LETTRESART. Artists’ letters. A new transnational history of art (18th-19th centuries

  • Section: Modern and contemporary periods
  • Director: Maria Pia Donato, research director, Institute of Modern and Contemporary History (CNRS-ENS-Paris 1); Giovanna Capitelli, Associate Professor, Dipartimento di Studi Umanistici, Università degli Studi Roma Tre 


The project Lettres d’artiste (Artists’ Letters) focuses on the correspondence of artists in 18th to 19th century Europe, that is to say during a period of both mobility and a strong evolution of national states, in which a new “Republic of the Arts” is created with porous and shifting borders.  

The correspondence of the artists, starting with those who stayed in Rome, will be analyzed as a source for reconstructing the internal networks in the world of the arts, and their transformation in time and space. It will also be examined as a social and cultural practice that contributed to the redefinition of the identity of the artists and the different figures involved in the production and circulation of works of art: amateurs, scholars, historians and theorists. 

The attention given to the city of Rome is justified by the pivotal role it continues to play throughout the 19th century. Because of the international character of the artistic community which resides there, Rome constitutes an observatory that allows a wider view encompassing those whose importance was underestimated by historiography (the Iberian peninsula and the American worlds; the Netherlands, Scandinavia and the Austrian Empire), and thus revise the dominant narrative of the history of art and modernity.

A final element of the investigation is the collections of letters from artists who, from the 18th century, structured the "national novel" of art. 


The project is based on partnerships with:

Collaboration with the Epistolarios de artistas y literatos españoles del siglo XIX project  (Ref. HAR2017-88765-P), led by our partner Amaya Alzaga Ruiz, UNED, with the Museo del Prado, Museo Lázaro Galdiano (Madrid), and Università degli Studi della Calabria, Ministerio de Economia y Competitividad de España                          


Researchers and students involved:

  • Maria Pia Donato - IHMC 
  • Giovanna Capitelli - Università Roma Tre
  • Serenella Rolfi - Università RomaTre
  • Susanne A. Meyer - Università di Macerata 
  • Ilaria Miarelli Mariani - Università di Chieti 
  • Christoph Frank et Carla Mazzarelli - Università della Svizzera Italiana  
  • Arnold Witte - Koninklijk Nederlands Instituut te Rome 
  • Amaya Alzaga Ruiz - UNED Madrid  
  • Ernst Jonas Bencard - Thorvaldsen Museum 
  • Carlos Gonzales Navarro - Museo del Prado 
  • Martin Raspe - Bibliotheca Hertziana
  • Stefano Cracolici – Zurbarán Center for Spanish and Latin American Art, University of Durham

Students : Tiziano Casola; Sofia Ekmann; Irina Emelianova; Ilenia Falbo; Noemi Forte; Maddalena Iuliano; Annalisa Laganà; Teresa Montefusco; Gianmarco Nicoletti; Valeria Rotili; Ludovica Scalzo; Morena Vitellio.

Schedule of events

Conferences and study days   



  • Workshop sull’edizione, trattamento e archiviazione digitale delle corrispondenze artistiche, led by Ernst Jonas Bencard, coordinator of the digital project of the Thorvaldsen Museum Archivet, and intended mainly for students involved in the project. September 16, 2016 at Roma Tre University, Dipartimento di Studi Umanistici 
  • “ErasmusPlus” at the ENS by Morena Vitellio and Ludovica Scalzo, and one-month internship by Teresa Montefusco and Tiziano Casola at the ENS under the supervision of Maria Pia Donato.           
  • Three students obtained doctoral contracts in partner institutions for theses related to the project.   
  • Establishment of a permanent workshop Lettere d'artista within the activity of the Digital Humanities Lab, Dipartimento di Studi Umanistici, Università degli studi di Roma Tre. 



  • Lettere d’artista. Corrispondenze tra Roma e l’Europa dall’età dei Lumi alla Restaurazione, under the direction of Giovanna Capitelli and Serenella Rolfi Ožvald, "Ricerche di storia dell'arte", 125, 2018.
  • Il carteggio d'artista: fonti, questioni, ricerche tra XVII e XIX secolo , conducted by Carla Mazzarelli e Serenella Rolfi Ožvald, Cinisello Balsamo: Silvana Editoriale, 2019
  • A thematic issue of MEFRIM on letter networks, collecting contributions to the November 2019 symposium is in preparation. 
  • The publication of the proceedings of the Madrid colloquium of 2019 on the online magazine site Cartas Hispánicas.


Data collection

The campaign to collect data on artists' correspondence continues, under the direction of S.Rolfi and MP Donato. Up to today we have examined around 4000 letters (130 correspondances) and individually indexed beyond that 3743 letters (50 correspondances), including:

  • 1480 sent/received by British and North American artists in Rome;
  • 1,100 sent/received by German-speaking artists in Rome; 
  • 1163 sent/received by Italian artists in Rome.

The inventory of letter collections is led by A. Laganà, as part of a doctoral thesis co-supervised by G. Capitelli and MP Donato.


Scheduled forthcoming operations 2021-2022

  • 2021: final conference to present the results 
  • 2021: with the help Digital Humanities department of the labex Transfers, an ad hoc database is being designed, which will allow us to “transit” our data and our project on the EMLO platform. We hope to be online, at least in a draft version, at the end of the quinquennium.
  • 2022: publication of the collective synthetic work


Diffusion and promotion

The project has been presented at several conferences:

  • Forum Kunstgeschichte Italiens. Materialien - Medien - Methoden, March 2018 ; 
  • Settecento oggi: studi e ricerche in corso, Società italiana per lo studio del diciottesimo secolo, May 2018;
  • Swiss Association of Art Historians (ASHHA), June 2019


Page translated from French, 2021/01/11

Laboratoire International Associé (LIA)