About crankyprofessor

I'm an associate professor of the history of art and architecture at a small liberal arts college in Upstate New York.

Present friends

The Spring 2014 Rome Program has the pleasure of hosting Walter Bowyer, next Fall’s director, this week. He’s spending his spring break scouting for next semester.  He joined us this afternoon for a visit to an interesting (really interesting – I’m still thinking about it) multimedia-meets-archaeology site in the basement of the headquarters of the Province of Rome (really – Domus Romanae). This evening Christine, her family, and I took him out to dinner. Well, the budget took him out to dinner. Thanks, Tom!

“Italy is nothing but a geographical expression.”

Metternich said something along those lines (I wanted to confirm the wording and found several different versions online, but also claims that he wrote several different versions to different correspondents over the years). He’s still right.

Monday started with a lecture on the multiplicity of Italies – the students had read a book chapter by John Dickie called “Imagined Italies.” The news cooperated with us splendidly – the Veneto began voting Sunday on secession from Italy. It’s a non-binding resolution, but they seem to be interested in creating alternative avenues of taxation. Venice was the last big part taken from the Austro-Hungarian Empire (however sentimental the Italians got over Trieste). Now, La Serenissima wants out?

Even better, one of the students had read BBC online and knew about it – so she got to tell the class!

Another thing that’s kept me busy is the Counter-Reformation Print

Also, over the last 2 weeks my partner Christine and I executed what I think is one of the most interesting class units I’ve ever devised. I worked it up for the 2011 program with my 2-time partner Nick. This time it went a little more smoothly (practice!).

Here’s the set-up. Nick and I taught Inventing Rome, Inventing Romans in 2008 and 2011. Not all of our units really worked in 2008 – including one close to my heart centered on Cola di Rienzo and the mid-14th Century. So for 2011, we decided to replace it – probably with something that engaged print making. It helped that Nick’s second medium is print making, so he can do a History Of lecture with ease. We flailed around looking for something to center the unit around – an article, a set of prints, something. I stumbled across (really, trolling JSTOR with search terms) Kirstin Noreen’s “Ecclesiae militis triumphi: Jesuit Iconography and the Counter Reformation.”* It may sound a little dry, but things get better.

S Stefano Rotondo Int

The Early Christian church of Santo Stefano Rotondo was, in the late 16th century, the site of the German Hungarian College, a Jesuit-run college for students attending the Roman universities. In 1585, the rector had the church redecorated, complete with a cycle of more than 30 paintings of martyrdoms circling the walls – all to encourage the young men to go back to Calvinist Hungary, for instance, and do battle with Protestantism – even at the risk of death. Within five years, the frescoes had been copied in a pamphlet of prints, completed with the addition of four Allegories (Vita, Mors, Peccatum, and Gratia – handy topics for getting at the differences between Catholicism and Protestantism).

All of this was interesting enough, and certainly on the right track. Then I noticed that the photo credits were to the Biblioteca Angelica – which is closer to the Scuola Leonardo da Vinci than Sto Stefano Rotondo! So we made some inquiries and the Biblioteca Angelica folks were happy to have us come see the pamphlet with our students.

Day one, we visit Santo Stefano, discuss the transformations the church has been through (handy for Layers, too!) and see lurid paintings like these.

Boil oil CatherineOn the left, a group of martyrs being boiled in oil; on the right, Catherine’s wheel breaking and killing some of her executioners. And in case you were confused, the painters included labels — the panels below have explanatory texts, keyed to capital letters in the paintings. They are especially handy for the assorted scenes of martyrdom and mayhem in the middlegrounds! So we also talk about the technology of fresco, the medium per se and as a communications device, the limits of things that are in only one location, the reliance on the memories of the students to carry the information back North of the Alps.

Day two, in the classroom, discussing Noreen’s article. She helps a lot by explaining the kind of practices Jesuit colleges followed and how they correspond to cycles of saints – like the regular recitation of the Litany of the Saints. She also reproduces a lot of the engravings.

Day three, we meet at the Library. The vice-director gave us a tour, including the splendid 18th century reading room (unfortunately, no pictures – they were busy filming a t.v. commercial and wouldn’t let us). Then she brought out a trolley of books and talked about the history of book-making as a medium for information. She showed us a 10th Century Evangelistary from Chur with gorgeous decorative pages; a 14th Century theology book with some elegant capitals (but otherwise in a very difficult to read gothic hand); side-by-side the first book PRINTED in Italy (a Cicero) and an almost contemporary manuscript Plautus; and our 16th Century pamphlet of engravings. She let the students TOUCH the pages – explaining rough (hair) and smooth (interior) sides of vellum. They could feel the impressions of the plates in the engravings, even after 400 years.

They really got a sense of the changing technologies, from hand made (manuscripts, frescoes) to multiples (prints) – and I suppose we will see how well they understood it when their assignments come in Thursday!

*The Sixteenth Century Journal, vol 29, no 3 (Autumn 1998), 689-715. http://www.jstor.org/stable/2543684 .


What have I been doing with my time? Midterms!

Well what’s killing my incentive to post is that I can’t post from Flickr! Grrr. I have to upload pictures individually here before posting.

FB 2 TemplesSo – why was I so busy this week?


Here’s what I do for the midterm in Layers of Rome — I give the students a relatively constricted neighborhood and expect them to be able to talk about any monument (building, fountain, etc) during a half-hour individual interview. I chose the Forum Boarium / Forum Holitorium, roughly from San Nicola in Carcere to Santa Maria in Cosmedin and from the Tiber back to San Giorgio in Velabro. That area includes all those churches, an ambiguous excavated area in front of Sant Omobono, two Fascist Era office buildings for the Commune of Rome, the Temple of Portunus (above), the Round Temple (above), and the so-called Arch of Janus (below, with San Giorgio and the Palatine beyond).

The students have about 10 days to read, visit, and learn about the monuments. Then we meet one on one (that’s why I was so tired – 13 appointments will take it out of you!). They choose the monument with which we start – and we talk about it for about 15 minutes. Usually the student explains what we can still see and I ask some questions to probe understanding. Then we move to a 2nd monument – my choice. So if the student starts with a church, I shift to a Roman monument. After #2, monument #3 is back to a student choice.

I have found this a great way to figure out how well they are doing to work – can they explain what’s obvious? Can they push beyond the obvious? Can they draw useful comparisons to other things we have seen? Can I hear anything that suggests they’re doing the reading and retaining what they read? Very time-consuming, but a lot more relevant to a semester abroad than any written exam can be.

Arch of Janus Giorgio

Spring is springing in Rome – and to celebrate I visited some blooming trees

I had seen a few blossoms in the Centro Storico – but the Centro is so paved over they’re hard to find here.

Blooming tree aqua feliceSo I went to the Parco degli acquedotti, where there were lots of blossoms! Click here to see the other photos from the park, including some of the Acqua Claudia. The arches in the background are the Acqua Felice, a Renaissance aqueduct, which feeds the famous Moses fountain.

I intended to do some drawing, but between going down into the Metro system and coming back up out in the periphery the clouds rolled in. It even sprinkled some – enough to make me cuss, but not enough to make me run away.


Worth the price of admission . . .

I went to an exhibition on Friday that I won’t bother to take the class to see. It wasn’t nearly as interesting as it could have been. Looking at this ivory up close (and taking a photo!)  was worth the price of admission for me, though.Symmachus Diptych, British Museum

An apotheosis – perhaps the apotheosis of Quintus Aurelius Symmachus, late 4th/early 5th C. British Museum, London. M&ME 1857,10-13,1. 30.1×11.3 cm. Really something to see. Symmachus was one of the last great pagans – an opponent of Ambrose and Theodosius. The organizers of the show wanted to suggest that it was an emperor – but at the very least it’s a deeply nostalgic pagan senator recalling imperial funerals and apotheoses – or just apotheosizing himself. Hence, Symmachus.

Showery spring day

One of the nicest things about being somewhere for a semester rather than for a vacation is that one doesn’t feel compelled to go out in the rain.

Rome is showery today – and since I don’t have anything to do before Italian lesson at 2:15 (no HWS classes on Fridays, now that the students are out of Intensive Italian), I can stay home and read!

I just hope one of those sunny moments happens about 2 . . . .

The best sfogliatella ever?

Me and Sfogliatelle


I’d go that far.

In service for the Food and Culture in Italy course (being taught by our GustoLab partner, Sonia Massari) we visited Eccelenze Campane, which is kind of hard to describe. The name means Campanian Specialities or Excellences. It’s a foodie paradise for organic, fresh, and local stuff in Campania – a combination of grocery store, restaurant, and production center. We watched people making mozzarella and ricotta di bufala – and then got to eat it. Wow. We watched people making pasta – and some of us ate that for lunch (I had alici fritti, myself – yum, yum). We watched and helped people making pastries – and you see me eating a sfogliatelle with a filling made with fresh ricotta di bufala. It was over the top good, and I finally understand how they get all the flaky layers!