Virtual Rome: Treasures of Art and Architecture

8 week course: 6th May - 1st July


We are delighted to announce a new 8-week online course this summer, combining lectures by art historian and National Gallery lecturer Siân Walters with guided walks and museum visits streamed live from Rome, led by art historians Francesca Pagliaro and Grace Barbieri. We have secured some exclusive openings and private visits including, by kind permission of Prince Colonna and the Director of the Galleria Colonna, a viewing of one of the finest private art collections in Rome, hung in the most sumptuous of settings. The course also includes a special guest lecture dedicated to the infamous Borgia dynasty, given by the award-winning author Sarah Dunant. 


All lectures and tours broadcast from Italy 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 sites and galleries in Rome 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 need of assistance.


Our lectures will include 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, commissioned by the Papal banker Agostino Chigi, 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,

There will be time spent studying Caravaggio’s paintings in the city with a focus on those which are still in situ, such as The Madonna of Loreto in the church of Sant’ Agostino, the three works dedicated to the Life of St Matthew in the Contarini Chapel (his first public commission) and masterpieces in the Cerasi Chapel in the Basilica of S. Maria del Popolo.  There will be a lecture dedicated to the life and works of Gian Lorenzo Bernini with a special focus on his celebrated sculpture dedicated to the Ecstasy of St Teresa, one of the sublime masterpieces of the High Baroque. There will also be a lecture about the infamous Borgia family 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. Murder, poison, corruption and incest: all perfect ingredients for sensational popular culture. But in an age known for its brutality and church corruption were the Borgias really so bad? This lecture reveals that truth is sometimes more intoxicating than myth.


We have also arranged exclusive live access to a number of museums and important art collections such as a unique visit to the Villa Farnesina where we have been granted a special privilege by the director, allowing us to broadcast a live, guided tour.  This magnificent Renaissance villa was built for the papal treasurer, the wealthy Sienese banker Agostino Chigi, and decorated with mythological frescoes  by some of the  leading artists of the day, including Raphael, Giulio Romano and Sebastiano del Piombo. We are also privileged to have been granted a special private opening of the Galleria Colonna*, which boasts one of the finest private art collections in Italy. The Palazzo Colonna is one of the largest and oldest private palaces in the city and is still the home of the Colonna family whose ancestors include Pope Martin V and the victorious military commander at the Battle of Lepanto, Marcantonio II Colonna. It was well-known to Michelangelo, who dedicated poems to his muse Vittoria Colonna, and also Caravaggio, who sought refuge here after the infamous murder of Ranuccio Tommasoni, before he fled the city for Naples. The magnificent art collection contains masterpieces by Tintoretto, van Dyck, Andrea del Sarto, Veronese, Guido Reni, Guercino, Bronzino, Annibale Carracci and many others.

We will also enjoy a walking tour of Ancient Rome. The eternal city is a great open-air museum and the scenery of the ancient city is undoubtedly among the most breathtaking in the world. We start in the heart of the city of the Emporor Augustus: the Campus Martius, learning about the history of the Theatre of Marcellus which has been used as a place of entertainment but also a medieval palace and later a “gate” to the Jewish Quarter. We will then climb to the top of the Capitol Hill with its stunning view over the Roman Forum. We’ll learn about its various temples, triumphal columns and pagan basilicas and then pass through via dei Fori Imperiali. After discussing Trajan’s column we will end our tour at the most famous amphitheatre in the world, the Colosseum.

Students will be provided with a full course outline approximately one week in advance of the start date.

There will be no crossover with any previous courses or livestream visits – all the sessions are new so they can be enjoyed by those who have followed our other online courses 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 3rd June (half-term). The cost includes museum entrance fees and donations. A full course outline will be emailed to all attendees approximately one week before the first 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.

* Please note that the visit of the Palazzo Colonna will take place on 24 June and start at 12.30 (UK time). All other course sessions will start at 11.00am

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 watch live, enabling you to watch on catch up after the session any time until Monday at midnight (UK time).*  Each session will last approximately 1 hour 45 minutes including a short break and two question/answer sessions. Students will be provided with a full course outline and a suggested reading list/online resources approximately one week in advance of the start date – these will be sent by email.  Students also receive an informal weekly newsletter with news, reading suggestions, recipes and website links.

* Recordings are only available to those who miss a live session.

Our guided walks use the most up-to-date technology to provide you with the best possible virtual experience. You will feel as though you are exploring the city yourself with the running commentary given by our guide, with the possibility of admiring details of the artworks in high resolution as we move around the galleries. Please refer to the Further Information panel below for booking details.


Here are just a few comments following recent similar courses:

“I absolutely love your courses Siân! 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!”

“Just wanted to say how much we are enjoying the Grand Tour – 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 am struck each time by the enormous amount of planning and technical skill that you and your colleagues must put in to each Friday.  Each lecture or visit really is a tour de force! Thank you so much for bringing all this joy and learning.”

“Your course.. is splendid – the combination of lectures and virtual walks/visits works brilliantly….”

“Thank you again, Siân, for arranging these lovely sessions which we look forward to all week….”

“I just wanted to thank you hugely for these wonderful sessions that make up this course. I am so pleased that I signed up. The level of detail and your presentations are fantastic and getting the newsletter every week is such a bonus and reminder of the previous week’s session.” 

“A big thank you for the very much enjoyed Virtual Venice …  It is certainly the highlight of the week leaving us with so many happy memories and positive thoughts ….”

Art History in Focus is proud to have initiated the concept of online tours in a number of major Italian museums and historic sites including the Castello Sforzesco and Palazzo Bagatti Valsecchi in Milan, The Basilica of St Francis in Assisi, the Ca’ Rezzonico and the Basilica of San Marco in Venice and the Palazzo Medici in Florence. We are delighted to have developed these collaborations which continue to raise important funds for the galleries and cultural sites.

Further Information


Click on the gold “Book Now” button, fill in the online booking form and pay online. Please use a UK account/card if possible. 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 Italy 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 a few 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 a recording.

Image credit – the Galleria Colonna, Saliko