Renaissance Rome

Three strangers from the north put into immortal words the spell of renaissance Rome, as Van Heemskerck expressed it in line. The French poet, Joachim du Bellay, who lived in the city from 1553 to 1556, wrote the sonnet sequence, The Antiquities of Rome; Spenser translated it into haunting Elizabethan verse as the Ruines of Rome:

'Thou stranger, which for Rome in Rome here seckest,
And nought of Rome in Rome perceiv'st at all,
These same olde walls, olde arches, which thou seest,
Olde palaces, is that which Rome men call.
Behold what wreake, what mine, and what wast,
And how that she, which with her mightie powre
Tam'd all the world, hath tam'd herselfe at last,
The prey of Time, which all things doth devowre.
Rome, living, was the world's sole ornament,
And dead, is now the world's sole moniment.'

Later in the same century Montaigne's essays reveal the renaissance reverence for Rome and the French cultural and political ties rooted in Roman Gaul and strengthened by Charlemagne and the French kings. With a nostalgia reminiscent of Rutilius Namatianus and Cassiodorus, he wrote in his essay Of Vanity: 'I was familiar with the affairs of Rome long before I was with those of my own house. . . . I knew the Capitol and its position before I knew the Louvre, and the Tiber before the Seine.' And again, '. . . This same Rome that we see deserves our love, having been so long and by so many ties allied with our own crown: the only common and universal city.'

It is in the works of the late fifteenth and the sixteenth century, especially in such drawings as those of the Anonymus Escurialensis and Marten van Heemskerck, that the artists' records begin to show the difference in ground-level between ancient and modern Rome, which excavations have so abundantly revealed. Aside from buildings which have collapsed or have been torn down, there are many which remained for centuries partly or entirely buried beneath the accumulation of soil and debris, while new structures and new streets rose above and hid them. In this city of alternating dry and rainy seasons, whose lower sections suffered from floods when the Tiber overflowed, it has been estimated that dust and rain alone would raise the level more than an inch a year. To this natural rise in level the Romans added by crushing and filling in the lower stories of buildings to provide foundations for later ones. This custom, begun even in ancient times, continued through the centuries. The levelling of the surface of the Forum for the triumphal procession of Charles V in 1536 probably accounted for much of the change between the drawings done by the Anonymus Escurialensis and those of various artists in the second half of the sixteenth century.

The introduction of printed pictures in the fifteenth century added another type of artistic record and greatly increased the number of views of Rome and her antiquities. It did not, however, increase their accuracy, for prints were often copied from earlier drawings and therefore do not show the actual condition of monuments at the time of printing. Also, the convenience and economy of reprinting from old blocks put a premium on their use long after they were out of date.

The oldest known printed view of Rome appeared in 1490 in the Supplementum Chronicorum Orbis (Supplement to the Histories of the World) by Giovanni Filippo Foresti of Bergamo. It is a combination of panoramic landscape with the type of plan painted by Taddeo di Bartolo, and seems to be related to a late fifteenth-century painting on cloth, now in the Ducal Palace at Mantua. Both may have followed some older source. As the printed view is much compressed and crowded, it is fortunate that the Mantua painting shows the buildings in the same general form but more correctly located. The arrangement followed in this painting and early woodcut was continued for more than half a century, long after some of the monuments shown had been destroyed or altered.

By the early sixteenth century the production of printed plans and pictures of Rome had become a flourishing business, often attracting capital from other lands. One of its most successful figures was Antoine Lafrère of Burgundy, known in Italy as Antonio Lafreri, who came to Rome about 1540 and eventually got almost a monopoly of the copper engraving business there. His Speculum Romanae Magnificentiae (Mirror of Roman Magnificence), published as separate plates, contains the work of many years and many men, and records the early stages of classical antiquarianism. The Speculum's map of Rome in 1557 is one of the first to be a true picture map rather than a collection of 'marvels'.

The prolific foreign etcher, Etienne Du Pérac, came to Rome from France about 1559 and made numerous drawings and etchings, which were published in 1575 under the title Vestigi dell' Antichità di Roma (Remains of Roman Antiquities). Du Pérac interpreted the ruins with considerable freedom in some of his drawings; furthermore, as radical changes had sometimes taken place in a structure between the date of his drawing and the date of publication, the etchings do not always show the condition of the monuments in 1575. A noteworthy example of this is his etching of the central hall of the Baths of Diocletian, done from a drawing made before Michelangelo had converted it into the church of Santa Maria degli Angeli, but dated 1575, after the hall had become a church.

Outstanding among the many Italians who recorded Roman antiquities in the sixteenth century are the members of the Sangallo family and Giovanni Antonio Dosio. Especially valuable is such a drawing as that looking into the central hall of the Baths of Caracalla which shows this monument not long before its remaining marble decorations were torn away. Engravings from many of Dosio's drawings were published in 1569 in the Aedificiorum illustrium reliquiae (Remains of Famous Buildings).

Guidebooks and archaeological handbooks multiplied with the spread of printing. The Mirabilia was printed and reprinted many times and new works sprang up to meet the new situation. Among such new guides prepared in the light of renaissance antiquarianism, one of the best was the Antiquities of Rome by Raphael's friend, Andrea Fulvio, which marked the first real advance over the work of Flavio Biondo in the fifteenth century. Careful and critical, too, in the light of information then available, was much of the work of Bartolommeo Marliani, which appeared later in the sixteenth century. Marliani is also remembered as an early fighter in one of the long and bitter archaeological disputes which have enlivened Roman antiquarianism from the Renaissance to the present. The traditional site of the Roman Forum, running roughly east and west below the north face of the Palatine hill, had been accepted until the middle of the sixteenth century, for it contained many well-preserved and documented monuments. But with all the enthusiasm of an amateur archaeologist, Pirro Ligorio, a Neapolitan architect, then propounded the theory that it ran north and south between the Palatine and Capitoline hills. Marliani vigorously defended the old east-west site, but Ligorio won many followers in his own time and later, and succeeded in complicating a hitherto simple situation for several centuries.

Less dependable than Marliani's works were such popular illustrated guides as those of Prospero Parisio and Girolamo and Giovanni Franzini, published in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. These guides discuss the monuments learnedly, to be sure, using the terminology of ancient Rome, but the disciplined enthusiasm of the early Renaissance all too often disintegrates into classical fairy tales, no less fanciful than the marvels of the Mirabilia. Like it, they are valuable as reflections of a time when a detailed if specious explanation was frequently more welcome than an inconclusive if honest striving for accuracy. An outstanding book for the well-instructed traveller dates from the end of the century. Bernard de Montfauçon, French scholar and monk, wrote his Diarium Italicum as the result of a tour in Italy in 1698-1699. Published in Paris in Latin in 1702, it was translated into English twice in the next quarter-century. Montfauçon not only observed and reported perceptively what he himself saw, but delved into works at that time comparatively little known. His book includes many passages from the sixteenth-century Italian, Flaminio Vacca, and a long excerpt from a version of the Mirabilia. This, through John Henley's English translation of Montfauçon's book in 1725, seems to have had a strong influence on the style of Nichols' Marvels of Rome in 1889.

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