forward by his successor Annie Tindley, whose research in Britain’s relationship to Roman imperial history offered an ideal case study for our attendees.  Developing on one of Michael’s key insights, the value of the Keats Shelley House connection and that institution’s own fine research history, was Jon Quayle, a great addition to the team. Jon was able to draw on his own experience both as researcher in residence at the Keats Shelley House and as an early career scholar whose PhD was funded by the AHRC to help raise students’ awareness of its holdings, and was joined by the Curator, Giuseppe Albano in a fascinating presentation.

Our wonderful cohort contained students from many fields not normally represented at the BSR, but from the moment they arrived on Monday morning, they soon found themselves at home. Robert Coates-Stephens led a perfectly pitched tour of the Roman Forum on the first afternoon. This was followed the next day (Tuesday) by a trip led beneath the Lateran Basilica in which I sought to explore not just the subterranean world of Rome, but also the potential of Digital Humanities.  A stimulating session on Italian Cinema in the long sixties by Jacopo Benci kept colleagues talking and thinking about film studies throughout the week. Richard Terry from Northumbria University, soon to join the Northern Bridge consortium, kindly made the trip out to Rome to join us for a well-received plenary on ‘Literature and life assurance’, an absolutely fascinating topic.

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Visiting the artists’ studios (photo by Annie Tindley)

Given the strength of the BSR and the richness of research in creative practice, we were keen to expose attendees to work in this area.  Accordingly, Marco Palmieri kindly arranged for a special tour of the BSR studios on Wednesday morning, with resident artists outlining how they were setting about their projects.  The session was a resounding success.  It was followed that afternoon with another highlight, a case study led by Helen Berry which drew upon her work on the life and times of the celebrated eighteenth-century opera singer Giusto Ferdinando Tenducci.  The rich discussion that followed, on the nature of academic publication and on the media’s engagement with research, was just the sort of debate we had hoped the week would yield.

Helen’s session was followed by ‘team time’, an opportunity for our students to spend time in their teams planning their group projects. Using the fine library resources of the BSR, their own skills and imagination, the students are to deliver projects on a theme of their choice on the topic of the UK and Italy to their peers at the Northern Bridge Summer Conference in June.

Thursday and Friday were delightfully occupied by the excellent case study sessions of Tom True, Stephen Milner, Jon Quayle and Annie Tindley, described above, before a closing address from Stephen. Stephen’s comments underscored the depth of the BSR’s commitment to engaging across the research community and reminded all present of just how much the BSR does and can continue to do to support cutting edge work across the arts, humanities and social sciences.

While there are always lessons to be learnt, the unanimous conclusion of all who participated was that this was one of the most exciting, energising and fruitful experiences of their research careers.  Planning is already underway for next year’s event. I feel enormously privileged to have been a part of it all.

 

Professor Ian Haynes (Newcastle University)

 

 

Early Rome and the environment: from ancient myths of the Tiber to modern city sinkholes

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Kresimir Vukovic (Oxford) is one of our current Rome Fellows, resident at the BSR from October 2017 to June 2018. Kresimir’s research has focused on the mythology of the Tiber in Roman space and literature. In this blog he talks about his research, looking back at his recent lecture for the City of Rome Postgraduate Course, and showing us some of the new directions his work has taken this year.

When our Cary Fellow, Robert Coates-Stephens asked me earlier this year if I would give the inaugural lecture for the BSR City of Rome Postgraduate Course my feelings were mixed: I was honoured by the offer of this great privilege but at the same time started wondering how it is that I got so old so quickly. It seems like ages, but it was only five years ago that I sat in the same lecture theatre as a student on the same course (no grey hair then) listening to Christopher Smith talk on early Rome.

The focus of my lecture was on the role of the environment in the development of Rome as a city in the archaic period from the 8th to the 6th century BC. Rome owes its existence to an excellent strategic location on defensible hills placed near the Tiber Island, which provided a natural point for crossing the great river Tiber. This situation was essential in the development of settlements at a time when there were no bridges and very few boats.

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A reconstruction of the hydrological state of early Rome.

But the location also presented problems which quickly emerged as the settlements on the hills of Rome began to coalesce into a city: the inhabitants had to face the difficulties of expanding onto floodplains that stretch between the hills and close to the river. The Tiber flooded the valley between the Capitol and the Palatine on a regular basis, every winter, and the Romans started massive building projects in order to raise the level of the area that was to become their new city centre, the Roman Forum.

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Romulus and Remus by Peter Paul Rubens

The process left indelible traces in the mythology of Rome: the foundation myth tells how the twin infants Romulus and Remus are saved because the Tiber was in flood and the myth of Vertumnus, the shapeshifter god, had a sanctuary in the Forum because it was believed that he turned back the river from the area. In my lecture, my stress throughout was on the way that history is told through myths as I believe mythology is the universal language that best communicates the complex realities of ancient Rome and its relationship to the environment. In this sense Roman myths continue to speak to us today.

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Vertumnus and Pomona by Peter Paul Rubens

The subject of the environment is becoming increasingly more topical as we come to feel the effects of climate change. One of the myths I talked about was that of Marcus Curtius, a knight who offered his life in an effort to close a massive sinkhole that opened up in the midst of the Forum. Nowadays Rome’s soil continues to remain unstable: high levels of rainfall this year have caused as many as 44 sinkholes to open up in the low-lying areas of the city and there has been an average of 90 sinkholes a year in Rome since 2010. This is partly a consequence of building on ground made up of unconsolidated sediments that the Tiber floods have deposited over the centuries.

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Marcus Curtius by B.R. Haydon 1843

This century has been called ‘the century of water’ and the value of clean water as a resource grows in importance every day. In its recent World Water Report the UN calls for greener ways to deal with water management and draws special attention to ecosystems such as river valleys. When it comes to ecosystems, the report notes (p. 23) that we have important lessons to learn from ancient history. The collapse of early great civilizations of Tigris-Euphrates, the Nile, the Indus-Ganges and the Yellow River was caused by hydrological changes. The BSR is the ideal place to explore various aspects of water management through history. The great river of Rome was the subject of detailed studies in the BSR Tiber Valley project and I recently organised a symposium on the Tiber (The River and the City, 26 March) that revisited the topic.

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The river Tiber with Romulus and Remus, Capitoline hill

 

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Research on Portus, the imperial port of Rome continues with BSR archaeologists Stephen Kay, Simon Keay and Peter Campbell all involved in new discoveries. Water has also featured in the work of many scholars and artists in residence at the BSR this year. To name but a few: Lara Pucci presented her research on the symbolism of fascist fountains in her lecture on 28 February while Thea Ravasi gave a guided tour of emperor Hadrian’s villa at Tivoli (25 March) and spoke about the use of water in its monumental spaces. Josephine Baker-Heaslip’s work at the March Mostra highlighted the relationship between humanity and the environment while Marie-Claire Blais’ art was influenced by her thinking about patterns and water. Residing with artists and scholars who share similar interests but look at them from different angles is a unique experience which I found most stimulating in my work as Rome Fellow this year.

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Reconstruction of Rome’s imperial port—Portus, copyright Artas Media/Grant Cox

 

Krešimir Vuković (BSR Rome Fellow; Oxford)

Profile photograph of Kresimir by Antonio Palmieri.

The Landscape Garden: Britain’s Greatest Eighteenth-century Export?

Last year I had the pleasure of attending the Hortus Inclusus conference at the British School at Rome. It was two fascinating days and featured a diverse and talented international cast of speakers. The ancient Roman content was for me particularly interesting and it sparked the thought that a meeting on the topic of the eighteenth-century English Landscape garden, so heavily influenced by ancient Rome, would be a worthy follow-up event. On 6 March 2018 that idea came to fruition in the form of a one-day meeting at the BSR titled The Landscape Garden: Britain’s Greatest Eighteenth-century Export?.

I have previously commented on my good fortune in acquiring speakers for past meetings and I was delighted that we managed to secure an outstanding group of individuals to speak at this event, including the excellent Professor Diana Spencer to lead a discussion on the central conceit of the day – was the landscape garden indeed Britain’s greatest eighteenth-century export? More on this issue later.

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A week of bad weather in Italy and further afield presented travel challenges for delegates and speakers alike. In the hours before the meeting there was a flurry of ‘I might be a bit late’ text and email messages, but by mid-morning we had a growing audience and speakers ready to deliver. First-up, to set the scene, was the excellent Dr Laura Mayer who had kindly acceded to my request to deliver in slightly less than one-hour a keynote lecture on the English landscape garden from William Kent to Humphrey Repton, via Capability Brown. Laura delivered the perfect scene setter with ”Original & indisputably English’: the landscape gardens of the eighteenth century, no mean feat given the unenviable task she had agreed to.

With the scene so beautifully set I had the easiest task of the day with the presentation of my PhD research on the eighteenth-century landscape garden at Stourhead. This was the first outing for my critical review of authorial intention theories of Stourhead and my shift to focus on visitor reception. I was a little anxious at the reception of my ideas and research findings, so chose an understated title for my presentation: ‘Roman influences on Georgian Stourhead’. A robust question and answer session followed the presentation, which was very useful preparation for my forthcoming PhD viva.

Our final speaker before lunch was Dr Clare Hornsby who presented her recent research on the topic of Gardens at La Trappe: neo-classical display in the London suburbs’. Clare explained that this is work-in-progress, but it was clear from the content of her fabulous presentation that she has already achieved a good deal. The building she has painstakingly researched and described sounded truly magnificent and the account she gave of her research was so vivid it was almost like being in the various archives with her.

We commenced the post-lunch session with a consideration of art and literature’s impact on the English landscape garden. We were honoured to have well-known expert Michael Liversidge take us through a broad sweep of the influence of painting in his ‘Painting and planting: art, aesthetics and landscaping in Georgian Englandpresentation. Michael skilfully covered the better-known links between gardens and fine art, but very helpfully revealed what for me were a number of new links and perspectives.

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Our final speaker was Dr Paul Gwynne, who is Professor of Medieval and Renaissance Studies at the American University of Rome. This was another presentation I was very keen to hear, having had my appetite whetted by Luke Roman’s presentation at the Hortus Inclusus event. Paul’s ‘The Italian Renaissance villa and garden: an overlooked source. Some observations and suggestions’, is also work-in-progress, but was hugely informative and thought-provoking. It inspired me to revisit the topographical poets I read as part of my Stourhead research.

A day of informed and thorough lectures led us neatly into the panel discussion. I think we came to this mindful that the landscape garden had considerable competition for the title greatest eighteenth-century export. Nevertheless, given that by the end of the eighteenth-century ‘English gardens’ could be found in Sweden, Germany, Poland, Russia, and even France and Italy,  it was certainly amongst the most important artistic exports. With this weighty issue partially dealt with we retired to the reception area of the BSR for further reflection over drinks and snacks.

In closing I’d like to thank the speakers for their wonderful presentations and the delegates for their keenness to participate. The success of the day owes so much to the BSR staff who gave so generously of their time. I would particularly like to thank Tom True, Alice Marsh and Christine Martin whose advice, support and participation helped make the day such a joy.

John E. Harrison (Open University)

johncpc@btinternet.com

 

 

Walking Rome: views from the streets and the sky

Recent site-visits and lectures at the BSR, which have converged on the theme of walking, are generating ways of thinking about movement through the city.

The 3 and 19 trams pass by the BSR so rarely that they warrant inclusion on the WWF Endangered Species list. Waddling irritably away from the tram-stop, now late for the morning presa at the archives, it takes some fortitude to see the amble ahead as an act of intellectual, and even spiritual, refreshment.

In Rome, however, this is doable, since walking has traditionally often been a religious exercise. Before Christmas, BSR award-holders traced the most celebrated pilgrimage route, the Seven Pilgrim Churches of Rome’s great martyrs, in the company of Piers Baker-Bates, who discussed sacred art and architecture, and Emily Michelson, who spoke about the origins and importance of the giro as a counterpoint to the raucous misdeeds of the Carnival. Our group paused near the Cave di Fosse Ardeantine for a disquisition on the ongoing significance of martyrdom, looked in at the Chiesa del Domine Quo Vadis, and stopped in the grounds of the Villa Mattei for sandwiches and (partially) sacred discourse.

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Domine Quo Vadis? A replica of the stone said to be marked with the footprints of Christ on a mock road traversing the church, and which rises into the painting of St Peter

It was Sixtus V who envisaged, and nearly completed, the street system linking these seven pilgrimage basilicas. Ambitious urbanism inevitably entails great destruction, but the man who razed the wondrous Septizodium to the ground would scarcely have winced as he laid out his master-plan for Rome, whose streets when seen from above crudely create the form of a star. It was a star that lit the way for the genesis of modern town planning, thought to have influenced Le Notre’s Versailles, Haussmann’s Paris, L’Enfant’s Washington and the Rome of Mussolini (who reputedly kept a copy of Bordini’s Roma di Sisto V next to his bed).

During the Renaissance, there was an impulse to control and rectify movement, from throwing regularizing façade-cloaks over wonky palaces; to Vasari’s ripping out rood screens from Florentine basilicas, to Leonardo’s quixotic scheme to straighten the river Arno. At the same time, the city was increasingly perceived as something viewed from above, spurred on by developments in the fields of cartography, surveying and navigation. Architects from Francesco di Giorgio to Michelangelo conjured with the radial or star-shaped ideal city, which spoke of absolutist power and sketched geometries echoing the celestial city.

But there is a vast gulf between the paradigmatic symbolism of the utopian city as conceived from above, and the pragmatic realties of walking the city on the ground.

This was one of many themes that Stephen Milner touched on in his inaugural lecture. He contrasted the totalizing bird’s eye view of Florence in a Medieval catasto with the fundamentally participatory reality of navigating the city on foot. Walking never offers the controlled perspective of the map, since there is always one point of entry to the street or the piazza, and there is always room for the imaginative turn off the routinized pathway. In walking, as in creative research, curiosity (and over-crowded routes) drive us down roads one would not necessarily go down.

Two other lecturers approached their subject from the perspective of movement through the city. Simon Ditchfield’s magisterial lecture linked the migration of the papal centre from the Borgo across the Tiber to the Quirinal, to the creation of a new curial geography and ceremonial dynamic in Rome. As the Pope and his retinue newly criss-crossed the city between these two poles, they developed new itineraries and generated significant new routeways across the capital.

Emily Michelson mapped routes walked by Jews on the way to forced conversionary sermons in 16th-century Rome. She demonstrated how Jews were marshalled past monuments embodying the starkest differences and antagonism between Christianity and Judaism. The Monte di Pietà, the loan organisation deliberately established to undermine Jewish banks and lending institutions, hulked over them en route, and they were led past triumphalist Catholic monuments celebrating miracles and charismatic saints. By considering the subject from the novel perspective of walking, Emily has opened up a deeper and more visceral understand of the conversionary experience.

 

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Lupin joins pilgrimage group, seeking indulgence after stealing Fragolina’s food

We have also been thinking about the great roads of antiquity, with Janet Wade conducting a research project entitled Walking the Via Flaminia: following in the footsteps of Thomas Ashby and his companions, and Nick Hodgson leading a band of the most stout-hearted award-holders along the Via Appia all the way to Castel Gandolfo.

 

Tom True (Assistant Director)

 

 

 

Performing national sacrifice: remembering the Nasiriyah Massacre

In November 2017 Amy King, this year’s Pilkington Rome Awardee (funded by the Roger and Ingrid Pilkington Charitable Trust), attended the official commemoration for Italians who died in peace missions. Held at the Basilica di Santa Maria in Aracoeli in the heart of Rome, the ceremony combined national and religious rituals. Here she reflects on her findings.

On 18 November 2003, 50,000 Italians attended the funeral of the nineteen Italians killed in Nasiriyah, Iraq. Six days earlier, on 12 November, a suicide attack on the Italian military police headquarters in Nasiriyah, south of Baghdad, had caused Italy’s largest loss of life since World War II. Three days of national mourning ensued, and the caskets of Italy’s fallen soldiers, who had been in Iraq on a peace mission, lay in state in the Altare della Patria – the symbolic heart of Italy’s capital.

The following day, a number of newspapers printed the headline ‘The Massacre of Italians’[1] – indeed the tragedy would come to be known as the Nasiriyah Massacre – while others declared ‘Italy Struck at its Heart’,[2]  or simply ‘Our Martyrs.’[3]  Many publications carried the same image of a soldier standing in front of the burnt out remains of the headquarters, his head in his hands.

Figure 1: Many newspapers printed this image in the aftermath of the tragedy 

Many newspapers printed this image in the aftermath of the tragedy[4]

The state funeral was held in the Basilica Papale di San Paolo fuori le Mura and broadcast on national television; an estimated 50,000 Italians waited outside the basilica, and watched the funeral on large screens. The ceremony blended many of the markers of national, military and religious identity; the Tricolore flag was draped over each casket with a gun placed on top, the military salute was performed, and the presiding clergy contributed to the overarching religious ritual and iconography. Once the ceremony was over, the caskets were loaded into hearses as members of the carabinieri, the army, navy, air force and the president’s own horse-mounted honour guard stood to attention.

During my time in the city, I interviewed Virgilio Spano, president of an association of retired carabinieri, about his memories of the Nasiriyah funeral. ‘In some way, you felt Italian that day… Italian and that’s it,’ he said, emphasizing the dissolution of political divisions in the face of such national sacrifice. It was a question of ‘patria, rather than country,’ he added. ‘Country is a geographic term. Patria is the place that you feel. Patria is… is… it’s everything. [5]

 

Institutional mourning

Figure 2: The commemoration ceremony began on the Vittoriano steps
The commemoration ceremony began on the Vittoriano steps
Figure 3: The wreath on the Vittoriano

The wreath on the Vittoriano

The institutional support for commemoration continued on the various anniversaries of the tragedy, and in 2009 the 12 November was declared la Giornata del ricordo dei Caduti militari e civili nelle missioni internazionali. I attended the official commemoration ceremony at the Vittoriano monument and then the Basilica di Santa Maria in Aracoeli on the 12 November 2017 (on the day that an official plaque to the Nasiriyah victims was unveiled in the Italian Senate). Roberta Pinotti, the minster for defence, and Generale Graziano, head of the Italian army, attended the event alongside relatives of fallen soldiers and Italian civilians. The ceremony began at the Vittoriano; soldiers lined the steps leading to a wreath, and commemorative speeches were given.

Attendees then moved to the nearby Aracoeli Basilica for the religious ceremony. Uniformed forces filled the back half of the church, while relatives of the victims and the general public sat towards the front. Many uniformed attendees wore medals and rosettes, and military officers handed out the order of service. A military brass band opened the ceremony with the Last Post, and the cardinal entered the church, followed by three military figures in ceremonial dress, priests, and two carabinieri.

Figure 4: Inside the Aracoeli Basilica during the service

Inside the Aracoeli Basilica during the service

Military and religious figures spoke to the congregation. The Cardinal Priest focused his address on the eternal life after sacrifice, and the hope that is born from sacrifice. Later in the ceremony, minister Pinotti gave an address directly to the relatives of the victims, who she had accompanied in times of deep pain but also of pride – pride in their relatives’ sacrifice, which is an ‘important part of the respectability Italy has deserved’ on an international stage. She closed her address with a declaration: ‘a life dedicated to others is a life that never ends.’

As in the funeral held in 2003, this ceremony enacted the notion of death at war as the ultimate sacrifice – a classic paradigm of secular martyrdom that has reinforced the Italian national narrative as far back as the Risorgimento. Through the conflation of religious and military ritual, and the blending of national and religious iconography, sacrifice in the name of the patria (and the subsequent eternal life) is performed in the heart of Rome.

Figure 5: A uniformed figure leaves the basilica

A uniformed figure leaves the basilica

 

Text and images by Amy King (University of Bristol/Bath), BSR Pilkington Rome Awardee (funded by the Roger and Ingrid Pilkington Charitable Trust)

 

 


[1]‘La Strage degli Italiani’, Il Giornale, 13 November 2003, p. 1, Biblioteca di Storia moderna e contemporanea; ‘La Strage degli Italiani’, La Stampa, 13 November 2003, p. 1, Biblioteca di Storia moderna e contemporanea; ‘La Strage degli Italiani’, La Repubblica, 13 November 2003, p. 1, Biblioteca di Storia moderna e contemporanea.
[2]‘L’Italia colpita al cuore’, Il Messaggero, 13 November 2003, p. 1.
[3]‘I Nostri Martiri’, Il Tempo, 13 November 2003, p. 1, Biblioteca di Storia moderna e contemporanea.
[4]‘La Strage degli Italiani’.
[5] Virgilio Spano, Interview by Amy King with Virgilio Spano, Presidente Associazione CCC Martiri di Nassiriya, 2017.