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20 North Main St (also enter on 224 Benefit Street) Providence, RI 02903

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Art & Design

  • The Theatre That Was Rome

    Prints, Drawings, and Photographs

    April 9 –July 11, 2004

  • The material on view is drawn primarily from the exceptional private collection of Vincent J. Buonanno (Brown University, BA 1966), supplemented with drawings and prints from The RISD Museum’s collection. This exhibition shows how artists and publishers capitalized on the theatrical nature of Rome’s architectural and engineering feats, religious processions and ceremonies, and the disposition of its famous antiquities. From early printed guidebooks of the mid 15th-century to late 18th-century works by Giovanni Battista Piranesi, maps and views were marketable commodities. As Rome became the focus of tourists - among them many antiquarians, pilgrims, artists, and architects - printed books, maps, and single-sheet views fixed images of the city in the minds of those who had not yet visited it, as well as those who re-experienced their journeys by poring over these increasingly grand albums.

    Textual guidebooks to the locations of Rome’s most important churches were first published in pocket size for pilgrims during the mid-15th century. By the 16th century, these small volumes had been updated with the addition of printed illustrations. Ancient monuments were increasingly added to the lists of religious sites until they eventually became of equal importance in the illustrated books. By the mid-16th century, tourists could easily buy engravings of the city’s major marvels to take home with them. By the 17th century, lavishly illustrated books of Rome’s wonders - ancient and contemporary sites, festivals, gardens, fountains, and overall plans of the city itself - issued from the presses in many editions.

    If early modern Rome was a theater, then the guides and picture books displayed here were the playbills and libretti that interpreted the city for the spectator. The works in the Museum’s exhibition are grouped into themes that demonstrate how Rome was staged for its various audiences. The exhibition continues at the John Hay Library, Brown University, with a focus on festival images. The John Hay Library (open weekdays, 9 am - 5 pm) is located at 20 Prospect Street, between Waterman and College Streets, an easy walk from the Museum.

    This project would not have been possible without the extraordinary generosity of Vincent J. Buonanno. The exhibition has been organized by Professor Evelyn Lincoln and the students of her Brown University graduate practicum in the Department of the History of Art and Architecture, working closely with staff at The RISD Museum. | sub wall label: The displays of objects in this gallery have been assigned letters from A to N to suggest a sequence for viewing the exhibition. The “Nolli map numbers” appearing in brackets at the end of label texts (and occasionally within the label text, where applicable) allow you to locate buildings and monuments on the very large map at the far end of the room [I: wall]. The New Map of Rome by Giovanni Battista Nolli was published in 1748 and provides a larger context for the subjects of the prints on view.


Selected objects from The Theatre That Was Rome