October 26, 2007

Reg makes students historical tourists

Though the prints currently on view in the Regenstein Library’s Special Collections Research Center were created centuries before digital cameras facilitated online sharing of travel photos, they were detailed and compelling enough to fuel international demand for images of ancient Rome during the Renaissance. The exhibit displaying the prints, The Virtual Tourist in Renaissance Rome: Printing and Collecting the Speculum Romanae Magnificentiae, highlights their role in sustaining fascination with the classical golden age.

Spread over 24 cases, the exhibit is built around a core group of 16th-century prints by Antonio Lafreri known as the Speculum Romanae Magnificentiae, or the Mirror of Roman Magnificence. These prints were never published as a single collection, but rather functioned like postcards, depicting maps, landscapes, famous sculptures, and monuments for tourists and interested collectors. Unlike previous exhibits, The Virtual Tourist focuses on the history of the prints themselves: their production, circulation, and role in fueling the cultural events of the Renaissance.

Art history professor Rebecca Zorach created the exhibit with a group of graduate students in conjunction with the Special Collections Research Center.

“Collaboration between faculty and graduate students is something Special Collections is here to support,” said Alice Schreyer, director of Special Collections. She added that that she hopes to support more projects of this kind in the future.

The University’s collection of nearly 1,000 prints by Lafreri and others, acquired by William Rainey Harper in 1891 during his tenure as University president, is the largest in the world. While only a fraction of the prints are on display in the exhibit, they are all available for viewing online. Through the Library’s partnership with the Provost’s Program for Academic Technology Innovation, the entire collection of prints can be viewed at The website also provides supplemental information about the prints and visual “itineraries” through Rome guided by specialists at various universities throughout the country.

The exhibit is one of dozens of map-related exhibits being presented around Chicago in conjunction with the Chicago Festival of Maps, a “citywide festival on the themes of exploration, discovery, and mapping” that officially begins in November. The exhibit has benefited from the extra promotions created by the festival, which has generated citywide interest.

The exhibit can be viewed at the Special Collections Research Center in the Regenstein Library through February 11.