More engravings of Rome in the 18th century from Piranesi: Vatican Rotunda and Meta Sudans!

A tweet this evening drew my attention to the fact that a search by author on Piranesi at the Spanish National Library produces heaps of results, available in very high quality and very large images.  I looked through these, and found a couple of gems.

First, an external view of St Peter’s: “Veduta dell’ Esterno della gran Basilica di S. Pietro in Vaticano”.  This is too large to display here, but it features the vanished 3rd century circular tomb, known as the chapel of St Andrew, which stood to the south of St Peter’s and was demolished in the 18th century.  I’ve made a detail picture, itself still very large:

Piranesi, Vatican Rotunda.  From external view of St Peter's Basilica.
Piranesi, Vatican Rotunda. From external view of St Peter’s Basilica.

I have also found the two images of the Colosseum and Arch of Constantine, which I dealt with yesterday, but in much higher resolution.  In fact it is only when you see the original detail, that you realise quite how special these pictures are.

But what I was most interested in was the vanished fountain, the Meta Sudans, visible in them.  Let’s remind ourselves of how this looked ca. 1900, a stubby thing of brick with the upper portion gone.

Meta Sudans ca. 1900.  Waterford co.
Meta Sudans ca. 1900. Waterford co.

As a coin of Titus shows, it was originally tall, and slender:

Meta Sudans on a sestertius of Titus
Meta Sudans on a sestertius of Titus

So how did it look ca. 1800?  In the first Piranesi etching, “Veduta dell’Arco di Costantino, e dell’Anfiteatro Flavio detto il Colosseo”, accessible here, I have zoomed in on the Meta Sudans:

Piranesi, "Veduta dell'Arco di Costantino, e dell'Anfiteatro Flavio detto il Colosseo".  Detail showing Meta Sudans.
Piranesi, “Veduta dell’Arco di Costantino, e dell’Anfiteatro Flavio detto il Colosseo”. Detail showing Meta Sudans.

The second, “Veduta di Arco di Costantino”, online here,  shows the fountain from the other side through the Arch of Constantine.  Again I have extracted a detail:

Piranesi, Meta Sudans in "Veduta di Arco Costantino"
Piranesi, Meta Sudans in “Veduta di Arco Costantino”

It’s pretty obvious that at this time it stood much nearer to its original height.  We can see the point at which it was then chopped off, in a tidying-up exercise, losing two-thirds of its height in the process.

As we can see, by comparison with the massive stub in the 1900 photograph, this was a big monument!


A couple more drawings of the Vatican rotunda

A couple more drawings have come my way of the Vatican Rotunda.

I have blogged before about this.  It appears that a couple of circular tombs were built in the 3rd century AD in what had been the Circus of Gaius and Nero, just down the slope from where Constantine was to build the basilica of Old St Peter’s.  The two tombs were incorporated into the structure as attached buildings, used as chapels.  The western one was demolished when the new basilica was built, but the other remained until quite modern times, and was known as the Vatican rotunda.

The first image is from the Met Museum, and is a drawing by Antonio Tempesta of 1645.  In fact it forms part of a map of Rome.  Here it is:

A. Tempesta, 1645. Map of Rome.
A. Tempesta, 1645. Map of Rome.

This shows new St Peter’s, but without the colonnades.  Instead the steps of Old St Peter’s are still there.  The Vatican rotunda is in the middle of the south side of the basilica.

Now here’s the other, also from the Met Museum.  Giovanni Battista Falda (Italian, 1643–1678). Veduta di Tutta la Basilica Vaticana (…), from Il Nuovo Teatro (…), 1665–1669:

Falda, 1665-9.  New St Peter's with Vatican Rotunda.
Falda, 1665-9. New St Peter’s with Vatican Rotunda.

Note the rotunda, in an unusual view, end-on, at the left-hand end of the colonnade.


A few more pictures from Heidelberg

The Digital Library at the University of Heidelberg is a little difficult to use at first.  But if you go to the search page and enter “romae”, you will get a list of books.  If you click on one of these, such as Montjosieu’s Romae Hospes (1585), you will get the “home page” for the book, with its link for downloading PDF’s.  Page down, and you will see a list of sections of the book, all clickable.  Choose one – any one – and click through.

This will give you a single page: but hit the “Vorschau” link at the top, and, le voila, you will get thumbnails of all pages!  This is incredibly useful, when looking for early prints.  It saves the necessity to download the PDF in most cases.

In this case we find another depiction of the Vatican obelisk and the Vatican rotunda to the south side of Old St Peter’s in Rome, on folio 10, here.  It doesn’t give us more than Dosio, but it does confirm it.


For me this settles it: the UB Heidelberg is now, officially, a really important site for anyone interested in ancient Rome.  If you don’t take the time to familiarise yourself with it, you are certainly missing out.


Dosio’s pictures of Roman ruins (1569) also online

Searching the collection at UB Heidelberg for words like “Romae”, “Romanae” produces some excellent results, if you know a few of the artists of the period.   The drawings of G. A. Dosio have been referenced before on these pages!  They come from his Urbis Romae Aedificiorum Illustriumquae Supersunt Reliquiae (1569), online here.  The thumbnails of the pages are here.

On tafel 10 is the familiar image, at full size for once, of the ruins of Aurelian’s “temple of the sun” on the Quirinal, now thought to be a temple of Serapis.


On tafel 34 is a very familiar view of the Vatican rotunda, the 3rd century tomb converted into a chapel that stood by the side of Old St Peter’s, with the Vatican obelisk, buried in the earth but in its original position.  This appears everywhere, and invariably in a defective form.  It is wonderful to see it full size!


Only a couple of images there; but very nice to have.  Again, thank you, UB Heidelberg!


Some more images of Old St Peter’s basilica in Rome

This evening I did a Google Images search for images of Old St Peter’s basilica in Rome.  I’ve put some of these online before; but it’s always worth searching again, as new material appears all the time.

Note that you can click on these images to get a larger picture sometimes.

Via this site I learn of the existence of a map of Rome by Etienne du Perac (1577); curiously not from the text, but by inspecting the HTML source for the page!  Here’s a detail of it, highlighting the fountain that stood in the atrium:

pianta di Roma di Etienne Du Perac (1577), particolare del Vaticano.
Pianta di Roma di Etienne Du Perac (1577), particolare del Vaticano.

The same site also has a drawing of the fountain from somewhere, made anonymously ca. 1525.  One would like to know where this clearly well-informed website got its information!

La fontana di San Pietro, in un disegno a penna di anonimo del 1525
La fontana di San Pietro, in un disegno
a penna di anonimo del 1525

The huge brass pine-cone still stands in a courtyard in the Vatican, as those who have done the tour well know.  I wonder whether the item has any connection with the cult of Cybele, for a Phrygianum once stood somewhere on the hill, as the 4th century regionary catalogues indicate, and a bunch of 4th century inscriptions from it were dug up near the piazza outside new St. Peter’s.

Next let’s have a drawing of the construction of new St Peter’s.  The remains of the old nave stand to the left here, for this is a shot of the hulk of the new basilica from the north side.  The author is Martin van Heemskerk, in 1536.

Van Heemskerk, Construction of basilica, 1536.
Van Heemskerk, Construction of basilica, 1536.

Now another drawing (caution – the site plays audio at you!), this time showing the construction from the west.  The pointy tower on the front of the old basilica still stands, with some of the nave behind it.  But to the right is a circular building; the chapel of San Andreas, or “Vatican Rotunda”, a 3rd century tomb converted into a chapel.  And is the tip of the Vatican obelisk just visible beyond it?


Now here’s another overview shot.  This, I learn from Anna Blennow – thank you! – is a detail from Antonio Lafreri’s image of the seven churches of Rome, 1575, here.  The surroundings of the church are not accurate, but the general layout is.  It shows the Vatican rotunda, just to the left side of the nave, with the atrium – and fountain – behind the raggedly front facade.


I also found online a picture of a model from the Vatican museums, although it was back-to-front on the site on which I found it!  It shows the Vatican rotunda, with the obelisk before it (although not the surrounding houses); and also the other 3rd century tomb behind it, the chapel of S. Petronilla, in which the Empress Maria, the young wife of the Emperor Honorius, was buried.  That tomb was demolished very early in the rebuilding, and the grave of the empress found and emptied.


However the most exciting pictures are some colour paintings that had previously passed unnoticed.  The first is a painting of the burning of the Borgo, a district nearby, by none other than Raphael himself!

Raphael, The burning of the Borgo, detail.
Raphael, The burning of the Borgo, detail.

In the background is the tower, and to the left of it, the facade of the main church inside the atrium!  This, as we shall see, was indeed painted yellow, with pictures on it.  Ste Trombetti kindly drew my attention to this site, which zooms in yet further:

Raphael, Burning of the Borgo, more detailed
Raphael, Burning of the Borgo, more detailed

This shows the pope in the tower, and the church behind (not sure that all the elements are in their real and historical places here; but we don’t care, because we get these marvellous pictures).  The image of the stonework in particular gives a sense of scale otherwise difficult to sense in many of the old pictures.

The next image, a fresco from the sacristy in the modern Vatican, from Art Resource gives us a sadly low-resolution image of the exterior of the old basilica, which lines up very nicely with Raphael’s depiction (a high res image can doubtless be purchased at that site).

The atrium and entrance to the nave of old St Peter's.
The atrium and entrance to the nave of old St Peter’s.

Finally, also from Art Resource, is another image from the Vatican museum, this time with an unusual “head on” view of the outside of the basilica.  It shows the coronation of Sixtus V in 1585  A larger image of this would be very welcome!

Coronation of Sixtus V outside Old St Peter's.
Coronation of Sixtus V outside Old St Peter’s.

That’s it for now.  Many thanks indeed to Ste Trombetti and Anna Blennow, who saw these images being posted on Twitter and contributed their better images!


Gamucci’s images of the Septizonium; the Temple of the Sun; the Arch of Claudius; and the obelisk and Vatican Rotunda

Ste. Trombetti has continued to search through early books and prints for images of vanished Rome.  Here is another example, from the 1565 work Dell’Antichita di Roma by Bernardo Gamucci.[1]  It depicts the remains of the monumental facade that Septimius Severus built across the end of the Palatine hill facing the Appian Way.  Behind it we can see the Arch of Constantine, behind which stands the Colosseum.  Known as the Septizonium, it was clearly falling down, and was shortly afterwards taken down for its materials.

Further on in the same volume, on p.123, we find a depiction of part of the “Temple of the Sun” or “House of Nero” on the Quirinal, which was most probably actually a temple of Serapis:


On p.151 is an image of the “Arch of Domitian”, which the text says may be the Arch of Claudius.  This is also a long-demolished item, of which I have never seen any drawings.  Does anybody know?

Arch of Domitian (or Claudius). Gamucci, 1565.
Arch of Domitian (or Claudius). Gamucci, 1565.

On page 195 there is a marvellous drawing made of the south side of St Peter’s; mostly Old St Peter’s, but with the new church rising in the distance.  In front of us is the obelisk that now stands in St Peter’s square, but then stood, still, in its original position.  Behind it stands a circular 3rd century tomb, the Vatican Rotunda, long since converted into a chapel of St Andrew.

Obelisk and Vatican Rotunda, on the south side of Old St Peter's in Rome. Gamucci, 1565.
Obelisk and Vatican Rotunda, on the south side of Old St Peter’s in Rome. Gamucci, 1565.

  1. [1]B. Gamucci, Libri quattro dell’antichità della Citta di Roma: raccolte sotto breuita da diversi antichi et moderni scrittori, Venice: G. Varisco &c, 1565. Online at Google books here, or in better quality at Heidelberg here.