Moving home to Rome, ‘chrome on stone, and a roam around little-known zones



Tom True discusses an exceptional week for Art Historical research at the BSR

Last week was an excellent week for History of Art at the BSR. We hosted two significant Art History conferences here, both looking afresh at a number of prevalent trends currently driving the discipline forwards.

We were delighted to host the annual Rome Art History Network (RAHN) conference, this year entitled Becoming Roman: Artistic Immigration in the Urbe from the Sixteenth to the Twentieth Centuries. As firm believers in the value and stimulus of collaborating with academic associates from across national borders, we are pleased to have created a fruitful collaboration with this network. RAHN are an outstanding collective of Rome-based Art Historians, whose vision, drawing together the best strands of international scholarship as well as supporting the career development of young scholars, we energetically share at the BSR. Drawn from a number of foreign academies and Italian institutions, the RAHN could be said to be ‘Art Historians on the Move’. Grafting onto the rich branches of the Roman Academy, their encouragement of foreign students working on Italy – including many of our own borsisti – encapsulates a little of the Ancient Homeric double meaning of xenos as both ‘stranger’ and ‘friend’.

So, as ‘Art Historians on the Move’, we turned our attention to the study of ‘Artists on the Move’, and to our Becoming Roman conference, whose themes and investigations contribute to several fundamental fields of enquiry, including patronage networks, cultural identity and, above all, artistic migration.

The papers spanned five centuries, running from the immigrant experiences of the handful of Spanish artists who moved to the caput mundi in the course of the sixteenth century (Piers Baker-Bates), through to the American artists who relocated to Rome in the postwar period, establishing studios and exhibiting in the Eternal City (Peter Benson Miller). Professor Irene Fosi, the doyenne of the study of nazioni stranieri in Rome, gave us a rich overview of this variegated city in her keynote address entitled ‘Early Modern Rome: a Mosaic of Nations’. The merits of the multi-period conference enabled us to pick up real changes in the conditions of artistic immigration in Rome through history. Nor was the timely relevance of addressing issues of immigration and strategies of integration ignored.

We were grateful to the many who attended the conference, filling our Lecture Theatre, in spite of a vexing public transport strike, demonstrating wise cognisance of the fact that coping with strikes is a major component of ‘Becoming Roman’!


Piers Baker-Bates (Rome Scholar 2002-3, The Open University) delivered papers at both conferences, and here introduces Helen Langdon (Paul Mellon Centre Rome Fellow 1999-2000) at the Pittura poco meno che eterna conference (photocredit: Antonio Palmieri)

In the same week we were thrilled to stage another important Art History conference entitled La pittura poco meno che eterna: Paintings on Stone and Material Innovation organised by former award-holder Piers Baker Bates (The Open University) and Elena Calvillo (University of Richmond). The event overlaid colourful intellectual pigments on last Tuesday’s stony grey sky!

Elena and Piers assembled an outstanding programme of contributors addressing the phenomenon of oil painting on stone; its innovation in early modern Rome; the historical, theoretical and metaphorical reasons for the appeal and flourishing of this fascinating practice; and the important continuation of threads of the story to consider its legacy throughout Italy and into Northern Europe.

This conference, and the book that will follow, stand to make an important contribution by building on a number of vigorously investigated research trends, including geographies of Art History, but, above all, the material turn, which probes the wealth of meaning to be gleaned from artists’ manipulation of materials. Anchored in such frameworks, with broader implications for the History of Art, this conference set upon a much neglected phenomenon – that of oil painting on stone – hitherto overlooked despite the fact that it was a practice that boomed for 150 years. This too was a timely endeavour, not least as it coincides with the forthcoming landmark exhibition on the theme to be held at the St Louis Museum of Art, and to be curated by Judith Mann, who delivered the keynote address.


Becoming Roman and Material Innovation. The Maltese immigrant sculptor, Melchiorre Cafà’s extraodinary Ecstasy of Saint Catherine of Siena in Santa Caterina a Magnanapoli, Rome, visited by Paintings on Stone conference delegates, 18 May 2016 (photocredit: Wikipedia).

It follows that art historians truly invested in the ‘material turn’ would wish to study the objects in situ. Last week was no exception. Piers and Elena, together with the BSR’s Permissions Officer, Stefania Peterlini, coordinated on-site visits for conference participants and BSR residents to great examples of painting on stone in the company of prime experts in the field. We analysed masterpieces by Sebastiano del Piombo, who initiated the practice, at Santa Maria del Popolo and San Silvestro al Quirinale; the vast altarpiece by Zuccari at San Lorenzo in Damaso; and the wondrous Ecstasy at Santa Caterina a Magnanapoli, whose inventive use of lapis lazuli, alabaster and gialla antico marble, so interestingly serves and intensifies its spiritual meaning.

20 years of the City of Rome Postgraduate Course

2015 marks the twentieth year of the BSR’s City of Rome Postgraduate Course. The two-month course, aimed at students at Masters or early doctoral level, is led by the BSR’s indefatigable Cary Fellow Robert Coates-Stephens, and gives students from UK universities the most thorough treatment of the ancient city. The course is enjoyable, but at the same time intellectually challenging and rigorous, with at least five contact hours a day including site visits (often led by experts who have been instrumental in the site’s excavation or interpretation), seminars and individual presentations. There are also weekly lectures by leading experts — Amanda Claridge and Filippo Coarelli were among those who shared their knowledge and expertise with students this year. At the end of the course all students submit an assessed essay.

Thanks to the tenacity of our Permissions Officer Stefania Peterlini in 2015 permessi were secured to see the fountain of Anna Perenna, the Villa of Livia, and the Altar of the Fire of Nero. Students were also lucky enough to visit the Mausoleum of Augustus, the Domus Aurea, the Basilica Julia and the House of Augustus, all of which have only recently re-opened.

Here’s what some of the 2015 City of Rome course students had to say:-

The lectures were excellent, giving an otherwise unknown insight into the current scholarship surrounding the study of Rome and current debates’

— Will Rigby, Classics and Ancient History MA, University of Manchester

Robert’s tutelage was incredible, especially in the way he was able to tailor the course to our individual needs. The course was the highlight of my Masters and no doubt will prove invaluable’

— Andrew Lee, MA (Res) City of Rome, University of Reading

[The course] made me think about Rome in a completely new light’

— Mollie Millward-Nicholls, Visual Culture of Classical Antiquity MA, University of Nottingham

Alumnus profile: Dr Carlos Machado (University of St Andrews)

This year we were delighted to welcome back as guest lecturer the familiar face of Carlos Machado, a former City of Rome student himself (2002), who returned to the BSR in 2005-6 as Rome Scholar, and has recently been appointed as a lecturer in Ancient History at the University of St Andrews. Carlos told us about his memories of the course:

Carlos Machado, City of Rome student 2002, Rome Scholar 2005-6.

‘Participating in the City of Rome course was one of the most important experiences in my academic life. Being at the BSR was an amazing opportunity for experimenting with new ideas, talking to great specialists in the field, and experiencing a truly international academic environment (not to mention the food and the weather!). The site visits offered a wealth of information and new insights on famous monuments as well as on those you don’t usually see in books. I will never forget entering through a tiny doorway to find a splendid early Imperial nymphaeum on via degli Annibaldi under the eyes of surprised tourists and passers-by. It was during the course that I finally managed to define the topic of my doctoral dissertation, as each visit gave me more confidence to deal with the material that I wanted to analyse. I also met many colleagues and friends while at the School, forming a network that has helped me in different stages of my career. I returned to the School many times after my course, and I even managed to live in Rome for a few years, but nothing compares to the excitement and the feeling of continuous discovery that I experienced during those two fantastic months’.

It is no exaggeration that this is the most in-depth course on the topography of Rome offered by any of the foreign academies and no surprise, therefore, that many course participants go on to doctorates. The BSR is proud of a course which for many students has continued to be a fundamental part of their own intellectual development. Alumni have gone on to work at the universities of Durham, Exeter, Nottingham, Oxford, Reading, St Andrews, Warwick, Augsburg, Leiden, Santiago de Chile and Sydney, as well as the British Museum, the Museum of London, the Estorick Collection, the Victoria and Albert Museum and the BSR itself.

City of Rome students at Ostia Antica. Photo: Ali Hightower.

City of Rome students at Via Latina. Photo: Ali Hightower.

 See our website for further information about the course: 

We gratefully acknowledge the support of the Society for the Promotion of Roman Studies