GIS Method

Geographic Information Systems (GIS) Method

The foundation for the website database was primarily developed using ArcGIS software. All data was fed into an inventory that recorded Vasi’s views and their spatial location on the University of Oregon Nolli Map which had already been geo-rectified to real space. Points were defined by the following geographic data: station point with spatial co-ordinates, line of sight, cone of vision and extent of view which was then coordinated to the basic data set already established for the Nolli map. Information from authorities in the field such as Luisa Scalabroni’s index (see Scalabroni, L., Giuseppe Vasi, Roma: 1981) were incorporated. Field notes recording observations about daily and seasonal day lighting conditions and measurements for locating specific points of view supplemented this data all of which was particularly useful in verifying the accuracy of Vasi’s views and studying his methodology. This process proved to be a dynamic way in which to add to the geo-database so that it could grow over time in accord with new data. This body of information is a robust repository that can be graphically interpreted in many different ways and this website should be seen as only one possibility, one, however, that we believe to be particularly effective in terms of its accessibility and visual display.

Vasi’s Grand Tour examines both artists and their respective methodologies. Their work is geographically referenced and analyzed using advanced geographic information systems (GIS) technology and then placed in the present context for measuring and representing the contemporary city of Rome. Photographs of contemporary Rome and recent satellite images establish a means to reference and compare their work. The core of this research centers on innovative methods for relating the two distinct visual traditions represented by Nolli and Vasi that have been used to describe the city of Rome. These two poles are intrinsically related, yet no means existed to connect these two methodologies in such a way that preserves and enhances their intrinsic value. Vasi’s Grand Tour demonstrates how contemporary advances in GIS technology permit these modes to be compared with ease and accuracy not heretofore possible.

The GIS paradigm relies on the principle that it is now feasible to precisely locate—and therefore relate--all features in geographic space whether historic or contemporary. In addition to being an efficient and intuitive method for cataloging historical documents, the ability to geo-reference diverse resources onto a single, accurate base will dramatically enhance the possibilities for the direct inspection and comparison of the architectural, natural, social and artistic dimensions of cities such as Rome. This method provides a paradigm for similar research in other urban centers and for other disciplines that treat a broad range of geographic contexts and issues. The underlying premise of this presentation is that by geo-referencing Nolli and Vasi and by exploring their distinct methods for describing the city one will be better equipped to understand the profound geo-spatial structure of the Eternal city.

The Interactive Grand Tour
The Nolli Vasi Geo-Database geo-references (locates in real geographic space) 238 views of Vasi’s Delle Magnificenze di Roma using Nolli’s map and a contemporary satellite image as a base. The Map Explorer consists of three dynamic and inter-related elements: the map and its layers, a banner organized by browse topics, and a filmstrip of thumbnail views that show images from any given topic. By selecting a particular category, say Book V of the Magnificenze, the filmstrip will show all 31 views from that volume. Simultaneously the map will display the spatial location of each, in this case illustrating that all views fall along the river. Any single view can be further explored by clicking on the thumbnail which highlights its station point (or if preferred one can click on the station point and it will highlight the thumbnail). Basic navigation functions such as zooming and panning allows the Interactive Map to be explored at both the macro scale of the city or the micro scale of the street depending on the context under consideration. Browse categories include the 10 books of the Magnificenze, Vasi’s Eight Day Itineraries, View Types, Architects, Urbanism, Architecture, Landscape, City Life, Rioni, Districts, and Pathways. By selecting additional layers of the map such as “view sheds,” “rioni,” etc., one can cross reference browse categories with other layers of topographic information. By double-clicking on a highlighted point of interest on the map or a thumbnail image, a detailed page will emerge which focuses on information germane to the selected view.

The detail view consists of interrelated graphic and textual components which revolve around the Vasi print under consideration. The Vasi plate is shown in facsimile as it appears in the Getty edition along with plate number, title and captions. Underneath the print image layer is a contemporary photograph layer which replicates the Vasi’s view, made visible through a fade function, so as to facilitate a “before and after” comparison. Each can be explored in detail by zooming in and panning. The accompanying vignette of the Nolli map shows the precise location of the view in plan noting the station point and view shed along with highlights that are linked to three dimensional elements in the Vasi print and to the text. The annotations provides historic and topographic information with links to feature highlights on the same page or can transfer the viewer to remote pages or to additional text and images relating to Nolli, Vasi and other artists as desired. For example, one can link to Nolli’s reproduction of the Bufalini map or Vasi’s Patriarchal Churches and Panorama (which can be seen using Zoomify software). Finally captions and highlighted text provide additional data when selected incorporating information from the Interactive Nolli Map Website such as name, architect, period and date for each feature noted.

This database has proven useful for interpreting the work of Nolli and Vasi. It has facilitated comparisons and enabled a means to discover connections between the two that had not been apparent before hand. One important benefit of this method is that it has allowed a large body of information to be amassed with the ability to accept new data such as modern photos (replicating Vasi) and satellite imaging (replicating Nolli). The process facilitated the testing of the verisimilitude of Nolli’s map and Vasi’s prints, exploring points of congruence and speculating about reasons for divergent representations.

Jim Tice, Erik Steiner, Allan Ceen, and Dennis Beyer
Department of Architecture and InfoGraphics Lab, Department of Geography, University of Oregon
Copyright © 2008 University of Oregon. All rights reserved.
This website was made possible by a 2006-2007 grant from
The Getty Foundation.