An Introduction

his exhibition is the result of an undergraduate seminar I taught at The Johns Hopkins University in the spring semester of 2010.  My goal for this class was to introduce students to the history of antiquarianism in Italy, beginning in the late fifteenth century and ending with the emergence of classical archaeology as a discipline in the 1800s.  Most importantly, this course was designed to offer students the opportunity to work directly with primary sources.  My hope was to engage them in a different kind of archaeological project--one that could be carried out in a library in Baltimore. We were extremely lucky that, only a few steps away from our classroom, resided a splendid collection of rare books.  We were even luckier that the curator in charge felt no hesitation in letting us handle such precious volumes.  He was, in fact, eager to share these treasures with us. The result of our five-month exploration is what you will see here.  All the images on this website were selected by the students from books in The Johns Hopkins University Library Collection, which we examined together during the course of five months.

"The Authority of Ruins" investigates the strongly visual nature of the study of classical antiquity from the sixteenth to the nineteenth century. As the numerous richly illustrated volumes on the ancient monuments of Italy attest, images were both the subject of intense study and an essential medium for disseminating knowledge about the past. Yet the value and function of images in the study of antiquity were themselves the topic of heated debates.

Starting in Rome, the traditional center of antiquarianism, this exhibition also considers the Roman monuments of Verona in the north of Italy before examining the ancient cities on the Bay of Naples—sites that, beginning in the eighteenth century, drew the attention of travelers and connoisseurs further south. The books and images presented here illustrate a complex evolution in scholarly methods for analyzing and depicting ancient remains. Questions regarding the accuracy of images, the ownership of monuments, and the tension between the ruins' scientific value and their aesthetic appeal recur throughout our discussion of these works. As we trace the transformation of antiquarian practices into the modern discipline of archaeology, we hope to make clear the competing ideals, ambitions and desires that shaped the way antiquities were seen by different authors and their audiences.

This exhibition would not have been possible without the kindness and assistance of several individuals. I would like to thank Macie Hall, Earle Havens, Donald Juedes, Jessica Maier and Elizabeth Rodini for guiding me and the students through the many stages of this project. Funding for the photographs on this site was generously provided by the Department of Classics at The Johns Hopkins University. I would also like to thank Will Kirk at Homewood Photography for his work on this exhibition.

Hérica Valladares
Assistant Professor
Department of Classics
The Johns Hopkins University

Baltimore, May 17, 2010