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‘The Amphitheatre at Verona is one of the largest and finest of Italy.’
Bernard De Montfaucon, Antiquity explained, and represented in sculptures,
By the Learned Father Montfaucon, translated into English by David Humphreys (London, 1721),
5 vols, vol iii, part 2, p. 164.
Onofrio Panvinio, Antiquitatum Veronensium libri octo nunc primum in lucem editi (Padua, 1647), perspective view of Verona’s amphitheatre..
This plate, from Onofrio Panvinio’s Antiquitatum Veronensium libri octo (Padua, 1647) depicts the Roman amphitheatre built c 30 AD at Verona. The façade was of pink and white limestone though much of that was either destroyed in the earthquake of 1117 or taken for building material subsequently. Despite this the amphitheatre is still in use today, hosting operas and concerts whereas in Roman times it was famous for the games which took place there. Onofrio Panvinio (1530-1568) had examined these games in detail in his De ludis circensibus, libri II. De triumphis, liber unus. Quibus vniuersa ferè Romanorum veterum sacra ritusq. declarantur, ac figuris aeneis illustrantur, first posthumously published at Padua in 1642 and bought by Edward Worth in a 1681 Paduan edition. This was one of three books bought by Worth which had been written by Panvinio: the others included his Fasti et triumphi Rom. a Romulo rege usque ad Carolum V. Caes. Aug (Venice, 1557) and his Antiquitatum Veronensium libri octo (Padua, 1647).
Bernard de Montfaucon, L’antiquité expliquée, et représentée en figures (Paris, 1719), 5 vols. in 10, vol. 3, pt. 2, plate 148 (detail of plate depicting an amphitheatre).
The French antiquarian Bernard de Montfaucon (1655-1741), a Benedictine monk who is credited with playing a major role in the foundation of both paleography and archaeology, provided the following description of the amphitheatre at Verona, in his magisterial L’antiquité expliquée, et représentée en figures (Paris, 1719) :
It’s all of Marble ; and tho’ the first Circuit is almost ruin’d, yet there are some Arches remaining that have three several Orders of Building one above the other. The Cavea, however, or inner part is in much better Condition than in any other Amphitheatre in Italy. The Stair-cases which answer to the Vomitoria, are pretty much like those of the Coliseum. The Veronese, who are careful to preserve the Monuments of their City, are continually at work to rebuild this Amphitheatre.’
Roman amphitheatres were made up of three essential elements : the seating area (known as the cavea), organised in three horizontal sections denoting social ranking ; the arena itself and, finally, the vomitoria, which were the entrances to the cavea and arena (spewing forth the audience, which in the case of the arena at Verona could be as many as 30,000). Welch (2007) suggests that the Julio-Claudian amphitheatres (such as Verona), issued in a new civilian type of amphitheatre, as opposed to earlier military amphitheatres such as that at Pompeii.
Onofrio Panvinio, Antiquitatum Veronensium libri octo nunc primum in lucem editi (Padua, 1647), portrait of the author.
Panvinio was a keen antiquarian, interested not only in imperial Rome but also in the later history of the city. A client of the renowned Cardinal Alessandro Farnese (1520-1589), who funded his scholarly research, Panvinio became Librarian of the Vatican and so was particularly well placed to access both textual and material artefacts. As Stenhouse (2012) has pointed out, Panvinio was heavily influenced by earlier writers such as the Italian Renaissance Humanist scholar Flavio Biondo (1392-1463) and he approached buildings as an antiquarian, not as an architect. Stenhouse (2012) emphasises that Panvinio was more interested in the printed word than in the architectural drawings which were then being produced in Rome. Yet, despite this, his books contain much material important for historians of architecture. This may well be because, just a few years before he died, he developed his interest in visual material, arguing, in his preface to his 1568 collection of papal portraits, that ‘a picture provides what is denied to us by nature, which allows nothing to last forever.’ As Stenhouse suggests, it seems likely that Panvinio recognised the potentialities of visual material and the close linkage between text and image inherent in the antiquarian drive towards ‘description’. For Stenhouse, Panvinio’s engravings ‘are indicative of a particular type of visual turn in sixteenth century antiquarian scholarship, in which historians gathered visual evidence for Roman rituals and ceremonies.’ On his death at the age of 38 he had produced no less than 3,000 pages of scholarship. The scale of his antiquarian research interests ensured that after his death there was material for a host of posthumous publications and it is unsurprising that two of Worth’s three books by Panvinio were posthumous. His works were highly influential and their echoes may be found in the interactions of later scholars with Roman architecture: for example Justus Lipsius’ De amphitheatris quae extra Romam libellus (Antwerp, 1604) contains a plate of the Arena at Verona which owes much to Panvinio’s depiction.
Onofrio Panvinio, Antiquitatum Veronensium libri octo nunc primum in lucem editi (Padua, 1647), plate 2 (map of town with inlay of the Lion of Venice on the gate, which is in the foreground of the map).
Bomgardner, D. L. The Story of the Roman Amphitheatre (London: Routledge, 2000).
Nash, Paul. W., Nicholas Savage, Gerald Beasley, John Merriton and Alison Shell (eds.), British Architectural Lirbary Royal Institute of British Architects. Early Printed Books 1478-1840, volume 5.Early Printed Books 1478-1840, volume 5 (München, 2003).
Papy, Jan, ‘The Antiquarian Scholar between Text and Image: Justus Lipsius, Humanist Education, and the Visualization of Ancient Rome’, The Sixteenth Century Journal, 35 no 1. (Spring 2004) 97-131.
Pollak, Martha (ed.) The Mark J. Millard Architectural Collection. Volume IV Italian and Spanish Books Fifteenth through Nineteenth Centuries (Washington, 2000).
Robertson, Clare, ‘Panvinio, Onofrio’ entry in Oxford Art Online.
Stenhouse, William, Panvinio and Descriptio: Renditions of History and Antiquity in the Late Renaissance’ in Papers of the British School at Rome 80 (2012), 233-256.
Welch, Katherine E., The Roman Amphitheatre from its Origin to the Colosseum (Cambridge University Press, 2007).
English quotation from Bernard De Montfaucon, Antiquity explained, and represented in sculptures, By the Learned Father Montfaucon, translated into English by David Humphreys (London, 1721), 5 vols.
Text: Elizabethanne Boran, Librarian of the Edward Worth Library.