The Colosseum. An Icon

08 Mar 2017 – 25 Mar 2018

The Colosseum is the world’s most-visited historical site, but one that has represented many different things to many people over the centuries.

The Colosseum tells its story for the first time in a superb exhibition. Millions of visitors to the amphitheatre built by the Flavian emperors can now discover the full story of the world’s most-visited historical site.

The Colosseum. An Icon goes beyond the well-known tale of the amphitheatre as an arena for gladiatorial games to explore the site’s history through the centuries. From its lively days as a business, residential and religious centre in the Medieval period to its role as a model for the great Renaissance architects and painters, and on to being a landmark destination for the Grand Tour in the 18th century before becoming the focal point of Romantic poets, writers and vedutisti painters. With the advent of Fascism the Colosseum is again the ideological stage setting for political power it once was in antiquity. The post-war period saw a new legend emerge: the Colosseum took to the stage as a popular setting for cinema costume dramas and the masterpieces of the Italian Neorealists, while Roman pop art elevated it to the role of icon, a role it still plays today. Contemporary art has also had its say vis-à-vis this emblem of Rome and Italy through a series of paintings, installations, performances, videos and photos by prominent international artists.

The exhibition reviews the history of the Colosseum through a collection of images and objects, with over a hundred works on display. For the first time the public can access findings from recent digs and restorations, all confirming its ongoing role through the centuries housing crypts, churches, shops and the homes of both the humble and the high-ranking aristocracy.

Cinema has also celebrated the Colosseum, co-protagonist of so many stories, battles and romances. The Nuovo Cinema Colosseo documentary tells the tale in 23 minutes of unforgettable masterpieces, with a lavish cinematographic anthology from the priceless archives of the Istituto Luce at Cinecittà. From Quo Vadis? by Enrico Guazzoni to the Gladiator by Ridley Scott, and Roman Holiday by William Wyler to The Grim Reaper by Bernardo Bertolucci, da An American in Rome by Steno and The Great Beauty by Paolo Sorrentino and They Call Me Jeeg by Mainetti, the story of the Colosseum is projected on the walls of the amphitheatre along the path of the exhibition.

Despite its many transformations, the fame of the Colosseum has remained intact over the centuries and its legend lives on, a pop icon of our times.

Start date
Wednesday 08 March 2017

End date
Sunday 25 March 2018

Piazza del Colosseo, 1
00184 Roma
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Curated by
Rossella Rea, Riccardo Santangeli Valenzani, Serena Romano

Promoted by
Special Superintendency for the Colosseum and the central archeological area of Rome, in collaboration with Electa