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Book of the Month

May 2000

Pietro Santi Bartoli:
 Drawings after ancient Roman paintings

Rome: 1674

Sp Coll MS Gen 1496

Currently on display in Rome at the exhibition L'Idea del Bello: un viaggio per Roma nel seicento con Giovan Pietro Bellori (Palazzo delle Esposizioni, until 26 June, 2000), the May book of the month is a manuscript album of seventeenth century drawings by Pietro Santi Bartoli. This lavish volume contains 127 watercolour copies of antique Roman paintings and mosaics.

Folio 30: Pegasus 

The images chosen to be  displayed here concentrate upon those drawings based on the ancient paintings found in the Tomb of the Nasonii in Rome (folios 2-32). This tomb was excavated in 1674, the very same year that this album was prepared.  

Thanks to the research of Professor Bernard Andreae, formerly Director of the German Archaeological Institute in Rome, a full-sized reconstruction of this tomb is now open at the Museo Nazionale Romano-Palazzo Massimo alle Terme (until 31 October). Study of the drawings from our album was vital in reconstructing the tomb in full colour, since many of the images otherwise exist only as black and white engravings.  

One of the most important archaeological finds of the period, the tomb of Quintus Nasonius Ambrosius was originally unearthed in March 1674 during the course of excavations of the Via Flaminia. Regarded as one of the most elaborate examples of sepulchral art from the Roman era, painted around 150 AD, its discovery occasioned much excitement, not least because at first it was widely believed to be the tomb of the poet Ovid. The tomb was a family burial place with multiple niches, adorned by frescoes with a series of seven apse paintings, a figured frieze incorporating ten enigmatic mythological figures, and a cassette ceiling.  The walls contain scenes referring to death and the underworld, while the ceiling alludes to the soul's liberation after death. 

The back wall of the tomb is shown here, depicting Orpheus and Euridice with Mercury in the lower central panel. Above to the left Pegasus (symbol of immortality) is bathed and fed while on the right Oedipus confronts the Sphinx. The iconic programme of the tomb is complex, expressing a syncretistic view of the afterlife, drawing on mythology, Platonism and the mystery religions. A flat view of all three walls, showing the apse paintings and frieze in situ, is represented below.

Folio 33: general layout at end of tomb 

Folios 35, 33 & 37: reconstruction of walls of tomb

Folio 6: winged female figure

Pietro Santi Bartoli (1635-1700), the engraver and draughtsman, was probably engaged by Cardinal Camillo Massimo to produce a record of the frescoes adorning the walls of the tomb. This he executed in the 31 watercolours now preserved within MS Gen 1496.

Bartoli was born in Perugia in 1635 and died in Rome on 7 November 1700. According to tradition, he was a pupil of Poussin. Known primarily as a draughtsman, engraver and painter, he also served Christina, Queen of Sweden, as an antiquarian.  He was responsible for several publications on Roman sculpture and works of art, such as  the Admiranda romanarum antiquitatum of 1693 In 1680, he produced engravings of the Nasonii tomb paintings in Le pitture antiche del sepolcro de Nasonii nella Via Flaminia; this work included a commentary by Bartoli's friend, Giovanni Pietro Bellori (1613-96), the leading theorist of seventeenth century classicism. 

Folio 15: deer hunt

Collections of drawings based on antique paintings were immensely popular in Bartoli's day and can be regarded as one facet of the general resurgence of interest in classical antiquity during the seventeenth century. This passion for Roman art lead to copies of paintings being undertaken wherever excavations were taking place. Bellori and Bartoli, in common with other lovers of antiquity, saw their task of recording the remains of Roman civilisation as both creative and urgent: their mission was to preserve these fragments and traces before they were entirely destroyed by time or by inexpert excavation. Their ultimate aim was to compile and publish in engraved form a complete corpus of copies of all the Roman paintings known at that time. This aim was both practical and scholarly and the result, in Bartoli's case at least, was of considerable artistic value.  But the actual artistic merit or archaeological exactitude of these seventeenth century copies is a matter of some debate. Bartoli did make careful colour notations from the originals and claimed to be accurate in copying; since many of the originals have now disappeared it is hard to judge their accuracy, but it is probably fair to say that Bartoli appears to have followed their general underlying design quite closely, while varying considerably in colour or in detail. It would seem that the precise record of the original was not always the artists's overriding concern: the original seems to have been modified occasionally in order to conform to prevailing notions of what it should have looked like, or to what was  considered to constitute a "correct" antique design. The later version is inevitably coloured, to a greater or lesser extent, by the preconceptions of the copyist and his age. 

Folio 25: Proserpina carried off by Pluto 

Our manuscript album was presented to Glasgow University Library by A .Connel via John Veitch (Professor of Logic and Rhetoric) probably some time in the 1870s or 1880s.  Its provenance before it reached Glasgow is obscure, but Claire Pace of the History of Art Department has advanced a strong case for its identification with a ‘gran libro’ of Cardinal Massimo containing watercolour copies of Roman paintings, known to have been subsequently in the possession of the English collector Dr. Richard Mead. A Latin title-page dedication to Cardinal Camillo Massimi dated 1674, plus the presence of the Massimi coat of arms on the volume's binding supports the theory that it was compiled for Massimi, who is known to have acquired a large collection of both actual examples of antique paintings and drawings after them. 
The tomb was much visited for several years after its discovery, and may still be visited today, although the interior decoration has suffered much damage over time. Shortly after the excavation, for example, three panels were removed from the tomb by Don Gasparo Altieri and lost; in 1865 a further six panels appeared on the market and were later acquired by the British Museum. 

Folio 39: general plan of decoration of vault

Of the other paintings represented in the album, the most noteworthy are those from the Domus Aurea (also referred to rather vaguely as the 'Palace' or the 'Baths' of Titus) which had been excavated and illustrated by artists since the early Renaissance. Included here is the famous fresco of the 1st Century B.C. known as the "Aldobrandini Wedding" -  now in the Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana, but so named from the collection of paintings, started by Pietro Aldobrandini and augmented by his descendants, housed in the Villa Aldobrandini. 

Folio 41: the Aldobrandini wedding

Although Roman paintings are generally thought to be of lesser merit artistically than the greatest Greek works of art, certain paintings such as the Aldobrandini Wedding are considered to have a purity and nobility of conception and execution close to the Greek and the classicist ideal. But other works, as represented throughout this manuscript, although of less artistic worth, may be considered as valuable both for their rarity and for the record they offer of a vanished civilization.

MS Gen 1583: another seventeenth century manuscript album of drawings in pen and pale wash (with some watercolours) after the paintings in the tomb of the Nasonii (formerly in the library of Jean-Baptiste Colbert): for further information see Claire Pace's article 'Un monument si beau et si rare': drawings of the tomb of the Nasonii formerly in the collection of Colbert (Papers of the British School at Rome, vol. 67, 1999)

Printed works by Bartoli relating to the tomb of the Nasonii: Le pitture antiche del sepolcro de Nasonii nella Via Flaminia disegnate, ed intagliate alla similitudine degli antichi originali ; da Pietro Santi Bartoli descritte, & illustrate da Gio: Pietro Bellori (Rome, 1680): Sp Coll f517; Le pitture antiche delle grotte di Roma, e del sepolcro de' Nasonj disegnate, & intagliate alla similitudine degli antichi originali ; da Pietro Santi Bartoli, e Francesco Bartoli suo figliulo, descritte, et illustrate da Gio: Pietro Bellori, e Michelangelo Causei dela chausse (Rome, 1706): Sp Coll f532

Other works by Bartoli: Colonna Traiana eretta del senato, e popolo romano all' imperatore Traiano Augusto nel suo foro in Roma. Scolpita con l'historie della guerra dacica la prima e la seconda espeditione, e vittoria contro il re Decebalo ; nuovamente disegnata, et intagliata da Pietro Santi Bartoli ; con l'espositione latina d'Alfonso Ciaccone, compendiata nella vulgare lingua sotto ciascuna immagine, accrescuiuta di medaglie, inscrittioni, e trofei, da Gio. Pietro Bellori (Rome, 1673?): Sp Coll Mu2-x.19Sigismundi Augusti Mantuam adeuntis profectio ac triumphus ... Opus ex archetypo Julii Romani ą Francisco Primaticio ... sculptura ... elaboratum ... cum notis Jo: Petri Bellorii, ą Petro Sancti Bartoli ex veteri exemplari traductum, aerique incisum (Rome, 1680): Sp Coll S.M. Add. lf22; Admiranda romanarum antiquitatum ac veteris sculpturae vestigia anaglyphico opere elaborata ex marmoreis exemplaribus quae Romae adhuc extant ... ; a Petro Sancti Bartolo delineata incisa ... notis Jo. Petri Bellori illustrata ... (Rome, 1693): Sp Coll e187Lucernae veterum sepulchrales iconicae, ex cavernis Romae subterraneis collectae, et a Petro Santi Bartoli, cum observationibus J. Petri Bellorii, ante decennium editae: nunc ... ad exemplar Romanum, versis ex Italico in Latinum observationibus, recusae. Studio et impensis L. Begeri (Berlin, 1702): Sp Coll Bh10-d.14Antiquissimi Virgiliani codicis fragmenta et picturae ex Bibliotheca Vaticana : ad priscas imaginum formas a Petro Sancte Bartholi incisae (Rome, 1741): Sp Coll HX 154; Bellori, Giovanni Pietro Columna Cochlis M. Aurelio Antonino Augusto : dicata eius rebus gestis in germanicā, atque Sarmaticā expeditione insignis, ex. S.C. Romœ ad viam Flaminiam erecta, ac utriusque belli imaginibus anaglyphice insculpta ; brevibvs notis Io. Petri Bellorii illustrata et a Petro Sancte Bartolo iuxta delineationes in Bibliothecā Barberinā asservatas, ac cum antiquis ipsius columnae signis collatas aere incisa iterum in lucem prodit sub faustissimis auspiciis sanctiss. d.n. papae Clementis XI (Rome, 1704): Sp Coll HX 153; Gli antichi sepolari, ovvero mausolei Romani, ed Etruschi, trovati, in Roma ed in altri luoghi celebri; nelli quali si contengon olte erudite memoire: raccolti, disegnati, ed intagliati ; da Pietro Santi Bartoli ... (Rome,1727): Sp Coll f483

This piece draws heavily on Claire Pace's article Pietro Santi Bartoli's drawings after ancient Roman paintings in the Tomb of the Nasonii: Album MS Gen 1496 in Glasgow University Library, published in the April 2000 issue of Forma Urbis (Anno V n. 4): copies of the journal are for sale from the Special Collections Department at £2 each.

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Julie Coleman & David Weston May 2000