Renovatio Romae: Rome Restored
Synopsis
From the beginning of the 15th to the middle of the 17th centuries Rome was transformed from a medieval backwater into one of Europe’s pre-eminent cities. After a century in France, the newly-returned Papal Court transformed the urban appearance of the city and enhanced the prestige of the Catholic Church through a series of aggressively pursued public works. James Hill will explore the city in which he lived for many years, tracing the patronage of a series of powerful popes from the della Rovere Sixtus IV in the 1470s to the Chigi della Rovere Alexander VII in the 1660s. The popes were not alone as the increasing wealth of members of the College of Cardinals and the great princely families helped effect remarkable change. Churches were commissioned to honour God and the Saints, palaces built to secure the fame of their owning families, and bridges and new thoroughfares were laid out to manage the increasing numbers of pilgrims visiting the ‘Eternal’ city. Furthermore, the harnessing of the Tiber and the restoration of long-neglected ancient Roman aqueducts produced abundant supplies of water which not only quenched the thirst of a growing population, fed via a series of spectacular fountains dotted around the city’s urban landscape, but also left us a series of theatrical set-pieces, the epitome of Rome’s triumphant ‘Baroque’ as in the grandeur of Piazza Navona and the cascades of the nearby Trevi Fountain.
Series of two lectures
  • Tuesday 23 February at 11am
    Lecture 1 - Rome Triumphant: Humanism as Topography
    When the Colonna pope, Martin V, ‘returned’ the papacy to Rome in 1420, what sort of city did he find? It was not encouraging: a handful of churches, a rebellious aristocracy in their semi-fortified palaces in a less than salubrious quarter of a once glorious city, over which ancient ruins stood in silent watch, partially exposed and largely forgotten. So how was it transformed so radically and is so short a time? Humanist scholars and antiquarians from Leon Battista Alberti to Flavio Biondo reimagined the glories of ancient Rome via a systematic analysis of its surviving monuments. Stimulated by these energetic scholars, a succession of popes, cardinals and princely families set to work in an attempt to emulate, indeed outdo the Rome of Augustus and the Empire as it became the Rome of the Popes and the ‘Church Triumphant’. The results are still with us: the Apostolic Palace in the Vatican, Palazzo Venezia, the Ponte Sisto bridge across the Tiber River and the Via Giulia are the pre-eminent examples of this lavish patronage.
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  • Wednesday 24 February at 11 am GMT
    Lecture 2 - Trickle Down: The Waters of Rome
    Ancient Rome’s fresh water was supplied via a series of magnificent, gravity-fed aqueducts. Most did not survive the collapse of the Empire and by 1570 only one remained functioning, the Aqua Vergine. Over the next fifty years, a series of energetic, indeed remarkable popes transformed the city’s water supply as eighteen new fountains were set up all over the city. Some of these were spectacular sculptural monuments in their own right, such as the Acqua Felice built by Pope Sixtus V Peretti (the so-called ‘Engineer’ pope) and the Aqua Paola built for the Borghese pope, Paul V. In addition, hundreds of ornamental drinking fonts and drains serviced the domestic needs of everyday Romans whilst carefully sited piped water made it possible to transform great public spaces such as at Piazza Navona into aquatic ‘stage-sets’ on important Feast Days. Indeed, the cultural significance of water in Rome’s Baroque evolution is nowhere more iconic, and spectacular, than at the Trevi Fountain, begun in the 1450s and not completed in its present form until 1762, thus marking both the start and finish of the city’s transformation.
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