An 18th century image of the Meta Sudans in a prospect of the Colosseum

I came across an image on Twitter which shows the Colosseum, but also the ruined fountain that used to stand next to it, the Meta Sudans.  Here it is (click to enlarge):

prospetto_dellanfiteatro

The tweeter had found it online “somewhere”.  Fortunately it is not too hard to locate: this is Prospetto dell’anfiteatro Flavio … detto volgarmente il Colosseo, 1703, by Alessandro Specchi (1668-1729).[1]  There is even a page about it here at the University of Munich, complete with an image, although, infuriatingly, a low-quality one.

I was unable to locate online any quality image, so this is about as good as it gets for the Meta Sudans (obtained by zooming my browser at this site):

meta_sudans_specchi

It clearly shows the Meta Sudans at twice the height that we see in photographs from the 19th century.  The upper section must have become very ruinous, and been demolished.  No doubt some Italian source could tell us when and why this happened; but such knowledge has not reached me.

Delightful to see another picture of this vanished monument, all the same.

  1. [1]So this art site.  This other site adds that is is an engraving, published by Domenico de Rossi, 1703. 48 x 67.5cm.

2 thoughts on “An 18th century image of the Meta Sudans in a prospect of the Colosseum

  1. Hello! I’ve been lurking on your blog for some time but until now I stayed silent because I had nothing useful to contribute.
    Seeing that I’m Italian and I have some interesting infos, I thought this would be the right time to chime in.
    First of all I wanna share some links to images of paintings of the Colosseum and the Meta Sudans.
    Some of them you already found on your own but I think mine have a better resolution.
    In chronological order we have:
    https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Jacob_de_Heusch_-_Rome_-_A_View_of_the_Forum_Romanum_-_WGA11391.jpg
    This oil on canvas is from 1694. The original file is not big enough but it seems the fountain of the Meta Sudans is still in use!
    https://visualelsewhere.wordpress.com/2013/01/22/caspar-van-wittel-robilantvoena-view-of-the-colosseum-with-the-arch-of-constantine-c-1707/
    https://visualelsewhere.files.wordpress.com/2013/01/colosseum_and_the_arch_of_constantine.jpg
    http://www.vbs50.com/public/Galleria%20Sabauda/slides/GalleriaSabauda_075.html
    http://www.vbs50.com/public/Galleria%20Sabauda/GalleriaSabauda_075.JPG
    http://www.vbs50.com/public/Galleria%20Sabauda/slides/GalleriaSabauda_074.html
    http://www.vbs50.com/public/Galleria%20Sabauda/GalleriaSabauda_074.JPG
    These three painting are from 1707-1711 and were realized by Caspar van Wittel. In the first two the Meta Sudans is slimmer and taller.
    http://www.culturaitalia.it/opencms/viewItem.jsp?language=it&id=oai%3Aculturaitalia.it%3Amuseiditalia-work_27983
    http://194.242.241.163/fedora/objects/work:27983/datastreams/MM91436/content
    This is a bigger image of the second painting.
    https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Giovanni_Paolo_Panini_-_View_of_the_Colosseum_-_Walters_372367.jpg
    This is a fanciful reconstruction from 1747, realized as a souvenir for Grand Tour visitors.
    https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Antonio_Joli_-_Rome_-_View_of_the_Colosseum_and_The_Arch_of_Constantine_-_WGA11961.jpg
    This is contemporary with the former.
    The most important info I can give you is the reason why the Meta Sudans changed height in the eighteenth century: it came down in a series of earthwakes!
    According to the History of the Popes by https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ludwig_von_Pastor, 1703 was a catastrophic year for Rome.
    Check out this book https://archive.org/details/historyofpopesfr33past, in particular these pages:
    https://archive.org/stream/historyofpopesfr33past#page/492/mode/2up
    https://archive.org/stream/historyofpopesfr33past#page/494/mode/2up
    https://archive.org/stream/historyofpopesfr33past#page/496/mode/2up
    In the first six months of 1703 Rome sustained so much damage that “Three arches of the second tier of the Colosseum collapsed ; the stones were used for the building of the Ripetta harbor. Cracks could be seen in St. Peter’s, the Vatican and the Quirinal.” More infos about the harbor: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Porto_di_Ripetta.
    This version of the article, https://it.wikipedia.org/wiki/Porto_di_Ripetta, says clearly that material taken from the Colosseum was used:
    “L’opera, per la cui costruzione furono impiegati materiali di spoglio provenienti dal Colosseo, fu inaugurata il 16 agosto 1704.”
    A weird coincidence wants that the architect responsible for the project was the same that drew the Colosseum engraving in your article: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alessandro_Specchi.

  2. Dear Ezio, thank you so much! This is really useful, and it will take me a little while to work through all this material. The earthquake of 1703 is fascinating to hear about, and sounds very likely. If you find any source that tells us that the damage also affected the Meta Sudans, I’d be glad to have it!

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