Arts & Entertainment

The Lures of Antiquity

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When Pope Innocent II decided to remodel the venerable church of Santa Maria in Trastevere in 1140, he borrowed from the monuments of ancient Rome with deliberate and spectacular intent. For him, these tangible traces of another era were charged with meaning, majesty, and beauty, telling the story of a mighty empire that once spanned all three continents of the world he knew but had been brought to heel by a new religion, toppled by invaders, reduced to a territory in central Italy, and now, in the twelfth century, was looking hopefully toward better times.

For the May 11 issue of The New York Review, Ingrid D. Rowland writes about the repurposing, by medieval Roman popes and barons, stonemasons and sculptors, of ancient Roman monuments and objects. Inspired in equal measure by the lure of the distant past and the need to conserve resources, “the judicious stripping of ancient monuments became a local Roman industry” for these rulers and artists.

Since 1994 Rowland, a professor at the University of Notre Dame’s Rome Global Gateway, has written more than a hundred essays for the Review about Roman and European art, architecture, and history, from Pliny to Berlusconi, and from the Egyptian pantheon to Olafur Eliasson. Below, we have collected from our archives a collection of her writing.

Ingrid D. Rowland
Mysteries of Use and Reuse

For the artists and patrons of medieval and early modern Rome, the repurposing of ancient objects involved a tangle of complex motives.

The Spell of Marble

Gian Lorenzo Bernini’s immense artistic authority was based on his theatrical skill with the chisel.

Filling Our Eyes with Sunshine

No one who saw Olafur Eliasson’s The weather project has ever forgotten it.

Berlusconi: Will Someone Please Pull the Plug?

The scandals that buzz ever more insistently around Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi are hardly the first that old Rome has ever seen.

The Charms of Ancient Egypt

“The Egyptians, far from being obsessed with death, were captivated by life in all its forms: animal, vegetable, human, and cosmic.”

Feast of Pliny

“The limitations that kept Pliny the Younger from true greatness, either as a writer or as a statesman, are what make him such a companionable guide through Imperial Rome.”

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