The Foreigner’s Wandering Eye: Art, Mobility, and Ecology in French Responses to Early Modern Rome
2023-2024 (January - June)
Niall Atkinson is Associate Professor of Art History, Romance Languages and Literatures, and the Committee on the Environment, Geography, and Urbanization at the University of Chicago. His research focuses on the social and bodily experience of architecture and urban space in early modern Italy and he is the author of The Noisy Renaissance: Sound, Architecture, and Florentine Urban Life (Penn State, 2016). He is also experimenting with digital technologies to spatialize the demographic data contained in the 1427 tax census of Florence (CATASTO) into an interactive geographic platform in collaboration with a consortium of related digital reconstruction projects (Florentia Illustrata). In 2018, he co-curated the US Pavilion at the Venice Architecture Biennale on the theme, “Dimensions of Citizenship.”
In the 16th century, Michel de Montaigne described his walks across Rome as a way of exploring its history. In the 17th century, the painter Nicolas Poussin would make daily walks through Rome, often with like-minded artists. These “promenades” served as much for direct observation of the city’s topography as for engaging in aesthetic reflection. Although walking in Rome was a common activity among its visitors, French travelers were unique in developing a distinct philosophical discourse on walking, inspired by the rebuilding of Paris. My project traces their itineraries through texts and images that analyze Rome’s transformations between the 16th and the 18th centuries. It investigates their role in constructing Rome’s modern image through the physical engagement with its material, natural, and social environments. Walking became the foundation for a particular way of representing the city in verbal and pictorial visions that inspired changes in how these environments were connected.