1902 Encyclopedia > Rome > Christian Rome - Modern Period

(Part 36)



Modern Period

Period of Degradation

Under Vignola (1507-1573), Carlo Maderna (1556-1639), Bernini (1598-1680), Carlo Fontana (1634-1714), and others architectural beauty in Rome steadily declined, till the prevalent style became a mere caricature of classical forms, twisted and contorted into every possible incongruous and ridiculous shape, void of all sense of harmony of proportion and unredeemed by any grace or even decency of detail. Clumsy weightiness and extravagance of outline, with the frequent introduction of the most ungraceful curves, are the main characteristics of this unhappy period, which, unfortunately, was one of great activity in building. The degraded taste of the 17th and 18th centuries could see no beauty in the stately simplicity of the early basilicas, in the delicate grace and rich ornament of the Cosmati period, or even in the refined harmonious beauty of the Renaissance. Every church in Rome is more or less disfigured inside with extravagant stucco pilasters and reliefs, transfiguring the whole interior, while outside many have clumsy facades stuck on without the slightest reference to the structures they are meant to decorate. The Lateran basilica is one of the most conspicuous instances of this sad treatment of a grand old building ; and the hideous facades which disfigure the fine churches of S. Marcello and S. Maria in Via Lata (both in the Corso) are typical examples of the degradation into which architecture had sunk in its latest stages.

Nineteenth Century Buildings

In the present century taste has somewhat improved. Since 1870, when Rome became the capital, an immense amount of building has been carried out, mostly innocent in design, though dull and lifeless. The modern architects of Rome possess the rare merit of acknowledging their own artistic incapacity, and the more important recent buildings have been copies, fairly faithful in design though not in material, of fine palaces of the best 15th and 16th century architects. The Cassa di Risparmio in the Corso and some large houses in the new quarter across the Tiber are good copies of the Strozzi and other Florentine palaces ; the Hotel Bristol is from a fine palace at Venice ; and Bramante's Palazzo Giraud has been imitated in a new house near the Piazza Nicosia. Unfortunately stucco is mainly used for the exteriors of these otherwise handsome buildings, a material which, however, lasts fairly well in the mild climate of Rome. The growing rage for the Parisian style of building, with wide straight boulevards, is rapidly destroying all the picturesqueness of the city ; and these broad streets, from their want of shade, are not suited to an almost constantly sunny climate.

The chief architectural work of the 19th century has been
the rebuilding of the nave of the great basilica of S. Paolo fuori le Mura, burnt in 1823, in a style of great splendour, though some-what cold in effect. Its columns are enormous monoliths of grey granite from the Alps ; the confessio and transepts are lined with rosso and verde antico from the recently rediscovered quarries in Greece, and with Egyptian alabaster. The reconsecration of this magnificent edifice took place in 1854, after thirty years had been spent in the rebuilding; the east facade, with its new gaudy mosaics, and the atrium are not yet complete.1 Another great work still in progress is the extension of the sanctuary of the Lateran basilica, which unhappily has involved the destruction of the ancient apse and its ambulatory, the only part of the church which had escaped complete disfigurement. The priceless mosaics of the apse (1290), among the most beautiful in Rome, have been refixed in the new apse, but of course in a sadly modernized and restored form.2 Some large blocks of Government offices on the Esquiline Hill are the most important in size among the recent constructions. They have little architectural merit either in design, materials, or solidity of workmanship.

Museums and Galleries

The Vatican contains the largest collection in the world of Graeco-Roman and Roman sculpture, with a few specimens of true Hellenic art. It is also very rich in Greek vases and in objects from Etruscan tombs ; this latter division is called the Museo Gregoriano. There is also an Egyptian museum. In the great library are preserved a number of early glass chalices3 and other rare objects from the catacombs, as well as many fine specimens of later Christian art,—church plate and jewels. The picture gallery, though not as large as some of the private collections in Rome, contains few inferior pictures. The Lateran palace, still, like the Vatican, in the possession of the pope, contains a fine collection of classical sculpture, but is most remarkable as a museum of Christian antiquities. The two Capitoline museums are very rich in classical sculpture, bronzes, coins, pottery, and the contents of early Etruscan and Latin tombs. A large hall has lately been added, and is filled with sculpture found on the Esquiline since 1870. The picture gallery contains a few masterpieces and a large number of inferior works. A new museum is now (1886) being formed in the great cloister of S. Maria degli Angeli to hold the numerous fine examples of classical painting and sculpture found along the Tiber during the excavations for the new embankment, and in other places in Rome. The university of Rome possesses fine collections of minerals, fossils, and other geological specimens, and examples of ancient marbles used in the buildings of Rome. A new Museo Artistico has recently been formed in a monastery in the Capo le Case, to contain mediaeval works of art; it will probably be rapidly increased. The Museo Kircheriano is in some respects unique of its kind. It contains an unrivalled collection of prehistoric objects found in Italy and its islands, in stone, bronze, iron, and pottery. The collection of aes grave is the finest yet made ; and the museum also contains a large quantity of interesting classical antiquities of various kinds. Another branch is the Ethnological Museum, as yet of no great importance. Unfortunately all these museums are badly adapted for purposes of study, being neither well arranged nor catalogued.

Private Collections of Pictures

Among the private collections of pictures the Borghese is quite unrivalled. The next in importance is that in the Doria palace, which, however, like most Italian collections, contains a large proportion of very inferior works. The Corsini picture gallery, lately bought by the municipality of Rome, is chiefly rich in the works of the Bolognese and other third-rate painters. The Barberini and Sciarra-Colonna palaces contain a few fine paintings; those in the latter collection are now arranged in the owner's private apartments, and are not visible to the public.

Private Collections of Sculpture

The largest private collection of sculpture is that of the Villa Albani, which, among a large mass of inferior Roman sculpture, contains a few gems of Greek art. The original Albani collection was stolen and brought to Paris by Napoleon I., and was there dispersed ; one relief, the celebrated Antinous, is the only piece of sculpture from the original collection which was sent back from Paris. The owner of this is now Prince Torlonia, who also possesses a veiy large collection of classical sculpture formed by himself; it contains several very fine works, but unfortunately the greater number are much injured and falsified by restorations. The casino in the Borghese gardens possesses a great quantity of sculpture, mostly third-rate Roman works. The small collection of the Villa Ludovisi 4 contains a few works of Greek sculpture of the highest importance, of which the chief are the Pergamean group of the suicide of the Gaulish chief, a relief of Medusa's head, and a male terminal figure. Many other palaces, such as that of the Colonna family, contain less important collections of sculpture and painting.


For an account of the chief public libraries, see LIBRARIES, vol. xiv. pp. 529-530, 548.

Population, Climate, &c.


In the sixteen years which have elapsed since Rome became the capital of Italy (1870-1886) the population has largely increased, chiefly owing to the introduction of a great number of Government officials with their families from Northern Italy. Under the last papal census the number of inhabitants was 216,000 ; in 1881 it had increased to 276,463. Education of the working classes has much improved in these years, and there are now nearly 170 parochial schools. The streets are remarkable for their cleanliness, and are mostly well paved with hard lava and well lighted with gas. For municipal purposes Rome is still divided into the fourteen mediaeval "rioni"; these, though corresponding in number with the fourteen regiones of Augustus, include very different areas.


The climate is mild and sunny, in winter averaging 10° Fahr, above the temperature of London ; but the variation between day and night is very great. The coldest months are December and February (average temp. 47°) ; the hottest are July and August (average 75°). The rainfall is slight, averaging 16 1/16 th inches annually, and the rainy days are few proportionally. On the whole Rome is a healthy city, in spite of some malaria, usually confined to its more open parts.6


The neighbouring Campagna is in parts almost uninhabitable during the summer from this cause ; but the malaria is much checked by the planting of eucalyptus trees, which grow rapidly in and about the city. A very remarkable instance of this is the Trappist monastery of the Tre Fontane, about 4 miles from Rome on the Ostian road, which a few years ago was quite uninhabitable in the summer, while since a number of these trees have been planted the monks reside there with impunity throughout the year. Though almost free from typhus, there is a good deal of enteric fever in Rome, partly owing to the very unwholesome arrangement of the drainage in each house, though the general system of sewerage is good. That this disease is not more prevalent is probably owing to the magnificent water-supply,7 which flows in a constant service, thus doing away with the necessity of cisterns. The average annual deaths are 5750.


Even the frescos of the chief earlier artists were not spared ; those by Pinturicchio in the 3d chapel (south) of S. Maria del Popolo were covered by wretched stucco ornaments, only removed in 1850 ; and numberless works of art by Giotto and other early painters were wilfully destroyed.

1 Fea, La Basilica Ostiense, 1826-33.
2 For the interesting discoveries made in excavating for the new apse, see Ann. Inst., 1877, p. 332.
3 See Garrucci, Vetri Ornati in Cm, 1858.
4 The beautiful gardens of the Villa Ludovisi are now (1886) being destroyed and built over, and the fate of the sculpture gallery is as yet undecided.

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