June Mostra 2019/ Meet the artists… Andrew Bonneau

As we approach the June Mostra, our third exhibition of this academic year, we will be publishing a series of blogs taking a closer look at the individual practices of our seven resident artists. The fourth interview is from Andrew Bonneau our Fletcher Foundation Resident.

AB in studio

Photo: Antonio Palmieri

Will you show these drawings (pictured above) at the June Mostra?

Yes, I will show these drawings and maybe some paintings too. Mostly my paintings are en plein air done in the Borghese gardens and at the Forum.

How do you select your subjects?

There are some iconic sculptures that are well known and are part of the academic drawing canon, like this one (pictured below): the Ludovisi Ares/Mars at Rest from Palazzo Altemps. I wanted to see what it is about these sculptures that sets them apart from others. Drawing this one yesterday, I realised that it’s a real masterpiece. The quality of the pose, even the forms of the muscles, have this kind of contained energy. Even the in expression on the face, there’s a consistency to the whole figure which is of a certain mood.

Mars at Rest, Palazzo Altemps

Ludovisi Ares/Mars at Rest from Palazzo Altemps

Is this energy different from other sculptures you have seen?

Yes, definitely. I have made a drawing of Athena, also from Palazzo Altemps. I chose this more for its meaning rather than its aesthetic qualities, although of course aesthetics play a part. Athena is a warrior goddess, a supreme character, very majestic. She’s an important goddess for the Athenians, in the Odyssey she guided Telemachus to find his father. But this sculpture is actually heavily restored. The torso is original second century Roman, but the head and the legs are from the seventeenth century so it’s kind of a hybrid – they did a nice job of trying to make it consistent. However, it doesn’t have the overall sense of unity.

Has it been important for you to look at the original over the copy?

It’s nice if you can look at original Greek or Roman sculpture. For example sculptures that were famous in the Grand Tour in the eighteenth century, such as the Belvedere Apollo. You might think “Why is this sculpture considered to be so important?”, yet, when you draw it you think “Okay this is actually pretty good, I can see why, it’s not arbitrary.” When something is part of the canon, without understanding the reason for its inclusion it can be seen as a cliché, it’s just what people have liked for centuries and they liked it because they were told to like it but when you actually investigate and compare you can see that quality is a real thing. It’s nice to test out the assumptions and to see the difference, not just in terms of quality but character too.

This is a drawing of the Dying Gaul (pictured below), which is in the Capitoline Museum. I think this is a really good sculpture, it’s the pathos not just in the face but in the gesture – even in the shapes of the muscles. It has a different character than this (compared to Mars at Rest). In this pose, he’s dying, holding onto life and there’s an almost exhausted quality to it. There’s a formal quality about the suggestion of life within the body.

The Dying Gaul, Capitoline Museums

Dying Gaul from the Capitoline Museum

How do you place yourself within twentieth-century artistic developments?

There’s a lot of twentieth century art I like (probably up until Pop Art). But there were so many movements in twentieth-century art, that art practice got further and further away from the training artists would have in the past. The kind of training where you draw from the life model, study light and shade and composition and you construct paintings based on that knowledge. Early modernism came at the end of that tradition and seemed to feel that it had to radically remake itself. Since then, the tendency has been towards deconstruction and there doesn’t seem to have been much attempt at reconstruction – putting things back together. When I went to art school, when studying art history, I remember thinking that we have so much to draw upon – in fact all of art history to draw upon – but without the skills you don’t have access to any of this, because you can’t tune into the same things that those artists were doing. I’m interested in reclaiming some of the skill and the aesthetic, it’s partly personal and partly looking at art history, seeing what’s missing and what I’d like to see more of. But I’m at odds with most contemporary art and artists, because most of them don’t think that way. I’m going back to something earlier and I’m quite conscious it’s not a normal thing to be doing, but I think it’s important.

I think in a larger cultural sense it would be a shame to look at the period we’re in now and not see any good figurative painting. We have a pluralistic art world now and a pluralistic world in general and many things can exist at the same time and I think that’s good. So I’m trying to do this particular thing that isn’t being done much. It’s not cynical and it’s not deconstructive, it’s not ironic.

There is so much in Rome to learn from in each period, but since I’ve been here I’ve been drawn towards the sculpture and painting from antiquity. It really helps you understand the things that came later and you can see the continuity. So I guess I’m looking for that language. It’s not the only language but it’s one I’d like to be more familiar with.

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Socrates in the Capitoline Museum

Andrew’s work will be exhibited alongside the seven other resident artists in the June Mostra. The opening will take place on Friday 14 June 18.30-21.00. Opening hours 16.30-19.00 until Saturday 22 June 2019, closed Sundays.

Interview by Martina Caruso (Assistant Director for Art, Architecture and the Creative Industries). Photos courtesy of the artist. 

June Mostra 2019/ Meet the artists… Kirtika Kain

As we approach the June Mostra, our third exhibition of this academic year, we will be publishing a series of blogs taking a closer look at the individual practices of our seven resident artists. The third interview is from Kirtika Kain National Art School, Sydney Resident.

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Photo: Antonio Palmieri

You started your residency at the beginning of April. Is a city like Rome having an impact on an Indian born artist, like you, who grew up in Australia?

In every sense. To put my time here into context, prior to Rome I completed a three-month residency in Delhi. These two ancient cities continue to express the vastness of human civilisation. Two months ago, I was in the swirl of Old Delhi, the shrines and havelis; my dearest friend with whom I explored the city’s narrow lanes described to me how he had lived hand-to-mouth as a street child. I was reminded constantly that blood flows so close to the skin, that life in its full uncompromising force is so close to the surface. And then yesterday, in Rome, I walk into the palatial Doria Pamphilj Gallery, such evocative decadence. Each day I stroll through the lush and endearing Villa Borghese. There is a timelessness in both cities, they are the inverse of each other. I have witnessed this timelessness not so much in the built environment but certainly in the ancient land of Australia, within her seas and stones. I feel both familiar and foreign in all three cities of Delhi, Rome and Sydney.
As a resident of the British institution to then consider hierarchical caste and colonial structures from this lens has been so enormous that I think I am still in the phase of experiencing it all. I will ultimately come to a point of articulating and comprehending, but at the moment every day is such a feast of experience.

 

What has been your journey from India, a country that was colonised by Great Britain, to Italy in a British institution?

It has highlighted for me the complexity of colonisation, and opened up an area of enquiry that is inevitable for me to now move towards. I am curious about the colonial imprint upon both Australia and India and particularly how respectively Indigenous and Scheduled Castes and Tribes navigate this legacy. I often consider how, as a female artist born into the Dalit or Untouchable caste within India, it is necessary for me to show my work in a Western context for it to be visible, especially in India’s current political landscape. I know one day this will change.

I have been informed by such contemporary postcolonial theorists as Debjani Ganguly who have proposed that following Independence from Colonial rule, higher caste Indian leaders became the colonisers of minority Dalits; the structure remained internally even when British rule ceased. As a Dalit artist trained in the West, to address caste violence is playing with this colonial paradigm, it is no longer black and white. I think this conversation and these avenues of thinking start opening up from a place like the British School. The complexities become apparent because it is not just about the victim and the perpetrator, there are so many aspects. It is a grey-zone.

 

And you are investigating this grey-zone?

I am investigating it as a global citizen, across borders and time zones, from the ancient world to the modern one. A similar hierarchy based on purity and pollution existed in Ancient Rome. I am investigating it in the most human way possible, by working and thinking through material.

 

What is your approach to materials?

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Raw materials from Kirtika’s studio in Delhi including tar, cotton, hand made paper, religious pigment and plaster

When I first considered Rome, I was compelled to know dates, periods of time, to research and define. And now I am here, I experience each time period through the surface and skin of all things. Recently, I went to the Etruscan museum here in Villa Giulia. Seeing these early clay pots, the ancient metals of copper, bronze, gold and iron, I lose track of where I am, as I have witnessed these same materials in the historical museums of Delhi. Being in Rome opens one up to the fluidity and common language of material.

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Clay pots and ancient metals from the Etruscan Museum in Villa Giulia

Which materials have been new for you in Rome?

I have been etching copper, using waxes and enjoying the materials of restoration. The pigments are so numerous here. Yet the one material that has surprised me is gold. Gold is such a solid metal, it is so present and distinct. Yet in the mosaics of Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore, it become translucent; it reflects light in the most glorious way I have seen.

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Kirtika’s etched copper plates as shown in Spazi Aperti at the Accademia di Romania in Rome

As there is so much work on themes such as feminism and identity politics, how does this generation address this in a new way?

I think it is the responsibility of our generation to think of these concerns with a freshness. Every cell in my body is political, our bodies are so politicised and I can feel it especially as I watch the current Indian parliamentary elections unfold.  Beyond the wave of anger we must find our own voice; much of my political views have been informed by others. I now search for originality. Many of the things we stand for have been learned, especially something like caste which has been recycled for millennia. To believe that you are a shadow, your body is polluted, impure, an assault to those around you. I have inherited this legacy and now I find my own. My own voice.

 

Kirtika’s work will be exhibited alongside the seven other resident artists in the June Mostra. The opening will take place on Friday 14 June 18.30-21.00. Opening hours 16.30-19.00 until Saturday 22 June 2019, closed Sundays.

Interview by Marta Pellerini (Visual Art Residency and Programme Curator). Photos courtesy of the artist.

June Mostra 2019/ Meet the artists…Anna Brass

As we approach the June Mostra, our third exhibition of this academic year, we will be publishing a series of blogs taking a closer look at the individual practices of our seven resident artists. The second interview is from Anna Brass, our Sainsbury Scholar in Painting & Sculpture.

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Anna Brass with Caroline Barron, Rome Awardee (left). Photo: Natalie Arrowsmith

I know that for the June Mostra you are going to create a poster for your film. Could you tell us more about it?

In the past, I have made the posters either before I have made a film or half way through – I need to be bribed to get to the end. The poster is my carrot. It’s a form of constructive procrastination, which is useful because it’s a way for me to set the tone for the thing I want to make. I like doing it in the wrong order: poster first, film later. The one I’m making now is based on a 15th century pilgrim badge depicting the martyrdom of Saint Alban. He was beheaded in the 3rd or 4th century in England, and the story goes that as a result of the martyrdom the executioner’s eyes immediately popped out of his head. A strange occurrence, so abrupt and cartoonish.

Hawkwood Posters

Poster for Haukebodde Hacoud Hacwod Aukud Acud Acut Acuto

Its very different from the previous poster you showed me which is similar to the way you work, full of emblematic images. This is a bit different, it’s an action.

It is an action: chopping and popping, heads and eyes. I got quite bogged down with my film recently, it became heavy and I was stuck. But when I came across this pilgrim badge I suddenly remembered what I wanted it to be: full of wild and strange imagery. So making this poster is a reminder to myself. Differently to the previous I made it will be a really quick felt tip pen drawing. And then I will get it printed big: proper poster size.

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Cup, velvet, wadding and thread, 2019

Will you be showing the cup (pictured above) in the June Mostra

Absolutely, I like this velvet one. It’s from a playing card but it looks religious. I went to Basilica di Santa Cecilia in Trastevere this week, and I did lots of drawings from the Pietro Cavallini frescoes. I’ve been thinking a lot about the creation of the world, or the formation of the universe. I went to see the mosaics in Duomo di Monreale in Sicily a few weeks ago: the creation sequence there is brilliant. There are these big cosmic, semi-abstract images, which are really exciting and strange. Also, I’ve been reading some of Ovid’s Metamorphosis. He talks about the kind of liquid chaos, or bulk of chaos that exists before the world is formed, and how it is separated and taken apart and settled into different things. For the June Mostra I’ve been thinking about a primordial swamp, full of elements and raw materials, swirling and shifting. And out of this cosmic soup emerges some kind of sentient figure or force that can animate matter. And it changes everything, it changes the whole structure of the world.

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Drawings of the frescos by Pietro Cavallini in Basilica di Santa Cecilia in Trastevere

At the BSR, you have led a few workshops and now you’re thinking about curating a show in Rome. Tell us more…

Yes, and it is something I was doing before but it has been much more concentrated here. I find that kind of collaboration is vital to my work, and also vital to the idea that you can get things done. I have a lot of energy and it flows better when I can work with other people on different things.

In the future, will you continue with this dynamic way of working? 

Yes, absolutely. The pinhole workshop that I did with Martina and David, that has been so important in the way I have been thinking about image-making, even though it started as a separate thing. I am going to include pinhole photographs in my film. It’s a way to keep it all open.

 

Anna’s work will be exhibited alongside the seven other resident artists in the June Mostra. The opening will take place on Friday 14 June 18.30-21.00. Opening hours 16.30-19.00 until Saturday 22 June 2019, closed Sundays.

Interview by Marta Pellerini (Visual Art Residency and Programme Curator). Photos courtesy of the artist.

June Mostra 2019/ Meet the artists…Jade Ching-yuk Ng

As we approach the June Mostra, our third exhibition of this academic year, we will be publishing a series of blogs taking a closer look at the individual practices of our seven resident artists and resident architecture fellow. The first to be interviewed is Jade Ching-yuk Ng, our Abbey Scholar in Painting.

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Photo: Antonio Palmieri

More than humans_Jade Ching-yuk_Ng

More than humans, 2018, linocut, monotype, caran d’ache, gouache, ink on artist-made board, 89,5x70cm

Have you already started to work for the June Mostra?

I’m trying to make two paintings of 190x150cm, but its going to be a lot of work. I would like to have two tapestries of the same colour. Well, like monochrome, so eliminating the colour form that I have made from the previous ones to have a balance, completely monochrome and it is just about lines and shapes.

For the previous one I’ve just finished, I want to make a skateboard base because I want to challenge the flatness of printmaking or painting and making it into a new interpretation of seeing a painting in different dimensions, which is the flatness coming off or out of the wall. The skateboard slide is a reference to the arches that I have seen everywhere in the city and they are highly decorated with figures and intensive imagery.

The characters I’m using are still from my day-to-day life stories, there is a repetition of conversations and I extend the characters into something else. I would say my work is like a milkshake and I really tried not to make it too much of a narrative illustration, I would like people to feel they get to somewhere but all of a sudden they find something else happening in the same space. There is a constant pulling and pushing of a visual distract.

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Venetian clock, 2019, linocut, monotypes, gouache, ink, plaster on artist-made board, 89,5x70cm

 

Your prints are full of elements from the world of machinery, often connected to mechanical clockworks. Can you talk about their significance in you work?

In relation to the mechanical elements, I want to question the relationship between the body and our future. Machinery will dominate our future and how we could separate ourselves from that in order to guard our emotion and body as a human.

I always feel I am running out of time, I don’t have much time left. Sometimes I feel my work is challenging how to bring something beyond the time. A lot of people at the March Mostra questioned how I relate myself to history and time and the relation to history and how I relate to now. It is actually beyond time, that is something quite difficult to achieve, I think it will probably take my whole life. The quantity of time actually becomes quite timeless because there is a repetition of it when you start thinking about it all the time.

Room 2002_Jade Ching-yuk_Ng

Room 2002, 2018, linocut, monotype, caran d’ache, gouache, ink on artist-made board, 89,5x70cm

Jade’s work will be exhibited alongside the seven other resident artists in the June Mostra. The opening will take place on Friday 14 June 18.30-21.00. Opening hours 16.30-19.00 until Saturday 22 June 2019, closed Sundays.

Interview by Marta Pellerini (Visual Art Residency and Programme Curator). Photos Antonio Palmieri and courtesy of the artist.

Ashby Patrons Weekend 2019

This month we hosted our Ashby Patrons visit to Rome, a highlight of the BSR’s annual calendar. The benefaction of our Ashby Patrons plays a vital role in supporting the BSR. This special weekend, exclusively for Ashby Patrons, is a unique opportunity to become more closely involved with the BSR’s activities, award-holders and staff and to understand first-hand the work and mission of the institution. This years’ programme did not disappoint, with a full schedule of varied activities and excursions.

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The opportunity for our Patrons to meet and engage with our current resident award-holders is a key part of the weekend, be that through the medium of presentations, studio tours or one-to-one informal conversations over dinner.

Patrons Rinfresco

The first full day of the Patrons weekend included a behind-the-scenes visit to see the collections, Library and Archive of the Accademia Nazionale di San Luca, a historically important institution which the BSR collaborates closely with, recently co-hosting this academic years’ international RA250 conference: The Roman Art World in the Eighteenth Century and the Birth of the Art Academy in Britain.

Academia Nazionale di San Luca

Following the visit, we were most grateful for the hospitality of Her Majesty’s Ambassador to the Holy See, Mrs Sally Axworthy MBE, who hosted us at the current Ambassadorial Residence for lunch. HMA Mrs Axworthy explained the direction and work of the Embassy in the context of current major global challenges.

Lunch at the British Embassy to the Holy See

On return to the BSR the Patrons were treated to a wet-plate collodion workshop given by Heritage Photography expert Tony Richards , which focused on the BSR’s archive collections and the photographs of Thomas Ashby, the BSR’s illustrious first director, after whom the Ashby Patrons are named.

Wet Plate Collodion shotThe second day continued along this watery theme… our Patrons took to the river for a boat trip down the Tiber. Despite rather wet conditions our spirits were not dampened – the cruise was most interesting. In the words of Director Stephen Milner it was an “eerie experience cruising down the Tiber… No boats, no developments, no tourists… an abandoned wildlife corridor to the sea. Yet once the umbilical cord that sustained one of the greatest cities known to human history”. The BSR has long worked on both the city and the port of Ostia and Portus, yet future research hopes to explore the river connections between the three sites.

Our boat docked at Isola Sacra where, after lunch, we were treated to a guided tour of the ancient Necropolis by Archaeology Officer Stephen Kay. This site was included in the area which was surveyed as part of The Portus Project, a very successful and long-standing research collaboration between the British School at Rome, the University of Southampton and the Soprintendenza Speciale per il Colosseo, il MNR e l’Area Archeologica di Roma.

 

To conclude the weekend, Director Stephen Milner delivered a ‘State of the Nation’ address to the Patrons, outlining the current direction and future of the BSR. In light of the update on the progress of the work currently being undertaken on the Lutyens façade, the Patrons were given the opportunity to view Lutyens’ original architectural drawings, recently returned to the BSR and partly conserved due to the generosity of the Patrons additional gifts.  

It was a pleasure to host the Ashby Patrons in Rome and to thank them for their continued encouragement and support.

If you are interested in becoming an Ashby Patron, or would like to learn more about how to support the BSR, please contact Alice Marsh on outreach@bsrome.it

 

Text by Alice Marsh (Impact and Engagement Officer). Images by Natalie Arrowsmith (Communications Manager).

Hear, there and everywhere – soundbites of the eternal city

Rodney Cross is the 2018-19 Macquarie Gale Rome Scholar at the BSR. His research project Cantus et Clangor looks at the representation of bird sounds in Latin literature from 100 BC to AD 200. Here he tells us about some distinctively Roman sounds and how this has fed back into his work.

Early on in my fellowship, I was quite struck by the ways that some of the Fine Arts fellows talked about the light in Rome: ‘it’s noticeably ‘other’, especially coming from London’ – ‘it’s really poignant … it enhances the clarity of the rich, dark shadows’ – ‘when the sun is rising or setting, the light refracts and phosphoresces in the air, bouncing off the walls and hitting the walls opposite, combining colours’.

Everyone who mentioned the ‘Roman light’ used a different linguistic angle in an attempt to get at that slippery core meaning of its rather nameless quality. I have a professional curiosity with the challenges and complexities of conveying perception in text, to which my coffee-stained thesis drafts can attest. Being inspired by the sensory attention-span of my artistic colleagues, I redirected my attention to the sounds of Rome. I have since (and often) strained my ears to detect the distinct timbres of the local soundscapes.

Sounds of the BSR – sounds of the birds

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When you are new to an area, unfamiliar noises tend to play upon your senses. The number three tram that rumbles, tinkles, rattles and shrieks through the streets of Parioli has quite a conspicuous sound. The first time hearing it, I was reminded of Synaulia’s creative re-imagining of ancient Roman music. At other times (and more often than I’d care to admit), this same tinkling-tram would trick my well-conditioned lizard-brain into hearing the ‘ding’ of the BSR’s evening dinner bell.

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Attentive listening does have its upsides though, as you can often hear birds before you can see them (if at all). This is especially the case for the local Tawny Owl (affectionately dubbed, ‘Pari-owl-i’) who remains quite allusive, apart from the characteristic lilting hoots and trills that carry on well into the early morning. In my first week at the BSR I received some invaluable advice from Stephen [Milner, BSR Director] and Valerie [Scott, BSR Librarian] to keep an ear out for the odd drumming of woodpeckers. After two weeks the advice had slowly begun to fade from my memory, when a hollow clicking seemed to emanate from my new headphones. I removed them, to further puzzlement as the clicking persisted. A few investigatory scans of the Director’s garden revealed a Greater Spotted Woodpecker drumming out a meal on the gnarled and naked tree across the way.

I have always been interested in field-recording, and had often considered producing my own recordings for my comparative analysis of animal sounds in Latin texts. But limited access to portable recording equipment, and the relevant subject matter (i.e. birds of Italy) made this a rather challenging prospect. Dan Popa, a filmmaker and the Québec Resident at the BSR from January to March, was kind enough to lend me some of his recording equipment. More importantly, Dan took the time to provide invaluable practical advice on capturing the sounds of the city.

Sunday morning proved the most profitable time to record the ‘dawn chorus’; a cacophonous array of avian voices singing out at the rising sun. After a few cold (yet caffeinated) mornings, I had a nice collection of these melodious refrains. I started experimenting by applying spectrograms to these recordings to assist in visualising the distinct bird calls. Spectrograms (like the one displayed below) identify the frequency and volume of sounds over time, which can help to visualise patterns in bird calls and songs. I am still getting my ears around identifying the European birdlife by sound, but I was quite taken by the melodic phrasing of a local resident Blackbird.

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Spectrogram of a blackbird call phrases during a ‘dawn chorus’ at the BSR

Sounds of the past and present

I have become very interested in the ways that we, as a modern audience, engage with the remains of ancient monuments on a sensory level. Dan and I set out to record excerpts of Alvin Curran’s sound-installation Omnia flumina Romam Ducunt (‘All Rivers Lead to Rome’), which was presented within the ruins of the Baths of Caracalla. Before we had set up the field-recorder, a momentary buzzing and the ululation of a ‘Roman lupa’ passed our ears in a flurry and quickly faded to silence. So we instead trained our ears upon the immediate soundsphere of the archaeological site itself; the ambient sounds of the space were punctuated sharply by the laughing of gulls, softly by the intermingling of multi-lingual VR audio guides, and harshly by the crunching of gravel underfoot.

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At times archaeological sites can be remarkably still, eerily still, and sometimes the silent atmosphere can fool us into projecting this stillness back onto the past. Considering the role and function of the baths for instance, the cavernous space would have been filled with the echoing of voices, and the raucous gurgling and splashing of streams of water. A noisy past succeeded by a certain stillness and the sounds of ringtones, audio-guides, and tourism.

A sound experience…

Ultimately the supportive and encouraging environment that can be found at the BSR has prompted me to reflect critically and creatively on my own academic work. It won’t come as a surprise to hear that my research focuses on the textual representation of animal sounds in ancient Latin texts. In discussing my topic with the BSR’s wide network of scholars and artists I have received stimulating feedback that has energised and encouraged me to both expand and strengthen my research in countless ways. And now with only two months left of my fellowship, there’s still so much more to hear!

 

Rodney Cross (Macquarie Gale Rome Scholar 2018-19)


Thanks to the generosity of Mrs Janet Gale and the late Dr Bill Gale, the Ancient History Department of Macquarie University offers a scholar from Australia the opportunity to travel to and reside at the British School at Rome for up to six months.

 

 

 

What’s on in ancient Rome this summer

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Figure One: marble sculpture on display in the ‘temple of Romulus’.

With the opening of Claudio Imperatore in the Museo dell’Ara Pacis, there are now four exhibitions about the ancient world in venues across the city: Roma Universalis in the Colosseum, Forum Romanum, and on the Palatine; La Roma dei Re at the Musei Capitolini; and Mæternità at the Villa Giulia. It seems timely to compile a review.

Roma Universalis. L’impero e la dinastia venuta dall’Africa (15 November 2018 – 25 August 2019) tells the story of the Severan dynasty and their impact on the city of Rome, connecting also to the wider empire through subjects such as commerce and the imported amphorae of Monte Testaccio. Spread across the Forum Romanum, Palatine, and Colosseum, the majority of objects are on display in the latter, adjacent to the newly reinstalled permanent collection of graffiti, inscriptions, images, and small finds relating to the Flavian amphitheatre. A considerable number of the pieces on show are drawn from collections in Rome, although it is interesting to see the fragmentary reliefs from a Severan era triumphal arch depicting a naval scene recently uncovered in Naples. It is also always nice to see sections of the Severan Forma Urbis on display, frequently brought out of storage of exhibitions in the city, in this instance the fragments depicting the temple of Peace. In terms of new material, the most notable display is in the ‘temple of Romulus’ in the Forum. This installation includes seven fine portrait busts of the Severan era, along with 26 other fragments of marble sculpture, all of which were reused as fill for a 6-7th century AD wall near the so-called ‘baths of Elagabalus’ (Figures One and Two).

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Figure Two: Severan era portrait busts.

Re-excavated and restored, the baths themselves, located on the northeast slope of the Palatine, are accessible as part of the exhibition. Indeed, one of the best aspects of Roma Universalis is that a number of sites around the archaeological park that were previously off limits can now be visited. These are indicated by a rather confusing system of numbered banners, the order of which is not immediately clear and the only map of which appears to be outside the Colosseum. Nevertheless, it is fantastic to be able to walk through the Severan substructures of the southeast corner of the Palatine to the sunken ‘stadium’ of Domitian, as well as down the ancient road that ran between the temple of Peace and the basilica of Maxentius. This means the visitor can now see a well-preserved section of the firewall of the temple of Peace, as well as gain a good view of the stunning marble floor of the interior (Figures Three and Four). Frustratingly, due to the ongoing work around the Comitium, the arch of Septimus Severus – a numbered feature of the exhibition – remains closed off. This continues the nonsensical situation that it is not possible to walk through a single ancient monumental arch in the historic centre, thereby ignoring the very function of their form (brave the traffic, and you can go through the so-called ‘arch of Drusus’ at Porta San Sebastiano).

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Figure Three: rusticated tuff and travertine firewall of the Temple of Peace.

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Figure Four: coloured marble floor of the temple of Peace.

Access to sites more generally across the Forum and Palatine has been considerably improved with the introduction in 2018 of the S.U.P.E.R ticket (Seven Unique Places [to] Visit [in] Rome). Although having two differently priced tickets causes understandable irritation to anyone who only realises they have purchased the basic one when they attempt to enter a particular location, it is now possible to visit the so called ‘temple of Romulus’, the wonderfully restored Santa Maria Antiqua, the ‘cryptoporticus of Nero’ (bemusingly only open at one end given its function as a passage), and the late-Republican, frescoed houses of ‘Augustus’, ‘Livia’, and the ‘Aula Isiaca’, the last visible from the loggia Mattei.

The most exciting development was the opening in April, following a decade of restoration, of part of the Domus Transitoria of Nero. Located near the centre of the Palatine, the entrance is down an ancient marble staircase below the Domitianic palace. Here, it is possible to visit a series of rooms thought to have belonged to Nero’s first palace complex, before the ‘Great Fire’ of AD 64 allowed for the construction of the more famous Domus Aurea (the Esquiline wing of his Golden House is also open again). The main feature of this part of the Domus Transitorium is a marble clad court and elaborate fountain, designed to imitate the form of a theatre backdrop (Figure Five). Throughout, there are traces of exceptional marble flooring and wall revetment, high quality frescos, and stucco coffering on the ceilings (Figures Six and Seven). Further sections of the painted ceiling, opus sectile floors and figural ornament remain on display in the Palatine Antiquarium (which you now need the more expensive S.U.P.E.R ticket to visit). As in the Esquiline wing of the Domus Aurea, which was demolished to make way for the Baths of Trajan, the rooms of the Domus Transitorium are cut by the foundations of later buildings, but through an excellent Virtual Reality reconstruction, these walls are removed to restore a sense of the original space. The other main feature of the site is a fifty-seater latrine. Unlikely to have been intended for the builders of the Domus Transitoria, as the onsite interpretation suggests, it is an indication of the thousands of people who visited and worked at the imperial palaces, a reminder of the scale of the events that were hosted there.

FIGURE FIVE

Figure Five: marble clad fountain in the Domus Transitoria.

FIGURE SIX

Figure Six: opus sectile floor in the Domus Transitoria.

FIGURE SEVEN

Figure Seven: frescoed ceiling in the Domus Transitoria.

 

FIGURE EIGHT

Figure Eight: part of the latrine in the Domus Transitoria.

Occupying the downstairs gallery of the Ara Pacis Museum, Claudio Imperatore. Messalina, Agrippina e le ombre di una dinastia (6 April – 27 October 2019) attempts to balance discussion of the emperor’s lineage and familial relations, with the broader context of his reign, including subjects such as the construction of Portus and the invasion of Britain. A version of this exhibition was first shown at Lyon (Claudius’ birthplace) and a number of the objects have travelled to Rome. The most significant of these is the bronze tabula Claudiana, a speech by the emperor advocating admission of people from the Three Gauls into the Senate. While this document is accompanied by a transcription, as well as Italian and partial English translations, other inscriptions in the exhibition are not – it is fantastic to see the tabula herbana, but it seems a little too much to expect visitors to decipher the incised bronze Latin text themselves.

There are several excellent sculptures from the Louvre, including fine busts of Agrippina the Elder, a person variously identified as either the military commander Corbulo or the conspirator Longinus, an oversized heroic nude of Claudius, and possibly Messalina and Britannicus in the guise of Eirene (Peace) carrying her son Ploutos (Wealth). The exhibition collects a number of fragments from a monumental relief thought to be the arch of Claudius which spanned the via Lata (via del Corso), including the particularly noteworthy ‘Praetorians’ relief, also from the Louvre. In the same room are casts of the iconographically rich ‘Medinaceli’ reliefs. Argued as being Claudian in date, these panels depict the battle of Actium and an associated processional scene featuring an image of the Aeneas, Anchises, Ascanius group. The original reliefs are dispersed between collections in Spain and Hungary, they were brought together for the first time in 2013 for the Augusto exhibition at the Scuderie del Quirinale, and it is good to see the casts displayed here. Claudio Imperatore concludes with the emperor’s deification, as represented by the depiction of his temple on the Severan Forma Urbis (again, it is always welcome to see this out of storage), and two statues – Agrippina the Younger and an unidentified youth – thought to be from the templum divi Claudii, strikingly carved in Egyptian bekhan-stone.

The opening panel of the Claudio Imperatore implies that through archaeology the exhibition will show Claudius as a more competent ruler than ‘historical’ sources make out. Setting up a dichotomy between literary and material evidence seems unhelpful – a prosperous empire does not automatically mean that accusations levelled against Claudius are untrue, and the best way of understanding a hostile literary tradition is through a critical reading of those same texts. The exhibition does not transform our understanding of Claudius, but it brings together many excellent objects that illuminate imperial ideology in mid-first century Rome (Figure Nine).

FIGURE NINE

Figure Nine: Fragolina, in lieu of images of the exhibition due to photographs not being allowed.

At the Capitoline Museums, La Roma dei Re. Il racconto dell’Archeologia (27 July 2018 – extended to 2 June 2019) examines the condition of the city of Rome and its inhabitants between the 12th and 6th centuries BC. Bringing together a range of material excavated across the city from the 19th century to the present day, the exhibition includes much material that is not normally on view from the Capitoline Antiquarium. The first rooms contain displays about the Lapis Niger, the Comitium, and the temples of Sant’Omobono. The superb terracotta decoration of the latter, which includes panthers and a statue group of Hercules and Minerva, has been moved here from its permanent location near the temple of Jupiter Capitolinus and is now helpfully displayed nearer eye level. In the exhibition, this statuary is united with material from the recent excavations and the accompanying panels present new interpretations of the appearance of the temple (although the reason for reconstructing the Hercules and Minerva pair as standing in the pediment rather than at the apex of the roof is unclear).

Other rooms include material from excavations on the Velia in the 1930s, on the slope of the Palatine Hill between 1987 and 2017, and from the Esquiline necropolis. Many of these objects are usually in storage and it is excellent to see them here usefully labelled. The only upside of Museo della Civiltà Romana being closed for restoration is that parts of its collection now frequently appear in exhibitions, and the large model of the early city is here on display. Inaccuracies aside, the model gives a wonderful impression of the topography of the city, and it is here combined effectively with a video and light show (Figure Ten).

FIGURE TEN

Figure Ten: model of the early city showing the Palatine and Capitoline Hills (taken in Museo della Civiltà Romana, as photography is not allowed in the exhibition space).

Despite its title, much of the exhibition does not directly address the controversy of Rome’s kings. The visitor is presented with the objects alongside detailed panels about their dating and provenance, but not the idea that this activity or event necessarily occurred during a particular reign. In this way, it provides a welcome and effective balance to interpretations of the early history of the city that still insist on framing the archaeology through the ‘historical’ narrative of Rome’s kings and the Romulean foundation myth. The video includes the quote from Italian archaeolog Ranuccio Bianchi Bandinelli that ‘Rome was not born on the Palatine as they taught us in school’ – a point the exhibition ably demonstrates through the rich material culture that existed before the mid-8th century BC.

The biggest problem for the exhibition is its location. Tucked away at the top of the museum beyond the café, it gets little chance footfall. Also, despite having opened in July last year, the catalogue is yet to be published, making the prohibition of photos doubly frustrating.

Occupying the gallery space of the upper floor of the beautiful Villa Giulia, Mæternità. Maternità e allattamento nell’Italia antica (23 March – 2 June 2019) is the smallest of the exhibitions currently on. In an effort to go beyond discussions about maternity that focus exclusively on mothers and children, the exhibition aims to look at the roles that others played ‘from conception to… adulthood’. Taking the Etruscan and early Roman world, the themes addressed are breastfeeding, the extended family (attention is given to the presence of the maternal aunt), and kourotrophia (the raising of boys).

While some of the objects have been taken from permanent displays on the ground floor of the museum, other pieces appear to be out of storage. The material comes from sites in Etruria, including ex votos of breastfeeding mothers from the sanctuary of Campetti at Veii (Figure Eleven), representations of families from the sanctuary of Mater Matuta at Satricum, and three Hellenistic style terracotta sculptures of children from Vulci. There is an interesting tuff sculpture of a seated woman bearing four swaddled babies, from the sanctuary of Fondo Patturelli near Capua (Figure Twelve). One of two-hundred such sculptures found at the site, some holding up to twelve infants, another unlabelled example can be found next to the entrance of the museum. A display case containing dedications to gods, including a terracotta uterus with the name of the goddess ‘vei’ cut into it, as well as a bronze spearhead with an inscription to Diana from the nurse of the gens Paperia (Figure Thirteen).

FIGURE ELEVEN

Figure Eleven: mother and child ex votos.

figure-twelve.jpg

Figure Twelve: tuff sculpture of seated woman and four children.

figure thirteen.jpg

Figure Thirteen: bronze spearhead with dedication to Diana incised along the top.

While further details about the dating and provenance of individual objects would be welcome, the panels are informative and place the objects within broader discussions about how to understand maternity in ancient Italy. The exhibition is small: there are just five displays. Yet focusing a small exhibition on a theme such as maternity is an effective way to draw attention to objects that might be otherwise overlooked in a museum that boasts an incredible collection of monumental and visually stunning pieces.

 

Chris Siwicki (Rome Fellow)

c.s.siwicki@exeter.ac.uk