In 1593, the Florence-born artist Antonio Tempesta (1555–1630) published one of his absolute masterpieces in print: a View of Rome composed out of twelve folio-sized, etched plates. When joined together in two rows of six, the print forms an impressive frieze measuring almost 3.5 by 8 feet (fig. 1).
As detailed as a modern-day "satellite view" from Google Earth, Tempesta's etching seems to show us every nook and cranny of the Eternal City in his day. The city is portrayed from the West, with Saint Peter's Basilica and the Vatican prominently present on the lower left (fig. 2).
Other famous Roman monuments, like the Pantheon and the Colosseum, can also easily be located between the many houses and city palaces (fig. 3). Roads separate and stretch out between them like veins, connecting the most important squares and other public spaces. The Tiber River, streaming in a flowing curve from right to left, is present in ten out of twelve plates (fig. 4).
Tempesta made some very clever choices in composing his city view. He decided, for example, to focus on the city within the Aurelian walls, leaving most of the surrounding countryside blank in order to present a clear outline of his subject. The cleverness of this choice is highlighted through a comparison with other aerial views of the city, such as a print done by the French artist Nicolas Beatrizet for the publisher Antonio Lafreri (fig 5).
Beatrizet shows the city in its (somewhat stylized) surroundings, making it hard to trace exactly where the urban environment ends and the countryside begins. This is a problem in many maps, especially when no color is applied to distinguish between different elements of the landscape.
The angle and position from which Tempesta presents the city is equally well thought out. The locations of the most notable landmarks indicate that he may have been standing on the hill known as the Gianicolo while he made some of his preliminary sketches for this incredible overview. As one of the highest viewpoints on the outskirts of the city, it seems a logical choice as a vantage point, but Tempesta may also have made this decision to ensure that the most populated areas of Rome would be in focus. In the sixteenth century, on the southeast side of the city, there were still many large unpopulated spaces within the walls, most of them in use as farmland. As can be seen on other maps of the time, these lands took up approximately the same space as the populated parts of town, making the city seem "half empty," or at best "half full" (fig. 6).
Tempesta's choice for a scenographic view from the Gianicolo, angled halfway between a panorama and an aerial view, ensures minimum visibility of these parts, and thus significantly increases the monumental and attractive character of the urban landscape.
A Modern Perspective
Although not without precedents, Tempesta's View of Rome was the largest and most meticulous graphic portrayal of the city to date. Its size and clear presentation recall another incredible Italian map, created by the artist Jacopo de' Barbari (active by 1497–deceased by 1516) about a century earlier. De' Barbari's enormous View of Venice, dated 1500, was printed from six woodblocks and measures 4.3 by 9.2 feet (British Museum; see image).
De' Barbari's and Tempesta's city views are comparable in many ways, but their differences speak to a century's worth of change, not only through each print's medium—De' Barbari used woodblocks, while Tempesta worked in the relatively new technique of etching—but also through their ideologies. De' Barbari's Renaissance Venice is presented as a city at the mercy of the winds and subject to the rule of Mercury (the god of trade and travel) and Neptune (the ruler of the sea). Tempesta's View of Rome, in contrast, shows a city built and ruled by humans, and is meant to glorify its modern, urban appearance.
Over the course of the sixteenth century, interest had slowly shifted from depicting the (ruinous) monuments of days long gone (fig. 7) to the fruits of the glorious rebirth of the Italian peninsula. Emphasizing the modern expansion and embellishment of the urban landscape became an important aspect of the papal portfolio and its propaganda.
The Baroque Splendor of Rome
The development of modern depictions of Rome came to full fruition in the seventeenth century. The great number of prints documenting churches, city palaces, piazzas, public monuments, fountains, and sculpture produced in this period create the impression that no stone in the city escaped the fate of being immortalized in print.
An important contribution to this cause was done by the publishing dynasty of the De' Rossi family, and Giovanni Giacomo de' Rossi (1627–1691) in particular. Starting with part one of Palazzi di Roma (Palaces of Rome) in 1655, he documented the great architectural, sculptural, and theatrical monuments of his day in numerous print series and books, collectively known today as Roma Moderna. He also started an important collaboration with the artist Giovanni Battista Falda (1643–1678), who produced most of the preparatory drawings for De' Rossi's publications. Falda had previously been in the workshop of the great Gian Lorenzo Bernini (1598–1680) and was thus very much in tune with the current taste and building activity in and around Rome. New developments were followed closely, as can be seen in Falda's rendition of Saint Peter's square in De' Rossi's Il Nuovo Teatro series, devoted to the great buildings erected during the rule of Pope Alexander VII. In the first part of the series, the square was depicted almost fully enclosed by the circular arcade, which was in fact the way Bernini had initially envisioned it (fig. 8). In part two of the same series, this view was "corrected" to show the arcade as it had actually been constructed with a much wider entrance to the square (fig. 9).
The Long Life of Tempesta's View
An interest in the modern manifestation of the Eternal City can also be noted in the various editions of Tempesta's great print. The View of Rome remained in high demand throughout the seventeenth century, and was therefore reprinted several times, first by Tempesta himself and later by no one other than the De' Rossi family. In these new editions, alterations were made in accordance with the changes that the cityscape had undergone. The Metropolitan's version of the print, published by Giovanni Domenico de' Rossi in 1645, already includes the first of Bernini's monuments—the boat-shaped fountain known as La Barcaccia on the square in front of the church of Trinità dei Monti (figs. 10 & 11).
For a 1693 version, the Four Rivers Fountain on Piazza Navona and the semicircular arcades encircling Saint Peter's Square were etched into the plates. Interestingly, in this version Saint Peter's Square was also referred to as teatro (theater), a name adopted in the seventeenth century for public spaces marked by grand Baroque architecture.
By the end of the seventeenth century, various new and, arguably, better maps and views of Rome became available on the print market, and publishers eventually ceased to update Tempesta's View of Rome. His print was nevertheless still appreciated and collected both for its artistic qualities and as a historic source. It is recorded that the print was offered for sale by the De' Rossi family and later by the papal publishing institution, the Calcografia Camerale, until the end of the eighteenth century, more than two hundred years after it was created. The etching plates then presumably suffered the same fate as many old and "superfluous" plates and were melted down.
Today, only a few complete copies of Tempesta's View of Rome exist. Comparing the different surviving states provides us with a wonderful insight into the transformation of the city in the glory days of the High Baroque and informs us of the importance that was given to staying up to date with the modernization of the urban landscape in its graphic representation.
Antonio Tempesta's View of Rome is on display through January 6, 2013, in the exhibition Bernini: Sculpting in Clay.