In 1885, excavations at Rome’s Quirinal Hill revealed one of the most celebrated Hellenistic Greek sculptures: the bronze, seated Boxer at Rest. Present was the archaeologist Rodolfo Lanciani, who witnessed its exhumation and snapped a photograph of the rare ancient object. The image he produced is as arresting as the sculpture itself, capturing the figure perched on a mound of dirt, like a time traveler taking in the ruins of a once-familiar world. It’s one of many photographs Lanciani captured of his city’s changing landscape, and it’s just one gem from his own, massive archives — amassed as his impressive effort to document Rome’s entire archaeological history through the end of the 19th century.
Nearly 4,000 records from Lanciani’s collection are now digitized and accessible through a new, online database created over two years by researches at Stanford University Libraries, the University of Oregon, and Dartmouth College. The Rodolfo Lanciani Digital Archive makes accessible about one fourth of the archive that ended up at the National Institute of Archaeology and Art History in Rome when the archaeologist died in 1929, which is available to the public at the Palazzo Venezia only during select weekday hours.
You can now browse through high-resolution drawings, prints, and photos created between the 16th and 20th centuries that show the many infrastructural layers of the capital. From watercolors of entire buildings to architectural plans to sketches of decorative elements rendered by hundreds of artists, the works reveal the city’s famous buildings at different stages as well as structures that have been lost to time.