Sunday, 9 August 2009

The Vampyre in Rome

This summer I spent a few days in hot and sunny Rome. Perhaps not a place with so many connections to the subject of this blog apart from more general subjects like the way the ancient Romans treated their dead etc. This blogger, however, endeavoured to seek out a few places to report about.

Pope Benedict XIV (Prospero Lorenzo Lambertini), was interested in the significance of post mortem signs of saints, and consequently commented on vampires in his De Servorum Dei Beatificatione et de Beatorum Canonizatione (1743) and the later addition De vanitate Vampyrorum (1752). His statue can be seen in Saint Peter's basilica, cf. the photos above and below. His name can be found in various places in Rome, e.g. at the Musei Capitolini because he purchased a number of works which are exhibited there.

Just next to the Spanish steps you can find an 1819 copy of John William Polidori's The Vampyre! It is on display along with a well-known portrait of Polidori in a room on Lord Byron and Percy Bysshe Shelley in The Keats-Shelley House, where John Keats spent the last months of his life in a room facing the famous steps. Suffering from tuberculosis he arrived in November 1820 and died on 23rd February 1821. His grave can be seen in the non-Catholic cemetery in Rome. On display in the Keats-Shelly house is also a first edition of his Lamia, Isabella, The Eve of St. Agnes and Other Poems which had been published in July 1820. Lamia, of course, plays a role in the history of vampire fiction, cf. e.g. Twitchell's The Living Dead.

The Keats-Shelley House is seen in the photo above to the left and in the photo below to the right and it is easily recognizable because of the plaque on the facade facing the steps. Shelley actually never visited the house, but the founders of the museum wished to recognise the importance of Italy in Shelley's life and work. On display is also a portrait of Mary Shelley, and there is a bit of information on the 'haunted summer' at Villa Diodati and Frankenstein as well. There is even a portrait of Matthew 'Monk' Lewis. You can also see a library of thousands of volumes by and on Keats, Byron, Shelley and other English Romantics.
Apropos of Romantics and Gothic fiction, I once wrote about the popularity of Fuseli's nightmare paintings on e.g. book covers, and below you can see another example seen at the bookshop at the Colloseum: an Italian translation of Artemidorus' 2nd century book on dream interpretation, Oneirocritica.
Finally, speaking of dreams and nightmares, fans of director Dario Argento's movies will go to the Profondo Rosso store and spend all their money on DVDs, books, Goblin CDs and souvenirs. The shop puslishes a few books, including one (in Italian) on Dracula and vampire movies which looked very traditional, so I refrained from buying it. I found one on Mario Bava in English, which I bought. Curiously, it is relatively easy to find Argento's movies on DVD in Rome, whereas Bava's works (which I personally find more interesting than Argento's) are hard to come by, even in the Profondo Rosso store. When I asked, I was shown but a handful of titles.

Vampire fiction is as popular in Rome as everywhere else. Stacks of Italian translations of the Twilight books, as well as dozens of other paranormal romances and vampire novels can be found in every bookshop. Non-fictional books about vampires, however, was nowhere to be found, at least I could not find any.


Leon said...

When in Rome, I will use this post as a guide, so good it is! BTW you can find some of Bava´s films in Amazon, and Argento is to remake his own Suspiria (inspired in Quincey´s, I presume).

Niels K. Petersen said...

If you find any other places of relevance to this subject, you are welcome to send a few lines. As for Mario Bava, I actually own some dozen or more of his movies, including the two box sets released over the last couple of years.

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