Rome, an exhibition on the Orient-Express at Villa Medici.

The Villa Medici Academy of France in Rome presents an exhibition dedicated to the Orient-Express from March 17 to May 21, 2023: a tale to delve into a century of history of a legendary train.

The Villa MediciAcademy of France in Rome presents an exhibition dedicated to theOrient-Express from March 17 to May 21, 2023: titled Orient-Express & Cie. Itinerary of a Modern Myth, it is curated by Eva Gravayat and Arthur Mettetal and spans nearly a century of the history and fascination of a legendary train.

A technical object turned cultural icon, the Orient-Express has crystallized a multitude of narratives and representations based on real or invented facts. However, before becoming a literary and cinematic object, the Orient-Express is first and foremost the train of a railway company: the Compagnie internationale des wagons-lits (CIWL). The first in a series of international luxury trains, the Orient-Express operated from 1883 to 1977 and connected Paris to Constantinople, today’s Istanbul. Its creation was a diplomatic and economic tour de force at a time when the railroad was used as a tool in the service of political power by empires and states.

The works and photographs presented in the exhibition Orient-Express & Cie. Itinerary of a Modern Myth come from the archives of the former Compagnie internationale des wagons-lits. Collecting photographs, plans, maps, technical drawings, and vintage advertising posters, the exhibition encompasses more than 200 pieces that place the Orient-Express in its global historical context. Although most of the photographs are anonymous, some are signed by famous studios such as Paul Nadar, Albert Chevojon and Sébah & Joaillier. In addition to the myth, the exhibition chronicles the engineering of a luxury train made possible by an extraordinary network of businesses and services (laundries, cabinetmakers, boilermakers, etc.).

There is then a parallel story. Along with the Orient-Express, the Rome-Express is one of the Compagnie des wagons-lits’ most prestigious large trains. Entering service in December 1883, it travels the 1446 kilometers between Paris and Rome, skirting first the French Riviera then the Italian Rivieras di Ponente and Levante.

The exhibition also features a never-before-seen work by French photographer Sarah Moon made with support for the creation of the Fonds de dotation Orient-Express. The artist has traveled in the footsteps of the Orient-Express on several occasions, retracing its real and imaginary routes.

The exhibition explores the train as a place of all possibilities, between history and narrative. Mathias Enard, writer and winner of the Goncourt Prize in 2015 for his book Boussole (Actes Sud) and a fellow at Villa Medici in 2005-2006, has appropriated the myth to accompany the visitor in a sound docu-fiction made especially for the exhibition, in collaboration with France Culture. The author, whose work continues to explore the meeting points between East and West, offers a new narrative told along the Rome-Express line: episodes can be listened to while walking through the rooms of the exhibition discovering the myth or in replay on France Culture’s website and app.

This exhibition features documents from the Fonds de dotation Orient-Express, Collection Pierre de Gigord Paris, Fonds SNCF, SARDO, Centre National des Archives Historiques, the French Ministry of Culture, Médiathèque de l’architecture et du patrimoine, and the Fondation FS Italiane. The review is accompanied by the publication Orient-Express & Co. Archives photographiques inédites d’un train mythique, published by Éditions Textuel. The publication offers an immersion into the largely unpublished photographic archives of the Orient-Express industrial epic. The catalog will be available for purchase at Villa Medici and online.

As an extension of the exhibition, a series of events invites authors and artists from all horizons to explore the theme of travel, including an exceptional concert by French electronic music group Acid Arab scheduled for May 5 on the Piazzale of Villa Medici. For all information you can visit the Villa Medici website.

Image: view of the Canteuropa-Express special train at Imperia station in 1972.

Rome, an exhibition on the Orient-Express at Villa Medici.
Rome, an exhibition on the Orient-Express at Villa Medici.

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