Version classiqueVersion mobile

Middle Ages without borders: a conversation on medievalism

Tommaso di Carpegna Falconieri
Pierre Savy
Lila Yawn

b) The Middle Ages in the pictorial arts and design

2) Promising monsters: imagining medieval space at the ottocento Villa Torlonia

Michal Lynn Shumate

Texte intégral

1In “Prophets, canons, and promising monsters,” a 1996 essay for The Art Bulletin, Michael Camille discusses the kinds of works that often fail to achieve canonical status, taking as his example a late-twelfth-century monster: a Romanesque creature perching on a key example of an “Early Gothic” portal. The stylistic discontinuity between the Romanesque qualities of the creature and the early Gothic style of its surroundings makes it both temporally and spatially marginal, “out of place, so to speak, in its place.” Camille’s observations are relevant to a similarly liminal but nonetheless promising monster, the early-nineteenth-century decorative program of the Villa Torlonia on the Via Nomentana in Rome and in particular the work of painter and architect Giovanni Battista Caretti, as carried out during the 1830s: a series of neo-medieval spaces perching in a quintessentially neo-classical building. As Camille explains, the monstrous is only monstrous as long as it is unknown, and the project at hand is to spend time with this creature, to grapple with its out-of-place-ness.

2The Room of the Poets, or Camera de’ poeti ed artisti italiani, is an illusionistic, Gothic-style room in the Villa’s Casino Nobile. At the time of its construction, neo-Gothic architecture was completely anomalous in Rome. Already well established in France, Germany, and England by the 1830s, having first grown up in the eighteenth century in the design of garden buildings and, by the ninteenth, rich in strong national associations, the neo-Gothic did not appear in Rome until much later and even then with much less frequency. While stylistically different, these two mentalities of medieval revival—the northern European and the Roman—are evident on the Villa Torlonia grounds. Giuseppe Jappelli was commissioned to build several English-style garden buildings in the late 1830s, and the Torlonia buildings of a century later, including the Villino Medievale, Villino Rosso, and other gatehouses, are at home in the medieval revival of the early twentieth century.

3Yet, the Room of the Poets is not a part of England’s fanciful Settecento garden gothic, nor is it part of Rome’s nationalistic Novecento medieval revival. Instead, it is something entirely different: a kind of capsule gothic—acting not as a stand-alone entity but rather as one of many geographic and chronological “others” being collected in the neoclassical context. The singularity of this approach to the Gothic is made all the more stark by the fact that the Villa Torlonia’s sister site, Palazzo Torlonia in Piazza Venezia, was demolished in 1902. Caretti worked on both properties simultaneously through the 1830s, and when considered together, the Villa reveals itself part of a broader historicist project, rather than a lone, disjointed assemblage. In a mode similar to Horace Walpole’s eighteenth-century Strawberry Hill House, Caretti developed and employed a unique Roman neo-medieval visual vocabulary in the Torlonia properties.

4Marcello Fagiolo has drawn the connection between the Villa Torlonia and Hadrian’s Villa at Tivoli around a joint spirit of collecting moments in history by collecting building styles from those moments, and this paper carries these ideas inside, thinking not only of the false ruins and garden buildings as a scattered collection of figurines but of the historicist rooms in the villa through this collecting mode, as well. This paper also employs the framework from Susan Stewart in her 1992 book, On longing: Narratives of the miniature, the gigantic, the souvenir, and the collection. The rooms benefit from being read as miniatures and as souvenirs that form a larger collection, of not only taste and knowledge but also of history, with the collection as defined by Stewart as “the place where history is transformed into space.” Perhaps the Room of the Poets comes closest to the medieval somewhat by accident, not in visual representation but in methodology and in spirit. As Michael Camille proposes in the same Art Bulletin essay, “a medieval art historian is far more likely to want to construct a canon, not of objects, but of places.” This paper argues for a consideration of the Room of the Poets and its counterparts as deliberate gestures rather than as a haphazard eclecticism with which they often find themselves labeled.


5Apolloni 1987
Fagiolo 1990
Camille 1996
Stewart 1992


John Cabot University

© Publications de l’École française de Rome, 2021

Licence OpenEdition Books

Rechercher dans OpenEdition Search

Vous allez être redirigé vers OpenEdition Search