Archive for October 1st, 2015

Prize or Penance?

Locked in cells to compose, the Prix de Rome winners had little fun. Michael Oliver finds out why Berlioz played truant and why Boulanger was tied to a chair.

Henry James said there was nothing worse for an artist than to work in Italy: every time you raise your eyes you’re distracted. The Rome Prize, the Prix de Rome, enabled an artist to do exactly that. An annual competition, the winners to receive free board and lodging in Rome while they absorbed all that Italy had to offer. Of course they had to send back envois, annual samples of their work, to show how conscientiously they were learning the rules of art. For many years successful entrants had to be male and unmarried; for some while they were symbolically housed in a monastery near the centre of the city – they were expected to show monastic devotion to their art and to shun distraction.

Women need not apply!
Later the pensionnaires, as they are still called, were moved to the austere magnificence of the Villa Medici, a vast palace overlooking Rome. By the nineteenth century musicians were allowed to join the visual artists, but women weren’t admitted until the twentieth.

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