By Claudia Trezza
The American Academy in Rome marked its 125th anniversary on November 11 with a conference, titled The Academy as a Mirror of Change: 125 Years of Arts and Humanities, featuring past and current Residents, Fellows, Directors, and other scholars connected to AAR. Participants explored the institution’s rich history and future path as it continues to be a point of cultural conversation between the United States and Rome. The concept of the conference was in line with this year’s overarching theme, “Encounters,” which touches on the exchanges, conversations, and collaborations that take place at the Academy every day, and on their impact on the arts and humanities.
Lynne C. Lancaster, Andrew W. Mellon Professor-in-Charge of the Humanities, organized the event. She relayed the seminal moments that shaped the institution and how the Academy and its interaction with Rome helped shape the arts and humanities in the United States. The conference aimed to highlight not only how the institution reflected broader trends over time, but also how particularly American preoccupations related to those of its host country. The idea was to investigate “Encounters” at an institutional scale and to identify the individual who lived and worked there. Speakers shared how Fellows’ interactions with Rome over the years have influenced their work and that of their Italian neighbors, advancing their respective fields back in the United States.
The conference centered on two major periods of institutional development: the early period from its inception in 1894 up to the 1940s, and the post-WWII period, a time of tumultuous change in the world when the US, emerging as the West’s undisputed world power, wanted to increase its strength among the traditional cultural powers. The postwar period was also a time when the institution’s character and mission changed drastically and evolved into the Academy we recognize today.
Lancaster said packing so many years and so many historical events into a one-day conference proved a challenge, but the process clarified the central role the Academy played over the last century in arts and culture, politics and diplomacy. The conference also paid tribute to the hard work undertaken to put the Academy in such an influential position. Adele Chatfield-Taylor (1984 Fellow, 2020 Resident) returned to discuss her efforts, as President of the Academy from 1988 to 2014, at restoring the institution and injecting new life into it when it was “on the verge of closing.”
In his lecture Antoine Picon (2020 Resident) talked about the influence a Beaux Arts approach to architecture had on the founders. A panel followed, where scholars discussed more broadly the role of foreign schools and institutions during the period of nation building in the late nineteenth century. Conversation also covered the differing attitudes of Americans and Italians in some disciplines, as well as the role of gender within the institution. Afternoon lectures were given by Denise Costanzo (2014 Fellow) and Corey Brennan (1988 Fellow, 2020 Resident) on the arts and the humanities in the period after World World II.
Each talk was followed by panels with representatives from the various disciplines who reviewed salient issues that arose for the Fellows as they engaged with Rome and Italy in the new world order. A discussion moderated by Peter Benson Miller, Curator of 125 Anniversary Exhibitions, focused on “the clash between modernism and classicism at the Academy,” while Lancaster led another on the advances in archaeology, after the war. “It was the first time that foreigners were allowed to excavate in Italy,” she said. To tell that story in full, Lancaster brought in Italian historians and architects to add their perspective on what the Academy means for the city.
The conference featured: Ingrid Edlund Berry (1984 Fellow), T. Corey Brennan (1988 Fellow, 2020 Resident), Martin Brody (2002 Resident), Alberta Campitelli, Adele Chatfield-Taylor (1984 Fellow, 2020 Resident), Lavinia Ciuffa, Denise Costanzo (2014 Fellow), Valentina Follo, Kathy Geffcken (1955 Fellow), Lindsay Harris (2013 Fellow), Sebastian Hierl, Lynne Lancaster (2002 Fellow), Peter Benson Miller, John Ochsendorf (2008 Fellow), Antoine Picon (2020 Resident), Mark Robbins (1997 Fellow), Elizabeth Rodini, Ingrid Rowland (1982 Fellow, 2000 Resident), Ugo Rubeo, Ilaria Schiaffini, Jane Shepherd, and Frederick Whitling.