Ancient and Modern Rome in Sixteenth-Century Imagery
In the late sixteenth century, mapmakers turned away from Bufalini’s timeless fusion as well as his ichnographic language in order to sift through the Roman palimpsest. Their desire to recreate the ancient city as a counterpoint to the modern resulted in a veritable subgenre of Rome-then-and-now imagery. The pervasive theme of paragone—or competitive comparison—runs through these works, which express a longing to see the past resurrected and brought into dialogue with the present. Pirro Ligorio’s dazzling map of Roma Antica (1561) was not a reconstruction of the ancient city per se, but rather a glorious, learned reinvention. Stefano Du Pérac’s Sciographia of 1574 took inspiration from Ligorio, but incorporated a new source: the ancient, shattered marble plan know as the Forma urbis Romae. Mario Cartaro’s pendant etchings (1576/1579) made the paragone explicit by pairing the ancient city with “new” Rome or Roma Nuova. All of these works reveal shifting perceptions of Rome’s venerable past and Renaissance renewal, as well as a growing sense of historical rupture. Publishers like Antonio Lafreri, who dominated Rome’s active print business in the mid-to-late 1500s, were eager to answer the growing demand for such images and for city portraits in general.
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