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Getty Program Brings the Medieval Mediterranean to the AAR

May 30, 2014
At the Vatican Museums
Dina Bakhoum
At the Balbi Crypt
At the Vatican Museums
Getty Seminar Participants at AAR
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An image of the skyline of Old Cairo flashes on the screen. “Islamic? Fatimid? Mamluk? Egyptian? How would you categorize these buildings?” conservation specialist Dina Bakhoum queries the assembled group; Bakhoum was addressing a seminar of 19 scholars from various Mediterranean countries who gathered at the Academy for a seminar examining how national identities and nationalism have shaped the study of medieval art and archaeology.

The seminar, “Framing Medieval Mediterranean Art,” was the first of three planned meetings, organized by the American Academy in Rome and supported by a grant from the Getty Foundation as part of its Connecting Art Histories initiative. Directed by Andrew W. Mellon Professor-in-Charge of the School of Classical Studies Kimberly Bowes, FAAR’06, and University of California San Diego professor William Tronzo, FAAR’79, the seminars are designed to bring together scholars of medieval art and archaeology from a range of Mediterranean countries.

During the project team’s meetings in Rome, the scholars work jointly – in seminar discussions and site visits – to unravel how “medieval” is defined in their various national traditions. They are trying to understand how national identity plays a role in those definitions, as well as how current developments in the region – religious and political conflict, separatist movements and interventions by the European Union, the United States and NGO’s like UNESCO – have shaped not only how “medieval” art and archaeology is studied, but how they are conserved, exhibited and presented as part of national history.

For participants like Dina Bakhoum of the American University in Cairo, and Trpimir Vedris from the University of Zagreb, these questions play a major role in which medieval buildings are preserved – and which are destroyed.  For others like Silvia Armando, heading to a new post at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and Judith Bronstein of the University of Haifa, questions of national identity have affected how medieval art and architecture has been studied in universities in Italy and Israel, respectively.

For this initial seminar, the city of Rome was used as a test case to begin these investigations. One day found the group at the Fori Imperiali and in Ostia – places where Fascist interventions shaped the arc of Rome history. Other trips – to the Vatican and to the catacombs on the Via Appia – spurred discussions on the role of the Catholic church in the formation of Early Christian art and archaeology.

“The American Academy in Rome is proud to partner with the Getty Foundation on this program,” said Bowes, in speaking about the important impact of the discussions. “As a creative laboratory for not only American, but pan-Mediterranean scholarship, the Academy is a place where the intersection of different perspectives produces paradigm-shifting work. These scholars will hopefully return home with new ideas, ideas that will be used to shape the course of museology, archaeology and scholarship throughout the Mediterranean.”

“The Connecting Art Histories initiative brings together scholars from various regions of the world so they can apply their different perspectives to complex scholarly issues," said Deborah Marrow, director of the Getty Foundation. “The American Academy in Rome’s ‘Framing the Medieval Mediterranean’ will help redefine the study of Medieval art and archaeology by taking a broad look at the whole region, and we are proud to support this innovative research program.”