In 1759 Giuseppe Vasi published his eighth book of etchings depicting the monuments of Rome. It covered the nunneries and most likely it did not sell well. Apart from the views of a couple of historical churches (e.g. S. Cecilia and S. Susanna) it could hardly interest the traveller who wanted to bring home some mementoes of his Roman stay.
Today some of these less interesting plates have acquired a value they did not have, because they are the only ones to show views of Roma Sparita (Lost Rome). This term is used to refer to the parts of the city which were pulled down to open or enlarge streets or to excavate ancient monuments between the 1870s and the 1930s.
The view is taken from the green dot in the 1748 map below. In the description below the plate Vasi made reference to: 1) S. Lorenzo ai Monti; 2) Palazzo Conti; 3) S. Eufemia; 4) Spirito Santo. The map shows also 5) Mercati di Traiano.
Vasi would hardly believe that the photo above was taken from roughly the same point he used for his view. The buildings on the left side of the plate (including S. Eufemia and Spirito Santo) were demolished in 1812 during the first modern archaeological excavations of Rome. In the 1930s S. Lorenzo ai Monti and Palazzo Conti were pulled down to open Via dei Fori Imperiali. In general the lost churches did not have a significant artistic value. Their movable works of art were relocated to other nunneries/churches.
Basilica Ulpia; (inset) inscription celebrating the 1815 completion of the excavations by Pope Pius VII
Colonna Traiana is the main remaining monument of the Forum built by Emperor Trajan (Marcus Ulpius Traianus) in 108-113 AD; the other buildings of the complex were a lost triumphal arch at its eastern entrance, a large basilica which had four rows of grey granite columns and two lost semicircular libraries at the sides of Colonna Traiana (from which the reliefs of the column could be admired at close range).
Archaeological Museum of Naples - Farnese Collection: Farnese Atlas which most likely embellished one of the libraries
The Forum was designed by Apollodorus of Damascus, a military engineer, who levelled Velia, a hill between the Quirinal and the Capitol, to the ground to make room for the Forum. He was the favourite architect of the Emperor for whom he designed new baths in Rome, a triumphal arch at Ancona, improvements to Via Appia at Terracina and a stone bridge on the River Danube.
The Forum was already in a state of abandonment at the beginning of the IVth century because some statues and reliefs were removed from there to embellish Arco di Costantino.
(above) Louvre Museum in Paris (from the Borghese Collection): frieze from Basilica Ulpia; (below) frieze by Antonio Federighi at Cappella di Piazza in Siena (late XVth century)
The griffin is a mythological creature part eagle part lion. It was regarded as a guardian of treasures and it was associated with Apollo. The Great Temple to that god at Didyma was decorated with a frieze similar to that at Basilica Ulpia. The same motif was utilized in 141 for Tempio di Antonino e Faustina. Because that temple did not fall and the frieze was very visible it was copied by many Renaissance artists who eventually used it in their works.
Exhibits at Mercati di Traiano from Basilica Ulpia: (left) statue of a Roman general, most likely Emperor Trajan, with the same griffin decoration as in the frieze (see a very similar statue in the Museum of Pergamum - it opens in another window); (right) a Dacian prisoner
The Forum was adjoined by a semicircular square surrounded by a series of shops. A lost equestrian statue of the Emperor stood at its centre (see a page which extensively covers Mercati di Traiano).
The image used as background for this page shows a scene from Vasi's plate.
Excerpts from Giuseppe Vasi 1761 Itinerary related to this page:
Fin dall'anno 1432. fu eretta questa chiesa col monastero per le canonichesse Lateranensi, le quali hanno ornata la chiesa con stucchi dorati, e pitture; quelle nella cappella della Madonna sono di Baldassare della Croce, le altre nella cappella del ss. Crocifisso, di Gio. de' Vecchi; quelle nella volta, di Mario Arconio, ed il quadro nell'altare maggiore è di Luigi Gazi. Siegue dopo di questa la chiesa di s. Eufemia col conservatorio per le povere zittelle orfane, che corrisponde incontro alla chiesa del ss. Nome di Maria.