Tracing the AAR’s First Twenty Years (Part I): The Villa Aurora

Portrait view of entrance to Villa Aurora. Source: AAR Fototeca

Visiting Scholar Nancy Austin was at the AAR in February 2010 researching the material traces of the original American Academy in Rome during its first twenty years, from 1894-1914. Her focus was on the physical situation of the Academy before its 1911 merger with the American School of Classical Studies in Rome was fully realized by a move three years later to joint quarters on the Janiculum. Combining historic material from the Academy’s Photo Archive (Fototeca) and Library, contemporary photography, and Google and Bing satellite maps, this project will culminate in a virtual tour. Highlights of this work in progress will be posted here first, and feedback is encouraged. Here is Nancy’s posting as she prepared to return home to Rhode Island…

“For a dozen years, from 1895 to 1907, the American Academy in Rome rented the Villa Aurora from Principe Don Rodolfo Boncompagni-Ludovisi, the 7th Prince of Piombino. The location on Via Lombardia was considered ideal, especially because of the proximity to the Villa Medici and the French Academy.  Today, the Villa Aurora is a designated Italian national treasure and home to a rare ceiling painting by Caravaggio in the original alchemy workshop.  It is possible to arrange a group tour on Fridays.”

“At the end of my research trip to Rome, I was able to visit Villa Aurora with a group of Swiss archeologists. As we were walking back down the driveway to leave, I spotted off in the garden a large cast of a portrait bust of Aesculapius under the tree. I immediately recognized this visual moment from the c. 1904-1909 photograph I had seen in the American Academy in Rome Photo Archive.”

Above: historic photograph of AAR group portrait under tree. Below: detail of Aesculapius cast in garden. Photo: Nancy Austin snapshot 25 Feb 2010.

“Handwriting on the back of the historic photograph identifies only George William Breck—the man seated. Breck had been the first winner of the Lazarus Scholarship Painting Fellowship for 1897-1902. He then became Director of the American Academy in Rome from 1906-1909.”

“This figure of Aesculapius is just one example of the casts of antique sculpture that can be found in a number of the historic photographs. Cast reproductions were an accepted means of studying classical sculpture in the nineteenth-century, and formed an important part of many American Museum collections until the early 1930s.”

[More to follow!—Ed.]

The Villa Aurora today. Source: Villa Aurora / Boncompagni Ludovisi website

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