Brenda Longfellow is the Andrew Heiskell Post-Doctoral Rome Prize winner in Ancient Studies and an Associate Professor in the School of Art & Art History at the University of Iowa.
What part of the United States did you come from?
I am originally from Mount Vernon, Washington, which stands in a beautiful agricultural valley famous for its tulip fields; this town will always be home in my heart. I now live in Coralville, Iowa, which has a Midwestern beauty of its own. When the light hits the rolling hills just right, it feels like I’m part of a Grant Wood painting.
Why did you apply for the Rome Prize?
In the fall of 2011, I was told that I was next in line to be chair of my department. The drained and beleaguered face of the current chair provided all the motivation I needed to stop dreaming about someday applying for the Rome Prize and actually applying.
Describe a particularly inspiring moment or location you've experienced in Rome thus far.
One of the most inspiring places I’ve been is the filthy, fly-infested train station of Giove. A group of us had just missed a train and had almost two hours to kill until the next one. Hot and sweaty from our jog to the station, the mood was fairly grim until Lucy Corin started reading to us from Ovid’s Metamorphoses. Her dynamic reading of Daphne’s desperate flight from Apollo and transformation into a laurel tree made Daphne’s plight more immediate than our surroundings.
To what extent, if any, has your proposed project changed since your arrival?
The project was at its very earliest stages when I arrived, so I can’t tell if it’s changed or not.
What aspect of your project are you most looking forward to?
I have spent most of time in my study (the grandly named Michael Mewshaw Studio) and Rome’s museums, researching and studying the statues that form the core material of the book. Now that I have a better handle on the statues themselves, I’m looking forward to contextualizing the statues with site visits to the monuments where the statues once stood.
What part of your project has been or do you anticipate will be the most challenging?
One of the monuments in this study is the Nymphaeum of Alexander Severus, a three-story fountain on the Esquiline hill that was dedicated in AD 226. Among the statues associated with it are two sculptural trophies that were moved in 1590 to the Campidoglio, where they still are today. There is a lot of debate over whether these trophies were originally part of a Domitianic or Trajanic monument, and I need to examine the details of the trophies in order to make up my mind. But, these trophies are on the balustrade of the Campidoglio, and I think the logistics of getting close enough to effectively see the details will be a nightmare.
How have you managed the balance between your work (time in the studio/study) and engagement with Rome and Italy (travel, sightseeing, interactions with locals)?
I struggled with this quite a bit for the first three months. When I spent the day in the study, I wondered if I should have spent some time in the city. When I spent the day in the city or on an outing with the Academy community, I wondered if I should have spent a couple hours in the study first. I’ve finally made peace with my inability to do everything and be everywhere. Even with 11 months, there’s just not enough time.
How do you anticipate your Rome Prize Fellowship will influence future work?
I can see the library research, site visits, and Academy conversations fueling a lifetime’s work.
What is your favorite spot at the Academy? or in Rome?
My favorite spot at the Academy is my study, which overlooks the courtyard with the fountain. My favorite spot in Rome is the Campidoglio, where I like to people watch and think while sitting beneath the statues on the balustrade.