Virtual Rome Part II: Treasures of Art and Architecture

8-week course: 12th May - 7th July, 11.00-12.45 (UK time)


We are delighted to announce a new 8-week online course this summer. Our unique, interactive classes combine LECTURES by art historian and National Gallery lecturer Siân Walters with LIVESTREAM BROADCASTED TOURS in Rome, led by art historian and guide Maria Grazia Barbieri. The course includes the world’s first ever livestream tour of the Palazzo Farnese, which is only open to the public on rare occasions and by special appointment. The course also includes a special guest lecture by the award-winning author Sarah Dunant.


All lectures and museum broadcasts are live and interactive, allowing you to ask questions.  Siân and all her expert colleagues are known for their informative but informal approach, combining erudite commentary with an entertaining and approachable delivery.  The lessons, streamed on Zoom Webinar, will enable you to gain special access to cultural sites whilst at the same time providing a wonderful opportunity to travel virtually from home. Our visits will also support both galleries and individuals working in the cultural sector and a percentage of the course price is reserved for supporting other cultural institutions in Rome.


Our course includes a unique visit to the Palazzo Farnese in Rome where we have been granted a special privilege, allowing us to broadcast the world’s first livestream guided tour from its rooms.  The Palazzo Farnese is the French Embassy’s headquarters and therefore only open to the public by special appointment and on rare occasions. One of the world’s most magnificent Renaissance palaces, its building history involved some of the most important architects of the 16th century including Michelangelo and Antonio da Sangallo the Younger. It is particularly noted for its extraordinary frescoes by Annibale Carracci depicting The Loves of the Gods which we will have a chance to admire during the private opening of the palace.

The eternal city is a great open-air museum and the scenery and architecture of Rome is undoubtedly among the most breathtaking in the world. We will enjoy two walking tours, exploring how the city was transformed architecturally over the centuries . On the first we start at the Corte di Cassazione Palace, built when Rome became the capital of Italy, and learn about the magnificent Castel Sant’Angelo, an ancient mausoleum that became a fortress. We then walk along via della Conciliazione towards Saint Peter’s Basilica, exploring papal history and the architecture of the world’s largest church.   On our second tour we start at the ancient stadium of Domitian and then head to San Luigi dei Francesi and Piazza Sant’Eustachio where we find Borromini’s church of Sant’Ivo alla Sapienza, the seat of Rome’s first university. Travel with us from the City of Emperors to the City of Popes as we learn about the most extraordinary temple transformed into a church – the Pantheon  and learn about the history of one of the most beloved churches of Rome – Santa Maria Sopra Minerva.


Our lectures include Treasures of the Palazzo Barberini, a session dedicated to the great palace designed by architectural rivals Borromini and Bernini which once belonged to Pope Urban VIII.  It now contains the world-famous art collection of the Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Antica and boasts many famous masterpieces including Caravaggio’s Judith Beheading Holofernes, Guido Reni’s Portrait of Beatrice Cenci and Pietro da Cortona’s great ceiling fresco representing The Allegory of Divine Providence and Barberini Power.

There will be time spent studying Caravaggio’s followers in Rome. Caravaggio had no studio or workshop and did not travel outside Italy other than a short stay in Malta. Yet news of this radical young painter travelled fast, and in the words of one of his biographers, “the younger ones flocked to him and praise him alone as the only true imitator of nature, looking upon his works as miracles”.  This lecture looks at artists in Rome such as Artemisia Gentileschi, Gerrit van Honthorst and Jusepe de Ribera, examining to what extent they absorbed and disseminated his style.

In another lecture, entitled Churches of Rome, we take a virtual walk through the city and explore the many artistic treasures of churches such as Santa Maria in Trastevere and Sant’Ignazio, famous for its extraordinary trompe l’oeil frescoes by Andrea Pozzo. There will also be a study of Raphael in Rome, examining his rise to fame in the city from 1508 and his work for Pope Julius II. We will study a variety of his Roman projects, from the designs for the chapel in Santa Maria della Pace to the frescoes in the Stanza della Segnatura and architectural projects such as the Villa Madama, learning also about the dramatic story surrounding The Transfiguration which was never completed.**

Our special guest lecture on The Sack of Rome will be given by the award-winning author Sarah Dunant whose novels, set within the Italian Renaissance, weave cutting edge historical scholarship into fast moving popular fiction. In 1527 the unthinkable happened and the city of Rome was invaded. Palaces and homes were occupied and their owners killed and tortured.  Convents and monasteries were sacked and their art and relics destroyed. A story of seismic cultural change and a voyage into the dark side of the Renaissance. This lecture brings alive an extraordinary moment of 16th-century history.

**There will be no crossover with any previous courses, lectures or livestream visits, apart from the lecture on Raphael in Rome which has been given before. All the other sessions are new, so the course can be enjoyed by those who attended Virtual Rome Part 1, as well as newcomers who are always most welcome!


Live streamed sessions are on Friday mornings and run from 11.00am – 12.45 (UK time). There is no session on 9th June (half-term). The cost includes museum entrance fees and donations.

Tune in from anywhere in the world or enjoy a recorded version if you cannot watch live. A link to the recording will be sent soon after the end of the session if you cannot attend, enabling you to watch on catch up after the session any time until Monday at midnight (UK time). Please note that recordings are only available to those who miss a live session.

You are welcome to join the course at any point however, please note that you will only be able to see the recording from the previous session if you join after the course start date.

A full course outline and reading list will be emailed to all attendees approximately one week before the first session. Students also receive an informal weekly newsletter with news, reading suggestions, recipes and website links.

Please refer to the Further Information panel below for booking details.


Scroll down for some comments following recent similar courses.


Art History in Focus is proud to have initiated the concept of online tours in many major European museums and historic sites. We are delighted to have developed these collaborations which continue to raise important funds for the galleries and cultural sites as well as those working in the cultural sector.

Further Information


1. BOOK.

Click on the gold “Book This Course/Event” button on the right hand side now, fill in the online booking form and pay online. You will be notified automatically by email once your booking has been accepted.  Please ensure you enter your email address correctly, as your Zoom link will be sent to this address, thank you.

The participation fee is £120 per person, if making bookings for a number of people please provide their email addresses when booking them as separate participants. The fee includes “virtual visit” fees to sites visited, as well as donations to cultural institutions in need of support.


Download ZOOM once you have booked – please print/download the instructions in this downloadable link and read them carefully. Zoom works best when using Google Chrome.


You will receive an email approximately 24-48 hours in advance of the event asking you to register.** This is a privacy function enabling only registered participants to attend. After registering you will automatically receive the Zoom log in link – please keep this safe

** Please note that these details are sent out in office hours, so if you book on a weekend you may not receive them until Monday. You must register with the same name that you have booked under, otherwise you may not be able to watch. If you have not received your email confirmations, please check your ‘deleted items’ and ‘junk mail’ folders or click here for advice.


Join the event at least ten minutes before it is scheduled to start, to ensure everything is working.

If you are not able to watch at the time it is live-streamed, you can still book online, as above. You do not need to advise us if you can’t participate live, don’t worry! You will be contacted after the event has been broadcast with instructions on how to watch on catch up (until Monday at midnight UK time). Please note, the recording is only available to those who have not been able to participate live.

Please refer to our Terms and Conditions for booking this event. We regret that we are unable to offer technical support with Zoom but tips can be found in the attachment. If you would like to book more than one event, please book separately for each event that you would like to attend, thank you. If you are booking for more than one person, it is important that you include their email address so that we can send them the link too. We regret we are unable to offer refunds but don’t worry if you are not able to attend, as we will send you the recording.


Here are just a few comments following recent similar courses:

“I wanted to let you how much I’ve enjoyed these lectures.  You and your guest lecturers have exceeded all expectations.  Your knowledge, technical skills and presentation all combine to keep me enthralled every Friday morning – Bravo!”

“Your lectures have been fascinating, your guest guides have shown us so many wonderful places and the interpretation has been excellent. Thank you so much for giving us armchairs travellers such a memorable experience.”

“Thank you for such a wonderful course. Every week’s lectures and visits have been a delight .. and have made Friday mornings the highlight of the week. I shall be signing up for the next and look forward enormously to more Friday mornings of bliss!”

“I absolutely love your courses Sian! I am learning so much about art, history and the world .. but above all it is your unique style that is so enchanting and keeps me coming back for more! As an expert in your subject you have great knowledge but also the gift of making your lectures accessible to a wide range of participants through your wonderful use of language and lovely sense of fun. Thank you!”

“The format works really well and the lectures are excellent … it feels really special to be allowed to be in the galleries and churches live. This is the first we have done with Art History in Focus but it won’t be the last!”

“ I wanted to thank you very much for such a great educational course. I attended classes through the recording as I am an Australian resident and found this such a game changer for me. It gave me the possibility to participate in class even though broadcast from London. You and your expert lecturers imparted such a wealth of knowledge and I loved the virtual tours.”

“I’ve enjoyed every moment and have learned so much from you and your colleagues. The lectures and virtual tours in real time feel very inclusive and there is a lovely sense of the shared experience…Thank you for everything – this course has been a real delight.”

“Your absolutely brilliant lectures have been a real highlight of this year. I cannot thank you or praise them enough”.

“Thank you so much for another fantastic tour completed without leaving home!  It was enormously enjoyable and instructive, as is usual with your courses.  Your well-chosen team of guides, authors and historians add another dimension – as do your Monday newsletters, packed full of links and tips.  It makes us long to return to Italy!”

Image: “The Loves of the Gods” by Annibale Carracci, Palazzo Farnese, Rome