It has been an eye-opening experience to live life at the top of the Janiculum, the tall hill that forms the western boundary of central Rome. A view of the city from here makes it look almost like a miniature, as if one could reach out and pluck one of the domes below like one chooses a plum in the market. Tivoli, in the hills far to the east, seems close enough to distinguish individual buildings. It is only after descending into the city, down the long flights of stairs, past fountains burbling with fresh water, into the smells of fresh cornetti and the sounds of roaring motorini, that the complexity and beautiful messiness of Rome makes itself known. Down here, Rome is a puzzle, each plaque bearing a story, each cornice hanging over layers of foundation. It has been a tremendous pleasure to throw myself into this mystery, and to begin to decipher it as best I can.
Studying the route of the Possesso, a traditional papal procession from the Vatican to St. John Lateran, has been my entry point into the multi-layered history of Rome. It has been fascinating to learn about this ceremony and its vital link to the urban development of the city. My work has been to slowly trace the route of the Possesso, choosing each day a different point to draw, analyze, and research. I divide my time between field study and research in the library or my studio. I have come to see the Possesso as but one strand of the interconnected web of associations and memories that has created the city as we study it today.
There can hardly be a better place to contemplate the complex tangle of the city than the American Academy in Rome. Back up on the calm of the Janiculum, the community and resources of the Academy offer a unique location to headquarter one’s research. I can spend entire days in the stacks of the incredible library or lose track of the hours in my expansive studio. Essential to the experience have been the shared meals at the Academy. The food (which is so delicious it is hard to describe in a short blog!) brings together the community, experts in a wide variety of subjects, and nourishes new friendships and unexpected connections. Field trips into and out of the city offer similar opportunities to learn about new topics from many perspectives. I am thankful for the sense of warmth and welcome that my family and I have felt from the entire community at the American Academy.
I would like to express my deeply sincere gratitude to the Institute for Classical Architecture & Art for the Rieger Graham Prize, the incredible gift that made this experience possible for me. I am looking forward to the rest of my time at the American Academy in Rome, and look forward to share again my reflections on this time.