Bryn Mawr Classical Review 98.3.07


Eva Margareta Steinby (ed.), Ianiculum-Gianicolo. Storia, topografia, monumenti, leggende dall'antichità al rinascimento. Acta Instituti Romani Finlandiae, vol. 16. Rome 1996. Pp. xv, 259, 4 pls., 136 ills. ISBN 951-96902-5-5.


Reviewed by L. Richardson, Jr., Duke University.

To celebrate the fortieth anniversary of the establishment of the Finnish Institute in Rome (Institutum Romanum Finlandiae) in Villa Lante on the Janiculan hill the Finnish authorities organized a seminar of studies spanning three days, 5-7 May 1994. The theme of the seminar has given its title to this book, Ianiculum-Gianicolo, and the program included twenty-two papers by an international, but preponderately Italian, assembly of scholars. Sixteen of these papers are here offered in published form, plus three additional items. All but the last are in Italian; the last, on Polidoro da Caravaggio by Achim Gnann, is in German. They range in length from three pages to twenty-three, the latter with numerous illustrations, but a couple not so fully illustrated are nearly as long. The format is a large quarto with excellent typography, and only occasionally are the illustrations reproduced at so reduced a scale that it requires a magnifying glass to discern such details as inscriptions.

The papers are here arranged in four groups: an initial four that address the ancient topography of the hill and its environs followed by four that deal with the cults and traditions that have been attached, or have attached themselves, to the hill make up the first and smaller half. In the second we find a group of five that deal with the architecture and setting of Villa Lante and a final one of six that deal with the painted decorations of the villa and their program.

In the first half there is little that anyone familiar with the topography of ancient Rome will find very novel or compelling; the authors content themselves with going over familiar territory and speculation about the association of Janus with the hill that bears his name. They stress the paradoxical exclusion/inclusion of the hill in the urban fabric of the ancient city. Although the authors frequently cite Louise Holland's provocative study Janus and the Bridge (Rome 1961), they do not seem to have perceived its implications, both with regard to the cult of Janus, that most Roman of divinities, and to the local geography. Professor Filippo Coarelli's suggestion (pp. 25-27) that the remains of ancient masonry beneath Villa Lante are traces of an auguraculum where a red flag was flown during meetings of the comitia in the Campus Martius is not apt to find widespread favor in scholarly circles. Here the Saepta Iulia is mistakenly located west of the Pantheon. The most interesting paper in this half is that of Malcolm Bell on the well-known nude bronze ephebe of about two-thirds life size now in Copenhagen. He concludes that it is a Greek original of the strict style of the early fifth century and represents a chorus leader (choreutes) shown in full song, probably originally part of a dedication of a group of statues in a major sanctuary. Unfortunately, since the only provenience given for the bronze puts it simply somewhere outside Porta San Pancrazio (Porta Aurelia) and its discovery in the middle of the seventeenth century strongly suggests association with the construction of the new fortifications of the Janiculum under Urban VIII, the piece cannot be provided with a meaningful context. The known cults of the Janiculum remain few and enigmatic, and this important piece cannot be used to enlarge or enrich our knowledge of these. It might just as well have embellished one of the horti in the neighborhood.

In the second half of the collection we are in more fertile fields. Villa Lante is an important architectural monument originally built for Baldassare Turini (1485-1543) by Giulio Romano beginning about 1518. Turini, originally of Pescia, was a talented ecclesiastical lawyer and financier who early attracted the attention and patronage of Cardinal Giovanni de'Medici (1476-1521), the future Pope Leo X, and then rose high in the papal bureaucracy, becoming Datario with episcopal rights and privileges in 1518. Under Leo's successor, Clement VII, he was named Pronotario Apostolico e Chierico di Camera Apostolica, and finally, under Paul III Parnese, he became papal legate to the court of Charles V. As a papal agent he also dealt with most of the important artists at work in Rome in this period, a stellar array in anyone's estimation. In 1540, after the death of Clement, he was put in charge of superintending the construction of the tombs of Leo and Clement in the chancel of Santa Maria Sopra Minerva, a particularly delicate and difficult undertaking. His ties to the Medici family were close throughout his career, and through them his ties to Raphael and the artists of Raphael's shop and circle. It is consequently no wonder that his villa should have been designed by Fiulio Romano. The architecture of the funerary chapel that he had built for his family for the cathedral of Pescia soon after the death of Leo in 1522 was the work of Giuliano de Baccio d'Agnolo, and it originally boasted an important picture by Raphael and sculptures by Raffaello da Montelupo and Pierino da Vinci. What is surprising is that Turini's villa should have been both so modest in size and so elegant in conception. Although originally it seems to have been surrounded by vineyards, it was really a place for summer receptions, rather than a residence. In this it may have been influenced by the neighboring Vigna Farnese of Paul III and other suburban villas of the period that have since disappeared without adequate description or documentation. Being already the proud possessors of sumptuous urban domiciles in Rome, luminaries of the period such as Turini may well have thought it unnecessary and undesirable to build summer residences of great splendor in the near neighborhood of the capital when they could, and usually seem to have felt duty-bound to, embellish their places of origin with estates and buildings that would more likely descend to their heirs and ennoble their families. Moreover a summer pleasure pavilion revived the traditions of classical antiquity with its suburban horti. Although no one had any clear knowledge of what these had been like, speculation was lively and debate animated. One can see Turini's building as a layman's foray into historical reconstruction.

The paper that addresses the architecture of the building directly, Christoph Luitpold Frommel's "Giulio Romano e la progettazione de Villa Lante," is a retracing of ground already earlier covered at greater length by Frommel in Giulio Romano. Atti del congresso internazionale di studi su Giulio Romano e l'espansione europeo del rinascimento (Mantua 1991) and also by H. Lilius in Villa Lante al Gianicolo (Rome 1981). Here Frommel is primarily concerned with how and how much Giulio Romano has deviated from the norms of Vitruvian architecture and from the interpretation of Vitruvius by Renaissance architects, but he has little to say about the elusive aesthetic of the building. He identifies the modulus for the whole piano nobile as the width of the delightful loggia that overlook the panorama of the Campus Martius to the Pincio and Quirinal beyond with the first ridges of the Apennines as a backdrop. The successful combination here of enclosure with airy openness, an effect achieved in part by the closing of the end walls, in part by the alternation of arches and architraves under a vaulted ceiling, lifts the spirits of the visitor and is especially refreshing after the sumptuous formality of the great salone from which it must be entered on axis. Frommel points out the general indebtedness of the architecture and setting to Villa Madama on Monte Mario, but the impact of the two buildings on the visitor is entirely different. Villa Madama is grand and self-contained, while Villa Lante is intimate and includes the view over Rome as an essential element.

The final section of the collection is devoted to the painted decorations of the ceiling of the great salone. Unfortunately, these have had a chequered history. Originally executed for Baldassare Turini, when the villa passed into the possession of the Lante family shortly after his death, various parts were altered to allude to the new owners, and in the course of time other changes were made. The major panels that celebrate the role of the Janiculum in legend and antiquity were removed in the nineteenth century and eventually bought by Frau Henriette Hertz and installed in a salone in Palazzo Zuccari on the Pincio, where today they are part of the Bibliotheca Hertziana. Other parts were white-washed over when the building was used as an orphanage and have had to be recovered and restored. Everyone seems to be in agreement that the program of the decoration was devised and overseen by Giulio Romano, as is attested by Vasari, but that he had comparatively little hand in their actual execution, that being the work of a team of collaborators. But it seems extraordinary that Giulio Romano should not have lent his own hand to so important a commission for so important a patron. The reworked condition of the panels seems to make positive attribution impossible, but one asks whether that is to be desired. One would like to hear a great deal more about the program of the decoration. The four major panels show the meeting of Janus and Saturn, the escape of Cloelia, the liberation of Cloelia and Mucius Scaevola by Lars Porsenna, and the discovery of the burial chests of Numa Pompilius. When one thinks about it, what an odd assortment these make. If it were the setting that the patron wanted celebrated, why do we not have Horatius's heroic defense of the Pons Sublicius, or the arrival of Tarquinius Priscus on the ridge that overlooked his future kingdom with the omen of the eagle, or even the return of Marius to Rome? These would have lent themselves to at least equally dramatic pictorial depiction, and one can think of others of Christian importance, such as the story of St. Pancratius. Was the choice Turini's, and was the heavily secular nature of the iconography a deliberate separation of church and state, or might Giuli Romano have proposed subjects for which he already had the compositions in mind? This question is not explored and presumably cannot be explored, since we know so little about Turini's taste and entertainments, but the whole subject of program and iconography might very profitably have been treated more extensively. Instead the focus is rather on attribution of different parts to Giulio Romano himself and his pupils and collaborators Polidoro da Caravaggio and Maturino. Here I find myself at a disadvantage, too unfamiliar with the work of any of the three, and especially of their patterns of collaboration, to be able to judge the correctness of attributions, especially when these are of only parts of a composition. Nor is the reader here provided with the necessary wealth of comparanda that would carry conviction. In the lecture hall this might have been provided, but the published version will be of real interest only to the specialist in painting of the period.

Eva Margareta Steinby has contributed a short introduction recounting the history of the founding of the Institutum Romanum Finlandiae beginning with its vicissitudes between 1938, when funds for the formation of such an institute were first provided by the Finnish philantropist Amos Anderson, and its realization finally in Villa Lante and inauguration of activities in 1954. Thereafter the chronicle of its work and publications, especially in the field of Latin epigraphy, is an impressive array of significant contributions familiar to everyone interested in Roman studies, but Professor Steinby reminds us that the members of the institute have not confined their interests to epigraphy, rather that they have embraced the study of Rome broadly throughout history and the history of art. Of this the present volume is eloquent testimony.