Itineraries - Projects


by Paola Vitolo

Archaeologists and Art Historians have to face with the profound transformation of cities, sites and landscape undergone over the centuries, and with the dispersion, reuse and destruction of works of art. Urban expansion, natural disasters, modern warfare, restoration, the reconstruction of innumerable buildings and modern repurposing have in many cases deeply changed our ability to identify and understand the cultural legacy of the past and the visual and symbolic role of these monuments, their decoration, and their relations with the urban and natural environment.

Historical images (prints, paintings, drawings, maps, photographs…) made by scholars, artists and travellers over the time can enable scholars and the general public to recover the appearance of landscapes and cities, and of individual monuments prior to radical renovations or destructions, serving the interests of research and teaching at all levels. In recent years the use of such material has become more and more ingrained in  the methodological approach to the study of the past, as many of these  collections have been published or digitalised and made available on the web, thanks to the great effort of universities, museums and cultural institutions.

The Kingdom of Sicily database project, directed by Caroline Bruzelius (Duke Universty, NC) and Paola Vitolo (University of Catania, Italy), collects historical images of Medieval monuments in South Italy (rougly 10th-15th centuries),  made by scholars, artists and travellers from the 15th to the 20th centuries. A systematic survey and critical cataloguing of this material, now dispersed in the archives, museums and libraries of Italy and Europe, will enable scholars and the public to recover the original appearance of landscapes, cities, and monuments. The database, which will be soon freely accessible on-line, collects not only what is already known to scholars from specialized studies, but also a large amount of new and unpublished material accessible in a cross-referenced index of sites, artists and collections.

Altought original in its structure and content, the Kingdom of Sicily database can be considered one of a long series of enterprises undertaken with similar purposes, especially in the field of archaeological studies. The first attempt to be recorded is the Census of Antique Works of Art and Architecture Known in the Renaissance. The database, started by Fritz Saxl, Richard Krautheimer and Karl Lehmann in 1946 and developed in collaboration with the Bibliotheca Hertziana in Rome, is now based at the Humboldt-Universität in Berlin. It collects written and visual material (especially drawings and paintings) aiming to register and document antique monuments known in the Renaissance (to date more than 200,000 entries). The related Corpus Winckelmann and his Contemporaries, established by the Winckelmann-Gesellschaft in Stendal, is focused on the antique works of art known during the 17th and 18th centuries. Starting from Winckelmann’s material (published and unpublished) the project aims to relate each monument studied by the founder of classical archaeology to the present state of research and knowledge. In more recent years the project HistAntArtSi (Historical Memory, Antiquarian Culture, Artistic Patronage) headed by Bianca de Divitiis (University of Naples “Federico II”) and funded by the European Research Council, has investigated how local antiquities influenced the methods of self-representation adopted by elite individuals and local communities in the Kingdom of Sicily between the Medieval and early Modern period. The database (under construction) will complement the database of the Census and will interact with the Kingdom of Sicily database project.

Before the advent of photography, drawing was an essential tool for scholars and also the first step for the production of printed and painted illustrations. Private collections of such images are sometimes crucial as a documentary material. In 1990s the first volumes of the 16th century Cassiano dal Pozzo’s “Paper Museum” (Museo Cartaceo) were published by the Warburg Institute in London. The project, still in progress, aims to collect and catalogue about 7,000 drawings, watercolours and prints, now dispersed in various repositories in UK and France. 18 volumes of the series Antiquities and Architecture have been published so far (1996-2013). The work of Cassiano dal Pozzo was well known by John Talman (1677-1726), architect and first Director of the Society of Antiquaries in London. The Universities of Pisa, Bergamo and Trento, in collaboration with the Scuola Normale Superiore di Pisa with the support of the Getty Grant Program and the Paul Mellon Center for British Art, are publishing on-line the catalogue of the drawings made or commissioned by Talman between 1709 and 1723 in Italy. Talman aimed to gather visual material for a monumental work on ancient Rome (comparable to Cassiano dal Pozzo’s Museum Chartaceum and Montfaucon’s Antiquité Expliquée), which was however never published, described throughout images of monuments, works of art and utensils.

Some other projects, conducted within the Deutsches Archäologisches Institut (DAI) and the Scuola Normale Superiore di Pisa, are dedicated in particular to engraved material (lithographies, etchings..). The Rezeption der Antike im semantischen Netz: Buch Bild und Objekt digital project, started in 2009, collects images from 16th to 19th centuries publications on excavations and archaeological discoveries. La fortuna visiva di Pompei project, started in 2002, focuses on ancient Pompei in the age of its rediscovery and first study surveys (18th and 19th centuries). The Monumenta Rariora project, directed by Salvatore Settis, provides material for the study of the fortune of the antique statuary in engravings collections between 16th and 18th centuries.

The advent of photography has permitted the creation of wide photographic collections, which are for the most part the result of surveys conducted by scholars for research purposes. One of the most important for Archaeological studies is the collection of the DAI, which  holds the largest and oldest collection of archaeology photographs of the Mediterranean countries. The Emagines project, started in 2006 and still in progress, will publish a unique stock of historical images of sculpture, topography and architecture, much of which no longer exists in its original status.

Since 2009 The British School at Rome is also publishing on-line visual material gathered by BSR Directors and researchers between 1860s and 1970s. The Digital Collections of the BSR Library and Archive  include a wide range of subjects, such as the archaeology and topography in Italy, North Africa and the Middle East, ancient Greek and Roman art and architecture.

VMAC – 2016