Isabel Roberts' Diaries: An Account of a Cold War Villa
Martin Brody is Catherine Mills Davis Professor Emeritus at Wellesley College. He served as composer in residence at the American Academy in Rome in 2001-2 and as Andrew Heiskell Arts Director of the Academy from 2007 to 2010. As a composer, he has received grants and awards from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the Fromm Foundation, Guggenheim Foundation, and the National Endowment for the Arts, among others. He has also served as resident composer at the Bogliasco Foundation and La Mortella. He has written extensively about modern music during the Cold War, with special emphasis on the music of Milton Babbitt, Elliott Carter, and Stefan Wolpe. He is currently President of the Stefan Wolpe Society, Director of One Landscape—an arts and conservation organization—and a trustee of the American Academy in Rome.
On New Year’s Day 1953, Isabel Roberts, wife of the first post-war Director of the American Academy in Rome began to keep a diary. For seven years, she methodically recorded a relentless stream of social events: lunches, teas, and dinners, concerts, art exhibitions, receptions, and parties, populated by a moveable feast of artists, composers, literati, scholars, aristocrats, philanthropists, museum directors, journalists, fashion designers, diplomats, politicians, and clergy. She entered the name of each person attending every meal, whether she herself was host or guest, and she often summarized the table talk. Beginning in 1954, she kept a separate “Legenda Romana,” noting the table arrangements and menus of the meals she hosted at her home. Her diaries, letters, and photographs are now part of the Laurance P. and Isabel S. Roberts collection at I Tatti. Roberts thus recorded the activities at a unique site of transatlantic cultural mediation: a Cold War villa. Under her watchful eye, the Academy’s 17th century Villa Aurelia sheltered an incongruous cast of characters in the story of the Pax Americana. I’m particularly interested in two kinds of figures that mingled in this Cold War villa: the patrician aesthete at rest and the Cold War bureaucrat at work. The forms of sociability they practiced in the Cold War villa register the dynamism of the values involved in fortifying transatlantic hegemony.