You are here:

  • blog

The evolution of Roman archaeology between the XVII and XIXth centuries through the illustrations of Famiano Nardini's 'Roma Antica'

By Dr Rosario Rovira Guardiola

The Combined Library of the institute of Classical Studies and the Hellenic and Roman Societies holds two editions of Famiano Nardini’s Roma Antica. First published posthumously in 1666, Roma Antica became one of the most influential archaeological guides of the city of Rome.

Nardini had used the Augustean division of the city in fourteen regiones as the base for his description of the city. Ancient Rome planning along with an extensive use of ancient and archaeological sources and the inclusion of illustrations set it apart from other guides.

Illustration - Roman archeology

After the first edition of 1666, Roma Antica went on to be republished in 1704, 1771 and 1818-20; these editions changed following the evolution in topographical and archaeological research and the representation of the remains of ancient Rome. The Combined Library has copies of the 1704 and the 1818-20 editions.

The 1704 edition of Roma Antica has the same 45 illustrations as the 1666 one. A combination of woodcuts and engravings that include coins depicting buildings of ancient Rome and plans of each of the fourteenth regiones.

These plans are an attempt to map out the streets of the ancient city and include three-dimensional representations of some of the buildings that were known. Some because they were still visible such as the Pantheon, the Colosseum or the mausoleums of Augustus and Hadrian; some because they were known through literary sources such as the colossal statue of Nero, erected on what had been the Domus Aurea in the area where the Colosseum stands now.  

There are also woodcuts of some monuments that are still visible such as Porta Portese, or the tomb of Cecilia Metella in the Via Appia.

The illustrations were done by Nardini himself as can be read in the illustrations; there is also an indication on the placement of the illustration in the book on the top right corner, but this did not always happen correctly. 

Despite the frantic activity in the field of topography and archaeology of Rome in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, Nardini’s work still held its relevance until the beginning of the nineteenth century when the 1818-20 edition was edited by the pioneering archaeologist Antonio Nibby and illustrated by Antonio de Romanis under the auspices of the De Romanis publishing house. 

Antonio Nibby did not change Nardini’s text but he added footnotes and appendices that corrected Nardini’s misunderstandings and more importantly, updated the information on some areas. A good example is the section about the Colosseum about which Nibby wrote a whole new appendix.

The perception of the building had changed; from being mainly a quarry it had become an iconic site not only for archaeologists. The Colosseum showed the complexity of Roman architecture and politics but visitors to Rome were also drawn to the romanticism of the site under the moonlight. At the time that Nibby and De Romanis were editing Roma Antica the excavations at the Colosseo were very recent; despite proposals and halfhearted attempts it was only during the papacy of Pio VII between 1805 and 1806 and during the French occupation of the city between 1811 and 1813 that archaeological excavations were conducted revealing numerous artefacts and the underground structures, underneath the arena.  The groundbreaking discoveries led Nibby to write a new section of the Colosseum. 

It was not only the text that was updated. The architect Antonio de Romanis drew a new set of illustrations that starts with a plan of the city of Rome. It incorporates the slabs of the Forma Urbis Romae, one of the main archaeological sources for the topography of ancient Rome and a major influence in the development of archaeological drawings.

De Romanis drew a new plan for each of the fourteen Augustean regions. The differences between De Romanis and Nardini’s plans are clear. While Nardini represents the buildings in perspective, all looking very similar in their stylised representations, De Romanis’ illustrations are of a topographical nature; he adds the scale and the orientation.

De Romanis chose the archaeological topographical standards that had already been adopted. He draws the plan of the buildings and the original structures that remain visible. He represents with a dark line the original walls and with a lighter line those modern walls and structures that are no longer visible but should have been there; a methodology that he described well in his book,  Le antiche camere esquiline dette comunemente delle Terme di Tito (1822).

In the same way that Nardini’s text had been preserved, also his illustrations were and they were printed alongside De Romanis ones. 

Regarding the coins that had actually been the core of the illustrations in the previous Roma Antica editions, as they allowed the reader to understand how the buildings looked in antiquity; these are combined now in plates at the end of the volumes. By 1818 coins had been superseded as references for ancient buildings by more precise data obtained from archaeological survey.

The Combined Library editions of Roma Antica are not only interesting as an example of the development of archaeological and topographical illustrations but also because of their provenance and the stories around their ownership. 

Nibby’s  edition  was donated to the library by Welbore St. Clair Baddeley, who made an important donation of books on Rome to the collection of the library at the beginning of 1937.

The copy has some MS pencil annotations that consist of straight lines and crosses around  some paragraphs related to the Roman Forum, the topic that Baddeley was interested in.

The copy of the 1704 edition of Roma antica in the ICS has several labels and annotations that attest that it changed hands several times before arriving at the library in 1911 when it was donated by William Cliffe Foley Anderson; a Classics scholar and lecturer at the University of Sheffield.

The title page has further evidence that the book might have belonged to at least two other owners. There is a faded stamped mark that could be a caduceus while opposite to it, there is an oval impression that looks like another stamp has been erased; probably to conceal previous ownership.

The copy also contains some handwritten annotations that indicate that it had been a well-loved book. The annotations are in Italian, and they include some maniculae that fell into disuse after the eighteenth century; giving an ante quem dating for the annotations.

The anonymous author seems to have had an interest in the reinforcements made to the walls of Rome during the period of the monarchy as the maniculae draw attention to paragraphs on the subject. Some of the annotations give modern names to areas described in the text and it includes a list of the Roman Kings on the end paper: “Romulo / Numa / Tulllo / Anco Marcio / Tarquinio Prisco / Servio Tullo / Tarquinio Superbo”. This is a handy place to check the names of the Kings if needed and confirms the interest of the owner of the book on the early history of Rome.

Both the 1704 and 1818-20 editions of Roma Antica attest to the changes in the representations of the building of the ancient city of Rome but also its readership; a book written for the amateur and the professional interested in the eternal city.