Review interviews the writer Francesco Roesler Franz, author of the book “Roma Esoterica”.

1) If you had to summarize in a few lines the meaning of your book “Roma Esoterica”, what would you say?

I see this book as my contribution to explaining the importance of the Roma Sparita series of 120 watercolours painted by my great-uncle Ettore Roesler Franz. I discovered in the course of my research that there are several levels of interpretation in this series of paintings. Of course, the first level is represented by what is portrayed in the painting, that is, what appears and is evident to everyone, while the second level is represented by the change in the urban fabric between when it was painted at the end of the 19th century and the current layout of Rome. While the third level is represented by everything that is hidden inside the paintings, which I intuited after a long analysis of each painting, which allowed me to grasp its esoteric meaning.

2) Where did the idea come from that prompted you to tell about your family, art and an unusual Rome?

I wanted to tell the story of my great-uncle Ettore because I think that the museums in Rome consider him to be a low-level painter. Until about twenty years ago, the Roma Sparita series was on display at the Museum of Rome in Palazzo Braschi in Piazza Navona. Then suddenly the museum directors decided to move the collection to a secondary museum in Trastevere, where there are very few paintings on display and most of the paintings are framed and kept in drawers. So, together with my brother Pierluigi, I decided to carry out a project to relaunch the figure of my great-uncle Ettore, in which, among other initiatives, we created a website and instituted annual awards in his memory. Over the last few years, starting six years ago, I have written a fictional biography of his life. Subsequently, as I continued my research, I wrote two historical essays, one on my family (in which I went back as far as Bohemia and Prague in the 18th century) and this one, for which I am being interviewed, entitled Roma Esoterica on the esoteric meaning hidden in his paintings. I think my great-uncle Ettore should be considered as one of the most important Symbolist painters in the world.

3) What would you like readers to understand by reading your words? What mark would you like to leave on them?

Throughout history, great artists have often had to use symbols or hidden messages in their paintings because power has always exercised a form of censorship and therefore certain themes could not be dealt with in a clear and transparent manner, in essence they had to use encrypted messages.

Even Michelangelo used an encrypted message inspired by the Jewish Kabbalah for his frescoes in the Sistine Chapel. While painters such as Leonardo da Vinci, Nicholas Poussin and even my great-uncle Ettore were aware of the love story of Jesus with Mary Magdalene, which even today in 2022, however incredible, is a taboo subject, dangerous to deal with. The sign, therefore, that I would like to leave on my readers of this book is that of observing my great-uncle Ettore’s paintings, and in general the paintings of the great masters, in a less superficial, more profound manner in order to grasp and appreciate the hidden messages.

4) Is there anything you would have liked to add to the book when you read it after publication?

No, I do not wish to add anything else to what has already been written. I think this book should be understood as an icebreaker, in the sense that with my intuitions (first) and my analyses (later) I broke something consolidated and opened the way for a new, deeper interpretation of the paintings of Roma Sparita. Of course, I am aware that my work is only a beginning and I hope that what I have started will be continued and deepened by art historians and researchers from university art faculties. I hope that what I have started will be continued and deepened by art historians and researchers in art university faculties. I hope that my work will be deepened by people who are more qualified in these subjects than I am.

5) If you had to use three adjectives to define “Esoteric Rome”, which ones would you use?

Fascinating, interesting and intriguing.

6) What did you think when you finished the story?

When I finished writing the book, I thought I had squared the circle between the context in which my great-uncle Ettore lived and his artistic production. Almost nothing was known about the context in which he lived, for example that he worked at the English consulate in Rome and helped the Carbonari, so learning this, as well as discovering that his great-grandparents had come to Rome in 1747 to escape persecution of the Jews (his great-grandmother was Jewish), it was quite natural to discover, for example in his paintings of the Ghetto in Rome, certain esoteric messages. In short, in the life of my great-uncle Hector and in his paintings nothing is ever accidental and there is a logic behind it, which holds everything together.

7) Why do you think one should read your essay?

The reason I recommend reading this book is that by seeing my great-uncle Hector’s paintings and reading my book you also learn about the true history of Rome and the temporal power of the Papal States, which caused grief and cruelty that even today, at least in Rome, people are afraid to remember. It is enough to think that the Jews closed in the Ghetto were treated worse than animals. Unfortunately, people only talk about the Shoah, as if no one wanted to remember the persecution suffered by Jews for hundreds of years in previous centuries.

8) Do you have any new projects? Are you writing a new book? Can you tell us something in advance?

I am planning to publish a new book in October 2024 entitled “The Roesler Franz Saga”, which tells the story of my family in a fictional form between 1700 in Bohemia and Prague and 1946, the year in which my parents got married, having survived a terrible war, as the Second World War was, which brought mourning and pain to all Italian families.

9) What is the novel you have read that has most affected you emotionally over the last year?

Over the last few years, in order to write my books, I have been forced to read about 500 essays, mostly on history, art history and esotericism, which is why, unfortunately, I have read very little fiction. I have read a few books by Marco Buticchi, including L’ombra di Iside. I really like Buticchi’s writing because he manages to combine history, art history and esotericism, mixing everything together in a pleasant way.

10) Which book would you never recommend to anyone?

I don’t presume to advise people not to read a book. People’s interests are so different that I think any book can be loved or appreciated by someone. I would definitely advise people to watch less television (I haven’t watched any TV channels for almost three years now) and read more books.

11) Now it’s time for you to ask yourself a question that no one has ever asked you, but you would always have wanted to answer….

To those who ask me why I started writing books, I answer that in the spring of 2016 I was looking for young literature graduates or retired high school literature professors who would be interested in writing a fictional biography on the life of my great-uncle Hector with an adequate financial compensation. Moreover, I would have published the book at my own expense, with the name on the book, of course, of the author to whom I would have provided all the material in my possession to facilitate the drafting. I thought it would be an interesting proposal for a young graduate, also to make himself known. I did not, unfortunately, find anyone.

I was very bitter, however, as I like challenges, so I decided that I would write it myself….

What is incredible is that while writing the fictional biography on the life of my great-uncle Ettore, I had a number of intuitions that turned out to be right: certainly the most striking is that I had guessed that he had had a love affair with a Jewish girl. Analysing a year and a half ago a painting of the ghetto, as is also reported in the book Roma Esoterica, there is a portrait of this girl that he loved, as is confirmed in the numbers, in the Hebrew letters and symbols that are present in this painting.