The Culture of Architecture in Enlightenment Rome
Heather Hyde Minor
The Culture of Architecture in Enlightenment Rome
Heather Hyde Minor
“This study makes a considerable contribution to our understanding of eighteenth-century architecture in its cultural and intellectual context.”
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Winner of the 2010 Helen and Howard R. Marraro Prize in Italian History as sponsored by The Society for Italian Historical Studies, an affiliate with the American Historical Association. Honorable Mention for the 2013 Alice Davis Hitchcock Book Award from the Society of Architectural Historians.
“This study makes a considerable contribution to our understanding of eighteenth-century architecture in its cultural and intellectual context.”
“[The Culture of Architecture in Enlightenment Rome] has a very specific subject and is argued with great clarity: it deals with seven architectural commissions ordered by the popes Clement XII Corsini (reg. 1730–40) and Benedict XIV Lambertini (reg. 1740–58), the expression of a cultural flowering that related to the reformist currents of Roman intellectual society of the day. . . . . [Hyde Minor has] introduced new critical boundaries for the understanding of the cultural context of eighteenth-century Roman architecture.”
“Filled with discussions of taste, doctrine, ecclesiastical history, familial strife, archaeology, and book history. . . . Minor has arrayed a rich feast of information around the architecture of papal Rome in the eighteenth century. She brilliantly resurrects the aspirant ambitions of popes, scholars, and architects that built in order to keep Rome a centre of art and learning.”
“This is a readable, amiable narrative bursting with information relating to an impressive range of subjects. Minor’s laudable determination to relate architecture to the world unfolding around it means that the level of contextual scene-setting goes far beyond what one normally encounters in books of this sort. . . . In the end, her book succeeds at the difficult task of offering both an engaging entry point for scholars new to the topic and a stimulating synthetic interpretation for those already involved with it.”
Heather Hyde Minor is Assistant Professor of Architectural History at the University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign. She is the co-editor of The Serpent and the Stylus: Essays on G. B. Piranesi (2006).
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List of Abbreviations
Part 1. Restoration
The Past as Future: Ecclesiastical History and Christian Antiquity
1. San Giovanni in Laterano: How Alessandro Galilei Finished One Controversy Only to Begin Another
2. Santa Maria Maggiore: How Pier Filippo Strozzi Tried to Understand the Modern Notion of History and Failed Completely
3. The Corsini Chapel: How Giovanni Bottari Used Ecclesiastical History to Write a Book, Build a Chapel, and Vanquish His Enemies
Part 2. Reform
Papal Palaces in the Age of Economic Reform
4. The Corsini Palace: How Neri Corsini Still Managed to Build One of the Most Extravagant Palaces in Rome
5. The Quirinal Hill: How Lione Pascoli Tried to Solve Everything with a List
Part 3. Renewal
Building Knowledge: Public Institutions and Learning
6. The Capitoline Museum: How Alessandro Gregorio Capponi Finally Convinced Everyone He Was Important
7. The Corsini Library: How Giovanni Bottari Got the Last Word
As autumn finally arrived in 1730, Cardinal Prospero Lambertini sat down to write to his friend and fellow erudito Giovanni Bottari. Although Roman summers were always hot, Lambertini’s had been longer and more enervating than usual. He had just escaped from five months trapped in the Vatican, trying to elect a new pope. The conclave was over and an elderly Florentine was the winner. The new pope was not just old; at seventy-eight, Clement XII was the oldest pope ever elected. Mostly blind, and crippled with gout, he did not seem like a likely candidate to do much of anything. But Lambertini’s friend knew all of that. He also shared the cardinal’s ideas about what should happen next. “The duty of a cardinal, and the greatest service he can render to the Holy See, is to attract learned and honest men to Rome. The Pope has no weapons or armies; he has to maintain prestige by making Rome a model for other cities in learning, the sciences and the arts.” Lambertini wanted Saint Peter’s newest successor to mount a crusade. Armed with liberality rather than with weapons or armies, the Bolognese cardinal had a plan of attack designed to accomplish a single objective. The city of Rome would become a new capital of learning. He hoped there would be a radical change in the cultural climate of the papal court and in the Italian peninsula. Bottari and Lambertini believed that with the election of Clement XII, culture in Rome and throughout Italy would change.
From 1730 to 1758, cultural and architectural reform were fused together as part of the design to create this city of learning. Beginning under Clement XII (1730–1740) and continuing with his successor Benedict XIV (1740–1758), the papacy mounted an ambitious building campaign in the city of Rome. Major basilicas were restored, churches built, speculative apartment blocks constructed, roads created, and public institutions like museums and libraries founded. Clement XII himself participated directly in the program by leaving the pope’s residence of centuries, the Vatican Palace, and moving to the renovated and greatly expanded papal complex on the Quirinal Hill. Despite his physical afflictions, Clement had grand building plans from the early days of his reign. A little more than two years after his uncle’s possesso (the solemn procession a new pope takes from Saint Peter’s to the Lateran), the pope’s nephew, Neri Corsini, wrote to his brother of their uncle’s architectural proposals. “He will create a [free trade] zone in Rimini, and bridges in the papal state, and in Rome a street opposite Monte Citorio, the Consulta [Palace], and the Trevi Fountain, the [family] chapel, the façade of San Giovanni in Laterano, and probably one for San Giovanni dei Fiorentini.” Even though the scope and cost of these efforts would have put him on par with some of the great papal and imperial builders, that is only a partial list of the works he actually undertook in his ten-year reign. In addition to other projects carried out during his rule, such as the road from the Trevi Fountain to the Quirinal Hill, the completion of the scuderie (the papal stables) on the Quirinal, the creation of the Capitoline Museum, the restoration of the Arch of Constantine, the construction of a new wing of the Vatican Library, and the foundation of the Calcografia (the papal publishing house), Clement also solicited plans for other urban and architectural projects (such as the new sacristy at the Vatican) that were never completed. According to his nephew’s calculations, Clement spent a staggering 1,980,897.80 scudi on architectural and urban endeavors in the city of Rome from 1732 to 1737, a sum that nearly equaled the entire papal revenue for a single year in the 1730s. This building campaign coincided with another equally impressive and complex cultural initiative. As Rome came to resemble one huge construction site, attracting masons and laborers from all over the peninsula and straining local supplies of building materials like travertine and mortar, a general program to reform Italian culture was being mounted, one with multifaceted and often shadowy dictates. This agenda can be directly tied to the papal architectural campaign.
The papal building agenda in the 1730s, ’40s, and ’50s coincided with attempts to enact a complex set of cultural proposals by a loosely knit group of intellectuals, to which Bottari and Lambertini belonged. During the reigns of Clement XII and Benedict XIV, a clutch of learned men, some with powerful positions within the Church, sought to enact reforms to reinvigorate Italian culture. This study examines a series of ideas espoused by these reform-minded letterati, which then become the contemporaneous building campaign undertaken by Clement and Benedict under the supervision of the architects Alessandro Galilei (1691–1737), Ferdinando Fuga (1699–1782), and others. In each of the three parts of this text, I consider an aspect of the architectural program in light of a specific element of the reformers’ scheme to rescue learned culture. In the first part, I consider the role played by sacred or ecclesiastical history in religious architecture in the 1730s and ’40s. Piety and scholarship informed work at two of the most important early Christian sites in Rome, Santa Maria Maggiore and San Giovanni in Laterano. Controversy erupted over the building projects at both of these sites. At the Lateran, critics attacked the notion of turning the basilica into a representation of the universal Church. Efforts toward a precise reconstruction of the earliest history of the basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore, using early textual sources as well as objects unearthed under the pavement of the church itself, guided both the construction of a new façade and the restoration of the interior of the basilica. Much of the evidence uncovered contradicted many of the legends associated with the early history of the Church, unleashing a polemical debate. While the attacks engendered by the two projects centered on two sets of seemingly different issues, at the core these battles had much in common. Concrete disagreements about matters like the status of martyrs and the traditions connected to the founding of the basilicas developed into bitter controversies about how to represent the universal Church and the role of profane learning in writing the histories of the earliest moments of the Christian religion. These debates about history became intertwined with the restoration and construction projects at the Lateran and Santa Maria Maggiore.
In the second part, I consider reform in another guise, one that altered the domestic circumstances of the pope and his family in the 1730s. Clement XII’s efforts to pull the papal treasury back from the edge of bankruptcy and to reorganize the bureaucracy of the Papal States directly affected the living situation of the pope and his two famiglie, both his blood relatives and the members of the papal household staff. Clement engaged in an omnibus building campaign on the Quirinal Hill, where he created a regia moderna, a modern princely residence that was designed not only to update the physical living situation of the pope but also to change how the papacy governed. The enforcement of a papal bull led to the abolition of nepotism, which had a profound impact on papal relatives and their domestic arrangements. This reform triggered the virtual extinction of one of the most celebrated architectural forms in early modern Rome, the palaces built by members of papal families. Through the study of one of the two palaces built by papal nephews in eighteenth-century Rome, the Palazzo Corsini, I map the impact of these reforms on palace architecture. Both of these architectural creations were shaped by the new discipline of economics.
In the final part of the book, I consider public institutions concerned with knowledge and learning in Rome. I focus on one of the first public museums in Europe, the Capitoline Museum, which opened its doors to visitors in 1735, and the Corsini Library, which was built between 1744 and 1746. At both these institutions, architecture was used to frame and divide both of these collections in new ways, ways that went beyond simply shaping how visitors used and experienced the two institutions. In both cases, built space and collected objects sought to redefine the scope and acquisition of knowledge consistent with a series of ideas proposed by eruditi working to renew Italian culture.
Both the ripe possibilities and the hardened problems of the 1730s made it a crucial moment for the papacy and the promoters of Italian learned culture. Although some of the reformers had been at work long before Clement’s election, a set of political circumstances allowed the group more freedom than they had experienced previously. In 1730, the papacy was still reeling from the profound corruption of Benedict XIII’s reign (1724–1730). Serious changes had to be made to quell revolt, both in the Curia (the administrative offices of the papacy) and on the streets of Rome. A deepening financial crisis that began in the previous century was becoming more threatening. The papal coffers were being drained at an astonishing rate. The cultural preeminence of Italy and the Papal States, once secure, was in tatters. From the late 1600s onwards, Italian intellectuals were being bombarded with a series of new ideas, new experiments, and new books from the Netherlands, France, and England. Flowing through informal channels of communication, this river of new thinking allowed Italian intellectuals to see the dismal state of Italian culture. Scientists, highly placed ecclesiastics, literary critics, and historians concluded that Italy was in an epistemological crisis. The Jesuits’ reliance on Aristotelian pedagogy, paired with their control over most of the educational system, was further rendering Italy a backwater, according to this group of eruditi. The heritage of the previous centuries’ attempts at reform was a heavy burden for the so-called enlightened Catholics. While one could argue, as Vincenzo Ferrone does, that “once the most harshly repressive phases of the Counter-Reformation had run their course, the Holy See was quick to perceive the need to come to terms with the new ideas circulating in Europe in order to avoid a dangerous impoverishment of its own intelligentsia—intellectually or culturally,” part of the battle plan Italian intellectuals drew up to rescue learned culture involved revisiting the recent past. Putting into practice the reforming dictates of the Tridentine Church, for example, was an essential component of the program for cultural reform espoused by many eruditi.
These “clerics open to rationalism,” as Franco Venturi has defined them, were able to initiate change for a number of reasons. Clement XII and his successor, Benedict XIV, were open to the project of cultural renewal. Both had strong ties to and interests in Italian intellectual life. Authors from Vico to Voltaire dedicated works to them. Although neither of them satisfied the entire group of intellectuals pushing for change, they created an environment congenial to the group’s projects. If the papacy had neither the money nor the political prestige to be an important player on the stage of European politics, culturally it could still act.
At the center of the reform program being advocated by this group of Italian intellectuals was the belief that Italian culture had fallen into a state of decadence. Spurred on by a strong sense of disgust with the deteriorated condition of Italian learning, and energized by the strong libertine current in Rome in 1730s, the group sought to renew Italian culture from the inside. Any simple formulation of reformers’ desires and practices does violence to the complexities and contradictions of this learned community. Many of its members celebrated the Italian peninsula as the heartland of humanist learning in the 1400s and 1500s. Renaissance forebears provided scholarly work to build upon (or contradict). Perhaps more importantly, they provided the intellectual roots that contemporary reformers could graft to their own learned enterprises. While many conceded that the forms of presentation and argument used by their learned predecessors needed to be updated, eighteenth-century learned men pursued the scholarly questions that captivated the humanists. Historical knowledge remained an important part of scholarly enquiry. The claims of the new science also found a receptive audience in a place where the heritage of Galileo was felt acutely. Inspired by experimental science, especially the work of Newton, reformers were also invigorated by this form of scholarship that made claims that did not rest on a bedrock of historical research. The rich interplay of tradition and innovation marked the working methods and demands of many Italian learned men.
The laments of these eruditi represented a tactical attempt to control learned culture. The rhetoric of reformers’ cries of decadence was certainly not aimed at the scholarly enterprises that they so lovingly carried out. Reformers saw themselves as locked in a battle against the Jesuits, believers in Scholasticism, Aristotelianism, and even those who practiced the literary flourishes of seventeenth-century authors like Giovanni Battista Marino. Their desire was to recapture Italy’s once-exalted position in the borderless European state known as the Republic of Letters. Reformers in the Italian peninsula were not the only critics of local learned culture. Starting in the 1670s, attacks on Italian learning began to populate books and journals produced in France. The age of gloss and commentary had not yet given away to the age of criticism, they charged. Italian scholarship was marked by weak methodology. Inconsistent, puzzling decisions by the Index of Forbidden Books were further rendering Italy a backwater. The Italians, some French complained, could produce prose that touched the heart and charmed the ear, but lacked reasoned discourse. These criticisms were often the same ones that reform-minded learned men in Rome used to denigrate other Italian scholars. The precise circumstances under which Roman eruditi promulgated and elaborated on these French claims remains clouded in what became an increasingly messy battle for cultural supremacy, one that included local skirmishes among Italians as well as prolonged intellectual warfare between France and Italy. However, it is clear that reformers in France and Italy often relied on the same critique of Italian scholarship in their divergent attempts to control learned culture.
Who, exactly, were the members of this Italian collective? Constituents included highly placed members of the Curia, like Giovanni Bottari. Cardinals like Domenico Passionei and Neri Corsini played critical roles. Universities, the world of such figures as Guido Grandi and Gaspare Cerati in Pisa and Celestino Galiani in Naples, and certain religious orders, especially the Oratorians and the Augustinians, provided nurturing environments for these intellectuals. Academies that began springing up in the second half of the seventeenth century had a crucial role to play in the movement. Such early groups as the Academia dei Concili, where the new teachings of Maurist historiography were discussed, and the Accademia degli Antiquari Alessandrini, where important experiments verifying Newton’s optical theories were performed for the first time on the continent, laid the foundations for this group. The three major centers of the loosely defined movement were Florence, Naples, and Rome. Members of the group were deeply embedded in the European Republic of Letters. Through the exchange of correspondence and books, Italian reform-minded men closely followed what was going on elsewhere on the continent.
In defining this intellectual collective, it is important to be cautious because these eruditi did not all share the same ideas. They fought and launched polemics against one another almost as often as they agreed. For example, although the leading erudito Ludovico Antonio Muratori thought that Rome should be the center for Italian intellectuals to organize their activities, others opposed this notion as contrary to the traditional Catholic model of universal culture. One common idea among members of the group was the shared belief in the decadence of contemporary culture and the need for a kind of intellectual rebirth. Most of this group of reform-minded ecclesiastics and laymen believed that cultural change had to come from within the Church, which was still the largest and most pervasive institution in Italy. The group also universally expounded on the right to libertas philosophandi. Most also believed that reform had to deal with institutions in order to improve Italian culture.
Both discussions of reform and the construction of new buildings ended abruptly in 1758, at least in the view of reform-minded learned men. The election of Clement XIII Rezzonico marked the conclusion of the cultural and architectural largesse of the previous three decades. Conservative forces within the Curia were quickly reestablished. Rezzonico was sympathetic to the Society of Jesus, the sworn enemies of progressive intellectuals. Not only did the Jesuits use their power with Clement XIII to avoid suppression of the Society (if only temporarily), but their interests in maintaining control over education in Italy grew. The Rezzonico pope granted papal recognition to the Feast of the Sacred Heart, just the sort of popular devotion that the reformers despised, and did his best to squelch the last of the Jansenist sympathizers. Clement clamped down on the book trade, the lifeblood of Italian intellectuals. Even Giovanni Bottari, who remained a power within the Curia, complained that “at present, there are so many difficulties, and the laws and prohibitions on printing and importing books have multiplied [to the extent], that printers and booksellers [are compelled to] either change professions, or find themselves subject to pecuniary and corporal punishment as well as defamation.” Clement strictly limited consultation of manuscripts at the Vatican Library in 1765, rendering that temple of learning a “cemetery of books,” in the words of a visitor. The prominent publisher Niccolò Pagliarini was jailed for printing anonymous anti-Jesuit pamphlets in 1760, the first such arrest in Rome in the 1700s. Clement even covered the nude classical statues displayed in the Vatican collections. While the whole of the eighteenth century in Rome has often been cast as conservative, there is a clear distinction between the relatively liberal policies of popes like Clement XII and Benedict XIV and those that followed them later in the century.
Understanding calls for reform in eighteenth-century Rome is a complicated task; so too is comprehending Roman art and culture. A number of factors make eighteenth-century Roman culture, history, and art complex and rich. While the strength of the papacy had always come more from art and learning than from dynastic loyalties or military power, this became more so in the eighteenth century. Tridentine popes were largely successful in rallying art and culture in Rome around a single message: the propagation of the triumph of the Catholic faith. The desire to make the religion visible, sumptuous, and beckoning was one of the motivating principles of papal art in seventeenth-century Rome. This kind of representational strategy, while still present in the city in the 1700s, was frequently challenged by artists, architects, critics, and patrons.
Before we delve further into specific architectural or cultural projects, it is necessary to examine the conditions of intellectual and artistic life in the city. A number of structures supported learned and artistic endeavors, both inside and outside the Curia. If we were taking in a panorama of the city from the Janiculum Hill, say, as the engraver Giuseppe Vasi did in 1765, what would we find (fig. 2)? The city had a population of approximately one hundred and fifty thousand, which was often doubled when foreign visitors and residents were calculated. Rome, whether through real experience or the imagination, remained an important destination for European scholars and artists. Its status as the capital of the Papal States as well as the home of the Catholic Church meant that emissaries from all of the European courts came to Rome. This environment, filled with non-Roman Italians and other foreigners, sustained cultural and artistic life for centuries.
A new phenomenon, the Grand Tour, both reinforced and added a new dimension to the presence of foreigners in the city. The city’s ruins, Renaissance architecture, and princely collections made the caput mundi the ultimate goal for the young men on the Grand Tour. The milordi (as the Romans called them) formed a motley group, which included royalty (both real and fake), Jacobites and other outcasts, professional travelers, artists and architects (like the Scottish brothers Robert and James Adam), and even a few women. While the group was certainly diverse, the Grand Tourist was typically a young Northern European, principally British, aristocrat who traveled for two or three years accompanied by his tutor. Rome was alluring to these visitors for a variety of reasons. Since Greece remained inaccessible to all but the most daring travelers, Italy, and Rome especially, provided the adventure of antiquity that these young men had discovered through ancient texts before undertaking their journeys. Rome was the “Holy See of Pleasurable Antiquity.” Exploring the unparalleled concentration of impressive antique sites in the city, coupled with visits to see “modern” works of art and architecture, was the standard fare of the Grand Tourist. Whether through a visit to Pompeo Batoni’s studio in the Via della Croce to sit for a portrait, the purchase of a guidebook or a map from the publishers Bouchard et Gravier on the Corso, or the collection of miniature Roman temples made of cork and plaster offered in humble shops, the accumulation of visual souvenirs was one of the key activities of the milordi in Rome. The patronage of Grand Tourists provided support for a wide-ranging group of artists and artisans, from the engraver, amateur archaeologist, printer, shop owner, and antiquities restorer Giovanni Battista Piranesi to view painters like Gaspar Van Wittel.
New kinds of artistic commerce were generated by the Tour. Such sculptors as Vincenzo Pacetti and Bartolomeo Cavaceppi turned their talents to the restoration of antiquities and art dealing, professions that catered to the Grand Tourist. The Grand Tour saved the Vatican mosaic studio from extinction: after work replacing the paintings in Saint Peter’s with mosaics was complete, the Vatican mosaicists turned from large-scale works to micromosaics and began to churn out tiny copies of Pliny’s Doves and views of the Colosseum. Antiquities were often the most highly sought objects for visitors to Rome. Especially wealthy and intrepid visitors, like Charles Townley, who made three Grand Tours of Italy, were able to assemble spectacular collections of ancient sculpture. More typical were the fake ancient gems and “Etruscan” vases that filled the trunks of tourists returning home.
When the Grand Tour began and Rome became a sort of finishing school for well-born Northern European gentlemen, the papal capital also offered other less carefree attractions. The Catholic Old Pretender, James III of England, settled permanently into Roman exile in 1718, setting up a shadow court in the Palazzo Muti-Balestra, where he remained until his death in 1766. The new Protestant rulers of England, William and Mary, broke off official diplomatic relations with the papacy, entrusting ambassadorial matters to other countries and private individuals. The Pretender’s court attracted people who are hard to classify: diplomats, members of the Royal Society, spies, translators of learned texts, dealers in contraband, noblemen, friends and enemies of papal nephews, Freemasons, and Catholics. One, Thomas Dereham, managed to be all these things and more, or at least until he suffered a particularly nasty insect bite while riding near the Lateran in 1739 and died. The Old Pretender remained in Rome for almost fifty years, mistreating his wife, Maria Clementina Sobieski, fighting with his sons, and exasperating a series of popes, while spies, double agents, and cardinals carefully recorded his every move.
As it had for centuries, artistic patronage in the city still centered on the papal court. The arts of representanza demanded that cardinals and noble families stock their gilded and damasked palaces with paintings, sculptures, antiquities, and other art objects. The Roman nobility and papal families continued to build chapels, palaces, and villas that needed to be frescoed and furnished. Some families even kept artists on retainer. Ephemera designed to explode in a shower of fireworks or to provide entertainment through mechanized parts were regularly set up around the city. Temporary architecture created for uniquely Roman festivals like the Chinea (the annual presentation of tribute money and a white palfrey to the pope by the ruler of southern Italy and Sicily), as well as the elaborate structures constructed to commemorate royal accessions, marriages, births, and deaths, provided work for the artists and architects who designed and built these creations and the engravers who captured them in print.
Academies were important to the arts in eighteenth-century Rome. Some academies, like the Accademia di San Luca (officially founded in 1577) and the Académie de France (founded in 1666), were already well established in the city. Both of these institutions trained architects and artists in geometry, perspective, and drawing. Admission to the Accademia di San Luca, which was based on the preparation and submission of a setpiece to be judged by other members of the Academy, was still important in the eighteenth century. Only artists and architects who were members could compete for papal commissions. In 1702, Pope Clement XI instituted the Concorsi Clementini, an annual artistic and architectural competition with prizes awarded on the Capitoline Hill. The Concorsi, which divided students into three classes of increasing difficulty, required contestants to submit a work on an assigned theme or topic. The Accademia del Nudo, founded on the Capitoline in 1754, offered free life drawing to any male student who wished to enroll. The Virtuosi del Pantheon, founded in the sixteenth century, continued to provide a mutual protection society for artists. They met twice a month in their rooms tucked above the porch of the Pantheon, where they carried out their religious and devotional duties in the presence of their most celebrated relic, Raphael’s gigantic preserved hand.
Intellectual life in the city centered around similar institutions. From the Academy of the Arcadians, whose self-selected project was to eliminate bad taste, to the Accademia dei Quirini (founded in 1714), whose members concerned themselves with ancient Roman history under the direction of a “permanent dictator,” academies served as the mainstays of intellectual life. On a single day in October 1740, Benedict XIV created four new academies. Academies dedicated to experimental science were vigorously supported. When Benedict XIV gazed through the lens of one of his microscopes, inlaid with his papal coat of arms, he was part of a well-established tradition of scientific observation and experimentation supported by these academies. Earlier in the century, Celestino Galiani performed rigorous experiments in front of crowds packed into his small room at the monastery of Sant’ Eusebio. Cardinal Filippo Antonio Gualtieri presided over the weekly meetings of his academy in his palace, where the work of Gassendi, Huygens, Descartes, and Newton was discussed.
Scientific exchange was not limited to institutional settings. The international mix of scholars in the city often collaborated informally with one another on a range of projects. Ruggiero Giuseppe Boscovich (1711–1787), who was born in Ragusa, came to Rome as a fourteen year-old in 1725 to complete his education at the Jesuit college. After traveling to France, England, Austria, Poland, and Constantinople, he explored the universe from an observatory at the corner of the Collegio Romano. He often collaborated on his astronomical observations with the French Minim priests François Jacquier (1711–1788) and Thomas Leseur (1703–1770), who worked from the Trinità dei Monti monastery at the top of the Spanish Steps. Leseur and Jacquier’s quarters allowed them to live in the vestiges of antiquity accompanied by the pleasures of modern conveniences. They commissioned the artist Clérisseau to fresco their room. This ruin room provided a fictive painted fireplace, a shelter for their dog, and a ruined bookshelf made of splintering planks that held a copy of Newton. Boscovich, Leseur, and Jacquier exchanged data and coordinated observations with the Englishman Christopher Maire (1697–1767), who arrived in Rome in 1739 after spending time in France. This international group could rely on Benedict XIV’s secretary of state, Cardinal Silvio Valenti Gonzaga, for the use of his personal observatory built atop the Aurelian city walls and on Cardinal Neri Corsini for the loan of his English-made telescope.
The “many famous and public libraries” in the city also offered opportunities for research and scholarly exchange. The Vatican, where the Lebanese Oriental scholar and head librarian, Giuseppe-Simonio Assemani (1687–1768), presided, was joined by the collections of cardinals, noble families, religious orders, and universities. Rome was bursting with books in the 1700s, and rivaled any other European capital in the sheer number of volumes that could be found in the city. The Barberini Library alone contained more than sixty thousand volumes. In these repositories, unlike those elsewhere in Europe, access to these great collections was largely unfettered. The Angelica Library was open five days a week, even though it lacked a catalogue and chairs. Cardinal Passionei let anyone who showed an interest plunder his untidy hoard of thirty-seven thousand books, which he kept in the Palazzo della Consulta. These repositories were often packed with prohibited books or volumes that championed ideas often contradictory to the teachings of the Church. In order for the Index of Forbidden Books to function, books that espoused questionable doctrine or material contrary to papal dictates needed to be gathered carefully, read, summarized, and catalogued. Since the Congregation of Index met and worked in Rome, collections of the books they examined could be found in a number of places in the city. A license to own a book listed on the Index of Forbidden Books could be dispensed in a number of ways. Direct application to the Master of the Sacred Palace, a conversation with the pope, or simply being a “Romano cavaliere” and a “vero Cattolico” all seemed to suffice.
Especially popular with Roman aristocrats and foreigners, coffeehouses began to spring up around the city in the eighteenth century, especially in the area near the Spanish Steps, which was the unofficial English quarter. Roman coffeehouses were centers of learned sociability that seem to have functioned much as they did in England. Reading and conversation accompanied coffee and chocolate. By building a private caffèhaus (as it was called in Rome) in the gardens of their palaces, the Roman nobility provided a unique twist on coffeehouse culture. Families like the Albani, Corsini, Pamphili, and Colonna built such pavilions, as did Benedict XIV in the gardens of the Quirinal Palace. Benedict outfitted his elegant coffeehouse with imported English conveniences, down to the hearth brush and bellows, and apparently used it for learned conversations. It was “not to be a boudoir, as he [Benedict] himself said, but a belvedere capable of enlivening the papacy a little. It became a museum, because of all the savants that he assembled.” Roman coffeehouses, whether private or public, were social environments for learned conversation.
Conversazioni (salons) were another Roman institution that offered the opportunity for cultured conviviality. They could be gossip-packed sessions with musical accompaniment like the one held every Tuesday evening by Cardinal Alessandro Albani’s mistress, Countess Francesca Gherardi Cheruffini (1709–1778), in her palace in the Piazza Pilotta, or serious scholarly gatherings like the one Giovanni Bottari ran in his small house on the Via Corsini in Trastevere, where the Jansenists were praised and the Jesuits assailed. While one visitor to Rome sniffed at “the thought of mis-spending so much time to no purpose, among a most ridiculous, stupid set of people and gamesters” at Princess Agnese Colonna Borghese’s salon, it was an important gathering place for well-born ladies and gentlemen, regardless of their nationality. The princess was so determined to remain a social linchpin for foreigners in Rome that she sold her jewels to feed her one hundred daily dinner guests and to keep them entertained by staging Voltaire’s latest plays. Each conversazione had its own distinct flavor. Princess Borghese’s salon, for instance, was seen as the “ordinary meeting place [of the English], who are here in a great number, most of them very rich,” at least in the eyes of one French observer, who preferred to visit the princess in her bedroom while she performed her toilette. There she oversaw more intimate discussions, such as on who was the most beautiful woman in Rome. Although records of these gatherings are scarce, it is clear that like coffeehouses, the conversazioni were a part of learned culture in the city and served as places for scholars and society to mix.
Rome was still an important center for the publishing industry in the eighteenth century, even though the Eternal City was giving up its preeminent position to the Low Countries. Grouped around the Piazza Pasquino just off the Piazza Navona and on the Corso were a large number of active printers and booksellers. In addition to established places of commerce, printing presses sprang up everywhere. The French Academy had one in its attic, Giovanni Bottari in his small house, and François Spierre in his bedroom. An incomplete list of legal printers and booksellers in the city in the eighteenth century numbers eighty-six. Certain Roman specialties, such as vedute (prints of city views), were still very much in demand. Artists like Falda, Vasi, and Piranesi created views that were appreciated and collected by Roman visitors and permanent residents alike. A number of journals produced by Roman printing presses served to keep eruditi apprised of both local and international matters. From the tiny Diario ordinario, issued by the Chracas printing dynasty, which acted as an unofficial newspaper of the papal court, to the Notizie letterarie oltramontane, published by the Pagliarini brothers, which set as its goal to challenge “vecchio sapere” and was filled with both extracts from other publications, as well as original articles about astronomy, numismatics, archaeology, and religious controversies, these publications provided a steady stream of information.
As it had for centuries, the papal court continued to support learned men. Clement XII gave Anders Celsius (1701–1744) a room under the clock tower at the papal palace on the Quirinal, where he could perform his observations on temperature. Many cardinals, both Italian and foreign born, presided over large households, which often provided employment for artists or scholars, especially those who had recently arrived in Rome. When Winckelmann (1717–1768) came to Rome in 1755, he lived in the Cancelleria (Apostolic Chancellery) under the patronage of Cardinal Archinto. A year later he moved to Cardinal Alessandro Albani’s household in the Palazzo Albani del Drago, where he enjoyed a majestic view of the countryside and the distant town of Tivoli. While this patronage system provided housing and access to Roman society, it did not always include a stipend. These learned men often looked to the Vatican Library (with the help of their patrons) or to the papal household for positions that provided steady, if small, incomes. There were fine nuances in the hierarchy of this kind of patronage. Not surprisingly, positions that offered the highest stipends and demanded no menial work were considered the most desirable. Winckelmann, for example, was “ashamed” by his position as scrittore in Teutonic languages at the Vatican Library because he had to come to the library daily and attend to visitors. What he coveted was the job of custode, or head librarian, of the library, which offered a far better stipend, involved little work, and did not require regular attendance. The German scholar never became the custode, partly because the incumbent outlived him and partly because other cardinals more powerful than Winckelmann’s patron Albani had their own ideas about who should have the job. Concern for his professional and social status forced him to resign from the position of scrittore after holding it for less than four years. Receiving a Church sinecure, becoming the canon of a college or a church, or assuming an academic position, like a chair at the University of Rome, the Sapienza, provided the kind of income that both Italian and foreign-born men of letters eagerly sought in Rome.
For centuries, the traditional diplomatic and political missions of the Curia often meant that cardinals and other ecclesiastics who resided in the Eternal City spent considerable time in other European capitals. The near-constant diplomatic negotiations to end wars or resolve problems with succession that occupied the Holy See at the end of the seventeenth century well into the eighteenth century were seldom seen as political triumphs for Rome. However, they did require the presence of papal representatives. Europe’s turbulent political landscape meant that by the eighteenth century a number of highly placed members of the papal court had spent extended periods abroad. Cardinal Passionei, for example, spent more than two years in Paris and four years in Holland, as well as time in Belgium, Switzerland, and Vienna. Friends he met during his travels, like Montfaucon in Paris and Gronovius in Leiden, sent him books. Neri Corsini, Clement XII’s nephew, took a sort of Grand Tour in 1709 with his brother Bartolomeo when they traveled throughout Europe. Neri later spent almost fifteen years outside of Italy in places like London, the Low Countries, Germany, Paris, and Vienna. These diplomatic missions often combined politics with learned pleasure. When the astronomer and antiquarian Francesco Bianchini was officially dispatched in 1713 to present a cardinal’s hat to Prince Armand de Rohan (while unofficially sounding out Louis XIV’s ideas about the fate of James II), his trip included a stay in London, where he was warmly received by Isaac Newton and attended a meeting of the Royal Society at which he witnessed experiments on electricity. These well-traveled prelates were often cultured men who sought out fellow members of the Republic of Letters during their voyages and spent considerable time exploring the erudite culture of the courts where they visited. Through the contacts they made on these travels and the books and other objects they carried back to Rome with them, these men often brought to the papal court complex and nuanced understandings of European learning.
Other, more formal cultural institutions like universities and monasteries provided for the scholarly community in Rome. Some monasteries were known for their academic specialties. The Oratorians at the Chiesa Nuova, for example, were renowned in the eighteenth century as the keepers of the sacred flame of ecclesiastical history. Working collaboratively, monks there combed through archives all over the city, maintained their own precious library, and continued their founder Filippo Neri’s practice of regularly setting out in groups to explore ancient cemeteries and churches. Across town, the Jesuits at the Collegio Romano, which was built over the ancient Roman temple of Isis, instructed students in a wide range of disciplines. The Sapienza offered courses in five faculties (medicine, sacred sciences, philosophy and the arts, languages, and law). Benedict XIV completely overhauled the university in 1748, founding chairs for theoretical mathematics and chemistry. The relationship between religious orders and intellectuals was not an informal one. As Alphonse Dupront has deftly shown, the eighteenth-century Italian letterato was typically a “man of the Church and a priest.” The Church offered, as it had for centuries, both the means and the materials for bright young men to devote their lives to their studies as well as to God. Muratori complained that monasteries in the city had libraries that were too rich and that priests spent too much time in them, neglecting their pastoral duties.
The Rome that eighteenth-century prelates, artists, popes, and foreigners inhabited has remained largely absent from later histories of Italian artistic and cultural endeavors. Modern art historians, historians, and critics have not always been complimentary toward the Roman settecento. Indeed, since the nineteenth century, historians in general have viewed this period as one in which the long and steady decline of the international power of the papal court continued and reached its lowest ebb. Historians reasoned that with the decreasing political capital of the pope in European affairs, other cultural undertakings of the papacy must also have been marked by a lessening of quality and prestige. The pervasiveness and persistence of this view is evidenced by Hanns Gross’s 1990 Rome in the Age of Enlightenment, which diagnoses the city and its culture as being infected with “post-Tridentine entropy.”
A close reading of the historiography of eighteenth-century Italy reveals that Gross’s evaluation is based on a series of deeply embedded historical suppositions. The spirited declaration of the death of Italian scholarship by seventeenth- and eighteenth-century French scholars was elaborated by the philosophes until it became a hardened epitaph. Historians both at the time of the Risorgimento and under Mussolini’s fascist state viewed the eighteenth century as the imperfect beginning of their own culturally preeminent eras. Benedetto Croce, who also saw the stirrings of the Risorgimento in early eighteenth-century Rome, generally judged settecento culture as supporting a somewhat anemic version of Pre-Romanticism. The common view is that the papal court stumbled along in a state of moral and intellectual darkness, shuttered tightly away from the emerging rays of the French Enlightenment. The influential and widely quoted intellectual historian Isaiah Berlin characterized Rome as a center of the “Counter Enlightenment,” a representation that echoes Freud’s image of Rome in Civilization and Its Discontents as “lost in a dream of her own past.” Although pioneering work of such Italian historians as Franco Venturi, Vincenzo Ferrone, and Sergio Bertelli, as well as non-Italians such as Eric Cochrane, presents a sharply different viewpoint, the portrait of Rome and Italy in the 1700s as a stagnant backwater remains. For example, Jonathan Israel’s recent Radical Enlightenment comments on Italy’s “intellectual isolation” often enough to make it a separate entry in the book’s index.
But the historical record shows quite clearly that Rome was a vital artistic center and a “cultural entrepôt” (in Anthony Clarke’s phrase) throughout the eighteenth century. It was a period in which European writers corresponded and collaborated with their Roman counterparts and Roman artists and architects produced works for export to such diverse places as Portugal and England, and a place where English and other northern gentlemen came to complete their education. In short, Rome was an essential locus for artistic, cultural, philosophical, and theological endeavors, as well as for the European Republic of Letters.
Art history has traditionally done little better in valuing the Roman eighteenth century, christening art of that time as barocchetto, little Baroque, when the lofty peaks of Bernini, Cortona, and Borromini seemed to be followed by the flat and wan plains of the settecento. Inheriting much of the Modernist mythos, the discipline of art history has often touted genius and focused on the great-man theory of art history. Writers working from the traditional notion that great art and important cultural productions grow from revolutionary ideas and genius creators have had little praise for an artistic culture, like settecento Rome, that trafficked in traditional imagery and representations consciously and insistently related to the past.
These kind of dismissive observations suggest a wider problem. Thirty years ago, Anthony Clark concluded that the study of the Roman settecento “lacks everything.” Happily, this is no longer the case. Particularly in the last generation, both American and European art and architectural historians have turned their attention to art in Rome in that time. Key studies exist on the patronage of several popes. Monographs on major painters and sculptors have appeared, alongside studies of various kinds of art production, such as view painting and engraving. Several major exhibitions have also served to showcase eighteenth-century Roman art and architecture.
Fuga and Galilei, the two architects with whom I concern myself in this book, have been little studied even though their work fundamentally changed the city of Rome. The relatively small number of texts on them have focused on such foundational issues in art history as the study of documents, origins, influences, and styles. Elisabeth Kieven’s fundamental work on Fuga’s drawings, published in 1988, produced important archival materials relating to his life. Kieven was preceded by Lidia Bianchi, whose 1955 catalogue of drawings attempted to situate Fuga’s work in terms of style. Roberto Pane’s 1957 monograph gave precise chronological detail to Fuga’s oeuvre, while Guglielmo Matthiae’s 1952 book on the Roman works tried to read Fuga’s buildings through his biography—the “art and the man” approach. Studies focused on individual buildings have followed. The recently published papers from the conference held in 1999 to celebrate the tercentenary of Fuga’s birth provide additional information about the architect’s work in Rome, Naples, and Palermo. The literature on Galilei is even more limited. No published monograph currently exists, although Elisabeth Kieven has one in press. Her dissertation and excellent article on the Corsini Chapel remain the most complete treatments of Galilei and his work in Rome.
While much of the building I discuss was completed by two architects, Fuga and Galilei, working for two patrons, Clement XII and Benedict XIV, this volume is neither a monographic study of Fuga or Galilei nor a focused examination of Clement or Benedict as patrons. Instead, I have chosen to trace the connections between reform culture and papal architecture, engaging closely and carefully with the world of learned culture and with a series of architectural projects. My desire is to provide an interdisciplinary study in which architectural history is enriched, and enriches in turn cultural and intellectual history. Thus, this book attempts to cover a lot of ground. Two architects, seven monuments, and a crowd of eighteenth-century Roman personalities populate its pages. Thinking about the concept of cultural renewal has led me to areas as diverse as economic history, the history of science, and eighteenth-century historiography. Traces from all of those fields can be found in what I have written. Readings in the history of science and the history of ideas in eighteenth-century Italy have been particularly important to my inquiry. Vincenzo Ferrone’s masterful portrayal of the vibrant and complex intellectual and scientific culture in Italy from the 1690s to the 1740s has shaped my thinking in a number of ways. Pierre Bourdieu’s notion of examining conflict within “fields” to better understand cultural events in a given historical moment has been very useful in my study.
Certainly almost every discussion of a piece of architecture or historical moment could be expanded. My hope is that by moving from the architect’s drafting table to the scholar’s study or from diffuse intellectual practices to precise archival documentation, I can bring the larger contours of eighteenth-century culture into sharper focus. This transition (and translation) from learned culture to architectural form is filled with misquotes, dangling modifiers, and lost passages. But in trying to sketch the broad outlines and connections among learned culture, reform, and architecture, I have sought to create a wide if painterly landscape that I hope will provide a panoramic view of history and art in eighteenth-century Rome.
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