Seminar: Contested History, Memory and Museums

Ennio Quirino Visconti and His Role in the ‘Second Roman Republic’ under Napoleon Rule
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In this course, the biography of Ennio Quirino Visconti (Rome, 1751 – Paris, 1818) is leading in the understanding how archives and museum collections in Rome have been established and organized when it comes to order and explain shifts in power. Museums, widely known for selective and contemporary representations of history, struggle with representations of historical changes of power, especially if these were paralleled with radical ruptures. Subsequent constructions of power rather tend to actively or passively forget or even erase previous contested histories, and in doing so they contribute to or even manipulate the production of cultural memory. This phenomenon can be traced in (re)organization of archives and (art) historical collections, as well as in narratives of museums.

This course aims to explain how mobility of culture, of artefacts and ideas, is a vital condition for cultural production: reception and memory. Structured upon concepts as archives, contested history and the production of cultural memory, the course intends to challenge students in tracing the mobility of culture, the migration of people, ideas and artefacts during the so-called ‘Second Roman Republic’ under French occupation 1797-98, in museum narratives, archives and collections. The course consists of readings, discussions, assignments, visits to archives and museums (Vatican, Capitoline, Museo di Roma, Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Moderna, Museo Napoleonico) and meetings with archivists and curators.

Ennio Quirino Visconti is known for his longstanding reputation as antiquarian, archaeologist and classicist. He is widely remembered as the conservator of the papal antiquity’s collections kept in the Museo Pio-Clementino and of the Capitoline museum since the end of the 1780’s until his migration to France in 1799. Envisaging the French Revolution and the Napoleonic era as a natural result and continuation of the Age of Enlightenment, his republican mind can be traced in the transformation of the collections narratives under his directorate. Co-authoring the selection and transport of spoils of antiquity to Musée Napoleon (Louvre) that took place in 1797, he became a key figure in imperial ideological strategies to establish Paris as the new cultural capital. With the Napoleonic occupation of Rome in 1796 and the establishment of the so-called ‘Second Roman Republic’ (1798-99) as a satellite state of France, Visconti became appointed one of the five Consuls, a position in which he directed the artistic design of the public program. After having fled with his family to Paris, he became appointed as the curator of the Louvres antiquity department in 1800, and a member and professor at the Académie des Sciences et des Belles Lettres, commemorated in 1818 as ‘the most famous archaeologist of his time’. His highly influential and international position in a period of geopolitical and cultural shifts has been overshadowed in 19th century historiography, that predominantly was created from a national perspective, both in France and in Italy.

The case of the short-lived Roman Republic is intriguing, since it marked a first shift in Papal power since ages. Italian republicanism and nationalism, some decades later, with its strategies very much future oriented, were not interested in building their programs upon foreign interventions in the recent past. As a consequence, the relevance of this period remained contested: it was an intellectual and artistic elite that sympathized with Republicanism, whereas for the majority of the inhabitants of Rome, the attack to the power of the Vatican came as a shock. Visconti, who radically decided to forswear his mother tongue once he entered France in Marseille, didn’t receive much historiographical attention, neither in Italy, nor in France. It is yet unknown if Visconti, likewise many other migrants in Paris, lost confidence in a ‘universal republic’ after Napoleon crowned himself Emperor in 1804.

The course language, depending on preference of students, will be English or Dutch.

Deadline application
31 January 2023
Please note that the decision of the selection committee is final and no correspondence will be entered into.


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