Topographical and archaeological study of the antiquities of the city of Rome, 1420-1447
Spring, Peter William Herbert
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After tracing the survival and manifestation of interest in the antiquities of Rome from the 5th to the 14th centuries, an attempt is made to show in what ways Petrarch is the precursor of the humanist antiquarians of the early Quattrocento. His writings on Rome, and those of his followers, cannot be isolated from the political realities of 'Babylonish Captivity' and Schism, which for so long frustrated any concerted attempts to rejuvenate Rome, or investigate its antiquities. But the return of Pope Martin V to his native city in September 1420 paved the way to its recovery, and inaugurated a decade of intensive exploration of its ancient remains, undertaken by the artists and humanists who came to Rome from Tuscany and Northern Italy to work for the Pope, or his Cardinals. This study, at the source of rinascita, was to decisively change the course of both Italian art and humanism. Intellectually pre-eminent among the humanists who entered the Curia under Martin V, Poggio Bracciolini, it is argued, was the effective founder in modern times of both field-archaeology and classical epigraphy: disciplines which give the description of Rome inserted into Book I of his De varietate Fortunae its distinctive and original tone. The rival claims made on behalf of either Cola di Rienzo or Nicolo Signorili as founders of epigraphy are shovm to be mistaken. The latter, in his own treatise on Rome, commissioned by the Pope, attempted unsuccessfully, it is suggested, to wed the Roman tradition of communal antiquarianism to the humanistic approach recently introduced into the Curia by Poggio. The death of Martin V in February 1431 precipitated renewed hostilities, which forced Eusenius IV, his successor, into exile, and interrupted the course of archaeology in Rome for over a decade. The Roma instaurata, the treatise composed by his secretary Flavio Biondo, coincides with the Pope's eventual return to the city in September 1443, and reflects his attempts to restore it; its commemoration of the Pope's instauratio accompanies its recovery of Roma antica. The first sustained attempt at a humanist topography of ancient Rorne, Biondo's work draws on a wealth of disparate, and in many cases newly discovered, source material. In its erudition, and in its restoration of what had come to be corrupt, it must rank, it is claimed, as a major contribution not only to Roman topography, but to the historiography of the Renaissance, and the European revival of learning.