Department of Greek & Latin


Talks & Workshops

Upcoming Workshop

bologna 2024

Workshop: Ancient Rome as Cinescape

DAMSlab (Aula Seminari)Piazzetta P. P. Pasolini 5/b, 40122 Bologna

Chairs: Prof. Paolo Noto (Università di Bologna)& Dr. Ivo Blom (Vrije Universiteit, Amsterdam)

One hundred years on, the 1924 Italian-German coproduction Quo vadis offers viewers fanciful scenes of Roman history that are both magnificent and disturbing. The emperor Nero is played as a satanic grotesque by the German star Emil Jannings. At the opening of the film, we see him lie resplendent on a couch in the grounds of his monumental, richly decorated palace. Through a monocle, he peers with sadistic amusement at a series of victims being thrown into the fountain to fatten his fish for dinner. The pornographic associations of semi-dressed women under attack by eels is brought out by striking shots underwater.

This Quo vadis was designed less as an adaptation to screen of the famous novel by Henryk Sienkiewicz and more as a remake of Enrico Guazzoni’s internationally successful epic of 1913 – a nostalgic return to pre-war filmmaking in the hope of reconquering a now lost global market. Through its long takes, distant framing, deep staging, and cast of thousands, the 1924 film also puts emphasis on mise en scène and spectacle but takes the familiar story to decadent extremes : extravagant banquets; beatings and murder; attempted rapes thwarted by a strongman; the spectacular fire; gladiatorial fighting, chariot racing , and lurid martyrdoms. Throughout all this, Quo vadis emphasises the gaze of the emperor – Nero’s pleasure and horror at looking.

The sunlight imperial palace is a character in itself that triumphs over the city until the Christians emerge from their underground catacombs. The set is the Palazzo dei festeggiamenti (‘Palace of festivities’), a pavilion designed by the architect Armando Brasini as part of a temporary Roman city built in the Villa Borghese to house the Mostra del Lazio (‘The Roman Exhibition of Agriculture, Industry and the Applied Arts’) from 1922 to 1923. The pavilion’s reuse connects the fascist present to Rome’s classical past. Yet its spatial symbolism on screen does not square with the emerging fascist rhetoric of romanità  (that is, modern Italy’s ties to ancient Rome). Civis Romanus sum, Mussolini had infamously declared on 21st April 1924. The imperial city this Quo vadis invites viewers to enter is not yet shaped to suit fascism (as it is in 1937’s Scipione l’Africano). According to the opening intertitles, it is simultaneously mistress of the world and crucible of corruption. One hundred years on, we revisit this cinescape with a mixture of repulsion and fascination.

In connection with the screening of Quo vadis, two workshops will be held on fictional and factual manifestations of ancient Rome as a cinescape of silent films - on June 25 and 26 at 17:00 to 19:00 in the DAMSlab (Aula Seminari). Further details are available in the daily schedule of Ritrovato events.

Workshop Programme

Workshop 1 Tuesday June 25 17:00-19:00

Reconstructing Ancient Rome

quo vadis workshop 1
This workshop takes its lead from the presence of Quo vadis (1924) in the Cinema Ritrovato programme. Aylin Atacan (University College London) will explore the visionary style of the architect Armando Brasini whose designs for the film’s sets and costumes are influenced by a rich amalgam of inspirations, including ancient Roman and Italian Baroque architecture, and the works of Giovanni Battista Piranesi. She will consider the emergence of this influential monumental style, its ideological underpinnings, and its consequences for spectators as an aesthetic that enabled them to traverse time and enter ancient Rome.

quo vadis workshop 2
Stella Dagna (Università degli Studi di Milano) will reflect on the relationship between monumental space and the human figure in the ancient Rome of Italian silent cinema, with particular attention to female characters. The domination of space by characters such as the Empresses Agrippina and Messalina contrasts with the passivity of the films’ fictional Christian heroines. In Italian pepla, the huge public spaces of ancient Rome and the people who inhabit them also take on a strong symbolic value that changes over time. Both talks will include clips and there will be plenty of time for discussion (using both English and Italian).
Workshop 2  Wednesday 26 June 17:00-19:00

Situating Ancient Rome in the Modern City

quo vadis workshop 3
This workshop takes its lead from the presence of Rome moderne et antique (1904) in the Cinema Ritrovato programme. Maria Assunta Pimpinelli (Centro Sperimentale di Cinematografia, Rome) will compare its strategies for representing the ancient sites of Rome with another Pathé actuality from 1911, Roma AnticaShe will frame both films aesthetically within the tradition of the picturesque and consider how that tradition is now brought into relation with the modern Italian city. She will contrast two Cines comedies that show ancient Romans coming to life in the present.

quo vadis workshop 4
Maria Wyke (University College London) will consider how different nations - French, Italian, British - document ancient Rome on film by comparing an elegant and equally picturesque Italian dal veroCittà eterna (1911), and a light-hearted amateur production Road to Rome (1926), in which British students of architecture clearly contrast the modernity of Liverpool with the perceived antiquity of Rome. Both talks will include clips and there will be plenty of time for discussion (using both English and Italian).


We are very grateful to Professor Paolo Noto and the University of Bologna Dipartimento delle Arti for hosting these two workshops in the university’s DAMSLab.

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Past Workshop
focus workshop poster

18 APRIL British Film Institute
Session 1: Travelogues, Maria Wyke (UCL)
Session 2: Fragmentary epics, Bryony Dixon (BFI)
Session 3: Greek material, Pantelis Michelakis (University of Bristol)
Session 4: Database, website & proposed activities


19 APRIL University College London
Session 1: Roman martyrdom, Maria Wyke to present (on behalf of Ivo Blom)
Session 2: Pompeii & architectural interest, Aylin Atacan (UCL)
Session 3: American films, Jon Solomon (University of Illinois)
Session 4: Planning resources & next steps  

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