For the Ages

Since 1894, the Academy has been a nurturing home to a vibrant community of hundreds of distinguished scholars and artists. In this issue, we celebrate AAR’s 125th anniversary by looking back at some of the Fellows and their work.

Texts by Claudia Trezza.

For the Ages

1909 FASCR, Classical Studies and Archaeology

Originally from Ohio and a graduate of the University of Michigan and the University of Chicago, Esther Boise Van Deman (1862–1937) was the first woman field archaeologist, specializing in masonry, the study of the units that form the structures of buildings. She first came to Rome in 1901 and was a Fellow at the American School of Classical Studies in Rome in 1909.

Undated portrait of Esther Boise Van Deman
Undated portrait of Esther Boise Van Deman sitting on rocks near a pine tree (photograph from the American Academy in Rome, Photographic Archive)

Esther was among the first to develop a chronology of masonry styles based on materials and size of the bricks, which continues to help today’s archeologists to date Roman buildings. Among her most important work was The Building of the Roman Aqueducts, which she completed in 1935, just two years before her death.

Esther is also known today for her insightful and artistic photographs of Rome’s ancient and modern buildings as part of her research. Between 1901 and 1930 she took over 2,700 photos, which she meticulously catalogued; they are preserved in the Academy’s Photographic Archive. Esther was one of three female photographers whose work was in the Academy’s 2016 exhibition, A View of One’s Own.

At her death, Esther bequeathed a large collection of antiquities to the American Academy in Rome, including lamps, pins, needles, and the sculpted head of a boy. As written in a previous AAR article, her collection “describe a mind as engaged with the present as with the past, with people as well as pots and as a teacher who would have been thrilled to see what a new generation of students made of her meditations.”

C. Brian Rose

1992 Fellow, Classical Studies; 2012 Resident, Ancient Studies

C. Brian Rose is an archeologist and classical scholar. As a young boy growing up in southeastern Ohio, Brian sought ways to explore the world. As part of an exchange program he was placed on two excavation digs in Italy, which sparked his passion for archeology. As a Fellow at the American Academy in Rome, he came in contact with landscape architects, sculptors, and academics, many of whom he has collaborated with during his career.

C. Brian Rose in the field
C. Brian Rose in the field

Brian’s career has spanned in many directions. Most of his field work takes place in Turkey. He served as codirector of the excavations at Troy for twenty-five years, including the capital city of Phrygia in Turkey, and currently directs excavations in Gordion, where the legend says King Midas’s wish to turn everything he touched into gold turned into a curse.

He trained US soldiers deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan on the fundamentals of historic preservation and conservation. He is currently involved in a program for the blind to touch ancient artifacts and connect with ancient civilizations at the Penn Museum, as well as teaching children in long-term care about the ancient world.

Brian says he owes his multifaceted career to his stay at the Academy. “What your time at the Academy teaches you to do is to leave your comfort zone” he said, “to expand your horizons and creativity” to a point where “discomfort turns into eagerness.”

A member of the AAR Board of Trustees from 2002 to 2019, he and Michael C. J. Putnam helped to establish an endowment for the Classical Summer School.

Vivien Greene

2004 Fellow, Modern Italian Studies

The daughter of an Italian mother and an American diplomat father, Vivien Greene has lived and worked between the United States and Italy all her life. She spent her summers in her grandparents’ villa in Sicily and lived for a few years in Palermo, where her father was posted.

Vivien Greene
Installation view of Migrating Objects: Arts of Africa, Oceania, and the Americas in the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, on view February 15–June 14, 2020 (photograph by Matteo De Fina and © Peggy Guggenheim Collection, Venice)

Vivien understood early in her studies that Italian art, specifically nineteenth-century Italian art, was her calling especially when realizing the paucity of research and literature available in English in the field.

Vivien is a senior curator for the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, where she has worked since 1993. In 2004, she took a sabbatical year and began her Fellowship at AAR. She took advantage of every minute of it. During her stay, she wrote part of her dissertation, cocurated an exhibition in Venice, and explored the country—meeting collectors, exploring libraries, and building the relationships that allow her to do the work that she does today. Greene describes it as “a golden time” for her.

Her role at the Peggy Guggenheim Collection in Venice has changed over the years, and she is currently taking on more academic and logistical responsibilities. Together with collection director Karole Vail, she recently edited a book called Peggy Guggenheim: The Last Dogaressa. She also oversaw the recent Migrating Objects exhibition in Venice, which showcases a selection of permanent-collection artworks made by artists from Africa, Oceania, and indigenous America. Vivien is cocurating an exhibition of Orphism and exploring a new one on migration in the second half of the nineteenth century.

James Ackerman

1952 Fellow and 1965, 1970, 1975, and 1980 Resident, History of Art

Born in San Francisco, James Ackerman (1919–2016) was a Harvard art historian who left a major imprint in the study of Italian Renaissance architecture, specifically of Michelangelo and Palladio.

His passion began at the end of WWII during his station in northern Italy when, awaiting transfer back to the States, he volunteered for the Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives commission in Milan to retrieve old archives that had been stored in the Certosa of Pavia, one of the great Italian Renaissance buildings. During this time, he deepened his knowledge of Italian Renaissance architecture and began gathering information for what would become the subject of his master’s thesis at the Institute of Fine Arts in New York.

James Ackerman
Portrait of James Ackerman (photograph from the American Academy in Rome, Institutional Archive)

James became Fellow at the American Academy in Rome in 1952 and soon after took on the Fulbright Commission fellowship. It was during his time in Rome that he conducted his investigation on the Cortile del Belvedere, a major Renaissance architectural work at the Vatican. The book that came from this investigation has been described as “setting the standard for monographic studies in the field.”

James studied the life and career of Andrea Palladio, shedding light on lesser-known qualities and perspectives of this late Renaissance architect. He was coauthor of The Architecture of Michelangelo, a monograph detailing the drawings, theory and practice of the artist’s architectural work.

Astra Zarina

1962 Fellow, Architecture

Astra Zarina (1929–2008), professor emeritus of architecture at the University of Washington and founder of her school’s Italian Studies programs and the UW Rome Center, was the first woman to be awarded the Academy’s architecture fellowship. Throughout her career and life, she contributed to the restoration of many buildings in Italy and elsewhere, including the small neighborhood of Märkisches Viertel in Berlin.

Astra Zarina
Astra Zarina and her neighbor Felice Rocchi at the Civita di Bagnoregio in Italy, 1995 (photograph from the Civita Institute)

Born in Riga, Latvia, Astra emigrated to the United States with her family after WWII and studied architecture at the University of Washington under Lionel Pries, Wendell Lovett, and Victor Steinbrueck. After receiving her master’s degree from MIT, she worked in an architecture firm in Detroit and began teaching as a lecturer for the UW Architecture Department.

In 1970 she initiated the Architecture of Rome program, teaching groups of students in her own apartment. The program continued as the Rome Center for the College of Architecture and Urban Planning, which she directed until the mid-1990s in the Palazzo Pio in Rome, above the ruins of the Roman Theater of Pompey. During the construction of the school, a medieval tower that had been hidden for centuries was discovered, and Astra oversaw its restoration.

In 1976 she began a similar program in Civita di Bagnoregio, a small, isolated medieval hill town about sixty miles from Rome only reachable by a footbridge, where she and her husband Anthony Costa Heywood ultimately moved to after retiring in 2000. They restored numerous buildings in the town and continued promoting it until she died in 2008.

John W. Rhoden

1954 Fellow, Visual Arts

A sculptor working primarily in wood and bronze, John W. Rhoden (1918–2001) was a Fellow at the AAR from 1952 to 1954. Born in Birmingham, Alabama, he moved to New York in 1938. After serving in the Army during World War II, John studied painting and sculpture at Columbia University, where his teachers included the landscape painter and sculptor William Zorach. He won a Fulbright fellowship to Italy in 1951 before winning his Rome Prize.

John W. Rhoden
The artist John Rhoden working on one of his sculptures, ca. 1951–54 (photograph from the American Academy in Rome, Institutional Archive)

Today, Rhoden’s works lie inside and in front of major museums such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Art Institute of Chicago. His most famous include Monumental Abstraction, which is on the exterior of the Metropolitan Hospital in Harlem; a nine-foot bronze sculpture of Frederick Douglass, at Lincoln University in Pennsylvania; and Zodiacal Structure and Curved Wall at the Afro-American Museum in Philadelphia.

The Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in Philadelphia currently holds many of John’s sculptures.

Samuel Barber

1937 Fellow and 1947 Resident, Musical Composition

Best known for his Adagio for Strings, Samuel Barber (1910–1981) became one of the most successful and popular composers of orchestra, opera, choral, and piano music of his time. He was awarded the Rome Prize Fellowship in music in 1935, which has since been named after him.

Samuel Barber
Portrait of Samuel Barber, inscribed in 1958 (photograph from the American Academy in Rome, Institutional Archive)

Born in West Chester, Pennsylvania, Samuel took to music from a very young age. Introduced to music by his aunt Louise Homer, a leading contralto at the Metropolitan Opera, he began playing the piano at age six, composing his first work, Sadness, at age seven. At age eighteen he won a prize for a violin sonata called Fortune’s Favorite Child.

From that point on his career flourished. Samuel’s overture The School for Scandal, composed at age twenty-one, was performed by the Philadelphia Orchestra under Alexander Smallens. But his turning point was in 1938, when the renowned conductor Arturo Toscanini introduced his First Essay for Orchestra and the orchestral version of Adagio for Strings, both in one year.

Samuel’s works were conducted by renowned directors such as Bruno Walter, played by famous musicians including Vladimir Horowitz, and danced to by Martha Graham. He was the recipient of two Pulitzer Prizes for music for his opera Vanessa, which he wrote with his long-time partner and composer Gian Carlo Menotti, and for the Concerto for Piano and Orchestra.

William Styron

1953 Fellow, Literature

The author of Sophie’s Choice, which was adapted into a blockbuster movie, William Styron (1925–2006) was a successful writer whose novels exposed history’s tragedies through a deeply personal lens and a sensibility that many have compared to William Faulkner.

William Styron
William Styron and his daughter at their home in Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts, July 4, 1975 (photograph by Alfred Eisenstaedt)

After completing his service in the Marine Corps during World War II, he moved to New York, where he began his writing career at the New School for Social Research under the professor Hiram Haydn. At the age of twenty-six, he made his debut with his novel Lie Down in Darkness, on a woman’s suicide and its effect on her family. Soon after he was awarded a Fellowship at the American Academy in Rome, where he met his wife, the poet Rose Burgunder.

In 1967 William wrote The Confessions of Nat Turner, a first-person narrative of the man whose rebellion against slave owners led to a massacre of sixty people in 1831. He was very sensitive to this topic as his own ancestors had owned land and slaves in North Carolina. Ten years later, William focused on another tragic historical moment with his novel Sophie’s Choice, the story of Sophie, a survivor of Nazi concentration camps and an American Jewish writer obsessed with the Holocaust.

He became known later in life for his battle against depression and for being among the first to discuss the illness openly. In 1990 he published Darkness Visible, a memoir of his struggle with the disease.

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