Among the photographs in the Ashby collection are about 150 unpublished images of Abruzzo, a region which the archaeologist visited on several occasions between 1901 and 1923. These are atmospheric pictures of monuments, archaeological sites, towns and landscapes, but the prevailing interest is in ethnographic features. The human element is strongly coloured by the environment and the historical period. Peasants and people wearing traditional costume are photographed by Ashby, mainly in groups as they participate in the characteristic processions held during religious festivals or during village fairs. The presence of these anthropological photographs may seem unusual, since archaeologists and art historians generally photograph only subjects falling into their own specific fields of interest. From this point of view Ashby is an exception, since he showed great interest in the “real life” of Italy as well. He took up and brought to a more mature balance the extraordinary legacy left by British travellers, reflecting in his way of travelling that cultural climate which from the late 18th century led British artists and writers to go beyond the traditional boundaries of the European Grand Tour. Ashby is among those travellers who crossed the Italian peninsula on foot or by bicycle, following unconventional routes distant from the large cities. He left the well-trodden routes behind him to travel along impervious mountain paths or country lanes, full of a desire to discover the many aspects of the Italian provinces and to draw directly from the well of that culture. Abruzzo, still an intact land thanks to the age-old isolation in which it had remained, turned out to be a region rich in ancient traditions and monuments to be explored.
Ashby did not neglect any feature of Abruzzese life and as a keen observer took notes and photographed it in all its aspects. Aware of the precarious nature of these places, untouched by modern civilization, Ashby documented the monuments and events that he saw almost as if he wished to halt the passage of time. He made good use of all that he witnessed and, as the exponent of a European culture devoted to the exchange and circulation of information, helped to spread knowledge of Abruzzo throughout Europe, as we know from his publications in international journals.
Viaggi ed itinerari abruzzesi (1901-1923)
Ashby made six journeys to Abruzzo, attested by written and photographic documentation.
His first trip dates to 1901 when with Rodolfo Lanciani he surveyed the remains of the Latin colony of Carsioli and the surrounding area (Carsoli, Alba Fucens, Sulmona, L’Aquila, Amiternum). The scholar returned to study the Carsioli area and the other towns along the ancient Via Valeria (Alba Fucens, Sante Marie, Tagliacozzo) in 1903.
Two years later, in collaboration with George Joseph Pfeiffer, he published the topographical study of Carsioli in the first volume of the “Supplementary Papers of the American School of Classical Studies in Rome”; over a hundred years after its publication this remains the most exhaustive treatment of the ancient town’s topography.
In 1905 Ashby’s antiquarian interests brought him back to Abruzzo to visit the Mostra di Antica Arte Abruzzese held in the Palazzo Comunale in Chieti. As Ashby explained to the readers of the review entitled Ancient Abruzzese art at Chieti, published in “The Builder” on 23 December 1905, since “Chieti lies rather away from the ordinary tourist route, it has probably not been visited by many British travellers, so that an account of it may be of some interest”. In addition to the article containing a particularly favourable judgement on the organizers of the exhibition, this journey has left us with four photographs of the city.
Ashby visited Abruzzo in 1909 with a precise aim in mind: to see and document some aspects of popular life in Abruzzo during the characteristic processions held for some religious festivals. In sixty-four photographs and three publications Ashby immortalized the world of Abruzzo in the early 20th century. The human element prevails in this group of photographs. The people who travelled from the various villages of Abruzzo to participate in the colourful processions of the Madonna della Libera at Pratola Peligna, of Sant’Alessandro at Corfinio and San Domenico at Cocullo, are shown mainly in groups, wearing their typical traditional costumes. Also numerous are the photographs portraying the monuments of Sulmona and Anversa, the splendid views of the so-called Lago di San Domenico at Villalago (Aq) and the atmospheric Sagittario gorge.
Ashby made a further three trips in 1914, 1915 and 1923. The twenty-three photographs, mainly landscapes, show the environs of Cappadocia, Capistrello, Pescocanale, Civita d’Antino, Tagliacozzo, Roccacerro.