This ancient Greek proverb has always struck me as a measure of humanity and goodness and an extraordinary vision and belief in the future. It is something I fear in the fashion business we fail to do in our short term needs and businesses. But times are changing, and we are now trying to understand how we can benefit the next generation and create shade to protect and nurture and provide comfort and beauty for the next generation.
When Julien Drach showed me his images of the trees of Rome, I knew I wanted to cover the walls of Connolly with them; having been obsessed from the age of sixteen when I first woke up in Rome, looked out of the window and saw these magisterial canopies ... I am thrilled that we have been able to create our own shades of Rome upstairs and that you, like me all those years ago, will feel the same awe and joy when looking at Juliens’ photographs. Rome’s sylvan nature and in particular the ‘pinus pinea’, the Umbrella Pine remains a constant source of wonder and beauty.
The hills of Rome each had their own sacred grove in ancient times; oaks, fig trees, cypress trees and a protective priest, where cutting down trees was punishable by death. But following the fall of Rome the aqueducts dried up, and by the Grand Tours of the 18th Century the avenues of Rome had become dusty and treeless.
The Umbrella Pine
Which brings us to the city’s “arbostar” – “pinus pinea” or more commonly known as the umbrella pine. Celebrated from Virgil to Resphigi in his symphonic poem composed in 1924 Pines of Rome, where the shouts of children playing under them in Villa Borghese to a nightingale singing on the Gianicolo complete with fanfares of triumphant legions marching back in their shade along the Appia Antica.
The pines of Rome – or their distant forebears – were brought to Italy by Greek immigrants. According to Plutarch, the tree was sacred first to the fertility goddess, Cybele, then to Neptune. Finally, they were sacred to Dionysius, their resin flavouring wine, as in today's retsina. Livy relates the trees’ role in shipbuilding, “pinea” becoming an alternative word for ship. Meanwhile, their seeds – “pignoli” – are a staple of Roman cuisine, modern and ancient. Due to their sheer good looks, however the trees’ main use is decorative. In Fascist times, prompted by Resphigi’s final march movement, the authorities saw pines as a symbol of “Italianità. At Christmas 1937, Mussolini planted one in Piazza Venezia, the first in a row of 2,000 stretching from the Forum to what is now the southern suburb, and the centre of what should have been Italy’s showpiece 1942 Esposizione Universale di Roma. The trees would eventually line Via Imperiale all the way to the sea at Ostia. Today, some 82,000 trees in Rome are monitored by the city's gardens authority.
Shades of Rome by Julien Drach
This series began in 2018 during an artist residency at the Villa Medici and took several years to complete. The photos were primarily taken in three Roman villas: Medici, Borghese and Pamphili.
My initial residency project was an exploration on abstraction which gave rise to an exhibition in 2022 at Connolly entitled the “Eye Listens”. The works in this series, which remain very sensory, began at the same time, but with the intention of being figurative while remaining mysterious and unworldly. It quickly became evident that I wanted to treat this subject in Black and White to illustrate the "stone" pines of the city, using the charm of medium format film and Polaroid. I found it interesting to work with outdated films and use matte paper that reinforces the “otherness” of the images and gives the works the impression of being etchings or aquarelles, with the aim of blurring the lines between photography and drawings.
I am honoured to show this body of work at Connolly and extend my warmest thanks to Isabel and the Connolly team for their support and trust.
SHADES OF ROME
An exhibition of photographs by Julien Drach
13th September to 10th January upstairs at Connolly,4 Clifford Street