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.


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:

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.


Installation shot from Villa de Brandis.


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



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.


Six Nations

In the days after many celebrate the highly successful partnership of Italy and England on the football fields of Leicester, we thought we would take a look at the BSR’s many international relationships.

The BSR was delighted to be part of the global Shakespeare 2016 Anniversary events. Here in Italy, we enjoyed a week-long series of events entitled Shakespeare Memory of Rome 2016, in which the BSR and the British Council were official partners. We are very grateful to Maria del Sapio and Maddalena Pennacchia, from Università Roma Tre, and Iolanda Plescia, from Sapienza, Università di Roma, for their collaboration in organising one day of the conference in front of a packed Sainsbury Lecture Theatre at the BSR. Andrew Hadfield from Sussex University, a previous Society for Renaissance Studies lecturer at the BSR, and Lisa Hopkins from Sheffield Hallam University were among those staying at the BSR for the events. We also invited Roy Stephenson from our own partner institution, the Museum of London, who gave a brilliant lecture on Shakespeare’s London.

The conference was complemented by a splendid performance by Shakespeare’s Globe of Hamlet at Palazzo della Cancelleria, organised by HM Ambassador to the Holy See, Nigel Baker.

The same week we were delighted to host Paul Binski (Professor of the History of Medieval Art, and Head of the Department of History of Art, University of Cambridge) to give our annual W.T.C. Walker Lecture in Architectural History on ‘Rome and England in the Gothic Age’. Rome may not be the first city that comes to mind when thinking about the gothic, but, with his trademark silver-tongued erudition, Paul demonstrated stamps and echoes of romanitas in some of England’s most familiar Gothic cathedrals.


It was a delight see former award-holder Marcella Sutcliffe (University of Cambridge) return to the BSR earlier this month to give a lecture on humanities activists in the Great War, including the role played by the BSR’s third Director Thomas Ashby in the British Red Cross on the Italian front.


The opportunity for a senior scholar researching Anglo-Italian artistic and cultural relations or Grand Tour subjects to join our community is currently being offered in the form of a fellowship offered by the Paul Mellon Centre for British Art – details can be found here The deadline for applications is 23 May 2016. You can read what this year’s Paul Mellon Centre Rome Fellow Caspar Pearson had to say about his time at the BSR here:

Lest we should appear too Anglocentric: on the awards front, our Arts Council of Northern Ireland Fellow Damien Duffy continues to enthral us; we have just had an early visit from Kelly Best, who will be our inaugural Creative Wales-BSR Fellow next year. We were excited to be invited to hear about the history of the Venerable English College – the oldest continuously existing English and Welsh institution abroad – at their sede around the corner from Campo de’ Fiori recently. Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art and Design, University of Dundee, visited to present an AHRC-funded project on early video art in Italy, and we shall soon host the Glasgow School of Art who will be presenting their major restoration project to a large Rome audience. A conference on the fascinating sixteenth-century figure of Hugh O’Neill, Earl of Tyrone takes us across the Irish Sea. To cap our Six Nations, we are currently enjoying a successful collaboration with our French colleagues at the Villa Medici on our recent architecture programme Meeting Architecture: Fragments.

Christopher Smith (Director) and Tom True (Assistant Director)

Ashby and the First World War: letters at the front

Our Archivist Alessandra Giovenco was recently surprised to receive an enquiry from Holly Kirby, researcher at Attingham Park in Shropshire.

As part of the National Trust’s commemorations for the centenary of the First World War, Holly has been looking into the life of Teresa Hulton, who, after the war, became wife of the 8th Lord Berwick and lived out her days at Attingham. The connection with the BSR, however, is to be found far from the wooded valleys of Shropshire.

At the start of the First World War Teresa worked in London with Belgian refugees but in 1915 she moved to Italy to serve as a Red Cross nurse on the frontline and at a soldiers’ canteen  at Cervignano station. Some of you may remember our coverage of last year’s First World War exhibition of wartime photographs by the BSR’s third Director Thomas Ashby. It turns out that a copy of the photograph below was found with some of Teresa’s other documents — Teresa and Thomas Ashby worked together for the Red Cross in Italy, and many letters from Ashby are to be found in the Shropshire Archives.


Thomas Ashby at the front 1915-18. Image courtesy of BSR Photographic Archive.

Below is an extract from Holly’s blog, but if you want to delve deeper, you can see past blog posts at (we were pleased to hear that there will be more Ashby updates in the coming months!). This particular extract is taken from the November 2015 post.

‘Other new acquaintances included many British ambulance workers who supported the Cervignano hospital. One such ambulance driver was Dr Thomas Ashby, an archaeologist and Third Director of the British School in Rome. As a pacifist and conscientious objector, he took on the role with the Ambulance Unit so that he could contribute without fighting. Dr Ashby helped Teresa to find petrol for the car that she drove and to have it repaired so that she could use it for war work. For further information on his WWI photograph collection, please click here.

Dr Thomas Ashby during the 1915-1918 war.

Dr Thomas Ashby during the war.

By 1917 nearly 1,300 ambulances owned by the Joint Committee formed of the British Red Cross and Order of St. John were serving the front line of fighting. Sixty were in Italy. A ‘Transport of Wounded Fund’ was established to help meet the cost of running the vehicles, which averaged £4,500 a week. Ambulance drivers usually took the wounded from the field hospitals to clearing hospitals and from there to hospital trains. However, at times they collected wounded men from first-aid posts where they were often under shell fire.

Ambulance convoy, Arquata, northern Italy.

Ambulance convoy, Arquata, northern Italy. © IWM (Art.IWM ART 5408)

 Although it was hard work, Teresa was delighted with her new occupation, writing: ‘I should like to stay on here until the end of the year.’ Like many women, Teresa found that war work had financial benefits and informed her sister of her situation: ‘I have plenty of money to spare as life here is so cheap.’

Teresa Hulton on the Italian front.

Teresa Hulton on the Italian front.

Holly would like to thank Saraid Jones, Interpretation Officer at Attingham, for coordinating and editing the Attingham blog, and Jean Davis, National Trust volunteer, for her help in researching the wartime letters written by Teresa’s mother, Costanza.

Natalie Arrowsmith (Communications Manager)

New year, new projects, new partners

As we look ahead to an exciting new year at the BSR, Director Christopher Smith takes a look at some of the partnerships — old and new — that will be taking us forward in 2016.

‘We have always believed in partnerships, and the quality of our partnerships defines us.  The BSR has renewed its successful Memorandum of Understanding with the British Museum, with whom we have worked on topics as diverse as Pompeii and Herculaneum, geophysics in Sudan, the restoration of the garden of the British Ambassador’s residence in Rome, and Napoleon in Italy.

napoleon pvBSR Members at a private view of the exhibition Bonaparte and the British: Prints and Propaganda in the Age of Napoleon at the British Museum in 2015. Photograph by Kirsten Amor.

The partnership was renewed on the day that Neil MacGregor welcomed his last object into the BM — a cross made from the wreckage of a refugee boat whose survivors landed at Lampedusa.  The BSR’s own interests in Lampedusa began with a visit by Thomas Ashby early last century, and were recently revisited in the award-winning Channel 4 documentary by Zed Nelson (BSR Photoworks Fellow 2012-13).

Photographs of Lampedusa Island taken by Thomas Ashby in 1909. Images courtesy of the BSR Photographic Archive.

Lampedusa Cross

The Lampedusa Cross, made by Francesco Tuccio and donated to the British Museum in October 2015. ©  Trustees of the British Museum.

"Death in The Mediterranean" the survivors story"Death in The Mediterranean" the survivors story

Migrant boat graveyard, Lampedusa, Italy (above) and Fanus, a survivor from the October 2013 migrant boat tragedy (below). Photographs by Zed Nelson.

The BSR is also proud to announce three new partnerships. The first, with the Ashmolean Museum, will be celebrated in June, when the BSR will present, uniquely at the British Academy, both the BM and the Ashmolean exhibitions on Sicily.

The second, a partnership with the United Nations’ International Centre for the Study of the Preservation and Restoration of Cultural Property (ICCROM) in Rome reflects our established position as a leading player in cultural heritage management, and we will act as a bridge between ICCROM and UK universities, especially in work in the Balkans and North Africa.  We look forward to a workshop funded by the US State Department and run jointly with the Swedish and American Academies and with the Society for Libyan Studies later this year.

For the third, the Digital Art History team at the Getty Research Institute in Los Angeles has launched a new project, the Getty Scholars’ Workspace.  BSR Librarian Valerie Scott and BSR Archivist Alessandra Giovenco have been nominated Project Researchers and will visit the GRI to discuss future collaborative projects using the new Platform.


Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles. Image courtesy of Valerie Scott.

We continue our association with the Rome Art History Network, an international group of art historians based in Rome whose activities foster collaboration amongst the researchers of foreign academies and Italian cultural institutions.

Natasha Adamou (Henry Moore Foundation-BSR Fellow 2015–16) and Caspar Pearson (Paul Mellon Centre Rome Fellow 2015–16). Photographs by Antonio Palmieri.

Through these and other partnerships with, for instance, the Museum of London, Sir John Soane’s Museum, the Henry Moore Foundation*, and the Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art, as well as numerous universities in the UK and the Commonwealth, the other foreign academies in Rome and a score of collaborations with Italian authorities, the BSR remains a critical intellectual meeting point, and we are proud of the number of world class institutions who choose to work with us.’

Christopher Smith (Director)



*To listen to the talk given at the BSR by Chris Stephens, curator of the recent Henry Moore exhibition at the Baths of Diocletion, visit our YouTube channel.

Ashby and the First World War


Thomas Ashby at the front, 1915-18

In July 1915 British historian and author George Trevelyan came to Rome on behalf of the Red Cross with proposals for the organisation of a British Ambulance Unit on the Italian front. Trevelyan’s defective eyesight meant that he was deemed unfit for military service, but he was nevertheless determined to play his part.

When war broke out, the BSR’s third Director Thomas Ashby – a pacifist and a conscientious objector – enthusiastically embraced the idea of an Ambulance Unit as a way that he could help those hurt in the war without fighting. Ashby joined the first British Red Cross Ambulance Unit for Italy in August 1915, paying occasional visits to Rome during the years of the conflict.


British Red Cross ambulance at the front 1915-18


Image courtesy of the British Embassy Rome.

Inside the hospital at Villa Trento, 1915 - 1918

Inside the hospital at Villa Trento near Udine where Ashby was based for much of the war, 1915-18

100 years on, 25 of Ashby’s personal photographs have been digitised from a collection of more than 350 photographic prints relating to the First World War, housed in the Photographic Archive of the British School at Rome. As part of a series of events commemorating the Centenario 1914-18, the exhibition La Grande Guerra: l’altro volto del coraggio. La Croce Rossa negli scatti inediti di Thomas Ashby, organised by the British Embassy in collaboration with the BSR and the Croce Rossa Italiana opened on 22 May 2015 at the Galleria Doria Pamphilj.


The photographs in situ at Palazzo Doria Pamphilj. Image courtesy of the British Embassy Rome.

The exhibition was on display at Villa Wolkonsky, seat of the British Embassy, for the Queen’s Birthday celebrations earlier this month, where BSR Director Christopher Smith and HM Ambassador Christopher Prentice were among those interviewed for the occasion.

In late June the exhibition moved to the Sala Santa Rita – a deconsecrated church in the centre of Rome right next to the Theatre of Marcellus – and will tour to various locations across Italy throughout the year.

Christopher Smith (BSR Director), Anna Maria Colombani (President of the Croce Rossa Italiana), Giovanna Marinelli (Assessore alla Cultura e al Turismo di Roma Capitale), Principessa Gesine Doria Pamphilj, Massimiliano Floridi, HM Ambassador Christopher Prentice, Colonel Duncan Venn. Image courtesy of the British Embassy.

Christopher Smith (BSR Director), Anna Maria Colombani (President of the Croce Rossa Italiana), Giovanna Marinelli (Assessore alla Cultura e al Turismo di Roma Capitale), Principessa Gesine Doria Pamphilj, Massimiliano Floridi, HM Ambassador Christopher Prentice, Colonel Duncan Venn. Image courtesy of the British Embassy Rome.


La Grande Guerra: l’altro volto del coraggio. La Croce Rossa negli scatti inediti di Thomas Ashby on display at Sala Santa Rita, Rome. Image courtesy of the British Embassy Rome.


Comments from the visitor book. Image courtesy of the British Embassy Rome.

Many thanks to all of the staff at the British Embassy who made this exhibition possible, as well as to Luigina Antonazzo for the framing of the images, and Elio and Stefano Ciol for producing the digital prints.

Images courtesy of the BSR Photographic Archives unless otherwise stated.

Useful links: Ashby and the First World War | British Embassy website | YouTube slideshow of exhibited photographs 



The Segni Project 2012-14

The BSR’s Archaeology Officer Stephen Kay updates us on the Segni Project‘s recent excavations and events.

Over the past three years the BSR and Archaeological Museum of Segni have been conducting a joint research project examining the early history and urbanisation of the Latin colony of Signia, now a beautiful medieval town of the eastern edges of the Monti Lepini, 50km south of Rome.


Excavations at Piazza Santa Maria, Segni.

9896323376_ca6c20e99a_o (1)

Piazza Santa Maria, Segni.


Polychrome mosaic with a tangent windmill motif discovered in Piazza Santa Maria (detail).

Building on the research of the local museum, the project has conducted three seasons of excavations between 2012 and 2014. Assisted over the years by 70 students from a number of UK universities and local volunteers, the project has revealed previously unknown parts of the Republican and medieval town.

Guests enjoy the exhibition at The Segni Project 2012-2014: Segni in the light of recent discoveries, April 2015. Photo: A. Palmieri.

Guests enjoy the exhibition at The Segni Project 2012-2014: Segni in the light of recent discoveries, April 2015. Photo: A. Palmieri.

In April this year the BSR hosted a one-day workshop to discuss the results of the excavations, inviting leading specialists to examine the evidence from the excavations at Prato Felici, which revealed a large 2nd century BC pool, and Piazza Santa Maria where rooms of a possible Roman domus were found, along with evidence for the early cathedral of Segni.

The workshop concluded with a public lecture, given by the BSR’s Archaeology Officer Stephen Kay and Dott. Francesco Maria Cifarelli, former director of the museum. The opportunity was also taken to display a selection of the archaeological material recovered during the excavations, ranging from Bronze Age pottery through to fragments of medieval painted frescos. These were juxtaposed with the work of the project artist Leontina Rotaru, whose work is inspired by the archaeological process.


Spindle whorls. Photo: A. Palmieri.

wall on wall, mixed media, 2013

Leo Rotaru, Wall on wall, mixed media on cotton canvas, 70 x 130 cm, 2013.

On display for the first time were ten photographs of Segni from the BSR Photographic Archive taken by Thomas Ashby. The BSR is grateful to Denny and Karen Custer for supporting the digital preservation and printing of these photographs. Shortly afterwards, on the Night of the Museums the photographs were also displayed to the general public in the Archaeological Museum of Segni.


Segni, view of the city with polygonal walls, 25 March 1895, BSR Photographic Archive (Ashby Collection).



Segni, City wall and Porta Foca, May/June 1912, BSR Photographic Archive (Ashby Collection).


Photographs by Thomas Ashby from the BSR Photographic Archive on display at Museo Archeologico, Comune di Segni, for the Night of the Museums, May 2015.

The research conducted at Segni has had a major impact on our understanding of the Latin town, challenging the assumptions of its first habitation and colonisation, as well as discovering hitherto unknown monuments within the town. Work will now concentrate on the final publication, as well as working with the museum to share the results of this research.

Stephen Kay (BSR Archaeology Officer)

Useful links: Segni Project | Archaeological Museum of Segni | Segni Project Flickr account | BSR Digital Collections | Leo Rotaru

A trip down the Via Appia: the travels of Robert Gardner

On 20 March, we took a trip down the Via Appia via one of the BSR’s photographic collections, that of Robert Gardner, Craven Fellow at the BSR between 1912 and 1914.

The accompanying exhibition at the launch of 'La Regina Viarum e la via Traiana. Da Benevento a Brindisi nelle foto della collezione Gardner'

The accompanying exhibition at the launch of ‘La Regina Viarum e la via Traiana. Da Benevento a Brindisi nelle foto della collezione Gardner’

The occasion was the launch of the volume La Regina Viarum e la via Traiana. Da Benevento a Brindisi nelle foto della collezione Gardner, edited by Laura Castrianni and Giuseppe Ceraudo. This was a wonderful opportunity to welcome back colleagues and friends who had contributed in so many ways to the publication of this significant volume.


Library staff members Cecilia Carponi and Francesca Deli prepare the exhibition

Also on display were items of interest from Gardner’s travels with Thomas Ashby, the BSR’s third director, including a page of Ashby’s field notebook with a hurriedly scribbled transcription of an inscription on a stele at Faeto.


Original notebook of Thomas Ashby with a transcription of the inscription on the stele posta at the entrance to the courtyard of the Chiesa di San Vito, in the commune of Faeto. Photograph by S. Hay

While Ashby was making rather pragmatic records of his journey, Gardner preferred to be more creative in how he documented his experiences. In this exhibition we were treated to an original copy of a poem – in Latin, no less  –  by Gardner, which describes his journey taken along the Via Appia and the Via Traiana with Ashby. No name is mentioned, but we do have an intriguing allusion to Gardner’s esteemed travelling companion, to whom he respectfully refers to as dux.


Original page of a Latin composition written by Robert Gardner describing his journey with Thomas Ashby along the Via Appia and the Via Traiana. Photograph by S. Hay

In May, we can look forward to more from the BSR photographic archives with the opening of the exhibition La Sardegna di Thomas Ashby: fotografie (1906 – 12)


Image courtesy of the BSR Archive

A century-long tradition…tennis at the BSR

When carrying out her tireless work as BSR Archivist, Alessandra Giovenco often finds hidden gems that are of more than academic interest.

Alessandra recently came across this photograph taken by Thomas Ashby (BSR Director 1906-1925) in the early 20th century. The photograph shows BSR residents taking a break from their research, albeit a rather sedentary break for some of the figures featured!

Image courtesy of the BSR Archive

Image courtesy of the BSR Archive

Alessandra says, “This type of photograph is not often exhibited, but it shows that Ashby remained a keen photographer in his leisure time. Thanks to him, we have in our collections photographic records that are not only of archaeological, historical, and anthropological interest, but are useful for giving us an insight into snippets of BSR life.”

In the 21st century, BSR residents continue to work hard and play hard, with the tennis court being put to use almost every day, when Rome’s notoriously tempestuous climate allows.

This dynamic aerial shot of current award-holders was taken during a particularly balmy period this winter

This dynamic aerial shot of current award-holders was taken during a particularly balmy period this winter

Season’s greetings from the BSR

Christmas tree

Christmas at the BSR, 2013

This year we have been lucky enough to enjoy a rather pleasant December here in Rome, but hidden away in the BSR Archive is evidence that the capital is not always so mild during the festive season.

Here is Archivist Alessandra Giovenco’s selection of photographs by previous BSR Director Thomas Ashby of Rome in the snow.

Images courtesy of the BSR Archive.

Via Triumphalis, 1922

Via Triumphalis, 1922

Ashby, Temple of Saturn, Roman Forum, 1901

Temple of Saturn, Roman Forum, 1901

Ashby, Capitoline Hill, 1901

Capitoline Hill, 1901

Ashby, Baths of Diocletian, 1901

Baths of Diocletian, 1901

Ashby, Piazza di Siena, Villa Borghese, 1924

Piazza di Siena, Villa Borghese, 1924

View of Villa Giulia from the BSR, 1921

View of Villa Giulia from the BSR, 1921

Season’s greetings from all at the BSR and a happy 2014! 

Assistant Librarian Beatrice Gelosia recruits some willing volunteers to decorate the Christmas tree

Assistant Librarian Beatrice Gelosia recruits some willing volunteers to decorate the Christmas tree