Bryn Mawr Classical Review

BMCR 2013.05.12 on the BMCR blog

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2013.05.12

Giovanna Tedeschi Grisanti, Heikki Solin, "Dis Manibus, pili, epitaffi et altre cose antiche" di Giovannantonio Dosio: il codice N.A. 618 della Biblioteca Nazionale di Firenze.   Pisa:  Edizioni ETS, 2011.  Pp. 509.  ISBN 9788846731203.  €50.00 (pb).  

Reviewed by William Stenhouse, Yeshiva University (

This volume is detailed commentary on a manuscript of antiquities by Giovannantonio Dosio (1533-post 1609), a Tuscan artist, restorer, and architect. The manuscript was bought by the Biblioteca Nazionale di Firenze in 1885, and given the shelfmark Magliabecchiano II,1,511. It was studied briefly at that point – there are a couple of references to it in CIL XI – but then, in 1920, for reasons that are unclear, it was recatalogued as Nuovi Acquisti 618 and disappeared from scholarly view. Giovanna Tedeschi Grisanti rediscovered it in 1981, and published a brief notice of its contents in 1983.1 In this catalog she offers a much more thorough treatment, and has invited Heikki Solin to comment on the inscribed monuments it contains. Dosio was a competent draftsman who was absorbed by the material remains that he saw in Roman collections, where he worked from 1548 to 1574 before leaving for Florence. His drawings record several pieces that are otherwise unknown, and several that have since been damaged in greater detail than other sources from the period. His work testifies, therefore, to the widespread fascination that the antique still held in the later sixteenth century, but also provides art historians and epigraphers with important evidence for the condition and existence of a series of monuments from Rome and a few from elsewhere. Tedeschi Grisanti and Solin offer a detailed and perceptive account of the objects and their histories, and their catalogue is a very useful and erudite edition of Dosio’s drawings.

N.A. 618 is one of several collections of Dosio’s copies from the antique that survive: one other of particular importance, edited by Christian Hülsen in 1933, is in the Berlin Kupferstichkabinett.2 Like the Berlin manuscript, the Biblioteca Nazionale collection includes both finished drawings (the first 14 of the 63 folios) and sketches in various stages of completion. Dosio’s drawings seem to have been gathered some time in the middle of the seventeenth century, and then bound early in the nineteenth, and so working out exactly how he organized them, and what he planned to do with them, is not straightforward. Tedeschi Grisanti plausibly argues that the finished drawings in N.A. 618 and Berlin, along with fourteen others now in the Biblioteca Marucelliana, Florence, were designed for publication with the title “Dis Man, Pili, epitafii et altre cose antiche” (Tedeschi Grisanti expands the abbreviation for her title). Others could perhaps have been prepared as a sort of sales catalogue of antiquities: in an appendix, Tedeschi Grisanti reprints some letters from Dosio’s Florentine period, which show he was connected with important figures in the antiquity market. Dosio was a diligent and attentive copyist, and occasionally he included measurements for future reference (e.g. fol.38r, pp. 263-66). He was not always consistent. He was drawn to some aspects of preserved pieces more than others, sculpted drapery and clothing in particular, and he often only drew half the ornament on an altar or gravestone. In general, though, Tedeschi Grisanti is happy to trust his evidence for pieces now lost, like a bust that she identifies as Claudius (fol.1r, p. 49), or for pieces that he illustrates in greater detail than other sources, like the cover of a sarcophagus showing the deceased (fol.27v, p. 215, CIL VI.15775) or a simple inscribed altar, of which other witnesses preserve only the text (fol.53v, p. 357, CIL XI.1315).

As an epigrapher, Dosio lacked the immersion in classical languages of some of his contemporaries, and so his readings of unclear letters are sometimes implausible, especially in the case of inscriptions in Greek; but he also lacked the imagination and ambition of his older colleague Pirro Ligorio, and he was interested in recording the letter shapes, taller letters, and line divisions that his more textually minded contemporaries ignored. Solin concludes that his records of inscriptions should be taken seriously. He gives editions of the 21 inscriptions not recorded by other witnesses, and a thorough index of names, terms, and institutions in those inscriptions. Dosio was not always able to record much of what he saw. One particularly difficult example comes from a funerary stele that Tedeschi Grisanti shows on typological grounds was a monument to an eques singularis; here, Solin argues that the text was “irrimediabilimente corrotto”, although he produces a very plausible incomplete reconstruction from what remains (fol.2v, pp. 61-62). In other cases, Dosio’s drawings can be used to emend texts proposed by CIL (e.g. the texts on fol.52r, p. 347 with CIL VI.19003 and on fol.73, pp. 457-58 with CIL VI.16164, the latter otherwise only known from Dosio’s contemporary Alonso Chacón; Solin shows that Chacón used, and misread, Dosio’s copy). Dosio usually records where he saw his antiquities, for the most part confirming what we know from other sources; it is striking that several of the inedited inscriptions are from monuments in a “giardino secreto” of the Cesi collection (e.g. fol.10v, pp. 124-45), to which other epigraphers do not seem to have enjoyed access.

The catalogue is not without its eccentricities. While Solin focuses on the inscribed texts, and Tedeschi Grisanti on Dosio’s renditions of the monuments and technical aspects of his drawings, both discuss the provenance and collection history of the pieces, occasionally offering slightly different information.3 Tedeschi Grisanti gives bibliographic data for the objects together at the end of each commentary; Solin prefers to use parantheses and footnotes for the information, sometimes duplicating Tedeschi Grisanti’s references. The way in which the authors refer to other manuscripts varies, particularly in the case of Ligorio’s Naples manuscripts and the drawings of Stephanus Pighius (the Netherlandish antiquary Steven Pigge, whom Tedeschi calls Pighio), now in Berlin.4 None of this matters too much to people accustomed to working with these sources, but a reader consulting the catalogue for information about individual pieces might well be confused.

In general, however, this catalogue is a very useful introduction to Dosio’s work and to the particular antiquities that he drew. It has something of the aura of an endangered species. Thanks to Tedeschi Grisanti’s 1983 article, Dosio’s manuscript is fairly well known to scholars working on the renaissance reception of antiquities, and it has a significant place in the Census of Antique Works of Art and Architecture Known in the Renaissance (Census ID 61674), where there are photographs from the manuscript, together with links to pictures of the current state of the monuments, other drawings where copyright allows, bibliographical references, etc. The census illustrates most, but not all of the manuscript, it lacks extensive commentaries, and in its current iteration, its interface is not as user-friendly or easy to consult as the book. (The catalogue, though, would certainly benefit from more, and more detailed, indices).5 On the other hand, the Census is wide-ranging, regularly updated, and free, hosted now by the Berlin-Brandenburgische Akademie der Wissenschaften and Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin. In the near future, surely, it will be in the Census, or something like it, that scholars of the caliber of Tedeschi Grisanti and Solin present their thoughts, particularly in the case of a manuscript like Dosio’s, which is interesting, but not of unusual aesthetic or archaeological interest. Whether websites will include as intensive commentaries as this catalogue contains remains to be seen, and for now, we can be very grateful for this careful guide.


1.   Giovanna Tedeschi Grisanti, “ ‘Dis manibus, pili, epitaffi et altre cose antiche’: un codice inedito di disegni di Giovannantonio Dosio,” Bollettino d’Arte 18 (1983): 69-102.
2.   Christian Hülsen, “I lavori archeologici di Giovannantonio Dosio,” Ausonia 7 (1912): 1-100; Idem, Das Skizzenbuch des Giovannantonio Dosio im staatlichen Kupferstichkabinett zu Berlin (Berlin, 1933).
3.   E.g. in the case of an inscribed cippus (fol.51r, p.343, CIL VI.1370), which Tedeschi Grisanti claims “si trova ancora” in a palace in Piazza S. Luigi dei Francese, and Solin claims is “attualmente smarrita”; or, less strikingly, the monumental letters “Q. FABI” (fol.30, pp.225-28), which Tedeschi Grisanti implies could have come from a monument found in the Forum near the Temple of Antoninus and Faustina, and seen there by Dosio, whereas Solin prefers to leave the question open, pointing to the fact that the other monuments on the page came from the vigna Moroni near the porta Capena.
4.   Ligorio’s and Pighius’s collections are muddled on p. 381, where the reference “Napol.” should read “Berol.”
5.   The indices of terms in the inscriptions are very useful. But an index of other draughtsmen, and of manuscripts referred to, would certainly help for readers comparing Dosio’s drawings with others’ (and is one obvious advantage of the Census over this printed catalogue). The index of collections is sketchy (it is limited only to those places where Dosio saw the objects), and, because it uses Dosio’s references and terms, not always clear. Dosio (fol.50r) referred to objects “Nel cortile del vescovo daqujno”, and so it is “vescovo di Aquino” that is used in the index, whereas in the commentaries, and in other works, this is known as the Fusconi collection, most of which was found in the vineyard of Adriano Fusconi, and housed in the Palazzo Fusconi in Rome (see now the excellent catalogue of Floriana Cantarelli and Edoardo Gautier di Confiengo, La collezione epigrafica Fusconi [Soveria Mannelli, 2012]).

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