This month, the ArtSmart Roundtable is highlighting travel in art. After a lot of debate, I settled on depictions of one of Rome’s most famous monuments in art: the Pantheon.
The Pantheon has been in continual use since Hadrian’s repairs to Agrippa’s structure in 126 AD. It was converted into a Christian church in 609, thus allowing the building to survive essentially intact. Sculptures, the doors, and the copper bosses that covered the ceiling (melted down in the 1600s to make cannons for Castel Sant’Angelo nearby) are gone, but the bones of the Pantheon are pretty much as is since Caracalla repaired it in 202.
Paintings and etchings of the Pantheon over the centuries show the changes both within and without that have occurred. There were two bell towers added during the Middle Ages, the piazza in front changed shape as buildings were added, demolished, and rebuilt. The interior was redecorated to suit the needs of a Roman Catholic church and the subsequent tombs of various kings, popes, and artists.
You can see from this 18th century painting how the ceiling has been stripped of the copper bosses. The interior in 1758 looks pretty close to what we see today.
This late 19th century depicts an imagined ancient interior with statues of various gods and toga-wearing worshippers.
This elevation shows how much of the dome is actually hidden by the exterior structure. The exterior dome is flat, but the interior is a true hemisphere. The concrete starts out thicker at the drum and becomes much thinner around the central oculus. If I had to be somewhere in Rome during an earthquake, I’d take the inside of the Pantheon.
Piranesi created many etchings of Rome highlighting ancient ruins. You can read more about him over at Travellious from an earlier ArtSmart. I have a different view of the Piazza della Rotunda by Piranesi on my bedroom wall. You can see his attempt to disguise the medieval bell towers by cropping the facade in such a way that you don’t really notice them.
Those bell towers are far more obvious here. They were taken down later in the 19th century. The scene is from further back in the piazza to include the obelisk and fountain.
Here’s a similar view in the same year but from the other side of the piazza. It was common for printmakers to use a different artist’s drawings to create an etching or engraving like above.
Of course, these historical renderings are not as incredible as seeing the Pantheon in person. But I hope that seeing it as a focus for western art over the centuries adds to the gravitas of actually visiting it.
What is ArtSmart? A few fellow travel bloggers with an interest in art and I decided to do a roundtable series focused on making our readers “art smart”, e.g. understanding why certain works of art are famous and worth the visit while traveling. At the end of this post are links to the other ArtSmart posts by participating bloggers. Interested in joining the Roundtable? Check out our Facebook page or email me.
This Month’s Fellow ArtSmart Roundtable Articles:
Lesley of Culture Tripper: Marianne North, Victorian Adventurer and Botanical Artist
Christina of Daydream Tourist: John Singer Sargent’s Travel Pictures
Jeff of EuroTravelogue: Norway: Then and Now
Ashley of No Onions Extra Pickles: Travel and the Nomadic Happening