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Ruins in the Early Modern European Architectural Imagination

You, by Rome astonished, who gaze here

On ancient pride, once threatening the skies,

These old palaces, where the brave hills rise,

Walls, archways, baths, the temples that appear:

Judge, as you view these ruins, shattered, severe,

All that injurious Time's devoured: the wise

Architect and mason, their plans devise

Still from these fragments, their patterns clear.

-Joachim Du Bellay, Les Antiquités de Rome (1558), Sonnet XXVII

Du Bellay's eloquent commentary on the ruins of Rome encapsulates the contradictions of the early modern approach to classical architecture. As artists flocked to Italy in search of inspiration during the classical revival, they encountered ruins which had been plundered over the centuries and ravaged by the passing of time. The sorry remnants of the once-great Roman Empire encouraged some Renaissance poets and artists to meditate on the transience of life and the ultimate futility of world glory. Artists incorporated ruins into their works as symbols of the decadence and decline which had characterized the late Empire, and used them as a caution against seeking worldly gain.

Yet the millenia-old ruins also served as fresh inspiration to a new generation of Renaissance architects who were fascinated by the proportions and decorative motifs of classical architecture. Those who studied classical architecture first-hand in Italy were eagerly hired by monarchs and other power figures who were inspired by the splendor of ancient Rome and who wanted to mirror it in their own palaces and public buildings.

Jean Boissieu
Vue du Temple de Vesta
etching on laid paper
( )
Museum Purchase
Giovanni Battista Piranesi
Venduta della Piazza di Monte Cavallo
etching on paper
21 1/8 in. x 15 in. ( 53.7 cm x 38.1 cm )
Gift of J. Frederick Hoffman
Marcantonio Raimondi
Holy Family with Young St. John the Baptist, called the Virgin with the Long Thi
engraving on paper
15 ⅞ in x 10 9/16 in (40.32 cm x 26.83 cm)
Museum Purchase
Claude Lorrain
Campo Vaccino (Forum Romanum)
etching on paper
7 3/16 in x 10 ⅛ in (18.26 cm x 25.72 cm);7 3/16 in x 10 ⅛ in (18.26 cm x 25.72 cm);7 ⅞ in x 10 ⅜ in (20 cm x 26.35 cm);14 in x 19 in (35.56 cm x 48.26 cm)
Museum Purchase
Charles Hutin
Architectural Capriccio
pen, black ink, gray wash and black chalk on paper
5 3/4 in. x 7 13/16 in. ( 14.6 cm x 19.8 cm )
Purchased from the Estate of Edward Sonnenschein
Jean-François Janinet
Fontaine de la Villa Sacchetti
etching and lavis-manner engraving printed in color on paper
16 in x 19 15/16 in (40.64 cm x 50.64 cm);22 1/16 in x 28 1/16 in (56.04 cm x 71.28 cm);16 in x 19 15/16 in (40.64 cm x 50.64 cm);13 3/4 in x 18 1/2 in (34.92 cm x 46.99 cm)
Museum Purchase
This etching, in a pale blue, brown and gray color scheme, depicts an outdoor scene with a large Roman style building and several human figures in the foreground. One giant wall, with two large arches, with semi-circular apses behind, crosses the middle section of the composition from left to right. It intersects a massive building that has a series of vaulted chambers. Both structures have crumbling stonework and overgrown vegetation. There are several groups of women in the foreground on both sides of a river. Some are in the water washing laundry and some are standing with wash hanging on lines. There is a small dog on the shore.
Jean-François Janinet
La Villa Madama
etching and lavis-manner engraving printed in color on paper
15 15/16 in x 19 3/4 in (40.48 cm x 50.17 cm);22 1/16 in x 28 1/16 in (56.04 cm x 71.28 cm);15 15/16 in x 19 3/4 in (40.48 cm x 50.17 cm);13 9/16 in x 14 3/8 in (34.45 cm x 36.51 cm)
Museum Purchase
Isräel Silvestre
No. 6 of a series of 12 Views of Rome and Venice
etching on paper
4 ¾ in x 9 ⅞ in (12.07 cm x 25.08 cm)
Museum Purchase
Canaletto
Landscape with Equestrian Statue, No. 20 from the set of 31, Vedute, altre pres
etching on paper
5 1/2 in. x 8 1/4 in. ( 14 cm x 21 cm )
Gift of Jean Paul Slusser
Herman van Swanevelt
Woman with a Parasol in a Landscape
etching on laid paper
7 3/8 x 11 1/4 in. (18.6 x 28.5 cm);14 3/8 x 19 3/8 in. (36.5 x 49.2 cm)
Gift of David and Elizabeth Tunick
Giovanni Grimaldi
Eight Landscapes. 8. Landscape with the Shaft of a Column
etching on paper
7 ⅝ in x 7 11/16 in (19.37 cm x 19.53 cm);19 ¼ in x 19 ¼ in (48.89 cm x 48.89 cm)
Museum Purchase
Italian
Fantasy of Roman Ruins (recto); Sketch of a Colonnade with Superstructure (Stage
pen and bistre ink with gray wash and touches of white heightening
13 3/16 in. x 7 1/4 in. ( 33.5 cm x 18.4 cm )
Museum Purchase

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Part of 7 Learning Collections

30 Collection Object Sources

La Villa Madama (1973/1.737)

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Last Updated

August 8, 2017 11:22 a.m.

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