Annual Miller Lecture: Rome: The Greatest Theatre in the World

Fall Break

Xiaofei Lei ’20

On Oct. 4, professor John Pinto gave the Annual Miller Lecture titled “Rome: The Greatest Theatre in the World” at Weinstein Auditorium.

John Pinto, Howard Crosby Butler Memorial Professor of Art and Archaeology Emeritus at Princeton University, left Smith College for Princeton in 1988. He specializes in 18th century architecture, urbanism and landscapes in Rome. Other research interests include the reception of classical antiquity and the image of Rome, particularly in the work of Giovanni Battista Piranesi.

This lecture was presented in conjunction with the ongoing Smith College Museum of Art exhibition, “When in Rome: Prints and Photographs, 1550–1900” and Pinto’s current exhibition “City of the soul: Rome and Romanticism” at the Morgan Library in New York. In this lecture, Pinto showed people Rome as an attraction, an inspiration and a pilgrimage site for artists and writers by exploring how mediums of reproduction develop and enhance the myth of Rome.

The lecture sketched a broad cultural framework for many of the prints and photographs in “When in Rome” and paid special attention to the period between 1770 and 1870. Pinto gave several reasons for the importance of looking closely at this era. First of all, this era embraces the transition from the aristocratic tradition to mass tourism. The powerful effect of romanticism on the image of Rome also became evident at this time. In addition, the new medium of photography offered a fresh and brand new interpretation of this eternal city. In 1870, Rome finally became the capital of a newly unified Italy. This step initiated the rapid development and transformation of Rome into a modern city.

“‘When in Rome’ is an exhibition about the inherently dynamic relationship between perception and projection. It recognizes that the act of seeing is never unmediated. Responses to a site like Rome are always infatuated by intellectuals on the experience of viewer.” said professor Pinto.

He then further illustrated this very amusing but easily neglected point through several examples, including the feeling that the monuments are not as large and imposing as those famous writers and painters portrayed them. People were sometimes surprised after they visited these monuments themselves. This sentiment could be confirmed by everyone who has visited the “When in Rome” exhibit, looking at the fantastic prints created by Giovanni Battista Piranesi in comparison to the stark photographs of the monuments.

During the lecture, Pinto also constantly cited Lord Byron, not only to provide us with examples from texts of how Rome was back then, but also to show us how Byron’s romantic poems inspired later visitors to the city, not only to seek out the images of Rome but also to replicate his or other writers’ emotional responses.

As Pinto concluded, “Rome is a never ending cycle: perceiving projecting and representing.” Through his discussion of the different effects that literature and paintings related to Rome had on visitors and how changing technology and the circumstances of the era affected Rome, Pinto was able to present us with a vision of Rome from 1770-1870.

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