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Recording of the Past

Archaeology in Rome 1538–1547: The Berlin Codex Destailleur D as an Important Source for Archaeology and its History [AIAC, Boston, August 2003 / PrePrint version]

[L and R refer to left and right slides shown during the presentation. - B.K.]


The title of my paper might sound confusing, because it does not seem to be clear about which interpretation should be given to the last two words: Do they relate to the history of the Codex or to the history of Archaeology? Well, the answer is: both.

The Codex came to Berlin in 1879 as part of the enormous collection of architectural drawings of the french architect Hippolyte Destailleur. It was named after this last owner [– as well as its most prominent draftsman, the Anonymous Destailleur –] by Hermann Egger in his catalogue of architectural drawings in the Viennese graphical collection Albertina, published in 1903 where Egger found some parallel drawings that he classified as copies. The additional letter "D" in the modern name of the Codex is meant to avoid confusion and separate this Codex from others of the same collection or from those of a second collection later sold by Destailleur to St. Petersburg.

Until now, it is not known, when and where Destailleur acquired the original 3-volume Codex or who might have been its former owners. There are a few hints that Paul Letarouilly in the second quarter of the nineteenth century might have known the Codex. Also, Heinrich von Geymüller, the historian of Renaissance architecture, mentioned the Codex after it was sold to Berlin. But, by writing: "Destailleur owned three volumes of drawings after the Baths of Diocletian", Geymüller neglected his knowledge of the other drawings in the Codex, for instance one showing the lost tambour decoration of Santa Costanza, which Geymüller himself published in an article:


L1 S.Costanza: section


Christian Huelsen was the first scholar who analised the Codex more extensively when he compared its drawings showing the baths of Caracalla with the studies of the russian architect Iwanow published by him.


Today, the Codex consists of 120 sheets, many of them very large and containing up to a dozen single drawings, in some cases even more. The main part of this collection shows antique Roman buildings, while the rest – about a third – shows contemporary Renaissance buildings of the first half of the 16th century. These latter, among them a detailed representation of a project for Saint-Peter's – the subject of my PhD-Thesis – allow to date the whole Codex between 1538 and 1547, that is, about 20 years earlier than most of the few scholars who worked on single drawings have dated the Codex.


The examination of the Saint-Peter's drawings also led to an identification of the main draftsman: In my opinion, he was not an architect – as it has always been suggested –, but a carpenter and stone-mason of french origin, frequently named "Guglielmo franzioso" in the documents of the Fabbrica di San Pietro. If I'm correct, it seems almost impossible to believe, that this person, who had a regular "job" at the Fabbrica between – at least – 1541 and 1547, should be the master-mind behind the whole campaign which must have lasted months, if not even years, and could only have been organised very thoughtfully and carefully in a long process, as the drawings show.


There are some remarkable features that make the Codex almost unique among collections of architectural drawings from the Renaissance:


First, it almost completely consists only of drawings by one person and a few collaborators – therefore, it is not a collection arranged by later owners. 

Also, it has not been altered by later owners, except its decomposition into single sheets, when the three bound volumes came to Berlin.


Second, the sheets have been grouped by their draftsman according to the buildings shown in the drawings: This is remarkable, because only very few sheets contain drawings of different buildings – like so many other drawings from the Renaissance do:

Caracalla / Theatre of Marcellus: Column without base R1


One example is the sheet on the right, showing parts of the Baths of Caracalla and the Doric order from the Theatre of Marcellus with a note on the missing base of this order.


Third, the antique buildings are shown in an un-rivaled completeness: Regurlarly an overview is given, and then details are linked by key letters to this, 

L2 Diocletian: wall with key letters          

Details according to the key letters R2


on the left the overview of the natatio wall from the Baths of Diocletion, and on the right the verso of the same sheet, showing some of the details linked with letters to the recto


While other drawings from the Renaissance concentrate on elevations or ground plans or some details, but almost never show a whole building in its structure and complexity, demonstrating thereby an interest of the draftsman in a full comprehension of his object, – the  draftsmen of the Codex Destailleur D go much farther by showing even details, that no-one else before or later hold worth to record:  for instance


L3 Baths of Diocletian: roof

Basilica of Maxentius: roof R3


groundplans of roofs like these from the Baths of Diocletian + the Basilica of Maxentius



L4 a roof detail from the Baths of Caracalla


There are also drawings from the inside of triumphal archs like this one - next left 


Arch of Titus Vespasianus, inner ground plan R4


or these, of the

L5 from the Arch of Constantine         

and the Arch of Septimius Severus R5


In some cases, technical aspects like materials are recorded as in this drawing

L6 The Wall in the Curia Iulia 


(another example was the decoration of Santa Costanza, shown at the beginning)


Further, there are many sections along different lines of large buildings, 


A part of the stadium and the so-called library from the Baths of Caracalla. R6


(This, by the way, seems to be the only elevation of one of the so-called Libraries, demonstrating, that it cannot have been one – just because of its open roof and the height of the niches which start more than 2m above the ground!


And last but not least (next on left and right please) there are very interesting details of hydraulic and heating systems in baths:

L7 Baths of Diocletian: details of heating system (now lost)

Baths of Caracalla R7


Even more, the buildings and details are measured with an astonishing accuracy down to millimeters:


L8 Basilica of Maxentius: Column and base   

Colosseum: ground plan R8


A column from the Basilica of Maxentius, please note the details of the base's profile; and one ground plan of the Colosseum, giving every single distance of entrances.


The drawings try – as inscriptions claim – to stay based on visual evidence and therefore to avoid fantasy:

L9 S. Agnese: Thoughts on reconstruction         

Arch of Marc Aurel: Critique R9


For instance, on the left you can see some thoughts of the draftsman, clearly stated as being based on his findings in situ, regarding a possible reconstruction of what he thinks to be a circus, and – on the right – a critical annotation about the quality of details from the Arch of Marcus Aurelius, and why he didn't record them.

By the way: These inscriptions – like others – seem to be addressed to someone else:

L10 "If my work would please you, please reserve other for me ..."


All of these features – and a lot of more details – suggest that the Codex could not result from a campaign by an interested but unknown french carpenter or stone-mason and a few of his also french-speaking colleagues from the Fabbrica di San Pietro, but that it was very well planned according to the high standards of architectural drawings as means of representation achieved in the first quarter of the 16th century by Baldassarre Peruzzi and Antonio da Sangallo the Younger in relation to the construction of the new basilica of Saint Peter's. The drawings have been worked out in a strictly organised way and may even have been intended to be preparations for a publication in print: In my opinion, many of the drawings can not be understood else.

The question comes up: Who, then, could have planned, organised and done this? Such an enterprise should have left other traces, especially in Rome around 1540, when there has been a certain interest in antique architecture, especially – but not only – among architects themselves, while – in my opinion – on the other hand there were no possibilities to "hide" such a project.


In the late 1530s a group of noblemen and church officials – among them Marcello Cervini, the later pope Marcellus II, and Claudio Tolomei, as well as the French humanists Guillaume Philandrier, Guillaume Budé and others – founded the Accademia della Virtù, also called Accademia Vitruviana, in Rome. The astonishing and huge working program of this circle, as published in 1547 in a letter written by Claudio Tolomei some years ago, seems to be the only source comparable with the campaign that generated the Codex Destailleur D. The Accademia's aim was to edit, translate and comment Vitruvius and to collect nothing less than all accessible information about the material culture of Roman Antiquity: The program mentions, for instance, 


– a full representation of every important building in Rome in elevations, sections and groundplans, with detailed measurings given in the antique roman feet;

– a collection of all surviving reliefs

– a collection of coins and other minor sources

– a collection of inscriptions in stone – – – and so on.


Though scholars always thought that this program never reached any remarkable state of realisation – except in Guillaume Philandrier's printed philological study on notions and terms from Vitruvius and their interpretation –, in the late 1980s the so-called Codex Coburgensis in the German town of Coburg could be identified by Magret Daly Davis as the collection of reliefs mentioned in the program. The parallel collection of inscriptions might be identified with two large manuscript volumes in the Vatican Library, also mentioned by Daly Davis.

In addition, Vasari reports that Jacopo Barozzi da Vignola during his time in Rome  in the first half of the 1540s, when he worked – by the way – for the Fabbrica di San Pietro, Vignola "measured all the antique buildings in service of the Accademia".


Among the arguments concerning dating and quality of the drawings that could support an interpretation of the Codex Destailleur D as the "architectural volume" created for the Accademia, there is one remarkable feature – or better: non-feature – of the drawings, that should be mentioned here: None of them contains sufficient representations of reliefs or inscriptions from the recorded buildings! Though the draftsmen seemed to be interested in every minimal architectural element, they completely must have ignored large and important parts of their objects. Maybe, because they could be sure that someone else would record them for the Accademia?

The only example of a full-length recording of an inscription, 


 Arch of Titus Vespasianus: Inscription R10


is this rather well-known from the Arch of Titus Vespasianus on the right, while the drawings of the Arch of the Argentarii at the Forum Boarium

L11 Arch of the Argentarii or for Septimius Severus       

at the Forum Boarium R11


leave the fields with the reliefs and inscriptions empty.


Looking through the Codex Destailleur D, one might miss one or the other important building: Especially, there are no drawings of the Pantheon.

In 1999, while I was looking for drawings related to Sangallo's project for Saint Peter's, Emily d'Orgeix, then fellow at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, pointed me to the unknown Goldschmidt Sketchbook, which she discovered to be one of three volumes of architectural drawings from the Renaissance known to very few architectural historians – among them Geymüller – in the late 19th and early 20th century. The second volume of these three also is preserved at the Metropolitan Museum and a little bit better known to architectural historians as the Scholz Sketchbook. – Surprisingly, the Goldschmidt Sketchbook contains a group of drawings showing the Pantheon in the same manner and drawn by some of the same hands, that also appear in Berlin. The only hand missing is the one of the main draftsman from the Berlin Codex. The explanation, therefore might be, that our "Guglielmo franzioso" did not take part in the measuring campaign on the Pantheon, realised by his collegues, and that he had no chance to copy their drawings later. Maybe, because he might have left Rome in 1547 as a lot of other observations suggest.


Other drawings related to the Berlin Codex can be found in the Viennese Albertina, as Hermann Egger already observed. But though Egger thought these drawings to be only later copies after the Berlin Codex it can be shown, that the Viennese drawings must have been created during the same time – and therefore: – campaign as the ones in Berlin. But there seem to be even more drawings coming from this circle, for instance in Stockholm (copies of the Pantheon drawings), maybe Paris, London and St. Petersburg. And it cannot be excluded that many more could be identified in the future.


To conclude: The Berlin Codex Destailleur D seems to be the biggest part, maybe the center, of a large group of drawings made in Rome around the early 1540s during a long-term campaign initiated by the Accademia della Virtù. It might have involved among others Jacopo Barozzi da Vignola and even the young Palladio. 

While the drawings themselves are interesting for every art historian and archeologist studying the architecture of the Roman antiquity, especially because they show more details and more technical elements than any other known group of drawings and also show buildings and parts of buildings that have been destroyed in the meantime, the whole complex as well as its history is of importance for the history of Archaeology, demonstrating a thoughtfully worked out, carefully organized and almost scientifically reasoned plan to record the artifacts of Roman antiquity – more than 120 years before Desgodetz started to measure Roman buildings extremely carefully in his studies for the French Academy (sometimes thought to be the "birth document" of Archaeology), and even longer before the "Recording of the Past" became the subject of a scientific discipline [known as Classical Archaeology]. -