Color photograph of the head and torso of a light skinned woman with dark hair and dressed in a tan coat and scarf; she stands in front of a brick wall with much graffiti and looks off camera

Konstantina Zanou

Millicent Mercer Johnsen/National Endowment for the Humanities Rome Prize
February 13–July 14, 2023
Assistant Professor, Department of Italian, Columbia University
Project title
Soldiers of Fortune: Two Brothers and the Adventures of Antiquities from the Ottoman Mediterranean to Gilded Age New York
Project description

The project explores the fascinating lives of Piedmontese brothers Luigi and Alessandro Palma di Cesnola (1832–1904 and 1840–1914), who traveled around the world transforming themselves from military men into diplomats, and from explorers and gold diggers into archaeologists and forgers of antiquities. One of them became the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s first and longest-serving director. My book combines cultural, literary, and political history, biography, and history of science to tell a story about the transformation of the world from 1850 to 1914, and about the emergence of archaeology at the intersection of war, adventurism, imperial competition, and financial speculation. By unearthing the multiple layers of one family history, I offer a personal, microhistorical account of the development of scientific knowledge and the making of modern museums and associate them with historical phenomena rarely studied together in the same framework.