Francesca Romana Serra Ridgway

Elected a Fellow of the Society on 12 January 1978

The following obituary, by our Fellow Tom Rasmussen was first published in the Open Access section of the Antiquity website.

Francesca Serra Ridgway (1936-2008), a graduate of Rome University and one of many distinguished pupils of Massimo Pallottino, was a leading scholar of Etruscan and Italic archaeology. She was based in Scotland for many years where she was Honorary Fellow in the Department of Archaeology (later, Classics) at Edinburgh University, where her husband David Ridgway also taught. Retiring from Edinburgh they both moved south and in 2003 became Associate Fellows of the Institute of Classical Studies in London.

Francesca Ridgway’s death, on 7 March 2008, ended not only a long marriage but also a long working partnership. There had been close collaboration on many projects. For years ‘Ridgway and Ridgway’ had meant the big jointly edited book of 1979 (Italy before the Romans), which has introduced innumerable students to aspects of early Italy, and which encompassed so much that both editors passionately believed in: in particular, getting important new scholarship to a wide academic audience, which here entailed securing the services of knowledgeable and sympathetic translators to render into impeccable English the detailed original, mainly Italian, texts. The fourteen chapters, many of them specially commissioned, took the reader through the whole peninsula, from the Bronze Age to Roman rule, and included the first account in English of Etruscan Corsica. One of the chapters, written by Francesca herself, is an important statement on the Este and Golasecca cultures of the north. Another, by Giuliana Riccioni, is still the best introduction in any language to Etruscan Vulci, a famous but still somewhat enigmatic site (because so little mentioned in ancient sources). More recently Francesca as editor had collaborated with Riccioni in the production of a book on the finds from early twentieth-century excavations at the same site (Vasi greci da Vulci, Milan 2003).

It was only natural that when it was time for a Festschrift it should have been to the honour of both Ridgways: Across Frontiers: Etruscans, Greeks, Phoenicians and Cypriots (London, Accordia 2006), has articles by fifty scholars fully reflecting David and Francesca’s wide concerns, with especially important contributions in two areas, on the early Greek colonial settlement on the island of Pithecussae (Ischia) where they had for many seasons collaborated in studying and publishing the great series of tombs excavated by Giorgio Buchner, Francesca taking on the later burials; and on Sardinia, her family’s area of origin and where she and David had longstanding interests especially in the field of native (nuragic) metalware on which both published several papers.

Although the Ridgways have worked in similar fields, they have each had their individual enthusiasms and lines of enquiry. Early on, Francesca had been one of a team working on the material from Pyrgi, the Etruscan harbour and sanctuary area close to Caere (Cerveteri), on which she published at different times, notably in 1990 with a wide-ranging article for the compilation Greek Colonists and Native Populations (ed. Descoeudres). She also had a long and productive association and friendship with Lucia Cavagnaro Vanoni and Richard Linington, both of the Lerici Foundation which had been involved in locating and excavating Etruscan cemeteries at Tarquinia. This resulted in her collaboration with the former on a presentation of some of the Etruscan painted pottery recovered (Vasi etruschi a figure rosse, 1989), with the latter on the publication in 1997 of the Fondo Scataglini necropolis (Linington directed the excavation but died in 1984), and in her own monumental study of the contents of these tombs, published in two volumes in 1996. These are all definitive works of enduring value. They not only demonstrated her expertise with all kinds of material, including pottery, metalware and engraved mirrors, but they also put Tarquinia, best known for its lively archaic tomb painting, firmly on the map as a centre of culture in the later periods, from the fourth to the second centuries BC. Francesca was also a sensitive iconographer - some of the Scataglini tombs too have painted interiors - and wrote penetratingly about Etruscan tomb painting.

Francesca Ridgway, like David, was always eager to promote the scholarship of others, among much else with her many reviews and review articles for Classical Review and other organs, helping to edit the English language version of Steingräber’s Catalogue Raisonné of Etruscan Wall Paintings (1986), and giving a new lease of life to Brendel’s classic Etruscan Art (2nd ed. 1995) with her vital bibliographic essay covering the years 1978-1994. This kind of work, undertaken from a deep conviction that scholarship is an important matter and the field of enquiry is worthy of wide dissemination, offers little personal kudos but is gratefully appreciated by the academic community.

Our Fellow David Ridgway, husband of Francesca Ridgway, wrote the following appreciation for Etruscan News (the newsletter of the American Section of the Institute for Etruscan & Italic Studies).

FRANCESCA ROMANA SERRA RIDGWAY was born in Rome on March 9, 1936; she died in Colchester, Essex (UK) on March 7, 2008. She was one of five children of Sardinian parents, both of whom were civil engineers. Her mother’s father, Giovanni Sanna, is still remembered by Italian ancient historians today as the translator of the Italian edition (Florence 1933) of M. Rostovtzeff’s Social and Economic History of the Roman Empire.

Francesca Romana studied at Rome University (now “La Sapienza”), graduating in 1964 with a tesi di laurea directed by Massimo Pallottino (and guided too by Giovanni Colonna) on the distinctively Etruscan and specifically Caeretan class of impasto stampigliato. She never lost her interest in this fascinating category, and she was delighted many years later to be contacted by Lisa Pieraccini, who was studying the bracieri (braziers, or portable hearths) of this type at the University of California, Santa Barbara. They became firm friends, and Dr Pieraccini’s Around the Hearth: Caeretan cylinder-stamped braziers (Rome 2003) is dedicated to Francesca Romana, who contributed a characteristically incisive preface. At the time of her tragically premature death, Francesca Romana’s study of the Pithoi stampigliati ceretani, greatly augmented by numerous additional specimens and the new insights achieved since 1964, was nearing completion: it is good to know that Dr Pieraccini unhesitatingly accepted her request to finish it, and to see it through the press. It is eagerly awaited.        

After graduation, Franesca Romana continued her studies at the postgraduate Scuola Archeologica in Rome, where she was taught and influenced by Giovanni Becatti (Classical archaeology) and Renato Peroni (European protohistory); she was part of the latter’s team that produced the still basic Studi sulla cronologia delle civiltà di Este e Golasecca (Florence 1975). In the summer of 1964, she was employed as the archaeological supervisor of the Lerici Foundation’s prospectors, then involved with the University of Pennsylania Museum in the search for Sybaris in Calabria; her counterpart on the American “side” was David Ridgway, a postgraduate student from Oxford University. International collaboration being what it is, Francesca Romana and David were both warned by their respective superiors not to compare notes on their work more often than was strictly necessary; they married in 1970, and their marriage was a supremely happy one for the next 38 years.
In 1968, David had been appointed to a lectureship in the Department of Archaeology at Edinburgh University in faraway Scotland, where Francesca Romana became an Honorary Fellow. In addition to teaching a variety of Archaeology and Classics courses, she continued her own work. In doing so, she contributed a great deal that will remain indispensable for as long as the Etruscans are studied. She took a polite interest (though there were exceptions) in new interpretations and new theories: but she felt strongly that making more evidence available — publishing unpublished excavations, for example — was the most useful thing that she herself could do. So she did, achieving most notably the definitive publication of the Hellenistic Scataglini cemetery at Tarquinia, excavated by the Lerici Foundation under the direction of Richard E. Linington (1936-1984): I corredi del Fondo Scataglini a Tarquinia (two vols.; Milan 1996); (with R.E. Linington) Lo scavo nel Fondo Scataglini a Tarquinia (two vols; Milan 1997). One distinguished reviewer of the Scataglini corredi publication compared Francesa Romana’s contribution to the understanding of the Later Classical and Hellenistic pottery of Etruria to that achieved fifty years earlier by J.D. Beazley in his Etruscan Vase Painting (J.R. Green, Bryn Mawr Classical Review 96.08.16).
Meanwhile, David had accepted an invitation from Giorgio Buchner to co-author the publication of the 1952-1961 excavations in the cemetery at Euboean Pithekoussai (Ischia). Most of the 723 graves concerned belonged to the 8th, 7th and early 6th centuries; but 131 of them were in the 5th-century to Roman range, and, following her marriage to David, Francesca Romana received publication rights to these as a wedding present from Dr Buchner (she also translated David’s pottery catalogue). The Ridgways’ work on the Pithekoussai publication led to several busy summers in the Pithekoussai magazzino in Lacco Ameno; the Pithekoussai I manuscript was completed in 1979, and eventually published as a Monumenti Antichi monograph in 1993.
In addition to these and other projects (including many artcles and guest-lectures), Francesca Romana was much in demand as a book-reviewer, often for the British Classical Review and the American Journal of Roman Archaeology. No-one was better able to bring the best Italian work to the attention of Anglophone scholars than the compiler of the “Additional Bibliography 1978-1994” in the second edition of Otto Brendel’s Etruscan Art (New Haven–London 1995, 486-513). Francesca Romana was also an active, hands-on, editor: she and her husband collaborated in the production of a collection of (mainly translated) papers, Italy before the Romans (London–New York 1979), as well as of the English-language edition of Stephan Steingräber’s Etruscan Painting (New York 1985).
On their retirement from Edinburgh University in 2003, the Ridgways moved to Colchester in the south of England. From there, they commuted regularly to the excellent library of London University’s Institute of Classical Studies, of which they were both Associate Fellows. Here Francesca Romana worked hard on her Pithoi stampigliati ceretani, and also found time to finish editing her friend Giuliana Riccioni’s long-awaited account of Vasi greci da Vulci (Milan 2003). Many gathered in the Institute to witness the great pleasure with which she and David received the Festschrift, Across Frontiers, presented to them in December 2006 by colleagues from all over the world. Some of them knew, too, that she had a number of exciting plans for the future.   

Dis aliter visum. The death of Francesca Romana Serra Ridgway, after a year of painful illness, bravely and serenely borne, has robbed Etruscan studies of a gloriously free spirit and a fine scholar. Etruscan specialists all over Europe and the USA mourn the loss of a loyal, generous and inspiring friend, colleague and mentor. They miss her; and they miss her infectious enthusiasm for everything that is still good in our subject.