Professor Clare Robertson’s new book, Rome 1600. The City and the visual Arts under Clement VIII (Yale University Press 2015) produces a snapshot of the city at one of the most significant moments in its post-classical history. Rome was at this time the centre of the artistic world. The book examines the beginnings of the great Baroque city at a moment of major artistic innovation, especially in painting. This was largely due to the presence of two artists, Annibale Carracci (1560-1609) and Caravaggio (1571-1610). In their different ways, both were hugely influential on the development of seventeenth-century painting throughout Europe: Annibale founded a school of artists whose work combined a fascination with the study of nature, with intense interest in the art of classical antiquity, and the work of High Renaissance artists, such as Michelangelo and Raphael. Caravaggio, who was notorious for his propensity for violence, offered a different vision, distinguished above all by his tenebrism. But Rome was a very cosmopolitan society, and attracted large numbers of artists from all over Italy, and from northern Europe, including Rubens (1577-1640). In 1593, Rome’s first artistic academy was founded, the Accademia di San Luca, under the initial direction of Federico Zuccaro (1539/40-1609), which was intended to provide an artistic education for young artists who were drawn to Rome by the opportunities for patronage that the city could offer. Zuccaro was a highly successful artist, who had worked all over Europe (He even painted a portrait of Queen Elizabeth I), and built himself a palace, which he frescoed with several erudite, allegorical subjects.
Madonna and Child with a Serpent, 1605 (oil on canvas) by Caravaggio, Michelangelo Merisi da (1571-1610), Galleria Borghese, Rome
1600 was a Jubilee Year, which meant that thousands of pilgrims came to Rome, in the hope of indulgences (Indeed, according to some reports, Rome’s population doubled during that year). This led to immense numbers of new artistic commissions, led by Pope Clement VIII, who completed major projects at Rome’s cathedral, San Giovanni in Laterano, and also at the Basilica of St Peter’s. Clement encouraged his cardinals to restore their titular churches, and to commission new works of art. The Roman church was in 1600 at a turning point in the Counter-Reformation, the movement to restore the institution after its serious losses to Protestantism in northern Europe during the sixteenth century, and art was a powerful weapon. New religious orders, including the Jesuits and the Oratorians, were well aware of the ways in which art could be used to restore faith. At the same time, there was a new archaeological interest in the palaeo-Christian church, since that was believed to be purer in its practices.
There were also a significant number of patrons of secular art, and this period saw the beginnings of galleries lined wall to ceiling with paintings. These included the Giustiniani and Mattei families, who had huge appetites for paintings by a variety of artists. The book draws upon all these issues, based closely on contemporary written and visual sources. It is extensively illustrated.
Annibale Carracci, River Landscape, c. 1593, Berlin Gemäldegalerie