The Norwegian Institute in Rome: Anniversary speech
Dear friends of art and culture and the Norwegian Institute,
I am delighted to be here today on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the Norwegian Institute in Rome - this time taking place here in the beautiful Villa Aurelia, the American Academy.
10 years ago I had the pleasure of participating in the celebration of the 40th anniversary of the Institute. Fortunately, I have had the chance to visit Rome and the Institute some times during these last 10 years too. I certainly enjoy coming back to this marvelous city that fascinates everyone with its special ambiance, rich and exciting history and countless treasures.
As Patron of the Institute and someone interested in art and history, I follow the activities of the Institute with great interest - and I am reminded of all that is going on in the Institute’s own villa, situated above the city in surroundings almost as beautiful as here in Villa Aurelia.
The first monarch to visit the Norwegian Institute in Rome - was Swedish. He attended the inauguration of the newly acquired villa in 1962. King Gustav IV Adolf had a keen interest in archeology and through his active involvement in the Swedish Institute in Rome; he became a driving force in the establishment of a separate Norwegian Institute.
My father-in-law, King Olav, became Patron of the Institute and came here himself in 1967. He knew professor Hans Peter L’Orange well, the founder and first director and many others who provided the necessary scientific, administrative and financial platform.
For many years our countrymen studying in Rome had to rely on other countries’ scientific and cultural institutions, where they generously were given “a home away from home”. As early as in the 1880’s- the archeologist Ingvald Undset, - the father of the Nobel laureate Sigrid Undset-, expressed an ardent wish for “ a place of our own” here in Rome.
Acting on behalf of the Norwegian universities, the University of Oslo has certainly exercised its ownership in a very good way. I would also like to mention the long-standing support provided by the Research Council of Norway, and the broad political will that is important for any university institution to function abroad.
The Institute is also expanding its scope, following longer historical lines and developing expertise in religious studies, history of ideas, literature and language, sociology and politics.
Here in the eternal city, where the ancient blends with the modern; international contacts are forged - and the Institute provides an important tie between our two cultures.
When King Olav passed away in 1991, I was indeed delighted to succeed him as a patron. For many years I have enjoyed following how the Institute has preserved the legacy of Norwegian research within the field of antiquity and medieval art and culture, pioneered by Hans Petter L’Orange, Hjalmar Torp and Per Jonas Nordhagen.
I'm happy to see Per Jonas Nordhagen and got to know him when I studied history of art at the University of Oslo in the sixties. When he later became director of the Norwegian Institute here in Rome in the seventies, I seized the chance to come here and my small group was lucky enough to have him as our guide. He knew exactly what to see, so we rushed in and out of churches and palaces, piazzas and parks, ruins and numerous other sites.
Sometimes we were quite exhausted and had to lie down on the nearest bench; I seem to remember that we even fell asleep. This trip, full of adventures, opened my eyes and started my long life love for this unique city.
Norwegian students have throughout the years found a home here and have an opportunity to learn about the joys of knowledge - and of life. Year after year, new classes of students discover that the origins of European art and architecture, theology and politics, law and history, – all to a great extent – can be found here. The Italians have made us feel welcome, and have shared their many treasures of the past for us to study.
I must admit that I feel a little envious of the students at the Institute – who have the chance to delve into history and study art and architecture precisely here in Rome, so close to the sources - as we have heard is quite necessary. We can clearly see that understanding the past is the very key to understanding our own time, and possibly get an idea about the future.
Norway may have been late in establishing an Institute in Rome, but the establishment has been a success. We have now a “place of our own” in the eternal city. Fortunately the dream of Ingvald Undset came through.
I hope that we will stay- if not for eternity - at least for a very, very long time, and that many students will get the chance to spend time here in Rome.
I wish you all good luck for the future!