#6: “Rome as it was and as it is” – Giovanni Maggi, Alessandro Donati and the invention of the before-and-after illustration

Ulrich Pfisterer

Today, Rome’s ancient monuments are coming back to life with the help of audio guides, virtual information offerings and VR animations. The most spectacular example of this is the Domus Aurea, Nero’s superlative palace. As soon as visitors put on virtual reality glasses during the tour, the seemingly decaying, labyrinthine rooms and corridors below ground transform back into the sumptuously furnished and painted luxury villa complex that Nero let built after the city fire of 64.

Before this triumph of the digital in the last two decades, however, the possibilities of the ‘old’ medium of the book – more precisely the travel guide and the printed travel souvenir – had been taken to the limit.

Thus, probably for the first time in 1962 and then until the beginning of the 21st century, a booklet was offered in the Eternal City that depicts and comments on Rome “as it was and as it is.” [1] The highlight is that one can flip through the pages with photographs illustrating ancient monuments in their current state by overlaying a transparent sheet with missing parts, decorations, and contexts that help reconstructing their original appearance (figs. 1, 2). The transparent cover sheet in each case allows both views – then and now – to be seen together. Before the age of the digital, the ancient ruins were thus resurrected in analog form before the eyes of tourists.

But when did this so catchy and successful principle of before-and-after illustration for the ancient monuments of Rome actually come into being? [2] Now, Raphael’s so-called letter to Leo X from the late 1510s on the project of recording all ancient monuments of Rome already indicates that the intended illustrations recorded both the present appearance and (partly) also reconstructions – without it being possible to determine more precisely how systematically this was realized and whether, for example this project was intended for publication. [3] In this respect, the question of this contribution addresses only to actually published and illustrated books and prints, which for the first time work with the principle of illustrating the before-and-after for buildings in Rome. This is the attempt of a first compilation, whereby it seems to emerge that the principle of such illustrations was actually developed for the ruins of Rome in the field of travel guides and souvenirs and not adapted from other subject and task areas.

Three preliminary remarks and limitations are important: In 1550, two small, related woodcuts appeared in a book, showing the Laocoön once in ‘found state’, once with additions. The latter illustration evokes both the ancient appearance and a restoration intended to recreate the original completeness. [4] This seems to be the earliest printed before-and-after illustration ever, albeit for a sculpture and initially without follow-up.

It is certainly true – and this is the second thing to consider – that the Laocoön was often shown on other engravings, partly damaged, partly supplemented, and the same can be found for the buildings of Rome. However, the decisive criterion that the illustrations were necessarily conceived and seen together is missing in these cases [5] that because collectors could arranged and combined at will the loose sheets of the prints.

Third, what can be observed elsewhere, applies to the before-and-after principle of representation too, i.e. that such inventions and innovations in pictorial argumentation and use were first tried out in the medium of drawing. Thus, a draftsman probably from the wider circle of Étienne Dupérac produced an illustrated manuscript Disegni de le Ruine di Roma e come anticamente erono around 1574/79. [6] Here, already demonstratively and somewhat consistently reconstructed antique state and ruin view are juxtaposed (figs. 3, 4). Although this project was not engraved, it may have further paved the way for print before-and-after illustrations.

In any case, the numerous woodcuts provided by the publisher Girolamo Franzini (Venice and Rome) to illustrate his editions of Andrea Fulvio’s and Bartolomeo Marliani’s Rome handbook from 1588 onwards – and which marked the final triumph of the illustrated guidebook – never refer twice to a building. This if we disregard the modern general view of the Capitol, which is followed by several representations of reconstructed temples there. [7]

Probably for the first time in the Ornamenti di fabriche antichi et moderni dell’Alma città di Roma – published for the crowds of visitors to the Holy Year 1600 – the publisher Andrea della Vaccaria had a building illustrated in its (reconstructed) ancient and its modern state on two plates. The preparatory drawings and engravings are (mostly?) by Giovanni Maggi, the explanatory text below the illustrations by Bartolomeo Rossi. Two of the only 24 engravings show the ancient Mausoleum of Hadrian, later known as Castel Sant’Angelo (figs. 5, 6).

Since the engravings do not bear any numbering, both sheets did not necessarily have to be bound one after the other. [8] Moreover, the Latin captions make it clear that the depiction with the ‘modern state’ is actually about the Tiber Bridge built by Hadrian in front of Castel Sant’Angelo, not about the mausoleum itself. In addition, the texts of the two panels do not refer to the other illustration either.

Pietro Martire Fellini adopts as well the illustration principle in his Trattato nuovo dell’alma città di Roma, published several times since 1610, only on selected buildings, but now explicitly shown as former and present conditions. The temple of Jupiter Stator on the Forum Romanum, for example, is first shown “as it once was”, then in the following chapter the “remnant [...] on the Campo Vaccino” (pp. 390–391). Similarly, Giovanni Domenico Franzini in his Descrittione di Roma antica e moderna (first ed. 1643) will illustrate in the second part to the Antichità figurate dell’alma città di Roma (pp. 648–651) the Mausoleum of Augustus in the reconstructed ancient state and as a modern ruin (figs. 7, 8).

The case of Giacomo Lauro’s plates in his work titled Antiquae Urbis Splendor is a different one. Although the engraved title page speaks of the “old and new buildings” of Rome, the first three sections of the work, published around 1615 (dated 1612–1615), but probably largely engraved before 1609, provide – apart from a few supplementary illustrations with plans, ceremonies and equipment – exclusively reconstructed monuments on 99 plates. Only the fourth part, published in 1628, offers views of the present state of some buildings. The connections – for example between Hadrian’s Mausoleum and Castel Sant’Angelo (figs. 9, 10) – must therefore be made by the viewer himself over dozens of plates. [9]

The decisive systematization took place in another publication by Giovanni Maggi (1566–1618). The biographically only selectively tangible Maggi has been studied so far mainly as a landscape painter (even if no work has survived), architect and architectural theorist as a draftsman of a posthumously Rome plan published 1625. [10] The series of graphic works on Roman monuments, obelisks and fountains – by far his most extensive legacy – are well known but have not been analyzed in any detail. [11] In 1608, he seems to have published the Edifizi antichi e moderni di Roma including 20 engravings  [12]

This was followed in 1618 by the Roma vetus ac recens utriusque aedificiis illustrata, 96 plates on buildings of ancient Rome and their coeval appearance. [13] In part, he reused his earlier prints for this purpose. Already the title page to the first volume of this series of engravings shows a programmatic structure according to the before-and-after principle: represented on both sides of the title are the Baths of Caracalla, the Temple of Diana on the Aventine near S. Sabina, and the Baths of Diocletian, each in reconstructed antique appearance and as ruins (fig. 11).

The following plates only occasionally serve indeed this juxtaposition, plates that actually belong together are partly arranged far apart in the work, and the title page to the second volume does not follow the principle of the first and simply shows six different ancient ruins. Maggi’s biggest problem, however, was that this expensive publication apparently did not become a popular success either, and it remained with only one reprint after more than 30 years – in 1649, in the run-up to the Holy Year.

This changed in 1662, the year in which the Jesuit Alessandro Donati’s (1584–1640) treatise on “old and new Rome, illustrated by buildings from both periods”, Roma vetus ac recens utriusque aedificiis illustrata, first published in 1638, was reissued with over 80 copper engravings. The work – not a travel guide in the strict sense, but an extensive antiquarian study in Latin – represents in this respect a milestone in the study of the topography of Rome, as it takes into account the historical development of the ancient city with previously unknown consistency. [14] The first edition and then the new editions of 1639 and 1648 had still been content with 10 illustrations of city plans, coins, the construction of an aqueduct and an Egyptianizing statue. The 1662 supplemented plates with views of reconstructed buildings and ruins are all copied after Maggi’s Aedificiorum et ruinarum Romae, only the staffage figures and elements in the foreground were changed. Here, too, therefore, a juxtaposition of antiquity and the present is not consistently achieved in all buildings, but it is frequent. In the case of the Baths of Titus, for example, both states are even presented comparatively on top of each other on one plate (fig. 12).

In addition, the text includes illustrations of ancient coins with architectural representations, on which the reconstructions are based and which are supposed to authenticate them (figs. 13, 14, 15). The enormous editorial success of Donati’s Roma vetus ac recens, with further editions in 1665, 1694, 1695 (in two printed versions), 1725, and 1738 (these two with significantly inferior plates, being engraved copies), as well as reprints in Graevius’s Thesaurus antiquitatum romanarum (1698 and 1733), finally established the principle of before-and-after illustration.

However, it should be remembered here, with only one example, that there were other modes of representation to show the ancient and modern condition of a building. Jacques Spon, for instance, reconstructed an aqueduct in Athens in 1678 with dashed additions in order to be able to clarify the original distribution of the inscription on the sides of the archway, which has survived elsewhere in its entirety (fig. 16). [15]

The illustrations from Donati then appear for the last time probably in the travel accounts from Rome published in 1750, attributed to the French soldier and adventurer Claude Alexandre Bonneval (1675–1747), who called himself Humbaracı Ahmet Paşa after converting to Islam. [16] The printing plates of the editions from 1662–1695 must have reached The Hague for this purpose to the publisher Jean Neaulme, who had a French title added to the top of each illustration. The book was intended as educational reading for young men, the information on topography and history of Rome are enriched with anecdotes. Even if the style of the illustrations, which were about one hundred years old, probably seemed somewhat antiquated: The principle of the before-and-after illustration was not to change significantly thereafter – presumably until the appearance of the ‘reconstructing’ transparency sheets in 1962.

I thank Cristina Ruggero and Timo Strauch for hints and help.

[1] Romolo A. Staccioli: Rom. Wie es war und wie es ist. Illustrierter Führer durch Rom, Rome 1962; in the same presentation, guides were then published for other places in Italy and Greece.

[2] These considerations complement the section on antiquarian representation procedures in Ulrich Pfisterer and Cristina Ruggero (eds.): Phönix aus der Asche. Bildwerdung der Antike – Druckgraphiken bis 1869, Petersberg 2019, pp. 252–281.

[3] On the authorship of Castiglione cf. Amedeo Quandam: Il letterato e il pittore. Per una storia dell’amicizia tra Castiglione e Raffaello, Rome 2021.

[4] On these two woodcuts, not considered in the Laocoön literature, an essay by me will appear in 2023.

[5] Among the sheets of the Speculum Romanae Magnificentiae, for example, the Colosseum can be found both reconstructed and as a ruin, cf. Birte Rubach: Ant. Lafreri Formis Romae. Der Verleger Antonio Lafreri und seine Druckgraphikproduktion, Berlin 2016, p. 296 (cat. 275–276).

[6] Étienne Dupérac: Disegni de le Ruine di Roma e come anticamente erono, ed. by Rudolf Wittkower, Milan 1963, 2 vols. On the relationship between drawing and printmaking, cf. for example Ulrich Pfisterer: “Wie man Skulpturen aufnehmen soll”: Der Beitrag der Antiquare im 16. und 17. Jahrhundert, Heidelberg: arthistoricum.net, 2022 (FONTES – Text- und Bildquellen zur Kunstgeschichte 1350–1750, vol. 93) (https://doi.org/10.11588/arthistoricum.1016) [17.2.2023].

[7] Andrea Fulvio: L’Antichità di Roma, Venice 1588; Bartolomeo Marliani: Urbis Romae topographia, Venice 1588.

[8] Just compare the digitized copies: https://www.deutsche-digitale-bibliothek.de/item/DQLQKABPAMEQV2YGU2VZBLYH3ZXQQ6NS [17.2.2023], https://www.digitale-sammlungen.de/view/bsb11298442?page=42,43 [17.2.2023] and https://archive.org/details/ornamentidifabri00dero/page/n13/mode/2up [17.2.2023]. A work that investigated a particular type of construction can also combine form, modern state, ground plan, pictorial evidence of antiquity and reconstruction, see for example Onofrio Panvinio: De ludis circensibus, Venice 1600.

[9] Concerning Lauro’s work now Victor Plahte Tschudi: Baroque Antiquity. Archaeological Imagination in Early Modern Europe, Cambridge 2017.

[10] Supplementing the brief remarks in the artist’s biographies by Giovanni Baglione (1642), cf. Francesco Ehrle: Roma al tempo di Urbano VIII. La pianta di Roma Maggi-Maupin-Losi del 1625, Rome 1915, pp. 7–14; Börje Magnusson: Giovanni Maggi Romano on architecture: a treatise of 1614, in: Docto Peregrino. Roman Studies in Honour of Torgil Magnuson, Rome 1992, pp. 181–220; Daniela Gallavotti Cavallero: Giovanni Maggi, la pittura di paesaggio e la Pianta di Roma del 1625, in: Piante di Roma dal Rinascimento ai catasti, ed. by Mario Bevilacqua and Marcello Fagiolo, Rome 2012, pp. 199–211.

[11] Most important Stefano Borsi: Roma di Urbano VIII. La pianta di Giovanni Maggi, 1625, Rome 1990, part. pp. 15, 62.

[12] However, apparently no one has seen and further investigated this series since Ehrle 1915 (cf. note 10), p. 14.
[Postscript of 14.3.2023: Reference is also made to an apparently less successful and today very rare publication by Pietro Paolo Orlandi: Almae urbis Romae et quarundam Italiae civitatum et antiqua et nova notabilia, Rome 1612, in which, among other things, the Colosseum is illustrated on two plates in its ancient and modern condition: https://arachne.dainst.org/entity/1674058 and https://arachne.dainst.org/entity/1675673.]

[13] Digital copy of the UB Heidelberg: doi:10.11588/diglit.26674 [17.2.2023]. Borsi 1990 (cf. note 11), p. 15, 33 mentions a first edition of 1611, which is not verifiable for me.

[14] In summary Colin D. Pilney: Alessandro Donati’s Roma vetus ac recens, book one: text, translation, and commentary, Ph.D. diss. Fordham University New York 2001.

[15] Jacques Spon: Voyage d’Italie, de Dalmatie, de Grèce, et du Levant: fait aux années 1675 & 1676, Lyon 1678, vol. 2, pp. 170f. (https://doi.org/10.11588/diglit.4267) [17.2.2023]; cf. Margaret Daly Davis: Archäologie der Antike aus den Beständen der Herzog-August-Bibliothek Wolfenbüttel, 1500–1700, Wiesbaden 1994, pp. 58–61.
[Postscript of 14.3.2023: Already Orlandi 1612 (cf. postscript to note 12) renders the then lost and reconstructed outstretched arm of the Laocoön group in contrast to the rest of the sculpture only in outline, apparently to make it recognizable as an addition: https://arachne.dainst.org/entity/1611936.]

[16] Claude Alexandre de Bonneval: Antiquités Romaines. Expliquées dans les memoires du Comte de B***. Contenant ses avantures, un grand nombre d'histoires et anecdotes ... ses recherches & ses découvertes sur les antiquités de la ville de Rome & autres curiosités de l’Italie, 1750.

Postscript of June 1st, 2023:

A detailed account of the subjects outlined here has just been published online in the series FONTES. Text- und Bildquellen zur Kunstgeschichte 1350–1750 at arthistoricum.net with the title »Rom, wie es war und wie es ist«. Die Erfindung der Vorher-Nachher-Illustration in der Frühen Neuzeit: https://doi.org/10.11588/arthistoricum.1234. The text is available there not only as PDF but in HTML and also links to digital copies of most of the early-modern sources cited.