Catenas on the Psalms – two important French works now online!

Great news!  A correspondent writes to say that two important French works on commentaries and catenae on the Psalms are now available online in full:

1) M.-J. Rondeau, Les Commentaires patristiques du Psautier (IIIe-Ve siècles), 2 vols, OCA 219-220, Roma 1982, 1985.

2) G. Dorival, Les chaînes exégétiques grecques sur les Psaumes: contribution à l’étude d’une forme littéraire, 4 vols, Leuven 1986, 1989, 1992, 1995.

These are tremendously useful, and one can only congratulate the publishers, Peeters, and the Pontifical Institute in Rome, respectively.  These highly specialist tomes now stand a chance of being read!


The new Chronica Tertullianea et Cyprianea is out

Those interested in the Latin fathers prior to Nicaea will be aware of the annual list of publications, the Chronica Tertullianea et Cyprianea, published each year in the Revue des études Augustiniennes (et Patristiques) by the Institut d’études augustiniennes in Paris.  This invaluable resource has appeared each year since 1974, initially covering just Tertullian, and then broadened to Latin patristics to 325 AD.  Very kindly the editors have sent me a copy for many years.  The issue dedicated to publications in 2014 has now appeared.

Most of the content will be for specialists.  I see that Claudio Moreschini has continued his great work of editing and translating Tertullian into Italian, and the end of the task is now in sight.  Some other items are, for the first time, reviewed in Italian, which is not a language I read easily.

Less welcome is an allusion in the introduction to “la situation difficile que traverse actuellement l’Institut d’études augustiniennes” which is consuming the energies of the contributors.  I do not know what this situation is.  It is certainly the case that the humanities in general are under threat of reduced funding, and probably this is a factor here too.

In this light, one item reviewed will raise eyebrows in the intelligent reader.  It seems that the excellent Markus Vinzent has brought out a book devoted to proving that Marcion wrote the original gospel, and that the canonical gospels are later compositions.  This he does, I understand, by proposing that Marcion invented the literary form of a gospel, and revised it in written or verbal form; that the four gospels were written in response to this, and then Marcion produced a final written form.  Since Tertullian in Adversus Marcionem tells us that Marcion produced his gospel by mutilating the gospel of Luke, at some length, Dr V refers to this; and so this discussion falls within the area of interest of the CTC.

The CTC is a scholarly publication.  Scholarship involves knowing what you know about, and what you do not.  So the reviewer quite properly states that “I cannot take a position on the general thesis of the author”.  He does discuss the discussion of Tertullian, and points out that the interpretation involves misreading Marc. IV, 11:12 by silently omitting a “nec”, and ignoring the consensus of editors that a full-stop should be read after “nova”.

Le lecteur est d’abord étonné par un tel renversement de perspective et se demande s’il n’a jamais rien compris au Contre Marcion. L’impression s’atténue lorsqu’on se reporte aux textes. Pour prouver que Marcion aurait créé la forme de l’évangile, l’argumentation de l’auteur se fonde beaucoup sur Marc IV, 11, 12, où il lit : forma sermonis in Christo nova, cum similitudines obicit, cum quaestiones refutat ; or le texte est ici déformé sur deux points, sans que M. V. en dise rien : la négation nec, en tête de phrase, est omise, et les éditeurs sont unanimes pour placer un point après nova. Tertullien ne dit donc pas que Marcion a introduit une nouvelle forme littéraire, mais que le discours du Christ est comme un écho des paroles de l’Ancien Testament : ce déplacement d’accent, que l’A. semble s’autoriser au nom de son renversement de perspective, nous paraît un vice rédhibitoire de l’étude. En fait, l’analyse part moins des textes qu’elle ne cherche, chez Tertullien, des indices d’une reconstruction préalablement élaborée, méthode qui, à nos yeux, fragilise d’emblée la demonstration.

The reader is first surprised by such a reversal of perspective and wonders if he has never understood anything about the Against Marcion. The impression fades when referring to the texts. To prove that Marcion created the [literary] form of the gospel, the argumentation of the author relies heavily on Marc. IV, 11, 12, where he reads: nova forma sermonis in Christo, cum similitudines obicit, cum quaestiones refutat; but the text is distorted by two points, about which M.V. says nothing: the negation nec, at the head of the phrase, is omitted, and editors are unanimous in placing a full-stop after nova. Tertullian therefore does not say that Marcion introduced a new literary form, but that the speech of Christ is like an echo of the Old Testament words: this shift of emphasis, that the author seems to allow in the name of his reversal of perspective, seems a fatal flaw of the study. In fact, the analysis only looks at the texts she seeks, in Tertullian, for traces of a previously elaborated reconstruction, a method which, in our eyes, immediately weakens the demonstration.[1]

I don’t suppose Dr V.’s career will suffer from this thesis at all, which is doubtless entirely acceptable to the people who control university funding.  These people seem to be all at least mildly anti-Christian, and were very much in favour of EU membership in the recent UK referendum.  Whether this will continue to be so, I do not know.  We live in changing times.  The elite lost that referendum.  The US may well elect a mountebank as president, precisely because he is not one of the elite.  There is a smell of revolution in the air.  But that remains to be seen.

However the only reason why poor taxpayers should fund the study of the humanities is that it serves some useful, scientific, purpose.  If it does not, why fund it?  And it brings the humanities into disrepute, when the facts are turned upside down like this.

Nobody is fooled.  We all know that this kind of claim is tripe.  We’ve met the revisionists many times.  We know the tricks – selection, misrepresentation and omission.

But these  games serve to reinforce the impression – held by most scientists, and not a few of the general public – that those who hold teaching posts in the humanities are not engaged in any kind of scientific or objective activity, but are in reality just well-paid servitors of the political establishment, producing propaganda.  I myself held precisely such a view for many years, after encountering some wretchedly poor “biblical scholarship” while reading for a hard science degree at Oxford.  It’s not the case that the humanities is worthless establishment propaganda.  The vast majority really does contribute to the sum of human knowledge.  And I’m quite sure few academics can be described as “well-paid”!

All the same, it is irresponsible to encourage the impression.  I hope that the difficulties of the Institut are not caused, in any respect, by a belief among politicians that academics are just hacks for hire.

  1. [1]Translation is mine; I’m really not quite certain of the translation of the last sentence, tho.

A curious bibliography: Angelo Uggeri and his “Journées pittoresques”, “Ichnografia”, “Icnografia degli Edifizj” etc

The most accessible early account, of the discovery of an ancient house in the grounds of the Villa Negroni in Rome, is by Camillo Massimo in 1836.  But for his source, Massimo refers to a mysterious volume which is online, but nearly impossible to find.

Massimo writes:

Una esatta descrizione di quattro delle suddette Camere, coi colori di tutt’ i loro ornamenti , e cen i menomi lor dettagli minutamente indicati si trova inserita nel 3. Volume dell’ Icnografia degli Edifizi di Roma antica, pag. 55. e aeg. opera dell’ Abb. Uggeri, il quale nelle Tavole XIV . XV , XVl, e XVII, diede pure le incisioni a contorno delle Pitture di quelle quattro Stanze; e nel Volume II. Tav. XXIV. fig, 1, riprodusse in piccolo la pianta dell’ intero Palazzina con le sue dimensioni, e con l‘ indice delle pitture in esso rimanenti, la descrizione delle quali si  trova anche nel citato Manifesto stampato in quell’occasione in un foglietto volante divenuto assai raro, e nella seconda Edizione della Roma antica di Ridolfino Venuti coll’ aggiunte di Stefano Piale Par. 1. cap. V, pag. 125.

Search as you will: you will not locate this volume.  You may think “icnografia” is an odd word, and make it “iconografia” but you will be no further forward.  As I remarked a couple of days ago, Lanciani quotes the title as “Iconografia degli Edifizi di Roma antica“, but this too does not help.

After a great deal of searching into the night, I have finally solved the mystery.

It seems that Angelo Uggeri was, to be frank, a complete idiot.  He self-published his works.  And he decided that giving them title pages was unnecessary.  Yes, that’s right.  You can find a volume online, and look through it, and still have no idea what the thing is titled.  Sometimes he shyly had a page which indicated his authorship – in a cursive, hard-to-read handwriting, not printed.

The volumes that I have found, all of them, belong to a series:

Journées pittoresques des édifices de Rome ancienne / Giornate pittoresche degli edifizi antiche de circondari di Roma

The text in these is in two columns, one French, one Italian.  A search for “Journées pittoresques” will return results.  But Uggeri’s maddening habit of leaving out titles means that you will not be that sure of what you have found.  A search in the French National Library site, Gallica, will return only three titles.

Curiously it was the Europeana portal that saved me.  This search gives a list of 10 volumes, all at the BNF, with no distinction of volume number or title.  They all have the same cover.  Many have the same endpapers.  You actually have to look through them to find out what’s in there.

But, blessedly, pasted onto the endpapers of one, I found this slip:


There are two series, each with volume numbers.  In fact some of the “volumes” are also divided into two, one containing the plates, and the other with the text.  I had to download almost the entire collection to find what I wanted.  For my own sanity, and yours if you pass this way, here are the volumes that you need for the Villa Negroni.  I give the link to the BNF for the volume, and attach a PDF of the relevant pages.

The scans are not very high resolution, it must be said.  The volume 2 floor plan is too small to read the scale, for instance.  Let us hope that a German library like Arachne scan some volumes.

From all this we learn that the actual title of volume 2, insofar as there was one, was “Ichnografia”! But I suggest we always refer to Journées pittoresques and specify the series, Rome.

The other two sources given by Massimo deserve a mention, while we are discussing bibliographical mazes.

The “manifesto” is actually a printed flyer, by Camillo Buti, proposing the publication of the frescoes of the house, and including a couple of samples, and a floor plan.  This is the very earliest account.  It is indeed extremely rare, and, as far as I can tell, not online.  But I learn from an article by H. Joyce[1] that “Copies of the Buti Manifesto are in the British Library, Department of Manuscripts, Add. Ms 35378, fols. 316-17, and the Victoria and Albert Museum, Department of Paintings, Tatham Album, p. D. 1479 – ’98. /2”.  Doubtless other copies are around.

The “Roma antica of Ridolfino Venuti with the additions of Stefano Piale” is another vague title.  Volume 2 of the first edition is here at Arachne.  The actual title is “Accurata, e succinta descrizione topografica delle antichità di Roma”, printed in 1763 – too early.  Volume 1 of the third edition (1824) of the Stefano Piale re-edition is at Google Books here; volume 2 here.  The text referred to is in vol.1, chapter 5, p.169 f.  But it contains nothing of special interest.  (Update: 2nd ed., 1803, vol.1, p.125 is here).

One final item is mentioned by Joyce.  It too is not online, and indeed sounds very inaccessible:

The architect Camillo Buti was quickly called in to make a plan of the house. Buti published the plan in 1778, along with a brief description of the rooms, in his Manifesto announcing the publication of the first two in a series of engravings of the house’s paintings.(5) An early annotated version of the plan drawn by someone present in the early stages of the excavation (the excavation is shown and described as incomplete) is now in the Townley collection of “Drawings from Various Antiquities” in the British Museum.(6)

6.  Although the Townley plan is incomplete, it includes information about the house’s decoration not given in any published source. I am grateful to Donald Bailey of the Department of Greek and Roman Antiquities for locating this drawing and supplying me with a copy.

The invaluable Joyce article – which I obtained today – makes plain that the Townley plan is of the highest importance.  It alone tells us, for instance, that the entrance door to the villa had a window above the door.  The “blank wall” facing the door in fact had three niches for statues in it – “Ingresso principale nella casa dipinto con Architetture e nichie di relievo dipinte dentro.”  And so on.

Fortunately the Townley papers are in the British Museum, and a Google search shows that the museum has a research project to catalogue them and place them online.  Well done, the British Museum.

UPDATE: The etchings published in 1778 by Camillo Buti are actually online at Aradne here: A. Campanella, Pitture antiche della Villa Negroni, 1778.  The monochrome etchings look far more Roman than the coloured versions.

  1. [1]H. Joyce, “The Ancient Frescoes from the Villa Negroni and Their Influence in the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries”, The Art Bulletin 65 (1983), 423-440. JSTOR.

A visit to the ancient Roman house in the Villa Negroni – rooms A and B

Let’s return to 1777, and continue our visit to the ancient Roman house uncovered in the fields of the Villa Negroni.

We shall descend into the pit, ably drawn by our English friend Thomas Jones.  It’s rather damp down there!  Since we’ve not been here before, I attach at the end the floor plan.

We stand at the entrance to the house.  This consists of a porch supported by two columns.  Through the doorway is a plain painted room.  A doorway to the left shows a staircase.  We shall go through the door in the right-hand wall, into another room, painted, but with marvellous paintings.

The roof is vaulted, so the tops of the paintings are semi-circular.  It contains two paintings, in fact.  These are being recorded by an artist, a Mr Mengs, for printing.

The first is a picture of Adonis, preparing to go hunting.  Click on the picture to see the full size image.[1]

Villa Negroni: Adonis setting out on a hunt.
Plate 4: Villa Negroni: Adonis setting out on a hunt.

Also in the room is another picture of Adonis, this time dying in the arms of Venus.[2]

Villa Negroni: Adonis dying in the arms of Venus
Plate 2: Villa Negroni: Adonis dying in the arms of Venus

Sadly the ceiling is missing, but I am assured that the artist will try to represent the end of the barrel-vaulted room, and the curved panels on either side, accurately.

Another depiction may be found at Wikimedia Commons:[3]

Villa Negroni: Adonis dying in the arms of Venus.
Plate 2: Villa Negroni: Adonis dying in the arms of Venus.

Here is the 1836 map:

Floor plan of the ancient house discovered in 1777 at the Villa Negroni
Floor plan of the ancient house discovered in 1777 at the Villa Negroni

The printed volume of plates was uncoloured, with the intention that they should be hand-coloured.  The shades of the colours naturally vary in different copies, therefore.

  1. [1]This from the Wellcome Trust, via Wikimedia Commons.
  2. [2]Noemi Cinelli, “‘Restrained brightness and archaic purity”: Fascination from the antiquity in the age of enlightenment: Villa Negroni’s frescoes in Rome: models of good taste according to Mengs and Azara”, European Review of Artistic Studies 4 (2013), 42-61. Online here, printing a copy from Seville.  Note that the plate number, from the publication, is in the bottom left or bottom right.
  3. [3]Again from the Wellcome Trust.  There is another image here, from a commercial site.

The Bloodsucker Award, July 2016 – the Royal Institute of British Architects

In my last post, I quoted the Tate Gallery catalogue for Thomas Jones’ 1777 painting of the excavations of the Roman house in the Villa Negroni.  This referred to drawings and a plan by a certain Thomas Hardwick, in the “RIBA collection”.

Well!  Thanks to Google, I have discovered what the “RIBA” might be – it is the Royal Institute of British Architects.    I quickly found one of Thomas Hardwick’s drawings here. But to my surprise, this seems to be a commercial site, run by the RIBA.

Also online was a low-resolution drawing of the floor plan of the house, at the same site here.  The image online is too small to read the scale (in palma Romani).  There are also letters on the image – but no key, so I assume that the information must be elsewhere in the papers.

This is rather sad.  I thought that we were past the stage at which petty officials in national bodies tried to extort small but prohibitive sums of cash from members of the public who wanted to use them on ordinary blogs or websites.  Everybody knows that people like me have no revenue stream, so we aren’t going to buy these things.  And anyway, there is actually no copyright on items this old.  But it seems that the news has not reached the RIBA.

I did follow the prompts, to see what they would demand.  Note how this makes clear that I am just some guy.

How much do I think you are worth, boy?
How much do I think you are worth, boy?

From this I find that the RIBA – assuming it is them – want me to pay them $150 for a licence to use the image.  How kind.  Oh, and that “license” lasts only for five years.

No, thank you.  Instead I shall do something that I have not done for some years.  I shall award them the Bloodsucker Award.

For newer readers, this rare award has not been given in some years now.  It is given only to those organisations who adopt stupid, greedy, pointless dog-in-the-manger attitudes to the dissemination of knowledge.  The criterion is that they demand money to permit access to material that they exist to preserve for the nation; that the material is of no actual commercial value; and that the demand effectually serves to prevent knowledge, while raising no money.

Gentlemen … we have a winner.

Awarded: the July 2016 Bloodsucker Award goes to the Royal Institute of British Architects, for obstructing public access to, and knowledge of, the papers and drawings of the 18th century architect Thomas Hardwick.


A visit to the Roman house at the Villa Negroni

Imagine that the year is 1777.  Let’s go to the open fields to the east of the Baths of Diocletian.   I hear that a Roman house has been discovered in the fields of the Villa Negroni!

The house lies between the Viminal and Esquiline hills.  As we approach from the north-east side, we can see the diggings.  Beyond, in the distance, is the convent of St. Eusebio.  An English artist is painting the scene…

Thomas Jones, "An Excavation of an Antique Building in a Cava in the Villa Negroni, Rome", 1777 or 1779.
Thomas Jones, “An Excavation of an Antique Building in a Cava in the Villa Negroni, Rome”, 1777 or 1779.

The artist is, in fact, a certain Thomas Jones.[1]  Jones recorded in his ‘Memoirs’ under 5 July 1777, that he went to see the excavation with Henry Tresham, an art dealer who acted for Lord Bristol:

 Went with Tresham to see the Antique Rooms just discovered, by digging for antient Bricks, in the Villa Negroni – The painted Ornaments much in the Chinese taste – figures of Cupids bathing &c and painted in fresco on the Stucco of the Walls – The Reds, purples, Blues & Yellows very bright – but had a dark & heavy effect – NB Tresham made a purchase of these paintings for 50 Crowns, to be taken off the walls at his Own Expence-.

The Tate Gallery catalogue also notes that:

Thomas Hardwick, another friend of Jones, made a ground-plan of the ‘antique Rooms’ and recorded the wall-paintings in a cross-section drawing (both in the RIBA collection).

I wonder where these are; indeed what the “RIBA collection” might be.

The plan of the house given by Count Massimo in 1836 is worth repeating here:

Floor plan of the ancient house discovered in 1777 at the Villa Negroni
Floor plan of the ancient house discovered in 1777 at the Villa Negroni

Unfortunately this does not indicate North; and even with the picture and the plan, it is not clear what we are looking at.

I’ve zoomed in a bit, and we can see some more details:

Thomas_Jones_-_Fouilles_à_la_Villa_Montalto_Negroni - excpt

Note the pair of columns in the right of centre.  From the map, these must be the pair at the entrance; or perhaps the pair at the entrance to room F.

But note also how the rooms have vaulted ceilings, so that the tops of the paintings must be semi-circular.

Finally note that the room to centre left is plainly not the ground floor – there is a further vault below it.  There is no mention in any source of anything much remaining of the upper floor, so this is not consistent with those accounts.

It’s very easy to see why scholars, faced with a mess like this, went on to demand proper scientific recording of such excavations.

  1. [1]Thomas Jones, 1742–1803.  Tate Gallery has information here (without photo) and the catalogue here.  The image given is from Wikimedia Commons here.

An early account of the Roman villa at the Villa Negroni in Rome

Pre-scientific accounts of archaeology can be very vague.  The 1777 discovery of a magnificent Roman house, near what is now Termini station in Rome, is naturally not properly documented.  It does not help that the area of ground – a farm within the walls, essentially – goes under various names, such as the Villa Peretti, Villa Montalto, Villa Negroni, and Villa Massimo, after its successive owners.

The earliest account known to me, of the discovery of the house, was written by the Benedictine abbot, Angelo Uggeri (1754-1837).  The title is given by Lanciani as Iconografia degli Edifizi di Roma antica, vol. 3, plates 14-17, page 55; and in volume II, plate 24, which is supposedly a floor-plan.[1]  But I can find no such work listed. Probably the reference is in error somehow.

However I was able to find a notice by Camillo Massimo, in his account of his own property, Notizie istoriche della Villa Massimo alle Terme diocleziane, Rome, 1836.[2]  The account is on p.213-216, and includes a plan.  The author indicates his dependence on Uggeri.

I thought that it might be interesting to translate this account into English, as best I could, with the aid of Google Translate.  Those who wish to do so can of course consult the Italian online at the links below.

At points Count Massimo’s sentences just run on, so I have split some of his sentences accordingly.  Here it is.

    *    *    *    *    *

But the most fruitful of all the excavations made at the villa was that undertaken in the month of June of the year 1777 by the cavalier Azara in an area of land located between the Viminal and Equiline hills. There were found the remains of a house, which at that time prior before the discoveries at Pompeii was the first example of the manner in which the ancients made their own homes, and therefore was a famous discovery in antiquarian history. The following inscription stamped on the bricks that composed it, indicated that it was built in the times of Antoninus Pius:


i.e. in the third consulate of Servianus, which corresponds to 134 AD.

This little palace was made up of two floors, with permanent stairs, but the upper floor having been destroyed perhaps on the occasion of some earlier excavation, there remained only a few remains with incrustations of marble. The ground floor, emptied of earth, shows the arrangement that the ancients gave to their homes.  This was unknown up to that time, aside from the casino of Pius IV in the Pontifical Vatican garden, which is said to have been built by Pirro Ligorio based on an ancient model.  The following plan is copied from the drawing made on-site by the architect Camillo Buti Romano, and was made to raise awareness of these precious remains, which are now once again covered by the earth.

The walls of the rooms were all painted as dscribed in the list below, and they show representations of various deities, distributed one to each room, and executed with the greatest of care, perfection of colour, and elegance of design, both in the figures, and in the accompanying decoration (1).

(1) The Diary of Rome, which informed the public at the time of the discovery, tells us (Number 262 p. 16), that the first-found room, when, with the proper licenses, the house was opened towards the end of June 1771, was the one with the paintings of Venus, shown in the plan by the letter C; that after this, there was discovered in the room B, dedicated to Adonis, the paintings of which are described in Num. 272. p. 13; and that in the month of August (Diary num. 274. p, 9) were discovered the paintings of the third room, marked D, representing Hercules in a frame with cup in hand, supported by a Faun, and in the other a Baccante, playing two flutes at the same time, with another Bacchante upright nearby listening.

Floor plan of the ancient house discovered in 1777 at the Villa Negroni
Floor plan of the ancient house discovered in 1777 at the Villa Negroni

A. Vestibule painted without figures.

B. Room dedicated to Adonis, in which there were two pictures, one representing Adonis, going hunting, and the other the same Adonis, wounded, and dying. This room has a door leading into the next room, and a window on the opposite wall corresponding to the road, and placed at the top, just as is usual for the windows of the studios of painters. The side walls are of “opera a cortina” (?).

C. Room dedicated to Venus, likewise with two painted walls.

D. Room dedicated to Bacchus, in which were three pictures, one representing the drunken Hercules supported by a young Faun; the second Bacchus and Ariadne; and the third a Faun, which plays two tibias, with Silenus who listens.

E. Juno Room, with two diamonds, and a marina with Greek ships, and other compositions.

F.  Room decorated with niches, and arabesques.

G. Last room, where there was only one painting representing Pallas.

H. Staircase to the demolished upper floor.

I. Peristyle, or courtyard with piscina in the middle.

Total length of the house, 125 palms, width 70 palms.  [A palm was about 8″, so 84′ x 47′ or 25m x 14m, or thereabouts. – RP]

So interesting was the discovery that the famous painter, Raffaelle Mengs, who was in Rome, and was a great friend of Azara, rushed to see these beautifully preserved paintings.  He found that they were of such good style, that, so that they should not perish, from the effects of fresh air, he began to draw them attentively with the help of the cavalier Maron, his brother, despite the damp in the deep place where they were. The paintings, and their colour copies were found so attractive, that those interested in this excavation, also by the advice of Mengs, were determined to make them known with all possible diligence.(1)

To this end the talented engraver Campanelli was chosen, and, so that the lovers of the arts might have a perfect idea of those precious monuments, the praiseworthy Camillo Buti, who was born in one of the houses of the same Villa Montalto, where his family had long lived, was set to colour these prints with elegant miniatures, representing with inexpressible accuracy and perfection the same colours as the ancient original paintings, thus forming a fine collection of thirteen prints, which was the number of painted walls remaining in place.

The description given to the public, with a plan similar to this, is perhaps the most learned of this kind ever published, and was dictated by the same Antonio Raffaele Mengs, who knew exactly how to explain all the virtues of these paintings, which were much preferable to those of the Baths of Titus (2).

(2) An exact description of four of these rooms, the colors of all their decorations, and even the minutest details, is given in volume 3 of Icnografia degli Edifizj di Roma antica, p. 53.f., the work of Abb. Uggeri, who in Tables XIV, XV, XVI and XVII, also records the contours of the paintings of those four rooms; and in Volume II. Tab. XXIV. figure 1, reproduced in a small plan the whole house with its size, and with the index of paintings remaining in it. The description of this is also given in the manifesto printed on that occasion in a flying piece of paper which has become very rare, and in the second edition of the Roma antica of Ridolfino Venuti with additions by Stephen Piale, Par. I. cap. V, p. 125.

While in this way these paintings were conveyed to the mercy of eternity by beautiful engravings, and miniatures, the originals, (as we read in the Diary of Rome num. 266. For 19 July 1777. p.8.) were, with the proper licenses, sawed from their respective walls by an English merchant, who sold them to my Lord the Earl of Bristol, and they were brought to England, where they may be found in his Antiquarian Museum.

Meanwhile when at Rome the news of the discovery was known, as usual there began disputes among antiquaries to decide to whom that elegant little palace would have belonged.  The beautiful distribution of its plan, the finiteness of the paintings, and rarity of the marbles with which were encrusted the door jambs, bases, and floors, indicated that it belonged to an uncommon owner. From these clues together with the brick stamp imprinted on the bricks as we mentioned above, and the style of the paintings and ornaments, which became barbarous not long after that time, it was generally agreed that that the building was of the time of Antoninus, and that, secondly, most widely stated in the Antologia Romana vol. 6 (1780, pag.252), was a holiday home of Lucilla wife of Lucius Verus, and daughter of Marcus Aurelius, and of Faustina Minor. What made him believe this was one of the paintings of those rooms, where near an altar there is seen a woman wearing a stole, whose right hand shakes a tree, from which falls almost upside down a cupid, bearing an apple.  This painting, which was the first to be discovered in the excavation, according to the Diary of Rome of 5 July 1777, p. 16, is a most perfect copy of the reverse of a coin of the same Lucilla, which suggests that the palace belonged to the same princess, and that she had painted in it that emblem of her own.

There was also found among the ruins of the house a small statuette of Venus in rare sculpture of marble, but missing a leg (1); and the same excavation was continued, as stated in the Diario di Roma num. 304. p. 3. On the 29th November 1777, there were found three beautiful sculptured Fauns.

    *    *    *    *    *

This all gives us something.  The entrance to the villa is to the left, and you pass through the rooms into a atrium with a central water tank or piscina.  Sadly the plan does not indicate north.

Let’s see what else we can find out!

  1. [1]R. Lanciani, The ruins and excavations of ancient Rome, p.147, note. Online here.
  2. [2]Various copies at Google books.  A high resolution copy is online and downloadable at Arachne here.

I brought this back from Italy, my boy! – paintings from the Villa Negroni

Last weekend I visited Ickworth House in Suffolk, the family home of the Marquess of Bristol.  An earlier Lord Bristol travelled to Italy on the Grand Tour, and brought back with him a taste for Italian architecture: and the curious structure of the house reflects this.  There is a huge central rotunda, with the entrance, family rooms, servants quarters and bedrooms, with two much smaller wings.  One of the latter was never finished, indeed.

Ickworth House. A view of the rotunda from the garden.
Ickworth House. A view of the rotunda from the garden.

The property is now in the hands of the National Trust, and I can recommend the baked potatoes in their café.

But while touring the house, I discovered the “Pompeian room”. This has nothing to do with Pompeii, but rather with a curious discovery in Rome in 1777, in the area where Termini, the train station, now stands.

In 1777 that area was part of a large farm within the walls, running from the Baths of Diocletian for two miles, to the city walls.  The farm was then known as the Villa Negroni, as it was the property of Cardinal Negroni.  Originally the farm was known as the Villa Peretti, or Villa Montalto, after the family names of Pope Sixtus V, who had bought the land while still a cardinal.  Later still it was to be known as the Villa Massimo, after yet another owner, before the railway station was built in the 1860s.  There were two houses on the land, the main one facing the Baths of Diocletian.

In 1777 Lord Bristol was in Rome.  In the summer of that year, there was a remarkable discovery at the Villa Negroni.  The remains of an ancient house were uncovered, dating to the Antonine period, with rich painted wall decorations.  His Lordship went to view them, and was so impressed that he purchased the frescoes from the walls, ordering his agent to ship them to his house in Ireland.

The artwork excited great admiration.  A then famous artist was commissioned to make copies of the paintings, to ensure preservation, and a volume of 8 plates was produced.  Here are a couple of the plates:



Lord Bristol was unfortunate.  The frescoes never arrived.  In fact they were not seen again.  All that he got was a set of engravings, made a year later in 1778.  A century later, at Ickworth, a later Marquess ordered that a room should be created in which they could be displayed; and, in the absence of the originals, that copies should be painted from the printed versions.

It was these, then, that made up the Pompeian room at Ickworth; and a set of the prints, at about A2 size, was visible in a corner.

I had never heard of these paintings, and I doubt that I am alone.  So in the next couple of posts, let’s see what we can discover about this discovery, and the pictures that so impressed contempories.


Where do you go to, my hateful?

Where have all the atheist forums (sic) gone?

I was reading Twitter earlier this evening, and did a search on “atheism”. I found some stale jeering, a few self-important or foolish tweets; and a mass of muslim propaganda.  If ever I saw an area dying for lack of participants, it was this.

This made me think of the atheist discussion groups of yesteryear.  First before all others, there was usenet.  I remember alt.atheism, where you could get a good fight, if not much common sense.  There were other usenet groups where interesting discussion might be had.  Often the baby atheists would trot out some outlandish historical claims, culled from some ignorant or mendacious source, in the belief that few would know better.  It was a real pleasure to track these claims down.  It provided stimulus.

Then there was the Internet Infidels forum, which morphed into, whose BC&H forum had quite a bit of useful historical stuff.

Dirtier, and pretty irrational, was TalkRational.  A strange US atheist called Sam Harris had his forum, with some of the dimmest followers that I ever met.  Acharya S had her forum, although you never quite knew how many of the “posters” were actually her in disguise!  Richard Dawkins had a bunch of discussion groups on his website.

Yet today all of these are gone.  Usenet was first to go, as people stopped using usenet clients and relied on DejaNews website, which was replaced by Google Groups, and then discreetly rendered useless.  I suspect that some of the Google hierarchs prefer that the antics of their younger days are no longer accessible, in these intolerant days.

Internet Infidels spun off their forums, which were eventually taken over by some strange woman who picked fights with the regulars and then closed the whole thing down, for no apparent reason.  Acharya S is dead.  Dawkins closed down his forums.  TalkRational has gone.  And, as I found today, the atheists don’t really use Twitter that much any more.

I never found Theology Web that interesting, but I wandered over and it was still there.  But I could find nothing of interest.  In fact it has been so long since I visited that they have deleted my user account.

So where do they go to, the people, as Peter Sarstedt might have sung?  The cranks, the atheists, and so on?

Truly I do not know.   But something has passed from the web, that was interesting and useful, and a valuable stimulus for work.


The Annals of Eutychius of Alexandria (10th c. AD) – chapter 18c (part 4)

The discussion of the events of the Muslim conquest fills many a page of Eutychius.  I confess that it doesn’t excite me.  Much of the material seems written with an eye to the events, not of the 7th century, but of the 10th, and to safeguarding church property – always an important concern for senior clergy, whatever their creed – from Muslim encroachments. 

7.  Omar ibn al-Khattab then wrote to Amr ibn al-As to go with his army into Palestine, saying, among other things: “I have appointed Yazid ibn Abi Sufyan as governor of Damascus, Sarhabil ibn Hasana as governor of the territory of Jordan, and Abu Ubayda ibn al-Garrah as governor of Homs”.  Amr ibn al-As then left for Palestine, Sarhabil for the territories of Jordan and Abu Ubayda ibn al-Garrah went to Baalbek.  [The people of Baalbek] said: “We have no objection to making a covenant of friendship with you, in the same way as the inhabitants of Damascus did.”  He granted them a guarantee in writing and left for Homs.  Then he granted a written guarantee to the people of Aleppo and to every [other] town that asked him.  Then the news of the arrival of Omar ibn al-Khattab came to the muslims.  Abu Ubayda ibn al-Garrah left the command of his men to Iyas Ibn Ghanm; Yazid ibn Abi Sufyan left his to Muawiyah ibn Abi Sufyan, Amr ibn al-As to his son Abd Allah, and they met with Omar ibn al-Khattab.  Then they all set out for Jerusalem and besieged it.  Sophronius, Patriarch of Jerusalem, then went to Omar ibn al-Khattab.  Omar ibn al-Khattab granted him his protection, and wrote a letter to them which stated that: “In the name of God, gracious and merciful. From Omar ibn al-Khattab to the inhabitants of the city of Aelia.  A guarantee is granted on their persons, their children, their property and on their churches, and they will not be destroyed or be reduced to dwelling places” and he swore this in the name of Allah.  After the gate of the city was opened and he went in together with his men, Omar went to sit in the courtyard of the Church of the Resurrection.  When it was time for prayer, he said to the patriarch Sophronius: “I would like to pray.” The patriarch replied: “O prince of believers, you may pray as well just where you are.”  “I will not pray here,” said Omar.  Then the patriarch Constantine led him into the church and ordered mat to be laid in the middle of the church.  But Omar said: “No, I will not pray either.”  Omar then went out and walked to the step that was at the door of the Church of St. Constantine, on the east side.  He prayed alone on the steps, then he sat down and said to the patriarch Sophronius: “Do you know, O patriarch, why I have not prayed in the church?”  The patriarch replied: “I do not really know, O prince of the believers.”  “If I had prayed in the church,” said Omar, “it would have been taken away from you, and you would have lost possession because on my departure the Muslims would take it from you, saying in chorus: ‘Here Omar prayed'”.  Bring me a piece of paper so I can write you a ‘sigili'”.  Omar then wrote a ‘sigili’, prescribing that no Muslim should pray on the steps except one by one, and that ritual prayer could be held unless someone the muezzin ascended.  He wrote a ‘sigili’ and gave it to the Patriarch.  Then Omar said: “You owe me for your life and for the goods which I granted you.  Come, give me a place where I can build a mosque.” The Patriarch said: “Give to the prince of believers a place where he can build a temple that the king of Rum was not able to build.  This place is the Rock on which God spoke to Jacob and Jacob called “the gate of heaven”; the sons of Israel called it “Sancta Sanctorum” and it is at the center of the earth.  It was once the temple of the children of Israel, which they have always magnified and every time they prayed they turned their faces towards it, wherever they were.  This place will I give you, provided you write me a ‘sigili’ that no other mosque will be built in Jerusalem other than this”.

Omar ibn al-Khattab wrote him a ‘sigili’ and handed it to him.  When the Rum became Christians, and Helena, mother of Constantine, built churches in Jerusalem, the place of the Rock and its surroundings were lying in ruins and abandoned; on the Rock so much earth had been thrown and it was reduced to a huge garbage dump.  The Rum had totally neglected it, and not held it in high regard, as in fact had the children of Israel.  They had erected no church on it, because of what Christ, our Lord, had said in his holy gospel: “Behold, your house is left in ruins,” and again: “There will not remain one stone upon another that has not been demolished and destroyed”.  It was for this reason that the Christians left it in ruins and not built on there any church.  The patriarch Sophronius took Omar ibn al-Khattab by the hand and took him out to that place of refuse.  Omar lifted the hem of his robe, filled it with earth and poured it into the valley of Gehenna.  As soon as the Muslims saw Omar ibn al-Khattab take the earth in his lap, they all hastened to take the earth, each in his lap, or clothes, or shields, some in baskets of palm leaves and some in basins until they emptied the place, cleaned it up and the Rock became visible.  Then some of them said: “Let’s build the mosque so that the Rock is our qibla“.  But Omar said: “No, let’s build the mosque and leave the Rock out at the back”.  So Omar built the mosque, leaving the Rock at the rear of it.  Then Omar went on a visit to Bethlehem.  Now it was the time of prayer, and he prayed inside the church facing Mecca.  At this time it was all covered with mosaics.  Then Omar wrote a ‘sigili’ for the Patriarch which provided that Muslims would not pray in that place but in another.  He also forbade prayer in the church and the muezzin to call the faithful to prayer.  He also stipulated that no changes should be made to these provisions.  In these present days the Muslims have contravened the ‘sigili’ of Omar ibn al-Khattab.  They have removed the mosaics from the ceiling and have written what they wanted, they make communal prayer, and the muezzin is calling the faithful.  The same thing they have done at the step that was at the door of the Church of Constantine and on which Omar had prayed; they have appropriated the middle atrium of the church and have built inside it a mosque which they have called the mosque of “Omar”.  Sophronius, Patriarch of Jerusalem, died after having held the office four years.  After his death Jerusalem remained without a patriarch for twenty-nine years.