Rome has been a dream city for many travellers and artists for centuries, but I propose a journey to the discovery of Rome in 1569 through Urbis Romae aedificiorum illustrium quae supersunt reliquiae (Views of Ancient Rome) by Giovanni Antonio Dosio (1533–1611), an Italian architect and sculptor, and published by Giovanni Battista de Cavalieri (1526–1597), an Italian engraver, in 1569 in Rome [fig.1].
The book is part of the tradition of sixteenth-century guidebooks and “récit de voyage”.
The textblock contains 48 engravings of Roman architecture and ruins, printed on laid paper. We can see famous old buildings in their context such as the Agrippa thermal baths [fig. 2] or Trajan’s column [fig.3]. The Dosio’s drawings represent faithfully the state of the monument in the mid-sixteenth century. This degree of veracity is typical of Dosio, and can be explained by the fact that he participated in the excavation of Rome, especially the Forma Urbis in 1562.
The condition and use of this book is intriguing … half of the textblock is missing, and we are not sure why. Another edition of Urbis romae aedificiorum illustrium quae supersunt reliquiae, in the Complutense Library in Madrid, has in first part a corpus of engravings showing antique sculptures, then our “Views of Ancient Rome”. This corpus could be the missing part of our example.
Some folios have ink and graphite sketches of boats [fig. 4] and anatomical drawings, which made us wonder how this book was used and where it was carried on its on journey? Why was it produced who owned it? How did they use it?
The title page shows a triumphal arch with Egyptian figures. Two of them hold a cloth with a dedication to Cosmo Medici, Duke of Florence and Siena, then we can see the title and the authors’ names [fig. 5].
On the arch, we can also see different coats of arms surrounded by figures. At the top centre, the shield with six semicircles held by two women is the Medici coat of arms [fig. 6].
Cosmo I de’ Medici (1519 – 1574) took festina lente (in English “more haste, less speed”) as his motto and illustrated it with a sail-backed tortoise. At the top left, we can see this emblem [fig. 7].
At the top right, a chimera with a goat bust, a snake body and a lion tail [fig. 9].
At the bottom, we can see different monuments like at the left-hand, a column with a Justice statue [fig. 11], a perspective street at the centre [fig. 10], and at the right-hand a statue with Neptune flooring two sea horses [fig. 12].
Views of Ancient Rome is an in-6 (280 x 225 x 35 mm) and each section has 6 leaves. The binding structure is a limp parchment binding.
Limp binding is a bookbinding method in which the book has a flexible cover; parchment has used in this case. The cover is made with one single piece of parchment, folded around the textblock. Sometimes some limp parchment binding, as in this example, includes flaps and alum-tanned leather thongs.
The sewing support is in the same material than the thongs. The sections are sawn on four split thongs, and these thongs are then laced into the parchment cover at the joint.
After the sewing, a strip in paper was fixed on the spine and the joint area of the board. The spine reinforcement materials are used to strengthen the spine and to assure the textblock is well attached to the covers. Usually, this piece of paper is a re-used part of another textblock.
And it’s the case for View of ancient Rome, a vellum paper strip with a printed text in Latin in two columns is visible on the spine and the inner covers [fig. 14]. We can recognize gothic typography and the text has been translated as (Baruch 3:9-15) a passage of the Bible. [fig. 13]. The endpaper on the inside back cover presents an ink sketch of a vase and a kind of cylinder box with a ring on the top and we are currently searching for similar examples.
When this book arrived in the conservation studio, it had a notable amount of surface dirt and a yellow patina on the binding. There were stains and abrasions on the parchment covers and it has many deformations most likely caused by extreme changes in humidity.
The hygroscopic nature of parchment makes it dimensionally unstable, causing it to expand and contract in response to changes in its environment – resulting in distortion or cockling. This behaviour is due on one hand to its method of manufacture, and on the other hand to the conditions of storage. For instance, during its manufacture, parchment is stretched on a frame for thinning and drying. This operation give a particular direction at the structure of the skin and constrains it.
The textblock was dusty and has prominent brown stains throughout in the tail area.
The brown ink of some sketches [fig. 15] could have been accidentally spilled making these brown stains [fig. 16].
All of the leaves had tears and losses. There is only one extant endband.
After discussion with Olivia Horsfall Turner, senior curator in Art and Digital department, Jane Rutherston, head book conservator and I, an archaeological approach for treatment was chosen. The purpose was the stabilization of the book in order to enable consultation and preserve this important record. This approach involved minimal intervention and a strict respect of the historical structure to ensure access for researchers to the structural elements normally adhered or hidden.
First, the cover and the textblock were cleaned with a chemical sponge (Smoke sponge®) and a smooth brush. During this cleaning, several unidentified hairs were found in between pages which we have kept and are hoping to have identified [fig.17].
The tears and losses were repaired with wheat starch paste and Japanese tissue, but we chose not to fill the losses as the paper was strong enough to avoid a tear during a consultation [fig.18].
Spine reinforcement of the passage of the Bible was left as is to enable at the researchers to see the codicological aspects. The endleaves have been reattached with an unbleached linen thread and the headband in tail has been consolidated with Japanese paper. In order to support the bindings and preserve the headband, a wedge in Plastazote® was inserted so the binding keeps its original shape [figs 19 and 20].
In accordance with this minimal intervention approach, we decided to not reduce the cockling of the parchment. In this case, treating the cover would be an aesthetic treatment. This kind of treatment is being re-considered in the conservation world because of the impact moisture can have on the skin.
Finally, Views of Ancient Rome is now housed in a bespoke museum quality phase box to protect it from dust, light and mechanical damage when it is stored. Phase boxes also limit variation of temperature and relative humidity.
The patina documents the book’s life and its journey over 440 years! For instance it indicates it has been heavily used and kept in an environment with fluctuating temperature and humidity. All of this before its acquisition by the Museum, in 1991: the bookseller’s catalogue Ornements, architecture published by La Sirène in Paris in 1990 describe our exemplar as damaged with several stains and a detached parchment binding.
And some questions about this past remain unresolved: what happened to the missing pages? Were they deliberately removed and sold separately? Why did an amateur artist think it appropriate to sketch boats and figures inside of it? Where did the brown stains come from?
After this long life and 26 years of waiting in the Museum stores, Views of Ancient Rome can be started a new formidable journey as museum object.
I would like to extend my sincerest thanks to Anne Bancroft who contributed and reread with patience this blog’s article.
- McGowan, Margaret M., The Vision of Rome in Late Renaissance France, London, Yale University Press, 2001.
- Luporini, Eugenio, Un libro di disegni di Giovanni Antonio Dosio, Firenze, Valecchi, 1957.
- Valone, Carolyn, Giovanni Antonio Dosio and his patrons, Thesis (Ph. D.), Northwestern University, 1972.
* Available in the National Art Library Collections