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Rivoira, Giovanni Teresio, Commendatore

    Full Name: Rivoira, Giovanni Teresio, Commendatore

    Other Names:

    • Giovanni Rivoira

    Gender: male

    Date Born: 1849

    Date Died: 1919

    Place Born: La Manta di Saluzzo, Piedmont, Italy

    Place Died: Rome, Lazio, Italy

    Home Country/ies: Italy

    Subject Area(s): archaeology, architecture (object genre), and sculpture (visual works)

    Institution(s): Università degli Studi di Torino


    Archaeologist, architectural historian and government administrator; major exponent of Rome in the “Orient oder Rom” debate with Josef Rudolf Thomas Strzygowski. Rivoira was born the year of Victor Emmanuel’s accession to power. His father was Franceso Rivoira (1814-1875), descended from an old Savoy family now in the Piedmont. His mother was related to the mathematician Jacopo Francesco Riccati (1676-1754). After attending the local Collegio, he enter the University of Turin where he studied engineering. He briefly worked supervising construction before the unification of Italy when he moved to Rome joining the army of General Cadorna and the “liberation” of the city. He joined the department of Posts and Telegraphs, rising to the position of secretary to the Director-General. The position allowed him much travel. He married an English woman in 1884, ten years later he read a paper on electricity to the British Association at Oxford. He made the strong friendship of the English classicist Gordon McNeil Rushforth (1862-1938), who subsequently translated Rivoira’s books into English. In Italy, Rivoira experienced the monuments of Italy first hand. Although initially interested in painting, having read the work of Giovanni Morelli, he turned to architecture as a “less crowded field.” He left his government post in 1899, embarking on a tour of architecture through the middle east, Greece, Spain and Germany. In 1901, Rivoira published the first volume of his Le origini dell’architetura lombardia, a book arguing that Rome was the source of medieval architecture. He traced the church of Hagia Sophia to the Thermae of ancient Rome and the Gothic from the Lombardic vaulted basilica such as Sant’Ambrogio, Milan. The same year, a University of Graz scholar, Josef Rudolf Thomas Strzygowski published his book Orient oder Rom, (Orient or Rome) arguing that Western art derived from Eastern origins. These antithetical and contemporary theories fueled a debate which would last Rivoira’s life. In 1908 he travelled again to Constantinople and the Balkans (cut short by Armenia’s cholera epidemic) and North Africa in 1910. He lectured at the American School of Classical Studies in Rome the same year on the architectural achievements of Hadrian, perhaps his most important synthetic work. Studies of Spanish and north African architecture confirmed his life-long thesis that even Islamic architecture owed much to Rome, which his second book, Architettura Musulmana, 1914, espoused. Rivoira returned to the Roman Empire as the source of all architecture in the West, writing his Architettura romana: costruzione e statica nell’ età imperiale. The expansive book examined Roman architecture through the seventeenth century. The influenza pandemic of 1918 took his life early in 1919 before he could see its publication. Rivoira died in Rome at age 69. His manuscript was published posthumously. A Rivoira fellowship in medieval archaeology was established at the British School at Rome in his honor. Rivoira’s method was to carefully measure monuents, compiling an immense amount a factual data about monuments to reach “scientific conclusions.” Like his compatriot, Giacomo Boni, he used his engineering training to bring a new accuracy to archaeology. His long-term and ferocious debate with Strzygowski on the question of origins of the medieval styles came as a result of the newly staked out epistemological question. Both maintained that their method differed from traditional, subjective art history by what they considered scientific objectivity (Wharton). That their mutual belief in empirical archaeological evidence resulted in opposite conclusions stoked the debate more, both claiming to be free of bias. Both were susceptible to nationalistic sentiment, though Strzygowski’s accusation that Rivoria’s need to see Rome as the origin was because of Rivoira’s nationalism, appeared more sustained. Rivoira was a patriot and made references to it in his writing. The extremes of the debate worsed with the world war into “anti-Teutonic prejudices [which] caused Rivoira terrible anxieties,” (Strong). His work was admired and used by Robert Charles de Lasteyrie du Saillant and W. R. Lethaby, among others. His belief of the supremacy of Lombardy in Romanesque and early Gothic architecture is today universally rejected (Ehresmann). His arguement, however, convinced A. Kingsley Porter at the time, who espoused it in his 1915 book Lombard Architecture.

    Selected Bibliography

    [bibliography:] “Bibliography of the Author.” Rivoira, Giovanni. Roman Architecture and its Principles of Construction Under the Empire. New York: Hacker Arts Books, 1972, p. xxvii; Le Origini dell’Architettura e delle sue principali derivazioni nei paesi d’Oltr’Alpe. Rome: Loescher, 1901, vol. 2 1907, reissued condensed version, Milan: Hoepli, 1908; English, Lombardic Architecture: Its Origin, Development and Derivatives. London: W. Heinemann, 1910; Architettura Musulmana sue origini e suo sviluppo. Milan: Hoepli, 1914, English, Moslem Architecture: Its Origins and Development. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1918; Architettura romana: costruzione e statica nell’ età imperiale; con appendice sullo svolgimento delle cupole fino al sec. XVII. Milan: Hoepli, 1921.


    Rushforth, Gordon McNeil. “Biographical Note.” Rivoira, Giovanni. Roman Architecture and its Principles of Construction Under the Empire. New York: Hacker Arts Books, 1972, pp. xxi-xxvi; Ehresmann, Donald L. Architecture: A Bibliographic Guide to Basic Reference Works, Histories and Handbooks. Littleton, CO: Libraries Unlimited, 1984, nos. 533, 535; Wharton, Annabel Jane. “The Scholarly Frame: Orientalism and the Construction of Late Ancient Art History.” chapter 1 of Refiguring the Post Classical City. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1995, pp. 1-14; [obituaries:] Strong, Eugene Sellers. “Teresio Rivoira.” Times Literary Supplement March 27, 1919 p. 164; Van Buren, A. W. “Teresio Rivoira.” Classical Journal 14 no. 9 (June 1919): 566-567.

    Contributors: Lee Sorensen


    Lee Sorensen. "Rivoira, Giovanni Teresio, Commendatore." Dictionary of Art Historians (website).

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