BMCR 2004.12.26

Ancient Inscriptions = The Paper Museum of Cassiano dal Pozzo: A Catalogue Raisonné. Series A: Antiquities and Architecture, VII

, Ancient inscriptions. Paper museum of Cassiano dal Pozzo. Series A, Antiquities and architecture ; pt. 7. London: The Royal collection, 2002. vii, 439 pages : illustrations ; 29 cm.. ISBN 1872501451. €200.00.

Among the greatest fruits of early modern patronage studies, the mammoth undertaking to publish the Museo Cartaceo, the ‘Paper Museum’ assembled by Cassiano dal Pozzo (d. 1657) in the early 17th-century, continues to yield wondrous results for scholarship. Cassiano’s encyclopaedic interests, above all in natural history and antiquity, were the spur to a grand project to commission drawings of all known antiquities, and to attempt to systematically categorize this vast repertory of visual images. In this sense, the undertaking was more natural science than aesthetics, a realization underscored by the parallel endeavour to similarly record, in an early attempt at a comprehensive taxonomy, all known manner of animals, vegetables, and minerals. Over the course of the last twenty-five years, fascinating work has been done on various aspects of Cassiano’s collecting, and pride of place must go to the publication of the unprecedented catalogue raisonné, begun in earnest in the 1980’s (in large measure under the instigation of the late Francis Haskell), a work that, when complete, will run to more than thirty-five volumes. Cassiano’s expansive vision will, in due course, find realization — in a published form whose splendour and scholarly accomplishment would have been beyond even his wildest dreams.

The volume under review is a significant contribution, not only to this laudable project, but to antiquarian — and ancient — studies more broadly. Stenhouse (hereafter, S) has produced a careful, judicious catalogue of most of the relevant epigraphic materials from Cassiano’s collection1 and in the process has rendered the corpus not only accessible, but more importantly, comprehensible.

As with all other volumes in the series, the general editors have wisely incorporated sufficient contextualizing material so that each volume might function as a ‘stand-alone’ monograph. A brief essay by the series’ editors outlines the history of Cassiano’s collecting, and the inception of that project’s modern scholarly reception (1-3). S has added a ‘Chronology’ that correlates contemporary events with those of the dal Pozzo household, and relevant contemporary publications of the epigraphic material (4-5). A detailed list provides the locations of all the drawings discussed and their inventory numbers in the various collections that house them and collates the differing numbering systems in the major, previous publications (6-7). A brief contribution by Amanda Claridge (8-15), the editor of the series devoted to ‘Antiquities and Architecture,’ discusses the complicated problem of the original arrangement of the drawings, and that posed by the 17th-century numbers that are inscribed on so many of them. Martin Clayton contributes an account of the sheets’ watermarks (361-71). Most importantly, S offers a judicious overview of ‘Epigraphic studies in sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Rome’ (19-38) as an introduction to the Catalogue (40-360), which is the volume’s primary focus. The volume also includes a series of valuable appendices (373-406), ‘Biographical Notes’ on the epigraphers, collectors, and antiquaries mentioned in throughout the volume (407-14), a full bibliography (415-26), and a three-part comprehensive set of indices (429-39).

The value for classical scholarship of such ‘paper collections’ is patent: much material has been lost since the seventeenth century, and in so many cases drawings like those assiduously collected by Cassiano provide us with the sole witnesses to monuments and documents otherwise unknown. All who regularly employ the CIL volumes recognize the debt its great 19th-century editors owed (and acknowledged) to their 16th- and 17th-century predecessors. A comprehensive knowledge of the epigraphic record requires (as does the numismatic record) that we attend to the evidence collected in the early years of modern archaeological study — evidence that has often been lost. The publication of these drawings will provide a resource for generations.

Among the present volume’s most welcome features are the clear and relatively large photographs — a vast improvement over those of so many previous publications. In numerous instances, S also includes photographs of other drawings of the same monument for comparison or of the surviving monument (although one wishes, perhaps churlishly, given the additional expense this would have incurred, that more of these latter had been included). An additional benefit of better photographs may eventually be our ability to identify the hands of the antiquarians involved, if not on the basis of the drawings or the renditions of the epigraphic texts, on that of the annotations. Of great value as well are S’s lists of other known drawings of the same monuments or texts. Indeed, much of the material gathered here is recognized copies after drawings of Pirro Ligorio (cat. nos. 3-86), or after the Vatican’s Codex Ursinianus (a volume once owned by Fulvio Orsini), whose drawings were, in turn, copied from Ligorio (cat. nos. 87-97). Knowledge of multiple copies provides valuable information, both as witnesses to lost monuments and as testimonia to the extent to which the monuments and texts were known in antiquarian circles.

Also most welcome are S’s translations of the texts: not only does this practice make the volume accessible to those with ‘small Latin and less Greek,’ but it serves to focus attention on the content as opposed to merely the visible form of the monuments represented, the latter often being the focus of art historical, rather than antiquarian, studies. Even if the artists who made the drawings were incapable of reading their inscriptions (as numerous mangled texts so clearly demonstrate), those early scholars who collected their works were competent Latinists (if not Hellenists); indeed, the major motive for Cassiano’s collection of inscriptions, like that of his predecessor Martin de Smet, was a more thorough knowledge of those ancient institutions and social practices to which such inscriptions bore witness, and of which these monuments formed a part. For example, from the funerary inscriptions, which comprise such a large proportion of the evidence, one learns much about mortuary practices and conventions, such as the basic verbal formulae of commemoration, a host of offices that made up the lesser aspects of the cursus (cf. cat. nos. 41-43) or the vast differential in the size of tomb plots (cf., e.g., cat. nos. 41, 52, or 144). Other texts illuminate the membership and character of ancient associations such as collegia (cat. 57), the status of newly made citizens (cat. no. 180), or the Roman calendar (cat. no. 101), etc.

Much of the best recent work on Roman epigraphy (notably that of W. Eck and G. Alföldy) has forcefully reasserted the necessity of studying the epigraphic texts in conjunction with their monumental supports, and in this sense the early period of the discipline, nowhere better represented than by Cassiano’s collection, provides a vivid model. Indeed, the present volume, despite the fact that it takes the inscriptions as its primary focus, offers striking testimony to the early antiquarians’ realization that the texts and monuments formed a cohesive whole. The terse descriptions of the carved setting of the texts provided by the editors of the CIL can only be seen — paradoxically, given the scope of their achievement — as having been, in this one regard, a step backward.

One of the pleasures of S’s careful study of this material is his sensitivity. Many drawings were copied from other drawings, and it is well-known that antiquarians from early on2 sought to confirm the readings of the stones they had acquired second-hand and to annotate their collections (cf. cat. nos. 104, 106). The great number of forgeries made such autopsy all the more necessary, and it is S’s cogent (if often only brief) commentaries on the numerous ‘fakes’ that found their way into Cassiano’s collection that provide one of the volume’s greatest benefits. S duly explains his grounds for dismissing a depicted monument’s authenticity: the copyist’s mangled Latin grammar (cat. no. 44), deviations from standard forms of Roman nomenclature (50, 56), apparent fabrication of institutions otherwise unknown (48), unusual iconography (48), or what appear to be wholesale inventions based on descriptions in the ancient sources (28).3

Overall, the volume is a serious and scholarly presentation of the material, and its users (given the genre, a more apt designation than ‘readers’) will be all the more anxious to have in hand the author’s forthcoming monograph on the history of sixteenth-century epigraphical practices.

Finally, I offer here some specific comments on a few of the entries.

Cat. no. 50: This drawing of a child’s funerary monument, now lost, provides an effective argument in a long-running debate about the meaning of such imagery. The inscription, given in the dead boy’s voice, declares that his ‘premature desire for a chariot’ led to his death. Two things are striking: first, the imagery does not illustrate the text, for the child is not shown, as others were on sarcophagi, crashing from his car along the course; second, since such imagery in the case of a child might be considered less realistic than in the case of an adult, who might well have been a charioteer, such a monument provides contemporary evidence that strongly suggests such ‘real-life’ images as the chariot race might be employed symbolically.

Cat. no. 95: The ‘Altar to Fortuna Redux’ may well be an example of a peculiar image misunderstood. Ligorio noted the stone’s damaged state, as did Smetius, and I am struck by the similarity of the scene depicted to the one on the so-called sacramentum or coniuratio coins. These show two standing soldiers flanking a kneeling man holding a small pig, toward which they pointed their swords and over which they swore their oath.4 Given the resemblance, I wonder if this was yet another instance of the motif’s apparently wide employment (its usage here perhaps serving to exemplify the FOEDER(atum) of the inscription), or whether it was yet another Ligorian ‘invention,’ produced on the basis of the coins’ imagery.

Cat. no. 103: The image of Fortuna Barbata dedicated by L. Aurelius Marcellianus also appears in a mid-sixteenth century manuscript now in the Vatican (Vat. Lat. 5239, fol. 14r): see my ‘A little-known manuscript, an unpublished letter to Aldo Manuzio il Giovane, and a long-forgotten humanist-antiquarian: Antonio Casario,’ MAAR 46 [2001], 133-52.

Cat. no. 179: Like no. 50, the text on this funerary monument also offers striking (albeit cynical) testimony not only to the significance of the image it accompanies, but to the Romans’ sentiments about death.

‘by lying down in death he should be able to rest, and stretching out there, enjoy peace and quiet …. And so what do the dead have to gain from this amiable image? They should rather have lived in this way.’

The use of the banquet as a metaphor of the afterlife was long current, in Greece as well as Rome, but seldom is its symbolic character as evocatively described as in this verse inscription.


1. Appendices I and II offer a detailed list of the inscriptions not illustrated and discussed in the present volume.

2. See now my ‘A Collection of Inscriptions for Lorenzo de’ Medici,’ PBSR 70 (2002), 297-317.

3. On the problem of sixteenth-century forgeries, see recently, G. Vagenheim, ‘Pirro Ligorio e le false iscrizioni della collezione di antichità del cardinale Roldolfo Pio di Carpi,’ in Alberto III e Rodolfo Pio da Carpi, collezionisti e mecenati, Udine, 2004, 109-21, where the relevant bibliography is presented.

4. Livy 22.38.1-6; discussion and bibliography in my ‘A Painted Exemplum at Rome’s Temple of Liberty,’ JRS 92 [2002], 33-48.