Reviewed February 2018
Marsha Stevenson, Visual Arts Librarian
Hesburgh Libraries, University of Notre Dame
The Images of Rome digital archive consists of prints, drawings and photographs drawn from the personal collection of Rodolfo Lanciani (1845-1929). A prominent Roman archaeologist and professor of ancient topography, Lanciani was perhaps best known as the author of seminal works such as the Forma Urbis Romae. After his death, his personal collection was purchased by the Istituto Nazionale di Archeologia e Storia dell’Arte, and selections from those materials were digitized to form the content of this website. Several institutions in Italy and the United States collaborated on its production, including the University of Oregon and Dartmouth College, where much of the metadata was prepared.
Lanciani’s personal collection numbered 15,000 items, only some of which were chosen for this website. Selection criteria are not given, and there is no information about the remaining 11,000 items. Details about these works would be helpful to scholars who are intrigued by what currently can be viewed. The 4,000 images included focus on buildings within the Aurelian Walls and consist of elevations, interiors, plans, and street views showing the neighborhood context. They are grouped either geographically, such as “Palatino” and “Piazza Navona,” or topically, such as “Fontane” (Fountains) and “Chiese” (Churches). An “Explore” tab facilitates browsing, while a search box probes descriptive metadata. Text can be searched either in English (e.g. John Lateran) or Italian (e.g. Giovanni in Laterano). A sidebar enables limiting by the facets of topic, author, medium, century, publisher, and date range.
Zooming and panning allow for close inspection of the high-resolution images. Each individual image includes a helpful map pinpointing its location. The images are freely available from the Stanford Digital Repository, with no registration or login requirements. They can can be downloaded, although not at high resolution. The dates of the original works range from the sixteenth to the twentieth centuries. The website displays a prominent attribution statement, claiming copyright with all rights reserved by the Istituto Nazionale di Archeologia e Storia dell’Arte, although the dates of most of the individual images place them in the public domain.
Five curated essays accompany the website, demonstrating ways in which its images can be grouped to illuminate particular themes. The content of the essays is interesting, but some could benefit from editing. Lanciani’s arrangement of his collection is preserved, and while informative, is not always optimal for modern-day browsing. Views of a specific church, for example, may be separated from each other, with other buildings intervening. When browsing within one of the “Explore” groupings, clicking on an icon of the earth results in a map with colored blocks showing the general locations of the sites. This is surprisingly awkward to use, since the map that opens is a world map, meaning many clicks are required to zoom in to a neighborhood. There does not appear to be one comprehensive map including all 4,000 items.
Images of Rome includes some intriguing views, elevations, and building plans that are not readily found elsewhere online. It is not intended to be comprehensive, but provides an appealing sampling of sites. These make the Rodolfo Lanciani Digital Archive a welcome addition to the corpus of materials about Rome.