Sunday, March 9, 2008

Virtual Tourist 1: Introduction, Hard Fill Wanted

My four-day visit to the Chicago Festival of Maps was a sort of birthday present to myself. On the morning of my birthday I set out for the Virtual Tourist in Renaissance Rome exhibit. Flush with excitement over the previous day at the Field Museum, and from the cold walk across Hyde Park, I got to the University of Chicago Library soon after it opened at nine o'clock. That I stayed until the library closed at one o'clock, yet still saw only a small fraction of the exhibit, most eloquently conveys its thought-provoking richness.

The exhibit frontispiece tells the story of how the library obtained the treasure trove on display. In 1891 William Rainey Harper, the first president of the University of Chicago, bought the stock of a Berlin book dealer with, among other things, a "unique set of Lafreri's Speculum Romanae Magnificentiae consisting of 1100 plates of which no public library has a set of over 120 plates." The plates are engravings of monuments and antiquities of Rome, most published in the late sixteenth century, the age of Michelangelo and the Counter-Reformation.

I dredged my memory for details from the conversations I had with Grace about the music and art of the sixteenth century, and how the Reformation and Counter-Reformation manifested through them. I thought of the sensuality and palpability of Michaelangelo's human figures, and asked myself "Wasn't Michaelangelo's work more a reflection of the Reformation than the Counter-Reformation?" I hadn't even made it past the frontispiece and it was clear that I needed to do lots more studying. Sitting here writing this entry it's even more clear: I just turned to Grace and said "Didn't Michaelangelo do the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel?" Of course the answer was "Yes". Sigh. Throw Michaelangelo on that big pile of stuff I need to study in the context of the confessional brouhaha of the sixteenth century.

The first item in the exhibit was Francesco Albertini's "Little work on the marvels of the new and old city of Rome. The placard said that this was the type of manuscript guidebook to Rome produced in the Middle Ages, and that the simplicity of the frontispiece is typical for early sixteenth century books inspired by classical antiquity. When I read of the "New and Old Rome" motif that runs through so many of the items in this exhibit I thought back to Nolli's "Grand Plan of Rome", which I'd seen at the Field Museum the previous day. Nolli's map showed, among two thousand points of interest, such classical structures as the Circus Maximus.

The placard said that Albertini's "little work" was published between 1493 and 1510. I tried to place this in context, and the first thing I thought of was the Reconquista. The Spanish completed their reoccupation of the Iberian Peninsula in 1492, but of course they continued to be extremely busy with the Muslim presence on the Barbary Coast. Continuing to rummage in my head, I thought of how, in 1571, Philip II was very invested in keeping Italy under his control, yet making sure it didn't get overrun by Ottoman forces. Suddenly the History of European Art lectures popped into my head: specifically, the bit about the pilgrimage routes through France and into northwest Spain. I looked in my notes and found it: Santiago de Compostela, supposedly the most important pilgrimage site in the eleventh and twelfth centuries.

I thought back to Etzlaub's map of the pilgrimage routes to Rome from 1500, and Paris's map of the pilgrimage routes to Apulia from 1252. This led me to my big question: What happened between the twelfth and fifteenth centuries to shift the focus eastward, from northwest Spain to Rome? Also, how did Spain view these Renaissance "advertisements" for Italy? Was this material part of Italy's striving for independence from spain? How much did the fall of Constantinople play into this?

These are big, intimidating questions, and although there are centuries-wide gaps in my knowledge, at least I feel confident enough now to ask them. I know a few things:

  • In 800, the Pope Leo III was weak enough to need help against the Lombards, but strong enough for Charlemagne to want him as an ally. The crowning of Charlemagne represented a break with Constantinople and a bond with Western Europe.
  • In the years following Henry VIII's initial request for a divorce from Catherine of Aragon in 1525, the Pope became very weak indeed. Spain and France were fighting over Italy, and the degree to which Rome capitulated to Henry's desires was directly proportional to the French army's incursions. When plague struck the army at Rome's doorstep, the Pope regained some influence, but by this time the Papal ambassador had already given Henry the go-ahead.
  • During the twelfth and thirteenth centuries the city-states of Italy became extremely powerful, mostly because they supplied, and eventually usurped, the Crusades. I know that, during the Fourth Crusade, Venetian forces attacked first Zara and then Constantinople against the wishes of the Pope, but I have no idea how much the power of the merchant city-states elevated that of Rome.
  • Between the beginning of the Crusades in the late 1090's and the fall of Constantinople in 1204, Italy was not only a source of ships for the Crusades, but a waystation on the route to the Holy Lands.
  • After the fall of Constaninople, Rome would have been even more of a waystation as pilgrims sought alternate routes to the east. When the Crusader states fell, Rome would suddenly have become the easternmost focus of Christian pilgrimage.

Having thought through all this, I wondered if the eastern shift in pilgrimage destinations indicated a refocusing of Europe's collective eye: during the Reconquista, northern Spain would have represented a foothold on which Christian soldiers dug in their heels to push the Muslims south; however, the more the Iberian Peninsula was retaken, the more Europeans must have felt secure in casting their eyes eastward to the newly-minted crisis in the Holy Land. On the other hand, the eastward shift may have had less to do with conceptual geography than with the rising power of the Papacy and the declining power of Constantinople. I think I need to understand Papal history before I can hope to answer my questions, so I've decided that when I finish World of Byzantium I'll be starting in on Popes and the Papacy: A History. Wish me luck. And check back in to see if I've answered those big questions.

Here is a high-resolution zoomable image of Lafreri's title page for his Speculum Romanae Magnificentiae.

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