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‘Some maintain it is the same round shape as the world: the height from the floor to the opening in the ceiling, from whence light enters, is the same as its width, that is, the diameter from one wall to the other.’

Andrea Palladio, II quattro libri dell’architettura (Venice, 1570), iv, p. 73, cited in Martines (2015).


Bernard de Montfaucon, L’antiquité expliquée, et représentée en figures (Paris, 1719), 5 vols. in 10, vol. 2, pt. 1, plate 9 (the Pantheon).

Commissioned by Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa (64/62BC-12BC), during the era of Augustus, the Pantheon was built on the site of an ancient temple and to this day remains a place of worship. The above inscription, which is a shortened form of “M[arcus] Agrippa L[ucii] f[ilius] co[n]s[ul] tertium fecit,” (“Marcus Agrippa, son of Lucius, made [this building] when consul for the third time”), has for all time associated it with Agrippa though much of the building was actually completed during the reigns of the later emperors. The Pantheon is one of the most iconic buildings of ancient Rome. As Marder and Wilson Jones (2015) remark, ‘the Pantheon straddles the history of Western architecture like a colossus, its influence perhaps more pervasive than for any other single building in history.’

The meaning of the word ‘Pantheon’ is unclear : the most likely explanation being that it refers to a temple to all the gods, though it could also be limited to a temple dedicated to the twelve gods of Olympus – or, indeed, to a temple which housed a statue of the ruler. It seems likely that Agrippa had this last option in mind if we are to believe the second-century AD historian Dio Cassius’s explanation in chapter 27 of Book LIII of his Roman History :

In addition [Agrippa] concluded the construction of the building called the Pantheon, given this name probably because among the statues that adorn it are included images of many gods, among which are also Mars and Venus, even though in my opinion the reason can be ascribed to the domed vault, which represents the heavens. Agrippa wanted then to place there also [a statue of] Augustus and to bestow upon him the honour of having the work named after him ; but since the prince did not accept either of these two honours, he had placed in the temple a statue of [Julius] Caesar pater, while in the porch put statues of Augustus and himself.

Whether this was indeed the case is unknown, but as Marder and Wilson Jones (2015) point out, Agrippa’s Pantheon was linked to Augustus in a very deliberate way since it was aligned with the Mausoleum of Augustus.

The building witnessed many refurbishments : the original temple was destroyed by a fire in 80 AD and again in 110 AD. On both occasions the emperors chose to restore it. Hadrian (117-138) is generally credited with the most substantial renovations, though Lise M. Hetland (2015) persuasively argues that much of the work may have been completed during the reign of his predecessor Trajan (98-117). Subsequent emperors, such as Septimus Severus (192-211) and Caracalla (211-217) also played their part.

The building is composed of three elements : the portico (with large Egyptian granite Corinthian columns), the intermediate block, and the rotunda and dome. We do not know the name of the architect of this architectural wonder, though Marder and Wilson Jones (2015) posit that it might have been Apollodorus of Damascus, an architect-engineer who worked on a number of projects for Emperor Trajan. Though the ground plan of both the Agrippan temple and its later reconstruction under Trajan/Hadrian is the same there was one crucial difference between the temple of Agrippa and its later reconstruction : as Marder and Wilson Jones (2015) note, the Agrippan building did not have a concrete vault since the technology necessary to achieve this was not yet developed in the era of Augustus. The vault that we know today, with its cavities which enabled the dome to be lighter, leading to the oculus at its centre, was, therefore, a later addition. The cavities (or coffers) are, as Martines (2015) notes, divided into five rows of 28, a number associated with perfection since it is a number equal to the sum of its factors. As Martines (2015) points out, the geometry of the vault owed much to Archimedes’ On the Sphere and Cylinder, written in the third century BC.


Filippo Buonanni, Numismata summorum pontificum Templi Vaticani fabricam indicantia, chronologica ejusdem fabricae narratione, ac multiplici eruditione explicata (Rome, 1696), plate 6 (plan of relative locations of the Circus of Nero, and the old and current Basilicas of St. Peter).

The relationship between ancient and early modern Rome is graphically displayed in this plate from Filippo Buonanni’s Numismata summorum pontificum Templi Vaticani fabricam indicantia, chronologica ejusdem fabricae narratione, ac multiplici eruditione explicate (Rome, 1696). It clearly shows Carlo Madero’s plan of a scheme which would incorporate three symbolic locations: the Circus of Nero, which was a site of martyrdom for early Christians, including St. Peter himself; the early Basilica; and, finally, the modern plan of St Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican. As Maderno (1556-1629), writing to Pope Paul V (1550-1621), explained: ‘it is requested to save the vestiges of the old relics and the memory of the Holy Sylvester, with reverence to Constantine, and that the new building must circumscribe, and cover what is left of the old church.’ Maderno is chiefly remembered today for his façade of St Peter’s Basilica. He had become chief architect of St. Peter’s after his innovative baroque façade of the Church of Santa Susannah had caught Pope Paul V’s eye.

In this plate we see the U-shaped footprint of the Circus of Nero to the left, and the plan of the current basilica of St. Peter directly over the older basilica. As Goffi (2016) points out, the three structures are represented in the plan in different ways – their outlining in different shades allows the viewer to the see the inter-relationship of all three. This is further highlighted by the inclusion of a walled section at the lower right corner which shows how the outer walls and the main and secondary naves are supported by the foundations of the Circus.


Bernard de Montfaucon, L’antiquité expliquée, et représentée en figures (Paris, 1719), 5 vols. in 10, Suppl. vol. 3, plate 60 (ceiling from Augustan baths in Rome).

Montfaucon, in his Travels of the learned Father Montfaucon from Paris thro’ Italy (London, 1712), says of the baths at Rome that :

They gave the Name of Baths to spacious Palaces with very large Vaults under Ground, in all which they made Fires in Winter ; but in Summer they were fill’d with cold Water, that the Rooms above might be the pleasanter, as may be seen in Dioclesian’s Baths before St. Susanna.’

Malacrino (2010) explains that it was in the third century BC that public baths became a popular architectural form in Rome. Pliny tells us that Agrippa has been one of the first to popularise the concept of public bathing by building a large bath complex in Rome (which he subsequently gave to the people of Rome) and by developing the water network. The Augustan period witnessed a steady rise in the popularity of public baths and with the reign of Nero and the Flavians, baths on a massive scale became the norm. Vitruvius emphasised the importance of the site chosen : ‘Firstly a site must be chosen as warm as possible, that is, turned away from the north and east. Now the hot and tepid baths are to be lighted from the winter west ; but if the nature of the site prevents, at any rate from the south. For the time of bathing is fixed between mid-day and evening.’


Filippo Buonanni, Numismata pontificum Romanorum quae a tempore Martini V. usque ad annum 1699 (Rome, 1699), vol. 1, plate after p. 352 (perspective view of Roman College).

Edward Worth collected a number of works by the Jesuit scholar Filippo Buonanni (1638-1725). Buonanni is perhaps best known as a scientist (and Worth duly collected his Observationes circa viventia, quæ in rebus non viventibus reperiuntur : cum micrographia curiosa, sive rerum minutissimarum observationibus, quae ope Microscopij recognitae ad viuum exprimuntur. His accesserunt aliquot animalium testaceorum icones (Rome, 1691)), but he also had copies of Buonanni’s antiquarian texts: Numismata summorum pontificum Templi Vaticani fabricam indicantia, chronologica ejusdem fabricae narratione, ac multiplici eruditione explicata (Rome, 1696); Numismata pontificum Romanorum quae a tempore Martini V. usque ad annum 1699 vel authoritate publica, vel privato genio in lucem prodiere, explicata, ac multiplici eruditione sacra, & prophana illustrata a P. Philippo Bonanni (Rome, 1699) and his Ordinum equestrium et militarium catalogus in imaginibus expositus & cum brevi narratione (Rome, 1711). This mixture of antiquarianism and science was not unusual within Jesuit circles and the Roman College (Collegio Romano) was a nodal point of European significance for scientific studies in particular. It was there that noted Jesuit astronomers and mathematicians were trained and it was from the Jesuit Roman College that the Jesuit system of education emanated out across the world.

Following his novitiate Buonanni had been sent to study at the Roman College, where he met the renowned Jesuit polymath, Athanasius Kircher (1602-1680), whose works were likewise collected by Worth and whose museum Buonanni would later curate. Buonanni spent most of his life in Rome and, like Onofrio Panvinio (whose book on the antiquities of Verona is examined in this exhibition), he too left many manuscripts of works unpublished by the time of his death. The Roman College had been founded by the founder of the Jesuits, St Ignatius Loyola (1491-1556), in 1551. It had gone through a number of iterations and moved location a number of times, before receiving the good fortune of the patronage of Pope Gregory XIII (1502-1585) who encouraged the construction of the building visible in this plate. This opened in 1584 under a new name, the ‘Gregorian University’ and the Roman College did not relocate until 1870.

The building was designed by the Italian architect Bartholmeo Ammannati (1511-1592). Born near Florence, much of his work was commissioned there – for example he worked on the Pitti Palace and Ponte Santa Trinita. Interestingly, in the context of his later commission to design the Roman College, Ammannati had been responsible for a small church, called San Giovanni Evangelista, which formed part of one of the first Jesuit colleges ever founded. He laboured on this from 1579 to 1592 and it seems likely that his work on this led to his commission to build the Roman College of the Jesuits at Rome. Hrux (2009) points out, building for the Jesuit order meant adhering to a preconceived set of architectural principles, designed to reflect the Jesuit sense of mission. The Jesuits oversaw all architectural projects closely and building could only begin once approval had been granted by the General of the Order. As Hurx (2009) says, the significance of San Giovannino was that it was ‘one of the first Jesuit complexes in which the architect tried to comply with the new functional and religious wishes of the order.’ In Florence Ammannati had wrapped the college of the Jesuits around its church, and we can see that he used the same idea in his plan for the Roman College.


Filippo Buonanni, Numismata pontificum Romanorum quae a tempore Martini V. usque ad annum 1699 (Rome, 1699), vol. 1, plate after p. 353 (plan of Roman College).


Goffi, Federica, Time Matter[s]: Invention and Reimagination in Built Conservation. The Unfinished Drawing and Building of St. Peter’s, the Vatican (London, 2013).

Hetland, Lise M., ‘New Perspectives on the dating of the Pantheon’ in Tod A. Marder and Mark Wilson Jones (eds.) The Pantheon. From Antiquity to the Present tr. Jay Hyams (Cambridge, 2015), 79-98.

Hurx, Merlijn, ‘Bartolomeo Ammannati and the College of San Giovannino in Florence: Adapting Architecture to Jesuit Needs, in Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians 68, no3 (2009), 338-357.

Malacrino, Carmelo G., Constructing the Ancient World. Architectural Techniques of the Greek and Romans (Los Angeles, 2010).

Marder, Tod A. and Jones, Mark Wilson (eds.) The Pantheon. From Antiquity to the Present tr. Jay Hyams (Cambridge, 2015).

Martines, Gianciacomo, ‘The Conception and Constructuion of Drum and Dome’ in Tod A. Marder and Mark Wilson Jones (eds.) The Pantheon. From Antiquity to the Present tr. Jay Hyams (Cambridge, 2015), 99-131.

Text : Elizabethanne Boran, Librarian of the Edward Worth Library.