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Penn gallery show takes you to Rome via photos by three generations of women

Also in galleries (but only through Sunday) a two-venue show of works in clay at Old City's Clay Studio and Society Hill's historic Hill-Physick House.

Esther Boise Van Deman’s “View of Tiber Island from Ponte Palatino” circa early 1900s, albumen print, from A View of One’s Own at the University of Pennsylvania’s Arthur Ross Gallery.
Esther Boise Van Deman’s “View of Tiber Island from Ponte Palatino” circa early 1900s, albumen print, from A View of One’s Own at the University of Pennsylvania’s Arthur Ross Gallery.Read moreEsther Boise Van Deman, photographer, courtesy the American Academy in Rome

The Eternal City is getting its close-up in a photography exhibition that doesn't dwell on its elegiac beauty. No 1960s paparazzi images of la dolce vita to be found here, either.

Instead, "A View of One's Own," at the University of Pennsylvania's Arthur Ross Gallery, offers Rome through the camera lenses of three women from three successive generations, each with her own particular inclination and style.

The images were culled from the archives of the American Academy in Rome, which organized the show and made the Arthur Ross Gallery its only U. S. venue.

Featured are photographs by archeologist Esther Boise Van Deman (1862-1937), guidebook writer Georgina Masson (1912-80), and artist Jeannette Montgomery Barron (1956-). The three women have three entirely different appreciations of the city. Each is fascinating in its own way.

Born in Ohio, Van Deman earned her  bachelor's and  master's degrees from the University of Michigan and a Ph.D. from the University of Chicago. After stints teaching Latin at Mount Holyoke College and Goucher College (where she also taught classical archeology), she lived in Rome from 1906 to 1910 as a Carnegie Institution fellow, studying the construction techniques of Roman architecture at the American School of Classical Studies.

A self-taught photographer, Van Deman documented archeological ruins, life in the Campagna surrounding Rome, and the transformation of Rome to a 20th-century city. Her jarring views of the Aqua Traiana aqueduct and an excavated tomb near Porta Maggiore, shot with large-format wooden view cameras, make it clear that composition was not her strong suit. But she left behind a remarkable record of remnants from ancient Rome that could still be seen in the early 1900s.

Masson, born in India and known to her friends as Marion "Babs" Johnson, wrote biographies of historical figures and about the gardens, villas, and palaces of Italy, as Edith Wharton had done decades before.  An early edition of Masson's revered guidebook, The Companion Guide to Rome, which was published in 1965, can be seen in this show, along with her photographs shot between 1950 and 1965 with her Rolleiflex camera. (The guidebook remains in print, updated and revised by John Fort.)

Masson, also a self-taught photographer  — she started out using a cumbersome view camera — shows us her insider knowledge of the city, from interiors of famous palaces to a fashionable restaurant on the Via Veneto to a group of children absorbed in a puppet show on the grounds of the Villa Borghese to the swooping white concrete modernist sports arena Palazzetto dello Sport, built for the 1960 Summer Olympics.

Barron, the contemporary artist of the trio, is the only one who studied photography (at New York's International Center for Photography), and is the one with the best "eye."

She grew up in Alabama and lived in New York in the 1980s before moving to Rome more than a decade ago. Inspired perhaps by photographers such as Helen Levitt and William Eggleston, she uses her iPhone to capture haikulike encounters of her adopted city.

Her images are as encyclopedic as Charles and Ray Eames' 1952 "House of Cards" was at depicting everyday objects, but as poetic and mysterious as Rome.

Through Dec. 10 at Arthur Ross Gallery, University of Pennsylvania Fisher Fine Arts Library Building, 220 S. 34th St., 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesdays through Fridays, noon to 5 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays. 215-898-2083 or

Clay works at two spots — see them now

Last call for the wonderful "Preservation: Objects Registering the Past and Future," a group show of artists who employ clay in their work, divided between Old City's Clay Studio and Society Hill's historic Hill-Physick House.

One standout is Ledford's installation of terra-cotta vase forms set against decorative wall paintings reminiscent of wallpaper.

Also noteworthy: Clark's porcelain iterations of historic documents and objects, and Jane Irish's bowls combining scenes of plantations where slaves were held and images from the Vietnam War era.

Through Aug. 27 at both locations: Clay Studio, 137-139 N. Second St., 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays, 12 to 6 p.m. Sundays. 215-925-3453 or Through Aug. 27. Hill-Physick House, 321 S. Fourth St., Wednesdays through Saturdays; public tours available on the hour beginning 11 a.m. and ending at 4 p.m. (last tour leaves at 3 p.m.), Sundays beginning at noon and ending at 4 p.m. (last tour leaves at 3 p.m.). 215-925-7866 or $8; $6 students and seniors; $20 per family.