On 14 July, I presented some of the results of my research stay in Tarragona (as Conex-Plus secondment) during the conference “La arqueología cristiana en Tarragona a principios del siglo XX. Descubrimientos, estudios, museos y la relación con Roma” at the Museu Biblìc.
Many people attended this talk on the cultural and museographic relationship between Rome and Tarragona in the early 20th century. Thank you Tarragona for such a heartfelt participation!
The study and dissemination of an iconography: banquet scenes from the catacombs of Rome to the facsimile catacombs of the nineteenth century
In general, the text traces the discovery and the history of two important banquet scenes from the Roman catacombs (from the Catacombs of Callixtus and from the Catacombs of Priscilla). It focuses on the fortune of these scenes in Europe. this fortune developed in their reproductions found in various churches and chapels up to the middle of the 20th century. This overview helps in understanding how the study and reproduction of a single iconography can contribute to a general reconstruction of the development of the discipline of early Christian art history.
The Catalan city of Tarragona is one of the central places for the history of Christian archaeology in Europe and for the history of museums of Christian antiquities.
The early Christian Necropolis of Tarragona (3rd-5th centuries AD) is one of the most important and extensive necropolis of the Christian ancient world, with more than 2,000 documented burials of many different types. The necropolis stretched around a very important martyr centre, the funerary basilica where the remains of the three most important local martyrs rested: the bishop Fructuosus, and his deacons, Augurius and Eulogius. The three saints were burned alive in the arena of the amphitheatre of Tarraco in the year 259 AD.
Their remains were collected and buried in the outer area on the banks of the River Francolí. There, at the beginning of the 5th century, a basilica dedicated to the memory of the saints was built in the area of their tombs. In this same period, another basilica up northern was built and this area became an important Christian centre until the 7th century.
But what interests us the most is the incredible musealisation of the area made in 1929-30. The necropolis was accidentally discovered in 1923, and in 1926 Monsignor Joan Serra i Vilaró took the lead of the excavations. He was an archaeologist who was well known for his documental rigour and for his desire to preserve and disseminate the remains. So in 1930 he opened a museum to explain the Early Christian Necropolis of Tarragona, which is, so far as we know, the first monographic museum in Spain dedicated only to Christian archaeology.
We have many old photographs of the museum and it is still preserved, although not open to visitors. It was conseived with features very typical of early 20th century museology. The building, in classical style, had a perimeter corridor where the gracious stone sarcophagi were displayed. The central hall had display cases in the centre and thousands of epigraphs on the walls: this was the most important epigraphic display in the Italian style on the Iberian peninsula. In addition, it was constructed in such a way that the visitable underground hall could serve to preserve parts of the necropolis.
We are going to dig deeper in the history of this incredible museum in the following weeks. Stay tuned!
On March 26th, the project LIT! was presented during the online Poster Session 6 (Humanities and SPR) at the 2022 Marie Curie Alumni Association Annual Conference. The conference was held in Lisbon and online in hybrid mode.
This year’s theme was “Sustainability and the post-pandemic workplace”, and my contribution was titeled “Catacombs, facsimile copies and museums between the nineteenth and twentieth centuries: How digital archives and open access amplify the post-pandemic workplace of a historian”.
It was a good occasion to reflect on how the archive and bibliographic work of historians has changed due to the pandemic. I had the possibility to briefly present my poster with a 3-min speech and two slides.
The poster will be shared here in the following days.
It was an inspiring experience, the whole event was truly thought-provoking and it was great to connect with MSCA peers from all over the word!
At the end of the 19th century, the catacombs were not just the object of archaeological research. From 1883 until 1930, the Trappist Fathers were entrusted with the care and management of the catacombs of Saint Callixtus. The community settled in the abbey built on the site of the catacombs and began to receive the numerous pilgrims and tourists who came to visit them.
Around 1890, their activities to promote the catacombs as a tourist and religious site began to develop considerably. In particular, they began to print valuable souvenirs with images of the frescoes of the catacombs in the Luigi Salomone lithography workshop: first, postcards, whose designs are attributed to the Roman painter Romeo Cavi, and then a booklet with images of the spaces and paintings of the catacombs and explanations of them. All the drawings on these objects are inspired by – and even copied from – the engravings and illustrations in the volumes of “Roma Sotterranea Cristiana” by Giovanni Battista de Rossi.
Many of these objects can now be seen in the exhibition: Una postal de las catacumbas. Exposición de tarjetas postales artísticas de las catacumbas romanas de 1890
From 18 March to 1 April 2022. Library of Humanities, Communication and Documentation. Campus Getafe, Universidad Carlos III of Madrid.
One week ago wee celebrate the XXVIII AISCOM (Italian Association for the Study and Conservation of Mosaics) congress, that is still availabe on the facebook page of the association.
We exposed a poster online some results of project LIT! concerning some mosaics of the Verano Cemetery, dated between 1926 and 1933, that reproduce iconographic themes typical of the early Christian churches and the catacombs of Rome.
The poster is available today here (extended english summary below)
The success of the iconographic repertoire of the early Christian Rome since the mid-19th century is notoriously wide-ranging and in Europe involves many aspects of the decorative arts, especially in places with a strong religious and Catholic vocation. These include the Verano cemetery in Rome, where the use of early Christian iconography between the 1920s and 1930s was extensive. This is visible in burial areas nn. 166, 80 and 81 – the focus of this poster – whose structure and decoration recall pagan tombs, arcosoli and catacomb gravestones. The Archivio Capitolino in Rome held some drawings (figg. 4-5) of their design phase by Vincenzo Fasolo, head of the Project Office of the Municipality of Rome. Fasolo spent his entire career as an architect in Rome, and in all his works, Romanity is recalled and repeated: he saw the history of architecture as the basis for any new architectural creations.
The construction of the burial niches in area 166 began in 1926 (fig. 1). Given the architectural uniformity of the complex, private clients were given free rein to decorate the lunettes with mosaics. These decorations are made in glass tesserae with iconographic models of early Christian inspiration, creatively reworked (fig. 2). Very similar is area 80, completed in 1933, in which the loculi are covered by a lunette decorated with mosaics. This decoration was already planned in the initial project, due to a general need to systematise the decorative choices of private individuals. Once area 80 ran out of space, in 1934 the Governorate financed the construction of area 81, with the same structure as n. 80. The decorative apparatus of both panels consists precisely of the glass mosaic on the lunettes (fig. 3), with the explicit choice of use a single type of decoration, giving harmony and an antiqued appearance to the structure: a Latin cross, an alpha and an omega, two green racemes terminating in a leaf and two doves, all on a gold background and all with a strong early Christian reference.
Some research related to the LIT! project has been published in the blog of the wonderful Gods’ Collection project, run by Crispin Paine and Jessica Hughes.
Gods’ Collection aims to collect cases where art collections have developed within places of worship around the world and over the centuries. So this was for me an opportunity (for which I am truly grateful!) to present the ways in which Roman catacombs have been used to display archaeological collections between the 19th and the 20th centuries.
The feeling is that the use of the catacombs as exhibition sites is closely linked to the idea of creating facsimile catacombs for the dissemination of Christian archaeology in Europe. Indeed, very similar exhibition styles are proposed in both phenomena, and both are based on the concept of reconstructing the hypogeal environments in their entirety in order to offer complete experiences to visitors and scholars, at the cost of recreating non-authentic settings.
It is possible to read The Catacombs in Rome. Collecting and displaying in the first Christian cemeterieshere. To learn more about Gods’ Collections, please visit this page.
Our CONEX-Plus project LIT! has been presented on the 27th Newsletter of the Marie Curie Alumni Association (MCAA).
The MCAA is an international non-profit organization established and supported by the European Commission, but entirely run by volunteer members and with a bottom-up approach at its core.
This issue of June 2021 is dedicated to the making of a more inclusive research community. As the Editorial by Gian Maria Greco (MCAA Newsletter Editor-in-Chief) states, diversity and access are pivotal factors for the flourishing of the research endeavour. As a community of researchers, over the past few years the Marie Curie Alumni Association (MCAA) has been committed to increasing the accessibility of its communication products, services, and events.
The last section of the issue is dedicateed to out LIT! project (with a wonderful cartoon illustration!) and can be read on the online version: here. Thank you MCAA!