Joseph Connors, the Director of the Harvard Center for Italian Renaissance Studies, Villa I Tatti, Florence, writes on Italian Renaissance and Baroque architecture. He was formerly Director of the American Academy in Rome and professor of art history at Columbia.

The Charms of Byzantium

The interior of Hagia Sophia, Istanbul; from J.B. Bullen’s Byzantium Rediscovered
On May 29, 1453, the armies assembled by the young Ottoman sultan Mehmet II breached the land walls of Constantinople, which had resisted assault for a millennium. By the next morning the invaders had arrived at the doors of the imperial church of Hagia Sophia. The sources speak of plunder …

A Scandal in Etruria

Ingrid Rowland’s remarkable book about an Etruscan forgery in the age of Galileo begins at Scornello, a hilltop near Volterra, the most isolated of all the cities of Tuscany, lying in the middle of a triangle running from Florence to Siena and the Tyrrhenian Sea. Though a real place, Scornello …

The Lion of Florence

“A solution must be found. After so much has been spoken and written, it was a question both of science and national pride, a debt of honor to the dignity of our Nation.” With these words Mussolini switched on a powerful pump that began to drain the water from a …

The Way to Grant’s Tomb

It is difficult to walk more than a few blocks in any older American city and not come across examples of the Greek architectural orders. They are easy to distinguish. The Doric, the earliest historically, appeared in the Peloponnese relatively suddenly in the mid-seventh century BC. It is a strong …

‘The Seated Sublime’

In Portrait of a Lady Isabelle Archer visits St. Peter’s at vespers, and Henry James uses the occasion to provide an emotive description of the church: She had not been one of the superior tourists who are “disappointed” in Saint Peter’s and find it smaller than its fame; the first …

Playing the Palace

The great palaces of baroque Rome, today so often transformed into embassies, banks, and museums, resemble luxury liners in drydock. They once housed an aristocratic and indeed theocratic elite of unparalleled splendor, but today without an effort of the imagination it is difficult to detect where first class ended and …

Marble and Marzipan

When the French jurist Charles de Brosses wrote, in 1740, the letters from Rome that were later to be widely read, he remarked that the population of the city was composed of one quarter priests, one quarter statues, one quarter those who do scarcely any work, and one quarter those …