American art students explore Roman historical site

“An Eternal Love” exhibit introduces and explores the Non-Catholic Cemetery of Rome.

Rome, with its hundreds of intricate churches and iconic pieces of religious art, is known for possessing an immense history that is undeniably interlaced with Catholicism.

For this reason, the Non-Catholic Cemetery or Protestant Cemetery of Rome stands out.

The 299-year-old gravesite suggests a historical trail that veers far off the road of Roman-Catholicism. Gravestones date back as far as the 18th century, displaying not only stone crosses, but exquisite busts, delicate sculptures, and tombstones with inscriptions in Latin, Hebrew and Arabic.

Erica Thostesen was surprised and pleased when she entered the cemetery to sketch for a class.

“The cemetery was one of my favorite places in Rome because it felt so safe and serene. It was hauntingly enchanting,” Thostesen said. “I could have spent the whole day there continually being inspired.”

Thostesen, a photography major at Tyler who studied abroad this past spring semester, was particularly struck by what she referred to as “the contrast between life and death and light and shadow.” Her final product, a photograph of a blooming flower resting upon an age-old tombstone, now resides in the very cemetery that had originally stimulated her artwork.

The exhibit, “An Eternal Love,” presents the artistic reactions of students such as Thostesen to the cemetery and its rich history. Anita Guerra, a Temple graduate and multimedia artist, utilized her position as a member of the Fine Arts Faculty of several American colleges in Rome to curate the show. Each student featured in the exhibition studied for a semester on the Rome campus of either Temple, St. John’s, American or Cornell University.

Arabella Tuthill, an international business major at Rollins College, created a piece for the exhibit while studying through the American University of Rome. Tuthill said that her layered series of drawings recreated the misty first impression she received while walking into the cemetery.

“The morning we went to the cemetery it was a bit rainy and foggy, if I remember correctly, which set a solemn tone,” Tuthill said. “I walked in and was immediately blown away by how beautiful the cemetery was. I have never seen anything like it.”

Living in Rome for four months has, in fact, inspired Tuthill to further pursue her artistic enthusiasm—upon returning to college in America, she immediately added a studio art minor to her roster.

The walls of the Garden Room will remain dotted with small and varied paintings, drawings, and photographs of the 30 students, including Thostesen and Tuthill, until August 16.

“Indeed, Rome’s very history is inextricably woven and formed by such foreign artists who reside in the city for some, much or all of their careers,” Guerra wrote in her introduction letter for the exhibit. “I would like to celebrate this eternal connection, this love, through the eyes of our students.”

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