Delle Magnificenze di Roma

Delle Magnificenze di Roma (10 volumes) 1747-1761
(typical plate size 200 X 300 mm)
Printed edition in 5 bound volumes 1786, ca.
Courtesy of the Getty Research Institute

Vasi published his masterwork, Delle Magnificenze di Roma from 1747 to 1761. The ten volumes are typologically organized: Book I, Gates and Walls; Book II, Piazze; Book III, Major Churches and Basilicas; Book IV, Palazzi and Streets; Book V, the Tiber and its Bridges; Book VI, Parish Churches; Book VII, Monasteries; Book VIII, Convents; Book IX, Colleges and Hospitals; Book X, Villas and Gardens. Each volume consists of 20 full size plates with illustrated frontispiece and dedicatory inscription for each. These 200 plates are augmented by smaller images or rametti (literally small copper plates) which average four per book and are interspersed within the body of the text. The text itself is extensive, written by others but presumably supervised by Vasi. The copy of the Magnificenze used for this website was furnished by the J. Paul Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles. Although there is no precise publication date, evidence in the plates suggests that this edition is late 18th century probably bound in the 1780’s (the obelisk in the Piazza Quirinale shown in the Getty edition was erected from 1783-86, most likely executed by Vasi’s son Mariano after his death).

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Book I – Gates and Walls

Book I Frontispiece
Frontispiece: Libro I – LE PORTE E MURA DI ROMA
Courtesy of the Getty Research Institute.

Vasi begins the Magnificenze by leading the viewer on a virtual tour around the city’s perimeter depicting in turn the gates and walls of the city. He starts with the honorific entry into the city from the north, the Porta del Popolo and then moves clockwise around its wall circuit covering the other major gates and important events and structures along the way such as the Castro Pretorio , the Claudian aqueduct and the pyramid of Caius Cestius. He completes the circuit by showing the Porta Castello on other side of the river in the Vatican. The small vignette on the frontispiece of the first volume previews the book’s content as it shows the first and last gates in the cycle as described above. In making the circuit he follows the basic outline of the Aurelian walls on the main city side and then includes the more complex system of fortifications in Trastevere and the Borgo where he shows the Baroque circuit of Urban VIII, and Renaissance sections by Alexander VI, Pius IV and the earlier Medieval compass erected by Leo IV. Along with information about the walls, Vasi notes the major roads that pass through their portals which include the ancient consular roads. Vasi makes a point of recording the wall circuit as a separate map near the end of the first volume, using information furnished by Nolli, as he is careful to note, to record the distance between gates.

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Use the Interactive Grand Tour to view the plates in Book I

Book II – Principal Piazze

Book II Frontispiece
Courtesy of the Getty Research Institute.

This volume treats the principal piazze of Rome and underscores Vasi’s topographic / spatial approach in documenting the city as it focuses quite literally on the space in between the city’s great monuments as well as the monuments themselves. Once again he begins with the Piazza del Popolo underlining its importance as an urban vestibule for the entire city. Beside his coverage in the Plates, he shows another small view (there are actually two versions of this plate, one frontal, the other oblique) in the frontispiece. The piazze he features are located mostly in the Campo Marzio but examples extend farther afield to include the Roman Forum and the Vatican and S. Giovanni in Laterano. As usual he is catholic in his choice of piazze, showing both ancient and modern examples of each. A theme that emerges in this coverage is the role of antique elements that act as a kind of urban décor for the contemporary city, so that there are more Plates (16) devoted to obelisks and monumental columns featured in this volume than any other.

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Book III – Basilicas and Churches

Book III Frontispiece
Courtesy of the Getty Research Institute.

This volume highlights six of the Sette Chiese, the seven Early Christian pilgrimage churches that were the primary object of the pilgrim’s visit to the Holy City (Vasi omits S. Paolo fuori le Mura in this volume, but includes it in Book V because, it seems, of its proximity to the river which that volume treats). These sites were the place of special religious services and celebration during the Jubilee or Holy Year. This practice was instituted by Pope Boniface VIII (1294-1303 ) in 1300 and became a major event in the city’s life, occurring at first at 50 year intervals and then at 25. Other churches of special significance because of the relics or historical associations in this volume include S. Pietro in Vincoli, S. Pietro in Carcere, S. Paolo alle tre Fontane , S. Clemente and S. Maria in Trastevere, one of the oldest and most venerated churches in Rome.

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Book IV – Palaces and Streets

Book IV Frontispiece
Courtesy of the Getty Research Institute.

The Roman palace as a building type solidified its form by the late 15th century. It is well represented in this volume by the Palazzo Venezia and the Cancelleria. Vasi suggests a mythical and historical dimension of the type with the frontispiece showing the capanna (hut) of Romulus (Remus is traditionally associated with the Aventine) on the Palatine followed in the first plate by the palatial ruins which Vasi calls the Palazzo Augustale. The book culminates with the Senator’s palace on the Campidoglio.  Along the way the great domestic architecture of the city is portrayed which includes the Mannerist palace of the Massimo family followed by mostly papal Baroque examples such as the Palazzo Colonna and Palazzo Altieri.  The simple block-like composition of the palaces is presented within their street context but because of the narrow urban quarters in which they are located Vasi was forced to devise inventive pictorial techniques in order to portray them in a visually comprehensible manner.  In this volume he widens the bounding streets of his subjects more than in any other volume of the Magnificenze.

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Book V – Bridges and Buildings Along the Tiber

Book V Frontispiece
Courtesy of the Getty Research Institute.

In this volume Vasi follows the course of two rivers, the Tiber and its tributary, the Aniene. On the title page is a small vignette of Ponte Lucano near Tivoli on the Aniene. Heading downstream from here, he records the bridges crossed by major consular roads, Via Tiburtina, Via Nomentana, and Via Salaria. After the Aniene joins the Tiber the series continues downstream on this river, next depicting Ponte Milvio which is still well outside the walls. Within the city Vasi records both bridges and intermediate river views, including the two river ports, the Porto di Ripetta and the Porto di Ripa Grande. He also captures the more ephemeral aspects of the Tiber and its embankments by including its ferryboats (Nolli confirms that there were six ferry crossings in the center) and grain mills (Nolli shows nine). The Tiber Island merits three views, one looking downstream, one looking upstream and the third showing the island's central piazza. Using the title Anticaglie presso il Ponte Palatino as a reference, he leaves the river in order to show a view of the two temples of Forum Boarium. Just below Porto di Ripa Grande Vasi shows the Aurelian walls turning away from the river to the east along Monte Testaccio. The last two views depict S. Paolo fuori le mura (St. Paul's Outside the Walls) a mile downstream from the site of the previous view and over 15 miles down river from the Ponte Mammolo, the first view of this volume. Extending for three miles, the late 19th century Tiber embankments were built for flood control which necessitated major demolitions along the river's edge. This ambitious construction program, which lasted over 30 years, constituted the single most extensive engineering feat in the city of Rome since antiquity. The massive river walls obliterated or radically transformed some of Rome's most picturesque aspects and famous views as recorded by Vasi and other vedutisti. As a consequence contemporary views along the river which parallel those in the Magnificenze, can only hint at their 18th century state.

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Use the Interactive Grand Tour to view the plates in Book V

Book VI – Parish Churches

Book VI Frontispiece
Courtesy of the Getty Research Institute.

In the Preface to this volume on the Parish Churches of Rome, Vasi notes the difficulty of "finding the truth about their beginnings" (il rinvenire la verità del loro principio). This difficulty reflects the numerous restorations, restructurings, and even total reconstructions of so many city churches over the centuries. Keeping track of all these changes is a study which keeps scholars busy to this day. Vasi's selection of a number of minor churches located on important piazze or streets reveals his interest in adding more such views to those already depicted in Volume II, which is dedicated to "Le Piazze principali di Roma." It is worth noting that while he frequently points out streets leading from the site in any given print, in this volume he mentions piazze only three times in the captions (Plates 112, 113 and 118), while Nolli identifies virtually all these spaces (Piazze di Trevi, S. Lorenzo in Lucina, Campo Marzio, S. Eustachio, S. Marco, S. Maria in Campitelli, Scossacavalli).

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Book VII – Convents and Monasteries

Book VII Frontispiece
Courtesy of the Getty Research Institute.

Vasi dedicates Volume VII to depicting conventual buildings, but in the titles to the prints he alternates between first naming the convents and monasteries, and then naming the church associated with each of them. In some cases he names the church only in the numbered subtitles. In only one case he names the conventual building in the subtitle. This randomness suggests that Vasi prepared these plates at different times and collected them in this volume when he was well along in the publication of the Magnificenze series. This notion is reinforced by the fact that he added no less than ten rametti (small plates) as unnumbered plates to the volume, with the church named first in each case. The consistency in the naming of these ten added plates suggests that they were prepared specifically for Volume VII. Despite the title of the volume, one gets the impression that Vasi is trying to add as many churches as possible to the ones which appeared in the earlier volumes.

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Book VIII – Monasteries and Convents for Women
Book VIII Frontispiece
Courtesy of the Getty Research Institute.

In this volume Vasi continues the task of recording the smaller churches in the city which he started in volume VII of which this volume may be considered a second part. It is clear that he is also intent on showing the relationship of these buildings to the streets and piazze where they are located.  Distant recognizable elements included in a number of the plates dedicated to lesser churches help the viewer locate them in the city layout.  For example, distant views of S. M. Maggiore in plates 152 and 157 orient the viewer in the less traveled Esquiline area.

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Book IX – Schools, Hospices and Hospitals

Book XI Frontispiece
Courtesy of the Getty Research Institute.

Schools, hospices and hospitals were important institutions in the city of Rome. The schools might host foreign nationals as their names suggest: S. Appolinare and the German College or the Palazzo dell’ Accademia di Francia, and its national church and convent, S. Luigi di Francese. The major academic institutions in the city are represented as well. Vasi shows the Jesuit Collegio Romano, the Sapienza (university) and the Collegio Clementino. Hospices and hospitals were an old venerated institutions in Rome. Their primary purpose was to care for pilgrims and typically would be located conveniently next to major pilgrimage destinations or pathways such as the hospital of S. Spirito (St. Peter’s) or hospital of S. Giovanni in Lateranno (next to the basilica and both on the Via Papale). The hospital of S. Giovanni di Dio on the Tiber Island is strategically located at a cross roads where the tradition of caring for the infirm goes back to antiquity.

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Book X – Villas and Gardens
Book X Frontispiece
Courtesy of the Getty Research Institute.

It was the custom for the Roman noble families to own a palace in the center of Rome, a suburban villa on the edge of the city, and an exurban villa in the Alban hills south of the city. The "edge of the city" for the suburban villa could mean the empty areas within the Aurelian walls, as well as those immediately outside the walls. In this volume Vasi depicts mostly suburban villas on twelve sites within and six sites outside the city walls. On his map, Nolli does not give any of the villas an index number, but writes in their names instead. A partial explanation for this is that there is sufficient map space in a villa for writing out its name. Further, giving villas an index number would have complicated the Nolli index which is reserved entirely for landmarks within the city walls. Palazzi, churches and other landmarks do not always have enough space to spell out the full name (though Nolli does write it in where possible), so they are assigned a number. The absence of index numbers corresponding to the villas in Vasi's tenth volume would make them difficult to find on the Nolli map. Because Vasi demonstrates an intimate awareness of Nolli's work and methods of identification, it may be that for greater clarity in this case he took the precaution of carefully mentioning the locations for all but two of the sites in this volume. Of the 22 views, only three of them focus on the garden aspect of the villas. The rest concentrate on the casino (principal building), and show only fragments of the surrounding gardens. This is evidence of Vasi's predilection for the architectural, urban aspect of the city. Significantly he leaves the Villas and Gardens to the last of the Magnificenze volumes. This is another example of Vasi's greater interest in the urban/architectural aspect of the city than in gardens and villas. This approach is further demonstrated in the individual villa prints themselves where, with the exception of the Corsini sheet (which has another plate dedicated to the palazzo), Vasi focuses on the casino and not on the gardens. It is instructive to compare this book with the Falda volume on villas. Falda goes in for far more comprehensive views of the overall layout of the villa. We get the impression that Vasi relied on the Nolli map for providing the overall topography of each of the villas.

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Use the Interactive Grand Tour to view the plates in Book X

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.