Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Review: Nicholas Temple - renovatio urbi: Architecture, Urbanism and Ceremony in the Rome of Julius II

published by Routledge London and New York 2011

Nicholas Temple’s book renovatio urbis is a remarkable contribution to the literature on the urbanism of Rome. The author explores in considerable detail the series of projects (urban, architectural and painterly) which were initiated in the city by Pope Julius II during the decade of his papacy from 1503 to 1513. The warrior pope’s purpose was to recast the image of the city as the centre of Christendom and thereby reinforce the status of his office. The method used by Professor Temple in his analysis of this body of work is to synthesise the archival and literary sources with the visual tools of the architect to present a convincing set of interlinked analyses of the city’s topography, its representations and the relationships between major urban monuments both ancient and contemporary.
The work is structured, following the introduction, to deal successively with the Via Giulia, the Palazzo dei Tribunali, the Cortile del Belvedere, St. Peter’s Basilica and the Raphael frescoes of the Stanza della Segnatura. The figure of Bramante features in many of these projects, with Michelangelo considered in relation to his project for Julius’s tomb. The dynastic and nepotistic nature of the papal court figures in the influence of Julius’s uncle Sixtus IV and Julius’s adopted heirs in the Chigi family, who financed his grand projects. The general tone of the work is to read these highly significant individual works as fragments of a greater project to transform the city as an icon of papal authority.
An especially successful element of the book is the invoking of lost or minor ancient monuments as the possible sources of new renaissance urban elements. In this regard the recurring use of the Arch of Janus Quadrifrons as a surviving symbol of mythical Etruscan origins is particularly interesting to contrast with the more familiar narrative of the spatial idealism associated with the Greek cross plan. The diagrams, many of them drawn by Peter Baldwin, are particularly helpful in testing some of these hypotheses either across the city’s topography or in the fictional space of perspective construction in a fresco. This visual analysis, however, is always supported by literary, epigraphic or numismatic evidence, indicative of scholarship of the highest level.
The book stands as the equal of other significant studies of papal urbanists such as Carroll William Westfall’s work on Nicholas V In this most perfect paradise (1975) and Richard Krautheimer’s The Rome of Alexander VII (1985). However, the innovative nature of Temple’s analysis is probably best compared to Diane Favro’s The Urban Image of Augustan Rome (1998). Here too Temple takes care to demonstrate with plans and diagrams how the city was composed as a theological manifesto of the historic claims of the church as the successor of imperial Rome. The enduring continuity of the city, though, is evidence of the remarkable fact that nearly five hundred years after the death of the supreme patron of pre-Reformation Europe we still need to know more about his powerful commissions and creations, and this book provides some very original answers.

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