Veduta of Rome from Hartmann Schedel, Nuremberg Chronicle, Nuremberg 1493 (Photo Wikimedia Commons)

Roma communis patria

Foreign Communities in Rome between the Middle Ages and the Modern Era

Residence of the Papacy, destination of pilgrims, and metropolis of art, the city of Rome was a perpetual hub for foreigners from all over the globe. From the Middle Ages on, groups of compatriots in the Eternal City gathered in confraternities and founded hospices, oratories and churches. These groups mirror the linguistic, ethnic, and cultural characteristics of their places of origin, and appear as "national" representative bodies long before the idea of a nation state had established itself on a continental scale.

This is why early modern Rome provides a suitable setting for paradigmatic studies of the pre-modern concept of nationhood and the collective identities associated with it. In addition to territorial and linguistic criteria, shared memories, traditions, rituals and identification figures fostered a feeling of belonging among foreigners.

To what extent art also played a role in this process is a central question of the research project Roma communis patria by considering not only painting, sculpture, and architecture, but also the broader spectrum of artistic production, including prints, objects of daily use, and the vast world of ephemera for religious festivals and processions. The objective is to detect the unifying elements of the individual nations and show how these elements – for instance, language, religion, values, and customs – found expression in the visual culture, or, in other words, how a sense of belonging to a specific cultural community could arise through the use of recognizable semantic formulae. The study also seeks to verify to what degree art commissioned by foreigners resident in Rome was on the one hand the product of «self» presentation as distinct from the «other», or on the other, of the penetration and cross-fertilization between imported artistic phenomena and local working procedures consolidated over the course of centuries.

The research project Roma communis patria has resulted in various anthologies and essays with contributions from fellows of the Bibliotheca Hertziana as well as affiliated researchers. more

Research Areas

Inter-National Rome: Mapping Collective Identities in Via Giulia
Via Giulia, commissioned in 1508 by Pope Julius II and designed by Donato Bramante, was intended as an artery connecting the city’s most important governmental institutions. One of several functions of the new axis was to channel and manage the pilgrims who crowded the city, especially on the occasion of Holy Years. more
Santa Maria dell'Anima: Social Plurality and Art Patronage in the Age of the Reformation
At the time Martin Luther posted his theses on the cathedral portal in Wittenberg in 1517, the German national church of Santa Maria dell'Anima in Rome was in the process of complete renovation. The hospice associated with the church, run by a confraternity, was a contact point for people from the lands of the Holy Roman Empire from the Middle Ages on. more
Ideas, Networks, Identities: The Collegio di Sant'Isidoro in Rome and its Architecture and Artistic Furnishings in the 17th Century
The Collegio di Sant'Isidoro was an important intellectual center in Rome during the 17th century, where scholars from a wide range of disciplines met to study and discuss current theological, philosophical and art-theoretical topics.  more
Gregory XIII and the Foreign Communities in Rome
No pontiff was as systematically committed to foreigners living in Rome in the early modern age as Gregory XIII Boncompagni (papacy 1572–1585). They played an important role in the realization of the ambitious project of giving life to a universal church according to the dictates of the Council of Trent. The pope instituted a number of new seminaries for the training of young priests from the northern European countries affected by the Protestant reform, but also for those coming from the Middle East, a borderland inhabited by Catholics, Orthodox and Muslims.  more
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