Villa Medici, Rome (Niobe and Her Children), 1984
British, Canadian, 1942
gelatin silver print
12.9 x 29.4 cm; image: 8.5 x 26.4 cm
Canadian Museum of Contemporary Photography (no. EX-85-26)
© Geoffrey James
Louis XIV founded the French Academy in Rome in 1666 as an educational facility for young French artists to study Italy’s ancient and Renaissance treasures. The Villa Medici, which has housed the headquarters of the Academy since the early nineteenth century, once belonged to Cardinal Ferdinand de’ Medici, who installed his extensive collection of antique sculpture in the gardens. James has photographed the "Niobids", a group of ancient statues unearthed at the end of the sixteenth century in the grounds of Hadrian’s villa. The French painter Balthus conceived of the current arrangement of this group during his period as director of the Academy. In addition to sculpture, the Cardinal displayed his bestiary: the antique lion sculpture in James’ photograph would have echoed the wild lions that were caged and maintained on the grounds. With the exception of the period during the Second World War, when Mussolini requisitioned it, the property has remained in the hands of the Academy. The villa now serves as an exhibition space as well as a residence for present-day winners of the Prix de Rome.