Exposition “Una postal de las catacumbas”: Press coverage

In this post we will share links and pictures of the international press echo of the exhibition

 Una postal de las catacumbas. Exposición de tarjetas postales artísticas de las catacumbas romanas de 1890

(18 March-1 April 2022; Library of Humanities, Communication and Documentation. Campus Getafe, Universidad Carlos III of Madrid).

Update in progress

Social Media

Alois Riegl on facsimile copies in 1903

In 1902 Alois Riegl, the most important art historian from Austria, was appointed General Conservator of the Central Commission for the Research and Preservation of Artistic and Historical Monuments (Zentralkommission für die Erforschung und Erhaltung der Kunst- und historischen Denkmale) in Vienna. He was asked to prepare draft legislation for the protection of monuments, and thus he published “Der moderne Denkmalkultus, sein Wesen, seine Entstehung” (The modern cult of monuments: its character and origin).

This work is fundamental for studying the development of European understanding of ancient monuments in the early twentieth century.

In the chapter concerning the historical value of monuments, Riegl says something very intriguing about facsimile copies. This is a very interesting statement to outline the cultural phenomenon studied by the LIT! project:

“We must note that the cult of historical value, although it only grants a total documentary value to the original state of a monument, also admits a limited value of the copy, in the case that the original (“the document”) has been totally lost.
[…]
In view of the increasing development of art-technical means of reproduction, one can be confident that in the foreseeable future (especially after the discovery of absolutely convincing colour photography and its combination with facsimile copies) it will be possible to find as perfect replacements as possible for the documentary originals.”

More on Alois Riegl: https://arthistorians.info/riegla

February 2022: the month of Giovanni Battista de Rossi

On the 22nd of February 2022 the scientific community celebrates the second centenary of the birth of Giovanni Battista de Rossi (1822-1894), one of the ‘founding fathers’ of Christian archaeology. He was Scriptor and then head of the Vatican Library, first secretary of the Commission of Sacred Archaeology, established by Pius IX in 1852, creator and curator of the Museo Pio Cristiano Lateranense founded in 1854. He is remembered also as founder and editor of the first specialist journal in the field, the Bullettino di Archeologia Cristiana (still existing today as Rivista di Archeologia Cristiana). He began the publication of the critical edition of all the early Christian inscriptions of Rome (ICVR) and was the author of the Roma Sotterranea Cristiana, an in-depth study of the main Roman catacombs (especially the catacombs of San Callisto) drawn up following his own important discoveries.

To celebrate the event, the Vatican State issued a special stamp where de Rossi is portayed with the ruins of the Hypogeum of the Flavi in the catacombs of Domitilla.

The project LIT! owns very much to de Rossi’s work. He was the one who created the first fac-simile catacombs in 1867 for the Universal Exhibition in Paris. We are therefore very happy to share the brand new article about the topic. Enjoy!

C. Cecalupo, GIOVANNI BATTISTA E MICHELE STEFANO DE ROSSI ALL’ESPOSIZIONE UNIVERSALE DI PARIGI (1867), in Rivista di Archeologia Cristiana, 97, 2021,2, pp. 319-347.

Psss, hey! Universidad Carlos III will soon celebrate de Rossi with a special exhibition. Stay tuned…

Postcards of the Roman catacombs by Pio Luzzietti

As earlier pointted out here, the postcards with pictures of the catacombs of Rome are enjoyable sources to understand the cultural impact of Roman catacombs in European culture in late 19th century.

This time, we will present three postcards issued by the famous Roman antiquarian library founded by Pio Luzzietti. The Libreria Antiquaria Pio Luzzietti had a very rich collection of historical prints and was very active in selling antique books and prints and publishing antique catalogues from about 1890 to 1930.

The founder Pio Luzzietti (1869-1927) was among the best known collectors and booksellers in Rome. He certainly had an interest in Christian archaeology, considering that he had acquired important libraries on the subject, such as Mariano Armellini’s and Enrico Stevenson’s. The bookshop was located in Via dei Crociferi 16, then in Piazza dei Crociferi 4 and finally – from 1906 – in Piazza d’Aracoeli 16-17.

The bookshop was a meeting place for Italian and foreign politicians and scholars. It is also known that the bookshop supplied prints and rare books to important institutions such as the Prints Cabinet in Rome and the museum of Castello Sforzesco.

Among all the prints, it is possible to find some postcards with scenes from the catacombs, dating before the year 1906. The language used is obviously the international one, French. But, unlike other postcards from the same period, the images printed on these catacombs are not taken from Giovanni Battista de Rossi’s Roma Sotterranea Cristiana. They are in fact artistic collages of real photographs of the underground architecture and paintings.

From this we understand that Luzzietti had original photographic material at his disposal, perhaps from libraries he had acquired.

Four postcards of the Roman catacombs by Ernesto Richter

The postcards with vedute of the catacombs of Rome published by Ernesto Richter are among the most important visual sources for the history of Roman catacombs. They were published between the end on the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century.

Ernesto Richter was a Roman publisher set in Via dei Serpenti 170. He was specialised in images of Rome, works of art in Roman museums, views of the Roman monuments and Roman suburbium. These images were taken by various photographers and published as postcards.

Among his work there were many postcards and illustrations of Roman catacombs, especially the most known and visited ones. Actually, the Richter postcards became usual souvenirs for travelers. as testified by all the views of the catacombs of St Callisto and St Sebastiano published by this editor.

Here are four postcards of these two catacombs. Enjoy!

A visitor of Roman Catacombs in 1450

Many European pilgrims visited the Roman catacombs during the Jubilee period of 1450. Some of them left stories about them, and among them the most interesting is “Ye solace of Pilgrimes” by the Augustinian John Capgrave (considered lost until the 20th century).


Capgrave arrived in Rome probably from 1449 for the general chapter of the order and stayed there for a long time. Between 1449 and 1452 he wrote his work, considered to this day the highest point of pilgrim travel literature of the English Middle Ages, a true model for pilgrim books for visitors from northern Europe for the following jubilee years.
The work is structured in three parts. The first part consists of 24 chapters. Capgrave enriched the treatment of each topic with many quotations from past authors and especially with many legends and hearsay, but also with what he saw himself.
Chapter VII deals with “How in Rome there are many cemeteries”. It is in fact a valuable snapshot of the knowledge of Christian cemeteries held by fifteenth-century pilgrims:

Immagine

«In Rome, are called cemeteries not only the places where the dead are buried, but also those where the saints lived. I say this not because I want people to believe that no one was buried there, but to show that they also served other purposes. In Latin, cimiterium means nothing other than walking over the bodies of the dead, and you should know that the cemeteries in Rome are great underground vaults and tunnels where the saints once lived. Now, however, they are desolate places, because there is a horrible darkness and people no longer frequent them. The only exception is the cemetery of Callisto. Since in the second book we will deal with the spiritual treasures to be found in the cemeteries, in this chapter we will merely enumerate them, even though they are now abandoned. The cemetery of Calepodius is at San Pancrazio in Trastevere. The cemetery of Agatha is near the title with the same name, and so are the cemeteries of Orso and San Felice. The cemetery of Callisto is the most famous, and is near the catacombs, under the church of San Sebastiano. The cemetery of Pretestato is located between Porta Appia and San Apollinare. The cemetery of Concordiano stands outside Porta Latina. The cemetery called inter duos lauros is near St. Helen. The cemetery ad ursum pileatum some books say is near Santa Sabina, but at a crossroads near San Giuliano I found written on a tombstone that the place where Santa Bibiana is located was once called ad ursum pilleatum. The cemetery in Agro Verano is in San Lorenzo fuori le mura. The cemetery of Priscilla stands by the same title. The cemetery of Trasone is near San Saturnino. The cemetery of Santa Felicita is near the same title. The cemetery of Pontian is near the cemetery of Callistus. The cemetery of Hermes and Domitilla and the cemetery of Cyriacus were on the road leading to St Paul’s and called Via Ostiense. Now, however, these cemeteries are mostly abandoned and unknown, not only to pilgrims, but also to those who have lived there all their lives».

The second part of the book deals with the churches of Rome and the spiritual treasures they contain. It describes, in 65 chapters, the main basilicas and all the stationary churches.
Chapter III (‘Della chiesa di San Sebastiano, in cui Capgrave’) describes his visit to the cemetery galleries beneath the church, thus providing valuable information on how a pilgrim in 1450 visited the cemetery of St Sebastian.

Immagine
The map of church and galleries of St Sebastian on via Appia drawn by Ph. Van Winghe in late XVI century

«The church of St Sebastian is two miles from St Paul’s and more than a mile outside the walls of Rome […]. The cemetery of Callistus is under the church; it is a cave or an underground excavation, made in a ground that seems neither stone nor earth, but something between the two, and has a red colour. There are many caves enclosed with stones, and one is said to have been St Peter’s chapel. Only if you have a torch in your hand can you see anything, because it is very deep underground. In fact, going down one side of the church there are thirty-two steps. And I think there are as many steps to the other side, where the angel served mass to St Gregory. The cemetery is so long that if one does not linger in the chapels, but goes straight ahead, by the time he has said “Miserere mei Deus” four times he will have walked through it. Forty-six popes were buried here, and each of them has given great indulgence to the place; Saint Cecilia was also buried here, and there is still her monument artfully carved in white marble. […] The cemetery was built by Pope Calixtus, and it is said that he did it for two reasons: one is so that the leaders or popes of the Church could dwell here safe from the danger of tyrants, because it was necessary for them to live longer in order to be able to give confirmation to the neophytes; the other is that he wished to bury there the martyrs who died for the love of Christ, and since this could not be done freely, he consecrated this secret place. Next to the church is a large shelter which they call catacomb [now referring to the triclia of St Sebastian]. Catacomb is a strange term, since it is not found in Latin books and no grammarian mentions this compound word. The common people say that cata, pronounced as it is written, means above, or all, and cumbo or cumbas means low or deep. The word therefore sounds like all low, or all deep, for the shelter is very deep underground. At one time it was a great dungeon, and to enter it one descends twenty-eight steps. Some say that this place was the waste dump of the butchers who lived in the area. In fact you can still see many walls of large buildings that were once the slaughterhouses of Rome. It is said that Peter and Paul were thrown here out of contempt, and this account is partly true and partly not, for that this place was a slaughterhouse is true, and that they were thrown here out of contempt by those who killed them is not true. Therefore we will tell the truth about this story. […]. Contradictions like this are always found in the chronicles, but since it does not touch the articles of faith, everyone can choose the version he wants».

Bibliography:
Ye Solace of Pilgrimes : a description of Rome, circa A.D. 1450. Capgrave, John, O.E.S.A; Mills, C. A; Bannister, Henry Marriott. British and American archaeological society of Rome. New York 1911.

LIT! at the 27th EAA Annual Meeting

On Friday 10 of September The Project LIT! was presented at the 27th Annual Meeting of the European Association of Archaeologists (officially in Kiel, but held online due to the current situation)

The presentation was included in Session #230, “Stories and Compassion: Material Culture, Memory, and Emotion”, organized by Liv Nilsson Stutz (Linnaeus Univeristy, Sweden) and Sarah Tarlow (University of Leicester, United Kingdom). The precious session explored theories of memory and emotion through archaeological case studies and analysis of material culture. All the presenteed studies explored the connections between materiality, emotion, and memory in the lived experience of the past and present.

My speech investigated the growing interest of European people in catacomb archaeology from the late 19th century and provided many old prints and pictures, archival texts and old articles, that offer clear evidence of the public response to some of the most important fac-simile catacombs build in Northern Europe. From these sources, it appeared that the incredible fascination of original Roman catacombs remained vivid in these “fake” monuments. They clearly contributed to the definition of the role that Christian antiquity had in Europe in creating emotional experience of archeological sites.

I truly hope that the proceedings of these session will be published somewhen!

Vintage pictures from Valkenburg

One of the most famous facsimile catacombs in Europe is the Museum of Roman Catacombs in Valkenburg (Netherlands). The complex is still highly visited today and is certainly an important piece in understanding the reception of early Christian antiquities in northern Europe at the beginning of the 20th century.

The museum was commissioned by the rich textile industrialist Jan Diepen to the famous Dutch architect Pierre Cuypers, and opened in 1910. The both of them visited extensively the catacombs of Rome and had close contacts with Papal authorities during the building of the facsimile monument.

This is one of the most important case that will be analysed by the LIT! project. So far, we managed to collect many postcards of the ’20s, some of which we share here. They are an important evidence of the paintings of the Valkemburg complex and the perfect way they copied those of the Roman catacombs (as visible in the original captions in Dutch). Enjoy!

For further information about the complex and other official pictures: Museum Romeinse Katakomben

Catacomb studies in Open Research Europe!

For a few weeks now, everyone can surf on Open Research Europe, the European Union’s revolutionary open access platform, that allows researchers in the Horizon 2020 programme to publish their research in accordance with the FAIR principles (Findability, Accessibility, Interoperability, and Reuse) and without being subject to the often very long publishing times.

Once the article has passed the prepublication checks, the preprint version is published within 10 days, enabling immediate viewing and citation. Expert reviewers are selected and invited, and their reviews and names are published alongside the article, together with the authors’ responses and comments from registered users. Articles that pass peer review are sent to major indexing databases and repositories. More info here.

Some of the results of the LIT! project will be surely disseminated via Open Research Europe in the following months. For now, however, I would love to share two researches of similar topics already published on the portal.

It is therefore clear that the platform can be used as an important tool for studies in the history of Christian archaeology. We will keep on checking and disseminating future publications on this topic!

May 31: An important day in the history of Christian archaeology

In the annals of the pontificate of Gregory XIII (1572-1585), we read of the discovery -on the 31st of May 1578– of the anonymous catacomb in the Via Anapo, then identified with the cemetery of Priscilla:

Around the same time, outside Porta Salaria, in the excavation of the Pozzolana, the famous Cimiterio di Priscilla, lost since the time of the Goths, was unexpectedly found surrounded by various burials of the Holy Martyrs with inscriptions in different languages. The Pope sent Cardinal Savelli, his Vicar, to certify everything, and many others went there to see the antiquity. Among other things considered worthy of the memory by the French Ambassador Luigi Castegnero, and Marc Antonio Moretto, both men of great learning, was the sepulchre of Leonidas, Father of Origen, deceased more than one thousand three hundred years ago, was recognised“. (Vatican Library, Vat. lat. 12214, Annali di Gregorio XIII, libro VII, tomo II, f. 66).

Even we cannot speak of a true discovery of Christian antiquities (see here for more information), the historical and social importance of this event lies in the fact that it reawakened interest in Christian antiquities among large sections of the population: the crowd in the Vineyard was so large that Pope Gregory XIII was forced to close the gates. Equally important is the influence of this discovery on the scholars of the time, that generation of scholars who found themselves moving from theory to practical knowledge of Christian cemeteries in a very short space of time.
It is to some of them (in particular the Spaniard Alfoncso Chacón – see here) that we owe the copies of the paintings in the catacomb of via Anapo, which are now unfortunately lost.

Drawing of the paintings from Via Anapo by A. Chacòn: Vatican Library, Vat. lat. 5409: https://digi.vatlib.it/view/MSS_Vat.lat.5409

Basic bibliography

  • J. G. Deckers, G. Mietke, A. Weiland, Die Katakombe“Anonima di via Anapo”  Repertorium der Malereien , Città del Vaticano 1991.
  • V. Fiocchi Nicolai, Storia e topografia della catacomba anonima di via Anapo, in J. G. Deckers, G. Mietke, A. Weiland, Die Katakombe“Anonima di via Anapo”  Repertorium der Malereien , Città del Vaticano 1991, pp. 1-23.
  • M. Ghilardi, Le catacombe di Roma dal Medioevo alla Roma sotterranea di Antonio Bosio, in Studi Romani, 40, 2001, pp. 27–56.
  • C. Cecalupo, Gregorio XIII e la nascita dell’archeologia cristiana: dal cantiere di San Pietro alla riscoperta delle catacombe, in V. Balzarotti, B. Hermanin (eds.), Gregorio XIII. Arte dei moderni e immagini venerabili nei cantieri della nuova ecclesia, Rome, forthcoming.