"La magnificenza e l'utile," the magnificent and the useful, paired in the title of Aloisio Antinori's study of seventeenth-century urban projects in Rome, are terms that derive from the documents; Antinori explores them in the context of the relationship between papal sovereignty and public building. For scholars of Baroque architecture in Rome this is hardly news. What is intriguing is that, while examining this familiar patronage relationship, Antinori discovers moments of indecision that reveal tensions between building to celebrate the Church and her sovereign and building in the service of the Roman public.
This slender volume opens with an introduction to the urban development of Rome in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries, driven by projects focused on public building——especially on judicial building and grain storage——and papal residential architecture, specifically the Palazzo del Quirinale. It also treats the opening of new paths for circulation, all advanced by the usual suspects——popes Gregory XIII, Sixtus V, Clement VIII, and Paul V. This introduction orients us to the case studies that form the core of the book, made up of four chapters, each of which focuses on a papal project that involved, to varying degrees, the building of architecture and the reshaping of urban fabric. In terms of method each case is grounded in archival materials, some newly presented and all newly considered. Antinori does a commendable job of weaving together his archival discoveries with documentation published previously by others. Two of the case studies also incorporate reconsiderations of the iconography of these projects. Remarkable is Antinori's ability to move easily from the archival to the iconographic, from the architecture to the emblem. For the most part he maintains a keen focus on his topics, relegating documentation to the notes that handily appear in the gutters of the pages. The illustrations, generally of modest size and including a fair sprinkling of color, are legible enough to illustrate his argument.
Chapter one concerns Innocent X's project for the design and construction of the Carceri Nuove. Antinori identifies important earlier moments in the genesis of this project to reveal its connections with contemporary schemes for S. Girolamo della Caritàà (the members of which had designs on building a new faççade) and the Collegio Inglese opposite, both in the immediate neighborhood of Corte Savelli in via Monserrato, the site first intended for this new institution. He also identifies the controlling role of Virgilio Spada, papal confidant and Oratorian extraordinaire. Antinori brings to light the fact that in shepherding the Pamphili project to a new site along via Giulia, Spada was able to secure advantages for S. Girolamo (where his family owned a major chapel that they were eager to complete) and for the Collegio Inglese, whose leaders successfully argued for the entire neighborhood the right of exemption from the unfortunate consequences of living in close proximity to a judicial center. Indeed, the selection of the via Giulia site secured the real-estate value of the southern end of via Monserrato close by the Piazza Farnese, and also promised to secure tenants for the Oratorians, since the Carceri Nuove complex would now be just two blocks from Chiesa Nuova. Although Antinori implies the importance of justice and charity in this papal project (the terms appear in the chapter title), magnificence plays but a minor role; rather, the useful——in its broadest sense as both public amenity and financial benefit——garners attention.
The following two chapters share a focus on Alexander VII's projects for molding public space in association with church building. The history of the formation of the Piazza di S. Maria della Pace and of the design of the faççade of the church is reconstructed based primarily on documentation previously published by Hans Ost and Augusto Roca De Amicis.1 Here Antinori focuses on a reinterpretation of the iconographic program. He refutes Ost's understanding of S. Maria della Pace as a modern-day Temple of Peace, reflecting the papal response to European political developments, and argues instead that the piazza cum royal court is best understood as an architectural image of power (comparable, for example, to Henry IV's Place des Vosges in Paris) and that the church faççade, here identified as representing the Church of Rome, gives form to the theme of Justice, the bounty of Peace, as a sure sign of papal hegemony. Clearly, magnificence dominates here; never mind Spada's entirely practical brief on the piazza as a strategy to provide carriage access to the church.
Antinori's study of the Piazza del Popolo offers the best balance of the dual motives of magnificence and utility among his cases. Here he introduces new evidence for the persistent role of the Augustinians of S. Maria del Popolo in shaping the piazza, beginning as early as 1617, and offers a cogent study of one key drawing (BAV, Vat. lat., 13442, fol. 34r) that shows the properties formed by the trident of via del Babuino, via del Corso and via della Ripetta. He identifies the Sistine obelisk as the radial point for the early definition of these blocks. The observations in chapter three showcase Antinori's abilities not only in archival research, but also in providing fresh interpretations of key documents, especially the project drawings. He also proposes a new iconographic interpretation of the concetto for this Chigi project, which incorporates the redesign and ornamentation of both faces of Porta del Popolo as well as the development of the twin churches on the trident sites opposite and the obelisk in between. In this case, Antinori argues that this entire program images the power of Alexander VII as the papal prince. This sounds like a point scored for la magnificenza, but in the denouement the author proves that the interests of the Augustinians in developing their utilitarian, income-producing real estate along the margins of the piazza impeded the formal redefinition of Piazza del Popolo until the late eighteenth century. Chalk one up to l'utile.
The final case focuses on Spada's dream, schemed in 1661 but abandoned in 1663 shortly after the padre's death, to develop the Piazza Montegiordano as a financial and commercial hub for the city. Antinori presents Spada's proposal as shamelessly self-serving, since the location would have benefited the Oratorians who owned much of the surrounding real estate. To be sure, Alexander VII's commitment to this project was tepid at best. Antinori concludes by suggesting that the initiative at Piazza Montegiordano was destined to fuel the development of a Palazzo dei Tribunali on the site of the former Palazzo Orsini complex to the north to complement the earlier Carceri Nuove to the west and thereby to transform the rione of Ponte and its immediate surroundings into a modern district for business and public affairs. This is the least satisfying of the cases presented in La magnificenza e l'utile, in large part because here Antinori seems to lose his grip on the two motives for urban development. In this case the urban dream was Spada's, not the pope's, and the corollary schemes never materialized.
In the end questions remain: What factors secured success in shaping the urban fabric of Baroque Rome? What do we learn from urban redevelopments that stalled? Was the brief for truly public building ultimately at odds with the celebration of papal magnificence and sovereignty? Antinori's case studies imply that in spite of grand schemes and elaborate iconographic programs, the useful often compromised the magnificent. Indeed, one might even argue that the successful expression of both motives was the signal challenge of the one sovereign in Europe charged with both temporal and spiritual leadership as prince and pastor.
Hans Ost, "Studien zu Pietro da Cortonas Umbau von S. Maria della Pace, Röömisches Jahrbuch füür Kunstegeschichte 13 (1981), 231––85; Augusto Roca De Amicis, "Palazzo Gambirasi e piazza della Pace: Storia edilizia di un connubio difficile," Palladio, n.s. 25 (2000 [published 2001]), 19––38.