Rome, Art in

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ROME, ART IN. Like the art and architecture of the early modern city, the art of ancient Rome was largely produced by ambitious immigrants: ever since the legendary early days when Rome welcomed Etruscan kings and Sabine women, its culture had always been both international and eclectic. But art in early modern Rome was eclectic in a highly particular sense, incorporating influences from vastly different times as well as different cultures. Even after the Vandal invasions of the sixth century cut the ancient aqueducts and reduced the Roman population to a fraction of its million inhabitants, artists in Rome were compelled to face the imposing physical legacy of the ancient city: its monumental ruins, its fading frescoes, ancient buildings that had never gone out of use (like the Pantheon, some early Christian basilicas, and many humbler structures), and a population of statues that sometimes rivaled the numbers of the living. The legacy of Roman grandeur and Roman style persisted in the work of later artists and architects, who often adapted a set of columns, a statue, or a marble inlay for their own projects. A pair of lions from the twelfth-century cloister of the basilica of Saint John Lateran feature Egyptian nemes headdresses like those of the ancient sphinxes their sculptors must have seen in the ruins of the Temple of Isis. A statue of Saint Helen from the church of Santa Croce in Gerusalemme, itself built into a vaulted hall of Helen's Sessorian Palace, has been cleverly recarved from an ancient image of the goddess Juno. Medieval Rome was filled with colonnaded porches, porphyry inlays, gilt mosaics and marble statuary all directly inspired byand often made ofthe physical remains of the ancient city. Medieval Roman painters like Pietro Cavallini (c. 1250c. 1330) gave their figures the same majestic solidity they must have seen in ancient frescoes.


By Cavallini's time, however, the Roman economy lagged far behind that of emerging merchant republics like Pisa, Siena, and Florence; the presence of the pope and his curia could not compensate for the lack of a thriving merchant class to attract and nurture artists and architects with a range of plentiful, competitive commissions. Visitors described medieval Rome as a landscape of ruins: the Forum was called Campo Vaccino (cow pasture) and the Capitoline, site of ancient Rome's most glorious temple, had become Monte Caprino (goat hill). The huge basilicas of Christianity, themselves relics of late Roman antiquity, crumbled in squalor as vendors hawked souvenirs and straw pallets to the pilgrims who bedded down within their huge, shabby porticoes. Yet the columns and statues strewn among Rome's ruins also seemed to contain the mysteries of perfect proportion, known to the ancients and lost in later erasa perfection based on the harmony between the human body and the divine cosmos. Ancient Latin and Greek inscriptions expressed their own version of this divine order in the stately forms of their lettering. Thus, in their tantalizing incompleteness, the monuments of Rome came to excite the early modern artistic imagination, spawning ideas of a scope and daring that no "complete" city could ever have inspired. The idea of restoring Rome to its ancient splendor had seemed an impossible vision to Petrarch when he visited in the mid-fourteenth century. The papacy had recently moved to Avignon, further crippling the feeble Roman economy, and Petrarch worried that the spark of ancient inspiration had gone out for good. During the first half of the fifteenth century, however, the popes gradually returned from Provence, trailing cardinals, curates, and bankers. To reinforce the permanence of their return to Rome, the fifteenth-century popes and their courts began to speak openly about renewing the city or, more radically, fostering its rebirth. Because of Rome's unique political structure, its history, and its physical presence, this culture of renewal also took on its own distinctive characteristics. In the first place, the papacy, with its theocratic monarchy, deliberately drew inspiration from the ancient Roman Empire rather than from the preceding republic. When republican ideals took hold in Rome, as they did on occasion, the result, until the Italian unification late in the nineteenth century, was almost invariably chaos. Second, the brooding presence of ancient ruins gave Renaissance Rome's sense of the ancient past an urgent physical immediacy. The architects of Renaissance Rome could hardly resist emulating the grand proportions of ancient buildings. Through painstaking study, they eventually came to understand, and then to apply, the ancient Romans' subtle system of aesthetic refinement, deployed with their inspired sense of freedom, and governed by the same rigor. But they also looted the fallen portions of the Colosseum to erect the walls of palazzi whose forms were themselves eloquent reworkings of the Colosseum's facade. The sheer complexity of Renaissance Rome's position between ancient past and imaginative present meant that the city's revival fostered an unusual degree of collaboration. The culture that resulted from the collaboration of these sometimes unlikely groups of friends represented an unusually broad population by comparison with Florence, where the Medici dictated intellectual and artistic fashion for generations, or Naples, with its Spanish-centered court, or even Venice, with its broad-based but carefully regimented civic life. The cultural life of fifteenth- and sixteenth-century Rome eventually thrived in a wide variety of places such as the palazzi of cardinals, businessmen, and papal bureaucrats as well as the Apostolic Palace. For even if the popes commanded spiritual as well as temporal power during their reigns, the reigns were often quite shortpopes, like Venetian doges, tended to be elected as old men. The cultural life of the city therefore became unusually adaptable and always maintained a certain degree of diffuse independence from its one dominant figure.


The initial stages of Rome's artistic renewal were dominated by Tuscan artists. (Tuscans also dominated the curia to the extent that the Roman dialect changed in these years from a distinctively southern to a central Italian vernacular.) Masolino da Panicale created a fresco cycle for the Dominican church of San Clemente in the 1430s. Twenty years later, Pope Nicholas V invited the Florentine painter Fra Angelico (Guido di Pietro, c. 14001455) to decorate his private chapel in the Vatican Palace. In both cases, the renowned Tuscan painters brought their native style to Rome, but Rome exerted its own suggestive power over that style; in the shadow of the Colosseum, the Palatine palace, and the great Roman baths, their work took on a new gravity, their compositions became more architectonic, and architecture itself came to figure prominently in the paintings. As late as 1481, when Pope Sixtus IV gathered a team of painters to decorate the walls of his new chapel in the Vatican, he summoned them from Florence. Yet the frescoes produced by that team of Florence-based Tuscan and Umbrian artists on the Sistine Chapel walls entirely reflected their Roman setting: triumphal arches and Roman-style basilicas dominate the background, and even the famously sinuous figures of Botticelli and Ghirlandaio acquired the grandeur of Roman historical relief. Melozzo da Forli's (14381494) fresco honoring Sixtus's chartering of the Vatican Library in 1475 (finished 1476) ranges the pope, his librarian, and his nephews within a spacious marble hall. The most majestic of these figures, the cardinal Giuliano della Rovere (the future Pope Julius II) is ranged against a classical column as if he is literally a pillar of the libraryas indeed he was. The bronze tomb designed for Sixtus by the Florentine artist Antonio Pollaiuolo reflects his acute awareness of Etruscan and Roman bronzes. Similarly, the Florentine painter Filippino Lippi's frescoes for the chapel of Cardinal Oliviero Carafa in Santa Maria Sopra Minerva are focused compositionally on grand architectonic structures and move with the measured deliberation of an ancient Roman procession. Two Umbrian painters, Pietro Perugino and Bernardino Pinturicchio, and a Tuscan, Luca Signorelli, dominated painting in Rome at the turn of the fifteenth century. All three had been at work in Rome off and on since the 1480s, and for them the city's ruined buildings, statues, paintings, and stucco reliefs provided an inescapable stimulus to paint more grandly, with more clearly articulated spaces, more substantial figures, sturdier architecture. Pinturicchio's scenes from the life of Saint Bernardino of Siena for the Bufalini Chapel in Santa Maria in Aracoeli, his decorations for the Vatican apartments of Pope Alexander VI Borgia, and his ceiling for the choir of Santa Maria del Popolo are especially remarkable.Indeed, all three of these talented masters would have a far greater reputation today if it were not for what happened in Rome during the first decades of the sixteenth century. In December of 1503, Cardinal Giuliano Della Rovere was elected Pope Julius II (reigned 15031513), a man of enormous vision and implacable temper who took the project of Rome's renewal to heart with a vehemence that swiftly eclipsed the work of his active uncle Sixtus IV. He sought out Donato Bramante (14441514), a mature artist born in Urbino and recently arrived in Rome from Milan, who had begun to make his mark as an architect in the classical style. Together, the two of them embarked on an ambitious plan to raze the tottering early Christian basilica of St. Peter's, develop the Vatican Palace around a huge internal garden that would house the papal art collections, and transform the city itself into a model metropolis of broad, straight thoroughfares, glorious new buildings, and bustling river traffic. A perceptive collector of ancient sculpture, Julius also made contact with a young Florentine sculptor, Michelangelo Buonarroti (14751564), whom he set to work on designing his tomb beneath the crossing vault of Bramante's new St. Peter's. By 1507 Julius had decided to decorate his private apartments as well. Following the successful stratagem of Sixtus IV, he called in a team of illustrious painters from central Italy to execute the project, including a young relative of Bramante's named Raffaello Sanzio (Raphael, 14831520). Raphael's first two frescoes proved so evocative, however, that Julius assigned him the whole commission. A host of other artists flocked to Rome in the early days of Julius's reign: the Tuscan sculptor Jacopo Sansovino, the dynasty of architects known as the Sangallo (after their neighborhood in Florence), the Tuscan painters Antonio Bazzi (called Il Sodoma) and Baldassare Peruzzi. Most of the Sangallo clan returned to Florence when it became clear how entirely Bramante would dominate architectural commissions in the city. Antonio da Sangallo the Younger, who remained in Rome, began to work his way through the ranks on the St. Peter's project in hopes of eventually setting up on his own. Pope Julius commissioned two elaborate marble tombs of Sansovino for the choir of Santa Maria del Popolo; one of these, the tomb of Cardinal Ascanio Sforza (1505), is remarkable for the lively reclining figure of that lean, sophisticated Milanese prelate. Other commissions followed from wealthy members of the curia. Sodoma and Peruzzi were taken up by the Sienese banker Agostino Chigi, who was rich enough in 1503 to have provided Cardinal Giuliano Della Rovere with the bribe money that secured his election as pope, and who became richer than ever once he and Pope Julius began to pilot the economic course of the papacy. The unerring artistic instinct that prompted Julius II to see a painter in the sculptor Michelangelo inspired the irascible pontiff to push the equally irascible artist into replacing the gilt stars and blue background of the Sistine Chapel ceiling with a design that began as a depiction of the twelve apostles and eventually expanded dramatically to trace the history of the papacy back to the creation of the universe. It took Michelangelo only four years, from 1508 to 1512, to cover the chapel's ceiling with his broad, sure brushstrokes. Two muscular marble statues from the papal collections, the Belvedere Torso and the Laocoön (the latter discovered in 1506), inspired the epic physiques of Michelangelo's figures, but his extraordinary colorspurple and orange and sea greenseem to have been his own invention, and all at once they changed the palette of Italian art. Raphael, the most attentive of painters, had already absorbed Michelangelo's grand figure style and novel color schemes long before the Sistine Chapel ceiling was unveiled; Bramante, to Michelangelo's chagrin, had let him in for a preview. The results can be seen in Raphael's School of Athens (15101511), his Isaiah in Sant' Agostino (15111512) and his Galatea (c. 15121514), painted for Agostino Chigi. When Julius died in 1513 and was succeeded by the Florentine pope Leo X, a distinctive Roman style had already been established in painting, sculpture, and architecture, characterized by powerful, elegant human figures, high contrasts of light and dark, strong architectural lines, mastery of space, and strange, brilliant colors. There was even a distinctive papal style for architecture: Doric triglyphand-metope friezes, Tuscan columns, and rusticated masonry, devised by Bramante for St. Peter's and the unbuilt Palazzo dei Tribunali on the Via Giulia, one of the long, straight boulevards that formed an important part of the pope's city planning. Pope Leo and successors like his cousin Clement VII (reigned 15231534) and their contemporary Paul III (reigned 15341549) continued to foster this grand, colorful Roman style for projects like the Villa Madama, Palazzo Farnese, Michelangelo's Campidoglio, and the seemingly never-ending project of St. Peter's. Before his death in 1520, Raphael had established a flourishing workshop; furthermore, thanks to his association with the penetratingly insightful Bramante, he lent a strong theoretical instinct to the creation of art, so that onetime associates like Antonio da Sangallo the Younger, Perino del Vaga, and Giulio Romano could continue creating works of art and architecture along the same basic lines. In many ways, these were the same lines adopted by Michelangelo, an equally thoughtful student of ancient Romeand an equally independent flouter of the compositional principles he observed in ancient art. Like the ancient Roman architect and writer Vitruvius, who used two-story columns to "lend authority" to the interior of the basilica he designed in the city of Fano, Bramante, Raphael, and Michelangelo all used giant orders of columns to bind together huge facades, none so brilliantly as Michelangelo for the Palazzo dei Conservatori (c. 1537) on the Capitoline Hill and for the exterior walls of St. Peter's. The dome of Hadrian's Pantheon inspired Bramante, Raphael, Michelangelo, and finally Giacomo della Porta in their successive designs for the dome of St. Peter's; it was della Porta who elongated the profile to its present graceful shape. Raphael's workshop's rediscovery of the formula for ancient stucco in about 1518 allowed architecture to merge with sculpture, and sculpture with painting, as in Raphael's Vatican Logge for Pope Leo X, his workshop's Palazzo Madama, and his facade for Palazzo Branconio dell'Aquila. The melding of stucco work and architecture reached its apogee with the facade of Palazzo Spada in 1550.

By the middle of the sixteenth century, the Protestant Reformation had provoked Pope Paul III to convene the reforming Council of Trent, which closed in 1563 after a quarter century of wrangling. Its call for a newly persuasive religious art did not produce immediate effects on the look of art in Rome; the distinctive, sophisticated local tradition had become too strong to change immediately. In the very last years of the sixteenth century, however, a Milanese painter named Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio (15731610) suddenly gave forceful new expression to Trent's call for a simple, persuasive religious art: his paintings, with their dramatic contrasts of light and dark and their apparently down-to-earth figures (many of them drawn from ancient models) brought the stories of the Bible dramatically into the here and now. In their effect, they were sermons in paint, performing exactly the same devotional service as the priest's homily at mass. Roman painting now began to show an apparent split between dramatic, even grubby naturalism and sophisticated classical style, but these poles were never truly opposed. Caravaggio's Deposition in the Vatican (16021604), however dirty its figures' feet, adopts the poses of an ancient Roman sarcophagus, and there is no more grittily rustic peasant than the arch-classicist Annibale Carracci's Bean Eater (c. 1585) in the Galleria Colonna.


Caravaggio's stark lighting affected later artists like Guercino (Giovanni Barbieri, 15911666) and Mattia Preti (16131699), their dramatically posed figures emerging from deep shadows; silvery flesh tones and a loose brushwork gave their large paintings an added vibrancy. The versatile Orazio Gentileschi (c. 1562c. 1647) and his daughter Artemisia (c. 1597after 1651) also worked occasionally in this style, as did the popular Guido Reni (15751642) for his Crucifixion of St. Peter in the Vatican Museum. Soon, however, the spareness and restricted color of Caravaggio gave way in Rome to a more elaborate, colorful taste in painting.

The classical whimsy of Annibale Carracci's ceiling frescoes for the Galleria in Palazzo Farnese added new lifeand lightnessto the stately, architectonic quality of monumental painting in Rome, so that an important commission like Pietro da Cortona's ceiling fresco for the grand entrance hall of Palazzo Barberini (1631) could amuse as well as celebrate the family by showing their coat of arms, a trio of gigantic bees, buzzing in formation into the heavens. The same kind of virtuoso whimsy assured the popularity of Gian Lorenzo Bernini (15981680), whose phenomenal ability to carve marble was matched by the fertility of his imagination. His series of early works for Cardinal Scipione Borghese, Apollo and Daphne (16221625), David (16231624), and Pluto and Persephone (16211622) seemed to turn stone into living flesh where Pluto's fingers press into plump Persephone, where Daphne's fingers sprout leaves and her toes take root, and where David (a self-portrait of the artist) bites his lip in concentration. Bernini's later commissions often combined sculpture with architecture, from the Baldacchino in St. Peter's (1633) to the Throne of St. Peter (1657) in the same basilica, to the tombs of Popes Urban VIII (1647) and Alexander VII (16721678), this last with a gilt skeleton struggling to free itself from a red jasper curtain that symbolizesall too literallythe flesh. Bernini's sheer technical skill and his lively compositions set the standard for all other sculptors in Rome. His fountains still dot the city: the Fountain of the Four Rivers in Piazza Navona (1651) incorporates an ancient Egyptian obelisk into its complicated symbolism of life's instability and religion's offer of eternity, contrived with the help of the Jesuit scholar and philologist Athanasius Kircher (16011680). A century later, Nicola Salvi's Trevi Fountain (17321762) would look to Bernini's masterwork for its chief inspiration, just as Andrea Pozzo's altars to Saint Ignatius Loyola and Francis Xavier in the church of Il Gesù (1695) ultimately owe both the upward sweep of their design and the daring richness of their lapis lazuli decoration to Bernini's designs for St. Peter's and the Jesuit church of Sant'Andrea al Quirinale (16581670), where he designed both the architecture and the sculptural decoration, which merge into one another seamlessly.

The creation of art in seventeenth-century Rome was a matter of intense intellectual discussion, and conspicuously learned artists who worked there included the young Fleming Peter Paul Rubens (15771640), destined to become both painter and diplomat after his studies in Rome in 16011602 and 1605, and the Frenchman Nicolas Poussin (15941665), whose theories about color and classicism injected a stately sobriety into the painting of his adopted city. Yet the same collectors who assembled Poussin's myths and allegories also collected paintings of flowers, peasants, and landscapes, all separate genres in the burgeoning seventeenth-century art market (as was the venerable art of portraiture). Raphael had already excelled at portrait painting in the early sixteenth century, and his image of a pensive Pope Julius II (15111512) may have been in the mind of the Spanish painter Diego Velázquez when he created his glorious portrait of a gimlet-eyed Innocent X more than a century later (c. 1650). The contrast between Raphael's meticulously fine brushwork and Velázquez's commanding sweeps of raw paint could not be greater, but they share the gift of psychological insight. The eighteenth century in Rome would add a new kind of portrait to the traditional repertoire of churchmen, nobles, merchants, and courtesans: the socalled swagger portraits of English "grand tourists" who had begun to flock to Rome and felt that they could not leave until they had been immortalized, striking a pose in a recognizably Roman setting, by Pompeo Batoni (17081787).

Raphael also had been a pioneer as a printmaker, with the help of the engraver Marcantonio Raimondi, and as a result most painters and sculptors from the sixteenth century onward came to rely on prints as a vital means by which to illustrate works in other media as well as a cheap, attractive art form in their own right. But Rome had never seen anything like the prints that began to emerge in the eighteenth century from the burin of Giovanni Battista Piranesi (17201778): monumental visions of Roman ruins, intricate, surreal prisons (in his Carceri d'invenzione, 17491750), fireplace designs based on Egyptian and Etruscan as well as classical motifs, all executed with a sureness of touch equaled in the history of the medium only by Albrecht Dürer. Piranesi's exaggeratedly tiny human figures, his tempestuous skies, and the wayward smoke of his fireplaces give his designs a haunting immediacy.

In the eighteenth century, the aesthetic theories of Johann Joachim Winckelmann (17171768), secretary in Rome to Cardinal Alessandro Albani, began to encourage painters like Anton Raphael Mengs (17281779) to work in a more restrained, classical style inspired by Raphael (for Mengs, the similarity in their names also acted as a stimulus); Winckelmann also amassed an impressive collection of ancient sculpture for the cardinal. In 1791, inspired by the same movement, the successful but restless sculptor Antonio Canova (17571822) undertook a design for the tomb of Pope Clement XIII in St. Peter's Basilica that was radical enough to make the apprehensive artist attend its unveiling in disguise. With its simplified neoclassical forms and its now-famous weeping lions, the massive white marble tomb marked a sharp departure from the legacy of Bernini. Canova had exchanged the rich textures and headlong movement of the baroque for the calm and clarity that he, like Winckelmann before him, had observed in ancient art. Canova quickly dropped his disguise; the Romans immediately loved his new work, indicating that their tastes, like those of Europe as a whole, were shifting toward a different understanding of the ancient classical idealneoclassicismthat would soon transform all the arts.

See also Ancients and Moderns ; Art: Artistic Patronage ; Baroque ; Bernini, Gian Lorenzo ; Caravaggio and Caravaggism ; City Planning ; Gentileschi, Artemisia ; Julius II (pope) ; Michelangelo Buonarroti ; Prints and Printmaking ; Raphael ; Rome ; Rome, Architecture in ; Sculpture ; Winckelmann, Johann Joachim .


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Ingrid Rowland