Original photographic prints from the BSR Photographic Archive on display at Palazzo Poli in Rome

On 16 May our Library team attended the opening of a photographic exhibition that sees the participation of 30 Italian and foreign institutions in Rome, including many members of the URBiS Library Network Catalogue.

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The list of all the institutions in Rome both Italian and foreign participating in the exhibition

The exhibition shows more than 300 photographs arranged by theme in alphabetical order: Acque, Bellezza, Cronaca, Danni, Esplorazioni, Feste, Giochi, Habitat, Incontri, Lavoro, Mostre, Nudo, Oltremare, Potere, Quotidianità, Radici, Spettacoli, Trasporti, Urbanistica, Viaggi, Zibaldone. This approach, presenting the photographs according to theme rather than chronology, results in a more evocative and inspiring experience for the public and demonstrates the diversity and richness of the photographic collections across the participant institutions.

The title of the initiative stems from the exhibition’s three distinguishing elements:

  • the alphabetical order in which the images are presented (alfabeto)
  • the nature of the objects on display – exclusively photographs (fotografico)
  • the provenance of the collections, all from public and private institutions in Rome (romano)

We are very proud to have participated in the exhibition by contributing some original photographs from our Photographic Archive: five original albumen prints from the John Henry Parker Collection have been selected for the section Acque, Danni, Potere, Urbanistica and Viaggi, as well as two silver gelatin prints from the John Bryan Ward-Perkins series ‘War Damage’ documenting the destruction of the San Lorenzo basilica during World War II.

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The exhibition catalogue showing images documenting the destruction of the basilica of San Lorenzo during World War II

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Attendees at the exhibition opening

The accompanying catalogue includes more than 200 images and a description of each item is provided by the curators of the photographic collections.

We are very grateful to Maria Francesca Bonetti (Istituto Centrale per la Grafica (ICG)) and Clemente Marsicola (Istituto Centrale per il Catalogo e la Documentazione (ICCD)) for having dedicated their efforts to setting up this highly collaborative project.

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Audience attending the presentation of the exhibition

On a personal note, I would like to express my gratitude to Beatrice Gelosia, Deputy Librarian, for her invaluable help and support throughout the preparation of both the texts published in the catalogue and the photographic material selected for the event.

Do not miss the opportunity to go and visit this outstanding exhibition, on display until the beginning of July:

Venue: Palazzo Poli, Via Poli, 54 (Fontana di Trevi) – Rome

Date: 17 May-2 July 2017

Time: Tuesday-Sunday, 14.00-19.00

Free entrance


Alessandra Giovenco (Archivist)

‘Hidden mysteries of those receptacles of the mighty dead’

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‘Hidden mysteries of those receptacles of the mighty dead’

From a letter in the Smeaton Archive presented publicly for the first time by BSR Honorary Fellow Professor John Osborne at the BSR in February.

There could have been no speaker, no venue, and no moment more appropriate for last month’s lecture Charles Smeaton, John Henry Parker and the earliest photography in the Roman catacombs than Professor John Osborne, at the BSR, in 2017.

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Professor John Osborne, il nostro Canadese…. Photo by Antonio Palmieri.

150 years into the Canadian Confederation, Professor Osborne ingeniously revealed a (rare) Canadian aspect on early medieval Rome by shedding light on the earliest known catacomb photographs, which were taken by the Canadian photographer Charles Smeaton – known as il Canadese – for the British antiquarian, John Henry Parker. Between 1864 and 1877 Parker spent his winters in Rome where he amassed a vast documentary photographic record of the city’s historic monuments, intended for both scholarly and public audiences. In the pre-electric age, photography in the Roman catacombs at first posed an insurmountable technical problem for Parker’s photographers, due to the total absence of natural light; but in January 1867 (150 years before il nostro Canadese’s BSR lecture) Smeaton overcame this difficulty through the use of a recent invention, magnesium wire.

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Small exhibition of photographs from the BSR John Henry Parker Collection. Photo by Antonio Palmieri.

 

The British and American Archaeological Society, founded by Parker in 1865, owned a collection of these important photographs, which in some instances constitute a unique source of information regarding the nature and condition of the catacombs and their murals. These became part of the BSR’s Photographic Archive in 1926, and have recently been catalogued and digitized (they can be found on our online catalogue URBiS www.urbis-libnet.org/vufind/). Valerie Scott and the library staff demonstrated the rich research value of the BSR’s library and archive resources by assembling an accompanying exhibition of the catacomb photographs in the Parker collection in the adjacent foyer.

John’s lecture led to the attribution of around twenty-five photographs to Smeaton, but also broke new ground by sharing Smeaton’s florid, yet unsettling, eyewitness account of the process, recently rediscovered in a family archive and presented here publicly for the first time. The letter records how Smeaton carried ‘into those dismal dungeons coil upon coil of sunshine in the shape of magnesium wire’ to obtain photographs of murals in the chapel of the catacomb of Priscilla. Smeaton, alone in the dark, exclaimed how the marble slab of a tomb fell at his feet ‘and with it a portion of the bones of its tenant’ and described his ‘terror inexpressible’ when he ‘found his fingers in the eyeholes of a human skull’! John located the horror felt at being underground with the bodies of the dead within a topos, stretching back to St Jerome, passing through Bosio’s band of Counter-Reformation brothers, and reaching the ghoulish gothic fascination of Victorian England.

 

It was a compelling account of Smeaton’s immensely significant, but hitherto mysteriously hidden, contribution in demonstrating definitively the advantages of photography in creating a historical record: a moment from which ‘there has been no turning back’. We left convinced, inspired, yet a little relieved to climb the stairs from the Lecture Theatre and return above ground to a glass of prosecco.

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‘No turning back’.  The heir to Smeaton, award-holder Morgan Gostwyck-Lewis (Scholars’ Prize in Architecture Winner)

 

This lecture’s topics, including the full text of Smeaton’s memoir, will be discussed in the Rivista di Archeologia Cristiana, 2016, to be published shortly.


Tom True (Assistant Director)

Our second century

In 1916, Assistant Director Eugenie Strong and architect Ernest Cormier briefly took up residence in the current BSR. We know a little about these early days in the building, which was by no means as complete as it is now. The east wing was missing (and not completed until the 1930s).

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Plan of the BSR with missing east wing (Courtesy of the BSR Archives)

One of the studios was the common room, and housed Thomas Ashby’s [Director 1906-25] Piranesi prints in a special cabinet. Part of the Director’s flat was the temporary kitchen. Ashby himself was at the Italian front as a volunteer ambulance driver; most of the thirty-seven men associated with the BSR, including its Italian staff, were also caught up in the war.

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The former common room – today one of our artists’ studios (courtesy of the BSR Photographic Archive)

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Thomas Ashby’s Piranesi prints on display in the common room (courtesy of the BSR Photographic Archive)

But the building was ours, for all that it was incomplete, and its first two residents were remarkable figures. Strong — an ebullient socialite, an expert on Roman art, polymathic, and profoundly international with contacts across Europe — is relatively well known. Her immense collection of commercial photographs of art and sculpture from several periods remains an untapped part of the BSR archive; and work on her large collection of postcards merits external funding.

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Eugenie Strong (Courtesy of the BSR Photographic Archive)

Ernest Cormier stands for another aspect of the BSR. He was a Canadian architect, and designed not only the central buildings of McGill University but also Canada’s Supreme Court in Ottawa. Our Commonwealth roots and our commitment to architecture, and to excellence, come together in the figure of Cormier.

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Supreme Court of Ottawa, designed by Ernest Cormier – the first student to take up residence at the BSR in 1916 (Photo: Wikipedia)

It is fitting to remember Cormier as we also think this year of our departed and much-missed friend, Francesco Garofalo, who himself spent several years in Canada and who gave so much to the BSR. Francesco and his wife and fellow architect Sharon Miura worked on the extension of the BSR at the beginning of this century, including the Sainsbury Lecture Theatre, where his posthumous book of essays was presented earlier this month.

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Speakers at the launch of Whatever happened to Italian Architecture? (Photo: Antonio Palmieri)

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Architect Sharon Miura who managed the BSR’s Sustainable Building Project with her late husband Francesco Garofalo (Photo: Antonio Palmieri)

A century on from its beginnings, the BSR’s building has never been in better shape. Thanks to my predecessor’s extension, and the recent Sustainable Building Project refurbishment programme — which Sharon Miura project-managed, with architects Studio Amati, engineers ARUP, and building contractor LO.MA — our artists are now showing their work in a temperature- and humidity-controlled gallery, our Library periodicals are in a fully refurbished basement, and we are constantly driving down energy costs.

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Work on the east wing roof during the Sustainable Building Project (Photo: Natalie Arrowsmith)

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Christopher Smith inspects the building work (Photo: Antonio Palmieri)

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The refurbished artists’ studios (Photo: Antonio Palmieri)

To celebrate this, we were proud and honoured to receive a visit from our President, HRH Princess Alexandra, who launched the next phase of our Second Century Campaign. We are working to create a stable and sustainable basis for our future. We hope that as many of our members as possible will visit us next year and that all our existing friends, and many new ones, will help us continue the traditions of internationalism and excellence which have characterised the first century of the BSR and will serve us well in our second.

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HRH Princess Alexandra visiting the BSR to launch the Second Century Campaign (Photo: Thomas Toti)

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HRH Princess Alexandra with members of the Sustainable Building Project team and BSR staff and residents (Photo: Thomas Toti)

Christopher Smith (Director)

Ashby First World War photographs on tour

We have more news from the Archive this week. Friday 30 September saw the opening of the exhibition Umanita’ al fronte: la British Red Cross a San Giovanni al Natisone nella Grande Guerra at the Biblioteca di San Giovanni al Natisone.

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BSR Archivist Alessandra Giovenco speaks at the opening of Umanità al fronte.

The exhibition is made up of approximately 60 photographs from the Photographic Archive of the British School at Rome. The images were taken by the BSR’s third director Thomas Ashby during the First World War, and they give us an insight into daily life at the front. Some of these photographs were first exhibited at Palazzo Doria Pamphilj last year in collaboration with the Croce Rossa Italiana and with the generous support of the British Embassy in Rome: https://britishschoolatrome.wordpress.com/2015/06/30/ashby-and-the-first-world-war/

So far there have been 300 visitors to the exhibition, and an extensive secondary schools programme will be delivered to help students understand the key role played by the small villages in that area during the First World War. We are delighted that these photographs continue to reach new audiences, and that our Archive Project Ashby and the First World War continues to play an important role in the centenary commemoration of the First World War.

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Installation shot from Villa de Brandis.

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Guests at the exhibition opening at La Barchessa – Villa de Brandis.

 

Acknowledgements:

Exhibition curators: Fabrizia Bosco, Anita Deganutti.

Exhibition organisers: Elena Braida, Marco Pispisa.

The Comune of San Giovanni al Natisone and its mayor, Valter Braida.

Digital images and prints: Stefano Ciol.

 


 

Text by Natalie Arrowsmith (Communications Manager) and Alessandra Giovenco (Archivist).

Images by Marco Pispisa (Biblioteca Civica di San Giovanni al Natisone). More photographs of the event are available on the Biblioteca Civica di San Giovanni al Natisone Facebook page.

 

Archive receives donation of 20th-century press photographs of the Roman Forum

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From left to right: Valerie Scott (BSR Librarian), Christopher Smith (BSR Director), Liam Jensen-Kohl, Alessandra Giovenco (BSR Archivist). 

This week we were delighted to receive a very special donation for our Archive.

A collection of 20th-century press photographs in and around the Roman Forum was generously donated by Lynette Jensen, and consists of 75 black and white press photographs taken between the years 1924 and 1993 (its sister collection of engravings and photographs sits in the Museum of Ancient Cultures, Macquarie University, in Sydney, and traces the depiction of the Roman Forum from the first days of printing to the early 20th century).

This new collection is a valuable addition to our Photographic Archive which already holds over 100,000 items – prints and negatives of rare and unique collections. The Lynette Jensen Collection, Roman Forum 20th-Century Press Photographs will be available for consultation for study purposes, so please email our Archivist Alessandra Giovenco to find out more.

Lynette hopes that the photographs ‘might go a small way in reflecting the enormously important role the BSR plays in Australian scholarship and the gratitude and fondness Australians feel for the British School at Rome’.

Many thanks to Liam Jensen-Kohl (pictured above) who archived and prepared the collection, and brought it all the way from Australia!

Students protesting against sound and light shows in the Forum in the early 1970s.

Students protesting against sound and light shows in the Forum in the early 1970s.

'ROMAN AUTOS GET CHURCH'S BLESSING' for the feast day of Santa Francesca Romana - patron saint of Roman automobilists!

‘ROMAN AUTOS GET CHURCH’S BLESSING’ for the feast day of Santa Francesca Romana – patron saint of Roman automobilists.

Yet more cars outside of the colosseum. No blessing this time - just a traditional Roman traffic jam.

Yet more cars outside of the Colosseum. No blessing this time – just a traditional Roman traffic jam.

It seems that no photographer can resist the classic combination of Roman ruins and cats.

It seems that no photographer can resist the classic combination of Roman ruins and cats.

 


 

Natalie Arrowsmith (Communications Manager)

Sculpture at the BSR

This week on our blog, we take a look at the work of two former BSR award-holders, and show how the creative practice recorded in the BSR Archives becomes the subject of contemporary research.

Alfred Hardiman in his studio at the BSR

Alfred Hardiman in his studio at the BSR.

Earlier this summer, Archivist Alessandra Giovenco received an email from former BSR resident, Valerie Holman, letting her know that an article based in large part on research carried out at the BSR had just been published in Sculpture Journal.

Valerie kindly took the time to tell us about her research:

‘In 1920, Alfred Hardiman (1891-1949), a mature student in art and former engineering draughtsman, became only the third recipient of the Rome Prize in Sculpture. He spent a very productive four years at the BSR, completing in clay a seven-foot figure of Peace, now cast in bronze and sited in the garden of St James’s Piccadilly, as well as many portrait busts of staff and fellow students, among them Winifred Knights. Knights’ paintings and drawings, including her portraits of Hardiman, are currently on show at Dulwich Art Gallery in London [the exhibition is now drawing to a close, having had a very successful run!].

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Hardiman’s sculpture of his contemporary at the BSR, Winifred Knights.

Sculpture created in Italy made his reputation in the UK, and led to prestigious, large-scale commissions such as the four groups of figures that adorn London County Hall, and his equestrian statue of Earl Haig in Whitehall. A strong advocate of collective endeavour, he made lasting friendships at the BSR that extended into his professional life, collaborating with the award-winning architect, Stephen Rowland Pierce, on several public buildings during the 1930s.Nearly 100 years later, my brief time at the BSR was spent trawling through archives with the patient help of Alessandra Giovenco [BSR Archivist], or strolling through Rome to try and see the city as Hardiman did, pondering relationships between light and mass, scale and space, classical order and Baroque exuberance. It was an incomparable opportunity to understand what the Rome Scholarship in Sculpture must have meant to a man of modest means whose later work, though still extraordinarily little known, is now prominently sited in cities across the UK.’


This July we had a visit from a more recent former award-holder, Michael Rhodes, who came back to visit the BSR for the first time in over 30 years. Michael recalled his envy when a close friend was awarded the Rome Prize in Sculpture at the BSR – only to shortly afterwards himself be awarded the Gulbenkian Scholarship in Sculpture.

From a working class background, Michael remembers his preconceptions about coming to the BSR, fearing his fellow award-holders would all be ‘condescending’. In reality, his two years – residencies were often much longer at that time – at the BSR were filled with intellectual stimulation, travel…and romance. The BSR is doubly special for Michael as his wedding was held here (with the organisational help of the legendary Anna Fazzari), his wife-to-be having worked in the archaeology department during his residency.

Having lived in Berlin for a large part of his working life as a sculptor (‘Berlin has been trendy for twenty years now’), during his visit he rekindled his fascination with Rome, and hopes to return soon.

Work in progress in Michael's Berlin studio.

Current work in progress in Michael’s Berlin studio.


We are pleased that the BSR, and specifically our Fine Arts records, continue to be a vital research resource for scholars and practitioners alike. If you think the BSR Archives might be useful for your research, contact Archivist Alessandra Giovenco to discuss your project.

Natalie Arrowsmith (Communications Manager)

Preparing for the year ahead: behind the scenes

As we wrote in our blog last week, August represents a change of pace for us. The Library has completed its annual ‘checking’ and inventory of 110,000(!) books and periodicals, as it prepares to re-open on Monday 29 August. August is also the time for Maintenance Officer Fulvio Astolfi to undertake any major renovation works needed for the recommencement of our events programme and the arrival of the new award-holders.

Last August, Fulvio’s attention was focused mainly on the Sustainable Building Project, which was successfully completed earlier this year .

This project was a large undertaking but is only the most recent of the makeovers that the building has gone through — since its beginnings as the British pavilion for the 1911 exposition in Rome — to become a residence fit for purpose for the hard creative work that we support.

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The BSR as it stood over a century ago — as nothing more than a façade.

Along with these larger projects the BSR has always had a team of committed staff members to look after the building on a day to day basis. With the help of BSR Archivist Alessandra Giovenco we found this photograph (which some of you may recognise from the BSR’s One Hundred Years centenary volume) of Carpenter Pio Fiorini, Fulvio’s previous incarnation!

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Pio Fiorini (left), joined the BSR on 10 March 1946. He is pictured with Giuseppe Fioranelli (right), who eventually took over Pio’s position following his retirement.

The picture shows the two outside on the tennis court, but the carpenter’s ‘office’ was the space underneath the front steps of our grand façade — since transformed into the Gallery during the building project of 2000.

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From carpenter’s studio to exhibition space …. the Gallery under construction during the building works of 2000 that also saw the creation of the Sainsbury Lecture Theatre.

During the 2000 and 2015 building projects, the successors of Pio and Giuseppe, Maintenance Officer Fulvio Astolfi and Domestic Bursar Renato Parente have excelled in their commitment to to supporting the activity of our residence. Their tireless commitment to the Sustainable Building Project — and ongoing maintenance of the BSR building — has been immeasurable.

Fulvio Astolfi and Renato Parente during the building works of 2000. Photograph by Sarah Hyslop.

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Renato and Fulvio in 2015 helping to prepare the Gallery for an exhibition. Photograph by Sophie Hay.

As we continue our work behind the scenes to prepare for the new academic year, we look forward to telling you about the work, ideas and discoveries, which the BSR will be home to in 2016-17.

 

 

 


If you would like to see more images from the Sustainable Building Project take a look at our blog celebrating its completion.

Images courtesy of the BSR Photographic Archives unless otherwise stated.