Rome: Eternal City

, University Teaching Gallery, Harvard Art Museums

Israël Silvestre, Panorama of the Vatican from the Dome of St. Peter’s, 1641. Graphite, gray and brown wash, with watercolor over traces of black chalk on three joined pieces of cream antique laid paper, framing lines in brown ink. Harvard Art Museums/Fogg Museum, Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Philip Hofer, 1961.7.

University Teaching Gallery, Harvard Art Museums

Rome, known as the “common fatherland,” was the goal of pilgrims, travelers, and artists from all over Europe. One of the most celebrated was Giovanni Battista Piranesi (1720–1778), a Venetian who spent his entire career in Rome. He produced on average two etchings a month (fourteen are featured in this installation), and his image of Roman grandeur left an indelible stamp on the European imagination. His vedute (city views), meant for Grand Tour visitors, show the most famous monuments of Rome, many now Christianized, as well as the palaces and villas of Roma moderna. Palazzo Barberini and Villa Albani housed notable collections of ancient sculpture and were centers for the study of the antique. An interior view of San Paolo fuori le Mura shows how Constantinian churches, such as St. Peter’s, originally looked, while another of San Giovanni in Laterano shows such a church after its Baroque transformation.

The Stadium of Domitian succumbed to ruin in the Middle Ages but left its trace on the urban landscape as Piazza Navona. Pope Innocent X (1644–55) transformed it with a palace and church built over the ancient seating. Piranesi shows the finished square while an earlier printmaker, Dominique Barrière (1618–1678), shows it in 1650 with Bernini’s Four Rivers fountain almost complete but the church of Sant’Agnese not yet begun.

Rome was the best watered city in the world thanks to its system of aqueducts. Pliny, in his Natural History, favorably compared the achievement to the building of the pyramids in Egypt. Both the Trevi Fountain and the Acqua Paola adopt the triumphal arch motif to celebrate the arrival of the waters.

Then as now visitors could mount to the top of St. Peter’s. A splendid drawing of 1641 by Israël Silvestre (1621–1691) shows the Vatican palace and Bernini’s unfinished bell tower. The square in front of the church shows the obelisk that was moved there in 1586 but not yet Bernini’s colonnade, begun two decades later.

The installation’s related course is taught by Joseph Connors, Professor of History of Art and Architecture at Harvard University.

The University Teaching Gallery serves faculty and students affiliated with Harvard’s Department of History of Art and Architecture. Semester-long installations are mounted in conjunction with undergraduate and graduate courses, supporting instruction in the critical analysis of art and making unique selections from the museums’ collections available to all visitors.

This installation is made possible in part by funding from the Gurel Student Exhibition Fund and the José Soriano Fund.