Regina Viarum. La via Appia nella grafica tra Cinquecento e Novecento

Istituto centrale per la grafica – Sale espositive del Palazzo della Calcografia

via della Stamperia 6

20 settembre 2023  – 7 gennaio 2024

Our second stop along the Appian Way leads us to a monument – no longer surviging – that had fascinated for centuries travelers coming from the South to Rome with its majesty: the Septizodium or Septizonium. Built by Emperor Septimius Severus in 203 AD as an addition to the imperial palace built by Domitian, it was a spectacular, three-storey building, approximately 89 meters long, composed of three large semicircular niches and two rectilinear wings, decorated with colored marble, Corinthian columns, fountains and sculptures. It was standing at the base of the Palatine, on the side of the Circus Maximus.

Many Renaissance drawings recorded its feature before its dismantling carried out by the architect Domenico Fontana in 1589 under the papacy of Sixtus V. Starting from Middle Ages, the precious marbles decorating the building were stripped to be reused in other architectural projects.

During his stay in Rome from 1532 to 1536, the Dutch artist Maarten van Heemskerck (4) executed drawings of the main ancient monuments, classical statues, landscapes and city views. Beginning in the Renaissance time, the foreign artists used to visit Italy and Rome in order to study the classical monuments and ruins and the works of contemporary masters. Van Heemskerck was particularly interested in the artworks of Michelangelo and Giulio Romano, along with ancient art. He depicted the Septizodium in a very detailed drawing in which the monument is portrayed as isolated from its setting, in a lateral bottom-up view. He chose this particular point of view to emphasize the ruined structure reused as a fortress. Small figures are outlined at the base of the building showing its colossal size. The artist’s name is written on a moulding: it was originally thought to be his signature, but it was actually added later.

Dating back to the second half of 16th Century, it’s Alberto Alberti’s (5) drawing. A polyhedric artist from Tuscany who worked in Rome from 1547, Alberti drew many important classical monuments. Among them, the drawing depicting the plan and the elevation of the Severian building. Flanking them, the enlarged details of the columns decorating the façade. Handwritten inscriptions inform us that there were two types of columns in the three-storey building: some with a smooth shafts and some with cabled fluting shaft – with parallel concave grooves filled with moulding.

A renowned topographer, engraver and architect, Étienne Dupérac (5) depicted the Septizonium focusing on the architectural structure set in a wide background including the Palatine ruins. Published in I vestigi dell’Antichità di Roma raccolti e ritratti in perspectiva con ogni diligenza in 1575 by Lorenzo della Vaccheria (Vaccaro), the engraving is one of the 38 plates that reproduce the main Roman monuments. At the bottom, there is an inscription with historical information: “Ruins of the Septizodium built by Septimius Severus to greet the travelers coming from Africa decorated with beautiful colored marbles and columns. It was also called Septisolium as there were seven representations of planets on it”.  Dupérac’s works are fundamental to archeological views which became very popular and requested by a large public, not necessarily cultivated.

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