Catching up with Professor Anthony Colantuono

It’s not every day you find yourself in the Grand Salon of the Villa Boncampagni Ludovisi in Rome, Guercino’s breathtaking Aurora fresco soaring above you, and your professor testing out the acoustics of the space by singing a few bars of a baroque aria, “Amarilli mia bella.” Then again, if you happen to take Professor Anthony Colantuono’s Winter Study Abroad course, “Baroque Rome: Art, Architecture and Urban Splendor in the Eternal City,” such an experience is not at all uncommon. Over the “five, perhaps six,” winters he has run the course, Dr. Colantuono and his students always have been welcomed into the Villa Ludovisi personally by the Princess Boncompagni Ludovisi, a transplanted Texan whose knowledge of and enthusiasm for sharing the histories and treasures of the Villa ensures memorable experiences, even the occasional impromptu concert (Dr. Colantuono reflects that “the acoustics took me by surprise”).

Although visiting the Villa Ludovisi is one of the highlights of the three-week course, Dr. Colantuono structures the class so that every day is a feast for each sense and the intellect. Walking anywhere from seven to ten miles daily in the open-air classroom of Rome (“we’ve had great weather”), students get an immersive, three-dimensional experience of the eternal city that one simply cannot get in a classroom. For example, Professor Colantuono delights in relating how a lesson on the architectural orders and their historical sequence comes alive for the students as one day they walk by and consider that ancient exemplar nonpareil, the Colosseum, and a day or two later, and just a few piazze and viae away, they connect its importance to later architects in the Palazzo Barberini, a Baroque masterpiece of architecture and urban design. With such access to Rome in all of its historical facets, it is no wonder that students rave about the experience.

For Dr. Colantuono the Rome course accomplishes more than opening up the richness of the history of Roman Renaissance and Baroque art and architecture to undergraduates: he takes with him an assistant - a Ph.D. student whom he advises - who handles many logistical matters and gains experience teaching. He relishes this opportunity for graduate students to “get boots on the ground,” to help them get exposure to monuments important to their study and to make connections that will help them when they reach the dissertation stage. Professor Colantuono confesses that on longer stretches of those classroom walks, he and his advisee pull ahead and carry on a concentrated “advanced course” that adds value to that student’s three-week experience. Another way that Dr. Colantuono adds value to his repeated experience of the course is to fold in to each iteration new locations to visit; for example, this past January the class went to Valmontone and Grottaferrata (a Greek monastery), both outside of Rome to the southeast.

Of course, Professor Colantuono shines not only in the classroom (indoor or out!). A distinguished scholar, Dr. Colantuono’s tireless spade work and brilliant, reasoned analyses have reshaped the study of southern Baroque artistic practice and reception. Last year Penn State University Press published Critical Perspectives on Roman Baroque Sculpture, a volume of important essays on seventeenth-century Roman sculpture edited by Dr. Colantuono and Dr. Steven F. Ostrow (University of Minnesota). This past fall, Dr. Colantuono took advantage of a sabbatical to work on a couple of major projects. The first is a book-length study dealing with the pictorial, literary, and cinematic theme of the "imperiled child," a project with origins in his 1987 Ph.D. dissertation, “The Tender Infant: Invenzione and Figura in the Art of Poussin.” For several years Professor Colantuono taught an Honors seminar based on this theme, exploring the nature of its peculiar popularity from antiquity to the present. 

The second project is a book-length study of the role of iconographic advisors in early modern art. First conceived while a fellow at Villa I Tatti, Dr. Colantuono has worked in two distinct phases for the past ten years. The first phase, essentially an extensive case study of the creation of a remarkable pictorial series for Duke Alfonso d'Este of Ferrara under the guidance of a humanist, concluded with the publication in 2010 of Titian, Colonna and the Renaissance Science of Procreation: Equicola's Seasons of Desire. In the second phase Dr. Colantuono broadens his scholarly perspective, both geographically and temporally, to trace the long lineage and practice of using iconographic advisors to inform artistic works both major and minor. Often regarded as the fantasy of iconographers, the iconographic advisor was a very real historical phenomenon in which highly educated individuals were engaged to compose iconographic instructions for artists to paint.  Dr. Colantuono’s study documents not only the existence of the phenomenon, but also surveys its far-reaching interpretative implications, examining the advisors' modes of communication and creative negotiation with artists, their "credentials" as inventors of images, their interactions with patrons, and their sources and methods for  inventing images. 

Of course, when Professor Colantuono is not working on his many scholarly projects or teaching, he may well be engaged in writing his latest political allegory or poem, but good luck finding it; he writes under various pseudonyms, the identifications of which must remain a mystery.