Ingrid D. Rowland

Ingrid D. Rowland teaches in Rome for the University of Notre Dame’s Rome Global Gateway. A frequent contributor to The New York Review of Books, she is the author of The Culture of the High Renaissance: Ancients and Moderns in Sixteenth-Century Rome and The Scarith of Scornello: A Tale of Renaissance Forgery. She has also published a translation of Vitruvius’ Ten Books of Architecture and a history of Villa Taverna, the US ambassador’s residence in Rome. Her latest book is From Pompeii: The Afterlife of a Roman Town.

See NYRB titles related to this contributor.

  • From Aeschylus to the EU

    July 7, 2015

    This summer, in the ancient Greek theater of Syracuse in Sicily, Aeschylus’s The Suppliants, one of the world’s most ancient plays, turned out to be one of the world’s most timely.

  • Picasso: The View from Florence

    November 20, 2014

    A show on Pablo Picasso may seem an odd occurrence in Florence, but the exhibition Picasso and Spanish Modernism at Palazzo Strozzi makes a cogent case for its location.

  • The Witches of West End

    July 8, 2014

    Arthur Miller’s The Crucible is once again speaking at a crisis point in society: the tyranny of male over female.

  • The Fall of the Vice-Pope

    June 16, 2014

    Pope Benedict’s retirement effectively put a lid on the career of Tarcisio Bertone, once the Vatican’s powerful Secretary of State. Now Vatican prosecutors have begun to investigate allegations of embezzlement by Bertone.

  • A Magician in Pigment

    November 8, 2013

    Titian was a painter of astonishing versatility, a master of landscape, of portraiture, of sacred painting, historical painting, mythology, a magician who could turn a dab of pigment into a flame, a pleat, a thunderbolt, a twinkle in the eye, a Cupid’s wing.

  • The Wrong Way for Pompeii

    October 22, 2013

    Perfectly preserved under the ash for nearly seventeen centuries, the ancient city of Pompeii is rapidly decaying through mismanagement, overuse, and institutional neglect.

  • Italy's Future in Flames?

    March 7, 2013

    Just north of Naples, a smoldering ruin is all that remains of the museum called the City of Science. It was deliberately set on fire during the night between March 4 and 5, and it is not hard to read the message behind its destruction.

  • Trashing Hadrian's Villa

    June 19, 2012

    I first went to Hadrian’s Villa, the incomparably beautiful rural residence of that most cultured of all Roman emperors, in 1967 with my father. I was a teenager for whom the long country road from Rome to the spa town of Tivoli seemed endless, and endlessly mysterious. We climbed over vaults and crept through tunnels, watched the swans and carp navigate the murky green waters of the imperial reflecting pools, drank in the quiet and the breezes that softened the summer heat. If local and regional officials get their way, however, the villa may soon be remembered less for its ancient pleasures than for the stench of modern refuse wafting through its ruins.

  • Italy's Schettino Complex

    January 23, 2012

    There seems to be a nearly universal agreement that the Costa Concordia, the gigantic cruise ship that lies wrecked at an 80 degree angle just off the Tuscan island of Giglio, somehow embodies the very essence of Italy, despite the fact that Aristotle would have recognized its story as a perfect Greek tragedy: a man, no better or worse than most of us, makes a mistake and thereby unleashes a cataclysm, and we look on the resultant disaster with a cathartic mix of pity and fear. But the hubris of captain Francesco Schettino (now under house arrest) has struck many Italians as a distinctively home-grown kind of hubris, and catharsis is not a sensation that anyone can feel when so many souls are still unaccounted for.

  • Fiddling While Rome Burns

    October 19, 2011

    On Thursday, my students and I walked along from the Colosseum to the Cathedral of Saint John Lateran in Rome. Two nights later, those same Roman streets became a battleground, as a group of about 1500 black-clad, hooded incognito street fighters succeeded in derailing one of the largest economic protests that has yet been staged in any western country. It had been planned as a huge non-violent demonstration by some 150,000 “Indignati”—outraged Italian citizens—to decry the Berlusconi government’s failure to face the global economic crisis, and it was meant to chime in with similar protests taking place in many other countries. But as the demonstration moved peacefully down toward the Roman Forum, the masked street fighters, both male and female, jumped into action, smashing shop windows, uprooting signs, burning cars, throwing bottles, cobblestones, fire extinguishers and petards, and brutally beating anyone in their way: journalists, peaceful demonstrators, and police.

  • Letter From Rome: Scandal Among the Plutocrats

    August 24, 2011

    Italy, from many standpoints, is in dreadful shape. The news is out and inescapable. People in the rest of the world wonder why, in the face of a stagnant economy and pervasive corruption, the country continues to keep Silvio Berlusconi as its prime minister. The reasons are many, from inertia to resignation to the conviction that at last the man can stew in his own juices—and he certainly looks awful enough to suggest that he is no longer enjoying the position to which he clings with limpet-like tenacity. The reasons for Italy’s inaction also, however, include a well-founded fear that the left will not be able to do much better.

  • Those Bad Borgias

    May 16, 2011

    Caravaggio novels, as a knowledgeable friend has observed, are not only unrelentingly bad, but bad in the same way. A related case of badness afflicts The Borgias, the new Showtime TV series that bears the name of director Neil Jordan and improbably stars Jeremy Irons as the patriarch of the powerful fifteenth- and sixteenth-century clan.

  • John Paul II and the Blessed Business of New Rome

    May 3, 2011

    Of all the ceremonies staged for the beatification of John Paul II on May 1—the Vatican’s official admission of him into the ranks of the blessed and a crucial step on the path toward sainthood—there may have been none more moving than a Lord’s Prayer sung in Syro-Armenian chant by a Syrian countertenor (Razek François Bitar) in the cavernous Baroque church of Santa Maria in Campitelli.

  • Saving Alexandria

    February 1, 2011

    Located near the site of its ancient predecessor, in the heart of historical Alexandria, the remarkable Bibliotheca Alexandrina, the new Library of Alexandria, which opened in 2002, has been uncomfortably close to the turmoil that now wracks Egypt, and especially Egypt’s cities.

  • The Worldly Temptations of Lucas Cranach

    January 15, 2011

    The phrase “Renaissance man” tends to conjure up images of Italians in tights, like Leonardo da Vinci, or that tireless fifteenth-century self-promoter Leon Battista Alberti. Yet the real early modern masters of a thousand arts seem to have come from parts farther north. Peter Paul Rubens was famously both a student of philosophy and a diplomat as well as painter, but no artist may have diversified his talents as widely as the elder Lucas Cranach (1472-1553), mayor of Wittenberg, tavern keeper, and, more than incidentally, court painter for more than half a century to the Electors of Saxony.

  • Eats and Reads

    December 2, 2010

    For Italian columnist Giacomo Papi, the essence of contemporary society has been revealed once and for all in the way we eat. It all started, he maintains, in the 1980s, when bow tie pasta with salmon in cream sauce began to appear on Italian menus.

  • Berlusconi: Will Someone Please Pull the Plug?

    November 10, 2010

    The scandals that buzz ever more insistently around Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi are hardly the first that old Rome has ever seen.

  • Berlusconi’s Machiavellian Moment

    September 10, 2010

    Several remarkable things have happened here in Italy in the past week. One: Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, that self-styled man for all seasons—tycoon, soccer team owner, politician, crooner, swain—the perennial fixer who not too long ago said, in Milanese dialect, ghe pensi mi, “I’ll take care of it”—“il premier,” il Cavaliere (that is, Sir Silvio), has apparently been driven by the present political situation to say, “I don’t know what to do.”

  • New Art in Old Rome: Playing Among Giants

    June 30, 2010

    MAXXI is Rome’s new, much-touted national museum of contemporary art (the XXI standing, in Roman numerals, for the present century). With such a mission, this $188 million project of the Italian Ministry of Culture has a number of tasks to perform simultaneously: not only housing what aspires to be an inspirational, international selection of recent work, but also proving that—despite frequent claims to the contrary—a city that once played host and Muse to so many great architects, famous and forgotten, from Etruscan times onward, can do so again.

  • Berlusconi's New Rival?

    May 13, 2010

    The Italians have a one-syllable word, an interjection, that means “I don’t know”: “Boh.” And “Boh” is probably the only credible commentary anyone can make right now about the country’s political situation.

  • When the Antichrist Came to Orvieto

    May 7, 2010

    It is hard to imagine that so thoroughly beguiling a place as Orvieto was ever famous for anything but the bounty of its generous earth. But the city used to be different, as we can see from one of its greatest artistic treasures: a terrifying Renaissance Apocalypse, painted by Luca Signorelli between 1499 and 1504.

  • The Siege of Rome

    March 26, 2010

    Rome is under siege these days. Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, always willing to assume the role of martyr, continues to claim that everyone is out to get him: the Communists, pinko magistrates (called “red togas” in Roman parlance), and the Left in general. Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, Vatican Secretary of State, responding to the sudden torrent of sexual abuse allegations against the priesthood, says that everyone is out to get the Church and the Pope. Everywhere this spring, the open city seems to be sprouting new street barriers, or permanent guard posts, or at least a vanload of police.

  • Upright Hubris: A Short Tale of Skyscrapers

    February 1, 2010

    If the Earth has never been shy about proclaiming the instability of its surface, the creature misnamed Homo sapiens has never been shy about ignoring the message. Dubai’s 828 meter-tall Burj Khalifa skyscraper, which opened in early January, is only the latest in a millennial series of contenders for the title of world’s tallest building. It looms, at least for now, above Malaysia’s Petronas Towers, Toronto’s CN Tower, Chicago’s Sears Tower, and the quaintly venerable Empire State Building in that proverbial city of towers, New York. Yet the profile of Burj Khalifa suggests nothing so much as a seventeenth-century engraving intended to ridicule the human habit of tower-building, part of the German Jesuit Athanasius Kircher’s exquisitely illustrated essay on the Tower of Babel, Turris Babel of 1679.

  • Aio!

    January 26, 2010

    Given their long personal histories of accessibility, and Italian society’s general focus on physical presence as an essential part of life (the chic version of this phenomenon is presenzialismo, the art of showing up in all the right places), Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and Pope Benedict XVI have always run a certain degree of bodily risk in their positions; the fact that they were both assaulted last month—Berlusconi wounded in the face by a sculpture-wielding psychotic and the Pope jumped at by a woman at a Christmas Eve mass—was thus a matter of chance rather than any greater design, divine or human. Furthermore, violent attacks on public figures are a recurring story in Italian history, to say nothing of ancient Rome: King Umberto I was knifed by one anarchist, Giovanni Passanante, in 1878, and fatally shot by another, Gaetano Bresci, in 1900. Former Prime Minister Aldo Moro was kidnapped in March 1978 by the Red Brigades and murdered the following May after 55 excruciating days in a “People’s Prison.”

  • When Heaven Was More Interesting Than Hell

    December 3, 2009

    As a political analyst, the Sienese painter Ambrogio Lorenzetti is hard to rival, even if he painted rather than wrote, and did so towards the middle of the fourteenth century. The frescoes he executed for the city council of Siena in 1338–1339, showing The Effects of Good and Bad Government on the City and Countryside, mark what may be a unique achievement in the history of art: making Heaven, (or at least Heaven on earth), look infinitely more interesting than Hell.

  • America Is Hard to See

    May 1, 2015 — September 27, 2015

    Renzo Piano’s new home for the Whitney Museum of American Art is a colossal achievement.

  • 'Titian' in Rome

    March 5, 2013 — June 16, 2013

    Titian visited Rome twice in his life, and now he is back with forty paintings for an exhibition at the Scuderie del Quirinale in Rome.

  • Pietro Bembo and the Invention of the Renaissance

    February 2, 2013 — May 19, 2013

    Pietro Bembo (1470-1547) romanced Lucrezia Borgia, climbed Mount Etna and invented the semicolon. Titian painted his portrait. An exhibition in Padua focuses on the man and his collection, both extraordinary.

  • Teatro Valle Occupato


    When the City of Rome decided to sell off the eighteenth-century horseshoe theatre a group of outraged (and talented) citizens took it over as squatters. Thanks to them, the Teatro Valle Occupato presents a full program of theatre and music.

  • Music at the Manoel Theatre

    March 14, 2013 — March 17, 2013

    Malta’s marvelously intact eighteenth-century Manoel Theatre offers a wide range of music in a city where Baroque art and architecture are part of everyday life.