Walking into Valle Giulia in Villa Borghese you are met with the imposing villas which house the various foreign academies. Although some have been built only recently, their architecture has been kept along Roman lines to blend in with their surroundings. But at the end of the street, after the white-pillared British School at Rome and villas belonging to the Japanese, the Dutch and the Belgians, stands an incongruous Scandinavian house with a pruned lollipop-shaped tree outside.
Through the keyhole of the grey iron garage-like entrance doors is the Danish Academy, designed by Danish architect Kay Fisker in 1967. Inside, on the ground floor a long dark corridor adorned with minimaist modern art leads towards a wealth of treasures in the artists studios and archaeology study rooms. Meticulously positioned on the walls are hand-held rollers for printing hung with the precision of an art installation; there are also remains from ancient Rome in neatly stacked designer-yellow boxes awaiting archaeological scrutiny. Then there is the library. Dimly-lit stairs lead up to shelves of books: volumes on the classical or renaissance period juxtaposed with the modernist white-globe lighting and two black canvases each painted with five green apples.
Musician and composer Erik Bach from Copenhagen has been the director of the academy for the past two years and he has settled into the post more than comfortably. I dont miss anything about Denmark, except my boys. But theyll come and visit, he said.
This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Danish Academy in Rome. Since 1956, scholars in the arts and sciences from Denmark have had the opportunity to come and stay in Rome, making the most of what the city and the academy have to offer. For the first 11 years, the academy was housed on the upper floor of a building in Piazza Navona, explained Bach. That was before we were given the house by the Danish state. The academy usually has between 16 and 18 scholars, ranging from archaeologists and historians to linguists, visual artists and musicians. It is a place of peace and quiet to study, said Bach.
Asked how the academy had changed over the past 50 years, the director said that though it had always been a combined academy of science and arts, in the beginning there was a bias towards the sciences, especially archaeology. Then there was a progression into languages and history and then the arts, which are now becoming more and more visible. Now we are almost in balance, he explained.
It is great that we are all under the same roof and can influence and inspire one another, he continued. The scholars of today can make use of the networking done by the academy over the past 50 years you could do a lot in 1956 but you can do even more in 2006. We are much more respected by the Italian institutions as well, Bach continued.
Recent projects include an archaeological dig in Nemi in the Castelli Romani and work on the Castor and Pollox temple in the Roman Forum, the latter being a collaborative project with Italians and other Scandinavians. Bach emphasised that in all projects undertaken by the academy, whether in the visual arts, architecture or music, there is always an Italian link. Moreover, he said, the world is also smaller and the distance between Denmark and Italy seems to have decreased; there are more possibilities for cooperation.
The academy is not just an academic institution, nor is it an exclusive club. People visit even if they are not linked to the academy. Indeed, this is one of the things that has changed. Perhaps it was a bit closed off before. Now there are lots more Danes not linked to the academy, as well as Italians, who come to find us. For example, there is an independent Danish book group that meets here every week and draws in outsiders with the aim of introducing people to Danish literature. The academy is also a port of call for Danes when they first come to Rome. New arrivals ring us up every day asking for advice on accommodation and the like, Bach explained. We dont turn away any phone calls as the academy acts as a reference point for newcomers and we consider helping compatriots part of the job. In this way we work closely with the embassy, he continued.
Although the actual birthday of the academy is on 26 October, anniversary celebrations are already underway, involving events in both Denmark and Italy. The celebrations are to thank the Italian state for hosting us for the past 50 years and to pay tribute to the continuing connection between Denmark and Italy, said Bach. He has composed an orchestral prelude entitled Nel mezzo del camin di nostra vita inspired by Dantes Divina Commedia which will be performed at the anniversary concert at the Auditorium-Parco della Musica on 20 May in the presence of the Danish minister of culture Brian Mikkelsen and Queen Margrethe of Denmark. There will also be music by the Danish Aarhus Symphoni Orchestra led by its Italian chief conductor, Giancarlo Andrea very symbolic of the Italian-Danish link, Bach added. From 11 to 13 October, celebrations will continue with an international conference on the concept of the academy, entitled From the Rome Academy to the Danish Academy, covering such issues as how the institution of an academy works today compared to classical times.
In Denmark itself, meanwhile, there is currently an exhibition on Kay Fiskers house, as the academy in Valle Giulia is also known, which will come to Rome later this year. Furthermore, five Danish artists have been invited to Rome to choose a work of art such as the Trevi Fountain and transform it into a new piece of art for display in the Royal Square in Copenhagen in the autumn.
Accademia di Danimarca, Via Omero 18,
tel. 0632659343/53, www.dkinst-rom.dk.