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Fresco with Melpomene

Fresco with Melpomene

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The J. Paul Getty Museum

This image is available for download, without charge, under the Getty's Open Content Program.

Fragment of a Yellow Fresco Panel with Muse

Unknown 63.2 × 40 × 4.3 cm (24 7/8 × 15 3/4 × 1 11/16 in.) 70.AG.92

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Currently on view at: Getty Villa, Gallery 211, The Roman Villa

Object Details


Fragment of a Yellow Fresco Panel with Muse

Object Number:

63.2 × 40 × 4.3 cm (24 7/8 × 15 3/4 × 1 11/16 in.)

Alternate Title:

Fresco with a Muse (Display Title)

Object Type:
Object Description

A muse, one of the goddesses of the arts and learning, reaches up and adjusts the wreath on her head in the scene on this fresco fragment. She carries a tragic theater mask in her left hand, and probably represents Melpomene, the muse of Tragedy. Her slightly windblown clothing and the position of her feet give the impression that she is floating against the broad expanse of the yellow background. This fragment is only a small section of a painting that once covered an entire wall of a room.

The Romans frequently decorated their homes with images drawn from the theater. Theatrical references found in wall-painting range from entire stage scenes to isolated theatrical masks, from portraits of playwrights to images of the Muses. A floating figure in the center of a fresco panel was a typical artistic device in Roman wall painting of the first century A.D. Many such examples come from the country villas of wealthy Romans. This fresco may have come from Boscoreale, one of the towns located at the base of Mount Vesuvius that was destroyed when the volcano erupted in A.D. 79.

By 1968 - 1970

Elie Borowski, Polish, 1913 - 2003 (Basel, Switzerland), sold to the J. Paul Getty Museum, 1970.


Vermeule, Cornelius, and Norman Neuerberg. Catalogue of the Ancient Art in the J. Paul Getty Museum (Malibu: J. Paul Getty Museum, 1973), p. 47, no. 96, ill.

Fredericksen, Burton B., ed. The J. Paul Getty Museum: Greek and Roman Antiquities, Western European Paintings, French Decorative Arts of the Eighteenth Century (Malibu: J. Paul Getty Museum, 1975), pp. 21, 50.

The J. Paul Getty Museum Appointment Calendar (Malibu: J. Paul Getty Museum, 1981), week of August 10.

Lancha, Janine, and Faedo, Lucia. "Mousa, Mousai/Musae," In Lexicon Iconographicum Mythologiae Classicae VII (1994), pp. 1013-1059, p. 1020, no. 67.

Sofroniew, Alexandra. Household Gods: Private Devotion in Ancient Greece and Rome (Los Angeles: J. Paul Getty Museum, 2015), pp. x-1, fig. 1.

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Rooms 1— 2. The upper portico had its three arms, with special spiral columns, widely open on to the Gulf of Naples. In the Neronian age it replaced an earlier peristyle, and it was about to be completed in 79 AD. The walls were decorated with a red socle underlying white panels with Apollo-related scenes, the ceiling with large mythological compositions framed by wide borders with fantasy motives.


Provenance: Castellammare di Stabia, Varano hill, Villa San Marco, Room 1

The muse is shown standing on a background consisting of a square carpet, whose borders are decorated with wave motif. The carpet hangs before a red panel and is inserted in a fantasy recess imitating a ceiling caisson. A horizontal fascia develops below, with volutes and golden griffins facing each other. Melpomene’s face turns slightly to her right, almost in an inspired countenance, with half-closed lips and eyes looking upwards. The head is adorned with a twig of green leaves and is covered in a yellow headdress whence curly dark hair flow down the sides. She wears — under a mantle, out-turned on the right shoulder and falling down the right flank — a green tunic draped with ample folds. The left hand rests on a barely visible tragic mask apparently standing on a pillar, while the right hand holds a shepherd’s stick. The fresco was the central painting of one of the intermediate compartments of the upper portico ceiling, built in the last part of the villa’s existence.

The decorative system deployed through large concentric compositions with central paintings in correspondence of the spaces between columns.

The identification of Melpomene, the muse of tragedy, is due to the mask and stick attributes, also found in other paintings, such as the one coming from the Iulia Felix (II 4, 2) estates at Pompeii (Pitture di Ercolano II tav. IV, 1760, now in the Louvre). At Pompeii the muse is always shown with at least one of the attributes. Ours is one of the replicas at the highest levels of artistic refinement in terms of expressive power and solemnity of countenance.

Sources: G. Bonifacio, in Pitture nella reggia dalle città sepolte, Napoli 1999, p. 37.

What’s it Worth? 19th century chromolithograph of Apollo, muses

Q I enjoyed your recent article about the relationship between the Greek acronym for fish and the popular fish symbol seen everywhere. It made me remember this picture I grew up with of 10 dancing women.

They all are labeled in what I think is Greek. I would appreciate any information you can give me.

A I’m happy to report that your wonderful chromolithograph depicts Apollo dancing with his half sisters, the nine muses.

The muses resulted from Zeus’ nine-day love affair with Mnemosyne, the goddess of memory. The muses are considered to be the inspiration for and cultivators of intellect, science and the arts. Each muse is associated with a specific cultural aspect.

From left to right you have Calliope, epic poetry Clio, history Erato, love poetry Melpomene, tragedy Terpsichore, dance Polyhymnia, sacred poetry Euterpe, lyric poetry Thalia, comedy and Urania, astronomy. Apollo and his lyre dance between Terpsichore and Polyhymnia.

Isn’t it wonderful that the ancient Greeks valued language so much that they recognize four different types of poetry?

The muses embody all types of learning and scholarship — including language, mathematics, science, art and philosophy — and were associated with greatness. The English word “museum” derives from the Greek word for where the muses worship.

The original of your lithograph was painted by Baldassare Peruzzi (1481-1536), an Italian painter, fresco artist and architect. He installed religious frescoes in a number of cathedrals and private homes but also painted allegorical scenes.

His “Apollo Dancing With Nine Muses” currently hangs in a former Medici home, the Palazzo Pitti, in Florence.

In the 18th century, Italian engraver Francesco Bartolozzi (1725-1815) studied painting in Florence and then traveled to Venice, where he developed his painter’s eye as an engraver. He was able to perfect both stippling and the crayon manner of engraving, which could pick up the delicacy of chalk drawings.

He made little of his own art but produced dozens of engravings based on other artists, including Carracci, Cipriani and Dolci. It is likely that he saw Baldassarre’s painting of the muses when living in Florence and decided to copy it.

A century later, in the 1840s, chromolithography was developed as a successful way to produce multiple color prints. They were popular in the parlors of the new middle classes because they mimicked the look of fine paintings. So, what you have is a 19th-century color lithograph taken from an 18th-century engraving of a 16th-century painting. (If you’d like to take this series one step further, posters and even T-shirts printed with Apollo and the Muses are available on the Internet.)

Your chromolithograph of Apollo and his nine muses in a highly decorative aesthetic frame easily would bring $600 to $800 at auction.


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The overwhelming fact about architecture&mdashthe built, manmade environment&mdashis that it tends to be the first thing you see in cities. It gives them their character. It is a thing in the world, irrefutably present, not an illusion like painting. So when we mention the word &ldquoRenaissance,&rdquo it is the architecture that comes to mind as the most potent symbol of that spirit of rebirth that swept European culture starting in the fourteenth century. Architecture refers, first and foremost, to large manmade things which afford shelter and gathering places to social groups and have a clear-cut political intent behind them. At the same time, the origin of these things, their roots, are often deeply buried and obscure. No single person &ldquoinvented&rdquo Gothic architecture, and we will never know who was the first to lay a horizontal tree trunk across the tops of two vertical ones. But there has never been much dispute about who was the &ldquofather&rdquo of Renaissance architecture. He was Filippo Brunelleschi (1377&ndash1446), the son of a Florentine notary, who was (in Vasari&rsquos words) &ldquosent by Heaven to invest architecture with new forms, after it had wandered astray for many centuries.&rdquo

The new forms, of course, were old forms: those of ancient Rome. This picture of Brunelleschi as a savior sent from on high to redeem the art of building and rescue it from the barbarous, pointy-arched Gothic squalor into which it had fallen may seem, to put it mildly, a little simplified today&mdashbut, as far as the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries were concerned, it was the plain and only truth. Everything Brunelleschi designed and built, from the Ospedale degli Innocenti and the Pazzi Chapel to the immense octagonal dome of Santa Maria del Fiore, the cathedral that dominates the city, was done in his native Florence. But many of their prototypes, the structures and remnants by which his architectural thought was stimulated, were in Rome. Brunelleschi was no copyist, but he was wide open to inspiration from the remote past. The great dome of ancient Rome, the Pantheon, is not like Brunelleschi&rsquos dome on Santa Maria del Fiore. It is a structure that relies entirely on mass, whereas Brunelleschi&rsquos dome is a highly sophisticated framework covered with a membrane. Nevertheless, Brunelleschi derived his language of building all&rsquoantica from Rome, and part of the excitement his buildings still transmit comes from the rapturous sense of making the old new which accompanied his discovery of ancient architecture in Rome.

Curiously, although early humanists had talked quite a lot about the physical antiquities of Rome, none of them seem to have made a concentrated effort to examine and record the ruins before Brunelleschi. Ancient Roman texts, inscriptions, and manuscripts, eagerly sought and examined by literary humanists, were of course a different matter.

Little is known about Brunelleschi&rsquos early life, but certainly he did not begin as an apprentice architect. Though his father expected him to be a civil servant like himself, the son showed early artistic ambitions, enrolling in the Arte della Seta, the Silkworkers&rsquo Guild, among whose members were goldsmiths and bronze workers. He had a vocation for work in gold and semi-precious metals, diligently turning himself (wrote his first biographer, Antonio Manetti, 1423&ndash97) into &ldquoa perfect master of niello, enamel, and colored or gilded ornaments in relief, as well as the cutting, splitting, and setting of precious stones. Thus in any work to which he applied himself &hellip he always had wonderful success.&rdquo In 1398, he was recognized as a master goldsmith. His first important building, the Ospedale degli Innocenti, or Foundlings&rsquo Hospital, in Florence, was paid for and commissioned by the goldsmiths&rsquo guild in 1419 and finished around 1445. With its long portico of round arcades carried on eight-meter-high Corinthian columns, it was the first clear echo of classical Roman architecture in Florence. It had resulted from a study trip Brunelleschi had made with his friend the sculptor Donatello to Rome, after they had both been narrowly defeated by Lorenzo Ghiberti in the competition for the design of the east doors of the Baptistery of Florence Cathedral. Manetti has the disappointed Brunelleschi reflecting, &ldquoIt would be a good thing to go and study where sculpture is really good,&rdquo and so, around 1402&ndash4:

He went to Rome, for at that time there were plenty of good things that could be seen in public places. Some of the things are still there, though few. Many have since been stolen &hellip by various pontiffs and cardinals, Romans and men of other nations. While looking at the sculpture, as he had a good eye and an alert mind, he saw the way the ancients built and their proportions.&hellip He seemed to recognize quite clearly a certain order in their members and structural parts.&hellip It looked very different from what was usual in those times. He proposed, while he was looking at the statues of the ancients, to devote no less attention to the order and method of building.

It must have been one of the great dramas of discovery in art&rsquos history, a Quattrocento buddy movie: Brunelleschi and Donatello, one at each end of the measuring string, flushed with effort and determination, clambering over the ruins, chopping aside the entangling bushes and creepers, measuring heights, widths, and spacings, tirelessly noting inscriptions, discovering a lost Rome. It requires a real effort of imagination to envisage what Rome looked like in those far-off days. The Forum was a kind of wilderness with ruins, commonly referred to as the Campo Vaccino&mdashthe Cow Pasture&mdashwhich it actually was, with animals grazing about. Shops, restaurants, workplaces&mdashforget them. One traversed the place by stumbling hither and thither. Nothing was self-evident, as Roman ruins are today. The city was a jumble of fallen old columns and ruinous early walls, collapsed vaults, broken arches. The Roman natives who saw them at work on their quest for &ldquothe excellent and highly ingenious building methods of the ancients and their harmonious proportions&rdquo thought they were nothing more than crazy treasure-hunters&mdashwhich in a sense they were. &ldquoNeither was bothered with family cares because neither had a wife or children.&hellip Neither was much concerned with how he ate, drank, lived, or dressed himself, provided he could satisfy himself with these things to see and measure.&rdquo

In this way, the bones of the Eternal City surrendered their secrets to Brunelleschi and Donatello, even though the latter, wrote Manetti, was not much interested in architecture as such: &ldquoTogether they made rough drawings of almost all the buildings in Rome.&hellip They had excavations done in order to see the joinings of the parts of the buildings, and whether those parts were square, polygonal, or perfectly round, circular or oval.&hellip From these observations, with his keen vision, [Brunelleschi] began to distinguish the characteristics of each style, such as Ionic, Doric, Tuscan, Corinthian, and Attic, and he used these styles &hellip as one may still see in his buildings.&rdquo

A powerful aid to doing this was the new system Brunelleschi was working out for representing solid objects in depth, known as linear perspective, which relies upon the fact that objects seem to get smaller the farther they are from the viewer&rsquos eye. If a reliable way could be found to create this illusion by constructing it on a flat plane, such as the surface of a panel or a sheet of paper, then it would be possible to represent the world and its contents, such as buildings, in a coherent and perceptually accurate manner. Brunelleschi&rsquos systematic researches were taken up by another architect&mdashthough he was much more than that&mdashLeon Battista Alberti (1404&ndash72). Showing the world in this way enabled the artist to give his scenes a new credibility, with what seemed to be real people moving in real space, and even, startlingly enough, showing real emotions to one another. Wrote Alberti in a 1435 treatise on painting:

I like to see someone who tells the spectators what is happening there or beckons with his hand or menaces with an angry face and with flashing eyes so that no one should come near or points to some danger or marvelous thing there and invites us to weep or laugh together with them.

In Alberti&rsquos eyes, perspective was not merely a means toward illusion&mdashit was a tool of empathy. It helped give painting, and its representation of architecture, the dignity of a &ldquoliberal art&rdquo and raised both above the domain of mere craft.

Truth of representation, allied with a scientific and pragmatic fascination with the forms of antiquity&mdashsuch was the beginning of Renaissance architecture. Its canonical early buildings were raised not in Rome but in Florence yet they would not have existed without the examples of Roman antiquity, as interpreted by Brunelleschi and Alberti.

Alberti&rsquos likeness was cast in a bronze medal in 1454&ndash56 by the sculptor Matteo de&rsquo Pasti. On one side is a profile portrait of Alberti, a strikingly handsome man of fifty. The reverse shows his impresa or heraldic device, a flying eye with flames bursting from its corners, carried on wings, like Jove&rsquos thunderbolt&mdashspeed and acuity of perception. Around it is a laurel wreath, declaring his certainty of success. And below, the motto QUID TUM, &ldquoWhat next?&rdquo It is a declaration of man&rsquos faith in the future, in the power of human invention. Nobody could have deserved it more than Leon Battista Alberti, for, if anyone gave meaning to the term &ldquoRenaissance man,&rdquo it was he. He was architect, theorist, sculptor, painter, archaeologist, and writer his subjects included such matters as cryptography and family ethics, as befitted someone used to the close-knit and often secretive world of Renaissance courts. He contributed much to the use of vernacular Italian, as distinct from Latin, in prose writing. He composed the first Italian grammar. He wrote treatises&mdashthe first since Vitruvius in antiquity&mdashon architecture, painting, and sculpture. Moreover, he is said to have been an outstanding athlete, and he even wrote a treatise on horses, De equo animante. He designed some of the most beautiful and visionary buildings of the fifteenth century: in Florence, Palazzo Rucellai (c. 1453) and Santa Maria Novella (1470) the Tempio Malatestiano (1450) in Rimini commissioned by Lodovico Gonzaga, the churches of San Sebastiano (1460) and Sant&rsquoAndrea (1470) in Mantua. But in Rome itself, he did nothing except restoration. His literary masterpiece was the ten books of De re aedificatoria, the first comprehensive treatment of Renaissance architecture ever published, and the first treatise written on classical architecture since antiquity. Its effect on architects&mdashat least on those who had Latin, since Alberti did not write it in vernacular Italian&mdashwas as wide and fundamental as Vitruvius&rsquo had been. Indeed, it has a serious claim to be the most influential text on architecture ever written.

Although he did not build in Rome, Alberti had great influence there, and his medium for it was the pope, Nicholas V (1397&ndash1455). Born Tommaso Parentucelli, this new pope, who ascended the papal throne in 1447, four short years after Alberti had settled in Rome as a member of the court of Pope Eugenius IV, was a humanist like Alberti, and had been his friend since their university days in Bologna. Both men in earlier years had served the Florentine grandee Palla Strozzi as a tutor. Vasari affirmed that Nicholas had &ldquoa great, resolute spirit, and knew so much that he was able to guide and direct his artists as much as they did him.&rdquo

Just how this translated into practice is not certain. Without doubt, Nicholas V and Alberti talked often and long about architecture and town planning&mdashso long and so often that the pope became the natural person to whom Alberti would dedicate and present De re aedificatoria. &ldquoBy God!&rdquo Alberti wrote at one point. &ldquoI cannot but rebel sometimes when I see monuments, which even the wild barbarians spared for their beauty and splendor, or even time itself, that tenacious destroyer, would willingly let stand forever, falling into ruin because of the neglect (I might have said the avarice) of certain men.&rdquo And to mitigate this constant erosion of Rome&rsquos historical fabric, he began to collect all the knowable facts about the city&rsquos monuments and to present them in a way that made preservation possible, if not easy. His friend the pope was all in favor of that work of memory.

Unlike many of his predecessors&mdashall of whom were of course literate, but some not much more than that&mdashNicholas V was a ravenous bibliophile. &ldquoHe searched for Latin and Greek books in all places where they might be found, never regarding the price,&rdquo wroteVespasiano da Bisticci (1421&ndash98), who would have known, being the principal bookseller of Florence.

He collected many of the best scribes and employed them. He brought together a number of learned men and set them to produce new books, and also to translate others not in the libraries, rewarding them liberally.&hellip Since the time of Ptolemy there had never been collected such a store of books.

Nicholas&rsquos book-collecting enthusiasm formed the basis of the Vatican Library, and cost a fortune. Thus he became &ldquothe ornament and the light of literature and of learned men, and if after him there had appeared another Pope following in his footsteps, letters would have achieved a position worthy of them.&rdquo This did not happen, because later popes did not entirely share Nicholas&rsquos bibliomania. But even his library building was quite modest compared with his architectural enterprises. Vespasiano da Bisticci remembered how Nicholas &ldquoused to say that he would like to do two things, if ever he had the money: form a library and build, and he did both during his pontificate.&rdquo

The formation of the library was quite gradual. In the mid-fifteenth century, it consisted of only 340 volumes, two in Greek. Modern scholars point out that Nicholas V was the first pope to give the formation of the papal library a high priority, but by 1455 its collection amounted to no more than 1,160 books there were others in Italy the same size or bigger. The honor of being the true founder of the Vatican Library as an institution, therefore, goes to a later pope, Sixtus IV, who was lucky enough to have the scholarBartolomeo Platina as his librarian (1475&ndash81). Later expansions, particularly that of Leo X in the sixteenth century, would far surpass that. Yet Nicholas certainly had the vision of a library for the Vatican, &ldquofor the common convenience of the learned,&rdquo and nobody could accuse him of stinginess. He even carried a bag with hundreds of florins in it, which he would give away by the handful to people he thought deserving.

Leon Battista Alberti he thought particularly deserving. Alberti stood out for two reasons.

First because, in addition to his other writings, he composed a Descriptio Urbis Romae, a Description of the City of Rome, which covered the main buildings of antiquity and the principal churches built during the Christian Era, along with the city walls and gateways, the course of the Tiber, and other matters. This was a huge step up from what had been the only guidebook to the antiquities of Rome, the legend-infested Mirabilia, or Marvels, of the Eternal City, a text infested with hearsay and extreme inaccuracies. Alberti&rsquos guide became a much-needed prelude to the Jubilee year of 1450 which Nicholas had just announced. &ldquoThere was not the least remain of any ancient structure,&ldquo Alberti would write with pardonable pride, &ldquothat had any merit in it, but what I went and examined, to see if anything was to be learned from it. Thus I was continually searching, considering, measuring, and making draughts of everything I could hear of, until such time as I had made myself perfect master of every contrivance or invention that had been used in those ancient remains.&rdquo It is probably no exaggeration to say that Alberti ended up knowing more about ancient Roman building than most ancient Romans had.

The second reason lay in the pope&rsquos own archaeological interests. In addition to all his other talents, Alberti had the novel distinction of being the world&rsquos first underwater archaeologist. The object of his search was an ancient Roman galley from the time of Trajan, which 1,300 years before had sunk, presumably during a naumachia, a mock naval battle, to the muddy floor of Lake Nemi. Its location was known because it kept fouling fishermen&rsquos nets. But nobody had figured out a way to raise it, and without underwater goggles divers could not see more than a vague bulk looming in dark water. Commissioned to do so by Cardinal Prospero Colonna, Alberti brought it up with grappling hooks, cables, floating barrels, and winches. Only the prow came clear of the water before the hull broke in half and sank again, and Alberti was able to observe&mdashthe first account of ancient Roman naval construction&mdashthat it was built of pine and cypress &ldquoin an excellent state of preservation&rdquo and covered with tar-soaked linen, which was then sheathed in lead secured by bronze nails.

Although this feat must have caused a good deal of buzz and flutter in court circles, what most cemented Alberti&rsquos position as Nicholas V&rsquos adviser on building was his large and ever-growing knowledge of architecture, its theory, practice, and history. In addition, he had no illusions about whom he was designing and, if possible, building for. &ldquoDo everything possible,&rdquo he exhorts the reader,

to obtain commissions only from the most important people, who are generous and true lovers of the arts. For your work loses its value when done for persons of low social rank. Can&rsquot you see the advantages to be had in the furthering of your reputation if you have the support of the most influential people?

Moreover, &ldquothe safety, authority, and decorum of the state depend to a great extent on the work of the architect.&rdquo With the patronage and encouragement of Nicholas V, Alberti became the successor to Brunelleschi, with the difference that he was also the first architect of the Renaissance papacy. (Brunelleschi, despite his great influence on other architects, did not design for popes.) Certainly, though Alberti believed in the supremacy of Roman norms and forms, he also believed strongly in individual taste and would never have considered imposing a strict, formulaic canon of beauty. A building might well have the proportions of a human being, but what kind of human?

Some admire a woman for being extremely slender and fine shaped the young gentlemen in Terence preferred a girl that was plump and fleshy you perhaps are for a medium between these two extremes, and would neither have her so thin as to seem wasted with sickness, nor so strong and robust as if she were a Ploughman in disguise, and were fit for boxing: in short, you would like her such a beauty as might be formed by taking for the first what the second might spare. But then, because one pleases you more than the other, would you therefore affirm the other to be not at all handsome or graceful? By no means&hellip

It seems fairly certain that Alberti had the strong hand in crucial restorations of a dilapidated Rome, although we do not know how many. Nicholas had ambitious plans for the city&rsquos renovation. One of the keys to it was the aqueduct of the Acqua Vergine, which had been so important to the water supply of the ancient city. Now tracts of it had fallen in, and much of the rest was blocked by sinter or accumulated lime deposits. Those who lived in districts once served by the Acqua Vergine were obliged to drink the filthy water of the Tiber, teeming with bacteria. Prompted by Alberti, Nicholas V ordered a complete rerouting of the aqueduct, entering Rome near the Porta Pinciana and finishing at the Campo Marzio in three outlets called the Fontana di Trevi, designed by Alberti but later to be demolished and replaced by Nicola Salvi&rsquos enormous stone festivity, into which Anita Ekberg waded for Fellini&rsquos camera and generations of tourists threw their coins.

Alberti oversaw the restoration of the Ponte Sant&rsquoAngelo, which brought traffic across the Tiber to the Castel Sant&rsquoAngelo, formerly Hadrian&rsquos Tomb. He was also busy restoring ancient and infirm churches for Nicholas V, such as Santo Stefano Rotondo, the circular church with its majestic ring of internal columns erected in early Christian times.

Nicholas V had no doubts about the importance of architecture&mdasha new architecture, one which would center and stabilize the faith of Christians. In 1455, he declared:

To create solid and stable convictions in the minds of the uncultured masses there must be something that appeals to the eye.&hellip A popular faith sustained only on doctrines will never be anything but feeble and vacillating. But if the authority of the Holy See were visibly displayed in majestic buildings, imperishable memorials &hellip belief would grow and strengthen like a tradition from one generation to another, and all the world would accept and revere it.

But the great work on which Nicholas V and Alberti hoped to embark was the replanning and construction of Saint Peter&rsquos, the navel of Christianity. By the fifteenth century, Constantine&rsquos original basilica was in poor repair, and Alberti saw that whole sections of it had to be rebuilt. &ldquoA very long, big wall,&rdquo he noted, &ldquohas, very unadvisedly, been built over a number of large voids,&rdquo with the result that the buffeting of north winds over the centuries had pushed it six feet out of plumb&mdashso that any extra pressure or subsidence could bring it crashing down. Alberti recommended that the whole wall be bound in with new masonry, and Nicholas ordered that more than two thousand cartloads of building stone be quarried from the Colosseum and brought to the site of Saint Peter&rsquos. But the gigantic task of rebuilding the old Constantinian basilica was not achieved the pope died, and the responsibility for the great church passed into other and even more ambitious papal and architectural hands.

The architectural ones were those of Donato d&rsquoAngelo (1444&ndash1514), commonly called Bramante&mdasha nickname that meant &ldquoArdent&rdquo or &ldquoIntensely Desiring.&rdquo (His maternal grandfather had been nicknamed Bramante, too: perhaps intensity was a family trait.) He was a farmer&rsquos son, born in a village of the Papal States near Urbino. He undoubtedly witnessed the construction of the Ducal Palace, and he would have had some contact with artists who attended its highly cultivated court at the invitation of its ruler and patron,Federigo da Montefeltro, including Alberti and such figures as Piero della Francesca. He was one of a constellation of early-Renaissance figures who were born in or around the 1440s&mdashPerugino, Botticelli, Signorelli, and, in 1452, Leonardo da Vinci. Later, when he moved to Milan, he came to know Leonardo, but how well one cannot say. Probably a small book on ancient Roman architecture that appeared anonymously around 1500 and was dedicated to Leonardo was by Bramante. Certainly both men worked for the Sforza court in Milan in the 1490s. Presumably Bramante got his introduction to Duke Ludovico through his aunt Battista Sforza (d. 1472), who had married Federigo da Montefeltro. Bramante was to spend more than two decades in Milan, doing some building forDuke Ludovico Sforza. He did not become a star there as an outsider to the city, he did not secure the big commissions. However, he did design the church of Santa Maria presso San Satiro, and was involved with the design of the Milanese monastery and church of Santa Maria delle Grazie, where Leonardo painted his disastrously ill-preserved Last Supper&mdashthat now almost vanished icon of the High Renaissance. Bramante designed a tribune at the end of the nave which was originally meant to be a mausoleum for the Sforzas.

Bramante&rsquos move to Rome we owe to political history. When the French armies marched into Milan in 1499, they expelled the duke and dislocated the city&rsquos cultural life entirely. They also perpetrated what is doubtless one of the greatest crimes against art ever committed Leo-nardo&rsquos clay model for the giant bronze horse which was to be the monument to Gian Galeazzo Sforza, Ludovico&rsquos father, ignominiously fell to pieces after the French crossbowmen used it for target practice&mdasha great loss indeed. Bramante and the bitterly frustrated Leonardo, were among the figures who left for Rome, and Milan&rsquos loss was very much Rome&rsquos gain. Like any other architect of talent, Bramante was soon absorbed in the grandeur and purity of its ancient structures.

Quite soon, Bramante&rsquos obvious talents would be snapped up by one of the great &ldquobuilding popes&rdquo of the Renaissance, Pope Julius II. But he designed several nonpapal buildings first, and the most significant of them was hardly bigger than a summerhouse&mdasha diminutive domed circular temple in the courtyard of the Spanish Franciscan convent and church, the Tempietto of San Pietro in Montorio, up on the Janiculan Hill. This may have been inspired by the ancient Temple of Vesta in Rome. The sixteen columns of its outer ring are all Doric, the order considered most suitable for commemorating robust and virile heroes, which Peter, no plaster saint, certainly was. Bramante worked to a modular scheme originally set out as a recipe for internal harmony by Vitruvius&mdashall the chief dimensions, such as the diameter of the interior, are multiples of the column diameters. The tempietto is the first completely Doric building of the Italian Renaissance, as another pioneer architect, Sebastiano Serlio, pointed out: &ldquoWe should give credit to Bramante, seeing that it was he who was the inventor and light of all good architecture, which had been buried until his time, the time of Julius II.&rdquo

Julius II was the name taken, at his election to the papacy by the College of Cardinals, by Giuliano della Rovere (1443&ndash1513). This impatient, bellicose, and thunderously energetic man was the greatest patron of art the Roman Church had ever produced, and he would remain so until the partnership of Urban VIII Barberini and Gian Lorenzo Bernini more than a century later. His architect was Bramante, his sculptor Michelangelo, his painter Raphael.

This trio formed, without much question, the most remarkable body of artistic talent ever assembled by a single European man.

Raphael frescoed his suite of private papal apartments on the second floor of the Vatican, the chief one of which was known as the Stanza della Segnatura because in it Julius signed his name to essential documents. Some think that Julius himself, rather than Raphael, chose the narrative of images for these rooms.

As for Michelangelo, Julius was by far the most important, if difficult, client he ever had&mdashjust as Michelangelo was the most difficult and important artist Julius had ever employed. The sculptor embarked upon a colossal and never-to-be-finished project for Julius&rsquo tomb in the Church of San Pietro in Vincoli. He very reluctantly frescoed the ceiling and end wall of the chapel in the Vatican which, having been built by Julius&rsquo uncle Pope Sixtus IV (reigned 1471&ndash84), was known as the Sistine, and later decorated thePauline Chapel, also in the Vatican, with scenes of the conversion of Saint Paul and the crucifixion of Saint Peter.

And Bramante&mdashan aging man when he came into Julius&rsquo employ, more than sixty years old&mdashtook on the Herculean task of finishing the work Alberti had started, creating a new symbolic center for Christianity by demolishing Constantine&rsquos Basilica of Saint Peter and building an entirely new one. It would be the biggest church in the world.

That Julius II was a monster of will and appetite has never been in doubt. You could not defy him with much hope of survival, let alone success. He was known to his court and the rest of Rome as il papa terribile, the terrifying pope&mdashor, if you wanted to shift the meaning an inch or two, the dreadful father. He did not call himself Julius for nothing. His model was antiquity&rsquos Julius the First&mdashthe all-conquering, all-seeing, all-remembering, and godlike Julius Caesar, conqueror of Europe and remaker of Rome, Roma triumphans, the city around which the rest of the world turned. Julius II was determined to restore, not just superficially refurbish, the scope of the Catholic Church&rsquos political power, which had suffered all-too-apparent losses through the translation of the Papacy to Avignon.

For this, it was necessary to expand the Papal States, an effort which could be tried by diplomacy but only underwritten by military force. Thus Julius II became the first and last pope to lead an army from horseback, wearing plate armor. (His papacy also brought the foundation, on January 21, 1506, of the Swiss Guard, who today are merely pushy Vatican cops with flapping yellow uniforms but in the sixteenth century were a serious force of halberdiers dedicated to protecting the person of the pope&mdashan ecclesiasticalPraetorian Guard.)

Much of the money for his military enterprises came from Italy&rsquos textile industry. The dyeing of cloth requires a fixative, which in the sixteenth century was a mineral, alum. Most alum had come from Turkey, but large deposits of it were to be found north of Rome, in an otherwise unremarkable spot named Tolfa. The mines of Tolfa, with their virtual monopoly on the mineral, rose with the textile trade and so were a large source of income for the Papacy.

In 1503, when Julius was elected pope, the city of Rome was in difficult straits. In some respects it hardly functioned at all as a city&mdashit lacked a strong central government and was divided up into quarrelsome and isolated districts, run in an improvised way by the entrenched heirs of medieval clans. It was plagued by crime, particularly in the dock areas of the Tiber, the Ripa and the Ripetta, where trade was dominated by mafiosolike thugs. Some banks had closed, unable to hold up against the creeping devaluation of the currency. The price of corn had doubled. The ancient system of water supply was near collapse, despite Nicholas V&rsquos earlier efforts to fix it. There were frequent outbreaks of plague. Some riverside parts of Rome had turned malarial&mdasheven Julius II had a bout of malaria, though not a grave one.

Against this background, Julius&rsquo actions, even if resented by many Romans, made considerable sense. He stabilized the price of bread by setting up public bakeries. He brought in cheap grain from Sicily and France, he prohibited immigration, tightened the screws of tax collection and confiscated the estates of several immoderately rich cardinals who had conveniently died. They were replaced by newly appointed cardinals, all friends of Julius, who were also rich but could be relied on to obey him. And of course the Church was directed to wring every penny it could from the sale of indulgences, that abusive and superstitious practice by which the faithful could supposedly buy remission from Purgatory in the next life by giving hard cash to Rome&rsquos agents in this one. &ldquoWhen you open your purse strings and the cash bell rings, the soul flies out of Purgatory and sings.&rdquo Disgust at the indulgence trade would be one of the forces that drove the Protestant Reformation, but at first the Catholic hierarchy did not realize how furious an industry it was growing to be. Thanks to these emergency measures, the papal treasury, which had about 300,000 ducats in 1505, rose to 500,000 in 1506.

Julius was lucky to have a close friend and astute money manager in the Sienese papal banker Agostino Chigi (1466&ndash1520), recognized as the wealthiest merchant banker in Europe, who had more than a hundred offices spread from Cairo to London and at one point held the papal tiara in pawn as security on his loans.

Thus Julius was able to indulge his appetite for Caesarian glory. This became especially clear after the papal armies annexed Bologna and expelled its Bentivoglio rulers in 1507, when an imperial procession exactly reminiscent of the original Caesar&rsquos triumphs was arranged for him in Rome along streets flanked by cheering crowds, he rode under triumphal arches to the Capitol. In 1504, a new and revalued silver coin bearing his portrait and known as the &ldquogiulio&rdquo was minted in his honor. The following year, Julius II commissioned from Michelangelo an enormous figure of himself, which was mounted on the façade of the Bolognese Church of San Petronio, but three years later, when his forces lost control of the city, this bronze giant was torn down, broken up, and recast as cannon. But by then Julius&rsquo attention was preempted and occupied with other projects by Michelangelo, as well as by Raphael and Bramante.

Architecture took first place. Through new building on a grand scale, Julius intended to renovate the &ldquodecorum&rdquo of Rome, returning the city to the grandeur and authority its ancient buildings had once conferred on it. Julius Caesar had given Rome a renewed spiritual center through his constructions. Julius II would do the same, by rebuilding Saint Peter&rsquos on a hitherto unimagined scale.

In 1505, Bramante began a series of additions to the Vatican Palace: the terraces of the Belvedere Courtyard. These were private, of course&mdashindeed, so much so that they were designed to be seen from one main vantage point, the window of the pope&rsquos study, the part of the papal apartments overlooking the downhill slope toward the Tiber known as the Stanza della Segnatura. Modeled on the huge imperial palaces of antiquity&mdashNero&rsquos Domus Aurea, Hadrian&rsquos Villa&mdashthey would tell the visitor that a new Catholic and papal Rome comparable in every way to the old imperial and pagan Rome was on its way. Naturally, Julius wanted this gigantic affair&mdasha hundred meters wide and three hundred long, with its stairs, ramps, formal gardens, arcades, fountains, nymphaeum, and open-air theater&mdashto be finished tomorrow, if not yesterday. It would have the most impressive and precious collection of antique sculpture that existed: the Apollo Belvedere, the Laocoön, the Belvedere Torso were all there. The words of Virgil&rsquos Cumaean Sibyl, warning off the ignorant&mdash&ldquoProcul este, profani&rdquo (&ldquoBegone, you uninitiated&rdquo)&mdashwere cut into the stone of the spiral staircase ramp near the sculpture court. You could ride a horse up this ramp. Its architrave bears on a series of columns, which get slenderer and more refined as one ascends: the Tuscan order at the lowest level, giving way to the Doric, and then to the Ionic, and finally the Composite.

The fresco of Parnassus was painted on the north wall of the Stanza della Segnatura, above its window. The view from the window was of a part of the Vatican Hill traditionally considered sacred to Apollo. Another part of its mythic history was that Etruscan priests used to watch for auguries and make prophecies (vaticinia) from this spot. Hence the name &ldquoVatican&rdquo for the general area. The Apollo was installed on the Belvedere as an act of naming, not so much the sculpture as its site. Having Raphael&rsquos fresco of Apollo and the Muses right at the spot from which one observed the distant sculpture of Apollo confirmed the mantic tradition of the place, and this was enriched by the further myth that Saint Peter had been crucified there.

The Belvedere, with its size and levels, could almost be a town in itself, and certainly Bramante&rsquos town-planning ambitions, though never fulfilled, were part of his reputation in Rome. Two years after his death, a writer named Andrea Guarna put Bramante in a comedy titled Scimmia (The Monkey). He dies and arrives at the gates of Paradise, telling Saint Peter&mdashthe original pope, one should remember, the prototype of Julius II&mdashthat he will not come in unless he is employed to rebuild the whole place:

I want to get rid of this hard and difficult road that leads from earth to Heaven I shall build another, in a spiral, so wide that the souls of the old and the weak can ride up it on horseback. Then I think I will demolish this Paradise and make a new one that will provide more elegant and comfortable dwellings for the blessed. If you agree, then I shall stay otherwise I shall go straight to Pluto&rsquos house, where I shall have a better chance of carrying out my ideas.&hellip I shall make an entirely new Hell and overturn the old one.

Neither Bramante nor Julius hesitated to get rid of old buildings, however venerable, if these got in the way of their plans. It is no surprise that one of the architect&rsquos nicknames was &ldquoBramante Ruinante,&rdquo Bramante the Wrecker. This was used a lot as he prepared to undertake the biggest project of his life, perhaps the biggest project of any architect&rsquos life (unless you count later mile-high skyscrapers in Arab sheikhdoms or mega-airports in China): the design and building of the new Saint Peter&rsquos Basilica.

Both the pope and the architect believed, with good reason, that the old building, erected in the fourth century by Constantine, would no longer do. In the reign of Nicholas V (1447&ndash55), a survey had shown its walls were tottering out of plumb, and there was a real danger that an earthquake tremor (to which Rome, in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, was more prone than it is today) would bring the whole thousand-year-old fabric down. Both men were conscious of their own mortality, and in fact would die within a year of each other, Julius in 1513 and Bramante in 1514. If history were to remember them as the authors of this colossal enterprise, they would have to hurry. Moreover, they needed to move the project as far along as possible, so that the next architect and the next pope would be stuck with their conception, unable to make radical changes.

Unfortunately, since Bramante did not run an architectural office in the modern sense, there are practically no written or drafted records of how ideas might have passed to and fro between him and Julius, and the only firsthand record of Bramante&rsquos intentions is a drawing known as the &ldquoparchment plan,&rdquo now in the Uffizi. It shows a central dome and two domed chapels, forming a Greek cross, though of course with no indications of size. But there were strong motives for making the basilica enormous, and one can imagine Julius and his architect discussing how, now that Constantinople had fallen (in 1453) to the Turkish infidel and Hagia Sophia had become a mosque, the largest dome should be the center of Christendom. The questions raised by the demolition of a building as venerated as old Saint Peter&rsquos would be silenced by the phrase inscribed on a medal depicting its intended elevation: TEMPLI PETRI INSTAURACIO. Instaurare meant &ldquoto restore,&rdquo &ldquoto make new&rdquo the pope and the architect could say that they were only &ldquorestoring&rdquo the ancient fabric, though of course they were replacing it altogether.

Bramante&rsquos inspiration for the new church was essentially Roman, not Florentine. That is to say, it was modeled on the gigantic bath complexes of ancient Rome and, like them, made of concrete and brick, with various facings of marble and limestone. As built, the basilica is 218.7 meters long, its main nave being 26 meters wide and 46 high from floor to roof. The transept is 154.8 meters long. The whole fabric contains 46 altars. It covers an area of 5.7 acres. None of these raw figures gives more than a faint impression of the vastness of a building that can, if the congregation is packed in, hold up to 60,000 people (though not comfortably). For comparison, the Duomo in Milan can hold about 37,000. Saint Peter&rsquos dome is the tallest in the world&mdash448 feet from the floor to the top of the external cross on the lantern. In diameter, it is fractionally smaller than the ancient dome of the Pantheon and Brunelleschi&rsquos &ldquomodern&rdquo dome of Florence Cathedral. The tradition that it is built on top of the actual site of Saint Peter&rsquos tomb is only that&mdasha tradition, for which there is no compelling historical or archaeological evidence.

Not the least impressive aspect of the cupola was its lighting, splendid and theatrical. Today it is done with electric floods and spots, but from the Seicento to the end of the nineteenth century it was achieved (on special occasions, such as the festa of Saint Peter) with a superabundance of several thousand lamps, lanterns, and torches, all of which, on the orders of a theatrical maestro, would be lit simultaneously. Everyone who saw this, before the age of electricity, was astounded by its grandeur. Goethe, who witnessed it, recorded, &ldquoIf one reflects that, in that moment, the great edifice serves only as the frame of a fantastic orgy of light, one can well understand that nothing else like it can be found in the world.&rdquo Rome&rsquos vernacular poet Giuseppe Belli echoed this astonishment in a sonnet he wrote in 1834:

Chi ppopolo po&rsquo èsse, e cchi sovrano,

Che cciàbbi a ccasa sua &rsquona cuppoletta

Com&rsquo er nostro San Pietr&rsquo in Vaticano?

In qual antra scittà, in qual antro stato,

Che tt&rsquointontissce e tte fa pperde er fiato?

&ldquoWhat people, and what sovereign,/Have in their home a little dome/Like that of our St. Peter in the Vatican?/In what other city, in what other country,/Is there this blessed light/That stuns you and takes your breath away?&rdquo

The design of the basilica was heavy with liturgical symbolism. Thus (to take only one instance) the early drawings for the church specify twelve doors, alluding to the twelve tribes of Israel and to the twelve apostles. The most essential thing about it, from both Bramante&rsquos and Julius&rsquo viewpoint, was that it should be based on &ldquoperfect&rdquo geometrical forms, the square (symbolizing, among other things, earth) and the circle (the heavens), one inscribed within the other. It was not built that way, but in another building by Bramante&mdashnot in Rome&mdashone can get some idea, on a smaller scale, of the general effect. This is the far smaller pilgrimage Church of Santa Maria della Consolazione, built on a hillside below the town of Todi, in Umbria. Its dome rises from a drum which in turn rises from a square block, from which grow four polygonal apses, each roofed with a half-dome. There is no town around it it simply emerges from the earth, flooded with light inside. No mosaics, no statuary, no gilt, no marble: only strong, ideal geometrical form. To have such an interior to oneself, in the light of a spring morning, is to grasp a fleeting sense of what Dante meant&mdash&ldquoluce intellettual, piena d&rsquoamore&rdquo: &ldquothe light of the mind, suffused with love.&rdquo

The construction of Saint Peter&rsquos took 120 years and lasted for the lifetime of twenty popes. When Bramante died in 1514, he was replaced by Giuliano da Sangallo, Fra Giocondo, and Raphael. Sangallo and Fra Giocondo both died the next year, which left Raphael as the master architect until he, too, died, in 1520.

Antonio da Sangallo now took over the revision of the design, and stayed with it until his own death in 1546, by which time Michelangelo&mdashold, reluctant, and increasingly infirm&mdashwas handed the enormous task. By then Sangallo had built the crossing piers that would support the dome, and vaulted some of the arms of its immense Greek cross.

But the dome itself did not exist yet.

Michelangelo&rsquos first step was to cancel Sangallo&rsquos plans altogether and tear down whatever structures by Sangallo he did not like.

He wanted to revert to a Bramantean purity, and in a famous letter he sent to the Fabbrica, or Office of Works, of Saint Peter&rsquos, he wrote, &ldquoAny who have deviated from Bramante&rsquos arrangement, as Sangallo did, have deviated from the truth.&rdquo

Sangallo had cut off all the light from Bramante&rsquos plan, or so Michelangelo thought, creating dark corners where nuns could be molested and false coiners could do their nefarious work. In the evenings, when the basilica had to be locked up, it would take twenty-five men to clear out anyone hiding inside. And so, &ldquoWinning [the commission for Saint Peter&rsquos] would be the greatest loss to me, and if you can get the pope to understand this you will give me pleasure, because I don&rsquot feel well.&rdquo It was no use. Having no choice, Michelangelo accepted, full of misgivings, in 1547. He sent off to Florence for clay and wooden models of its Duomo. These became the first inspiration for the double-shelled cupola of Saint Peter&rsquos raised on its sixteen-sided drum. It had come nowhere near completion before Michelangelo died, in 1564. It was eventually finished by Giacomo della Porta in 1590 his design had a somewhat more pointed, upward-reaching quality than Michelangelo&rsquos hemispheric outer dome.

Meanwhile, Raphael had been at work inside the Vatican.

Raphael was born in 1483 in Urbino, which, though small, was no cultural backwater. His father, Giovanni Santi, was a painter, attached to the court of its duke. The first duke, the condottiere Federigo da Montefeltro, had been ennobled by the pope&mdashUrbino was part of the Papal States&mdashand, largely thanks to him, the town had become what W. B. Yeats would later call &ldquoThat grammar school of courtesies/Where wit and beauty learned their trade/Upon Urbino&rsquos windy hill.&rdquo As the gifted son of a court artist, Raphael was raised in an environment where polished manners, tact, and all-round gentilezza counted immensely this place, this tiny social world, was to be the model for Baldassare Castiglione&rsquos classic manual of behavior, The Book of the Courtier (1528). So, although Raphael did not get a top-flight education as a humanist scholar&mdashhis Latin always seems to have been a little shaky&mdashhe did receive one in the manners and skills of a court artist. Moving gracefully in high circles was never to be a problem for him, as it often was for other Renaissance painters. Other artists, as Vasari pointed out, might be hampered by &ldquoa certain element of savagery and madness, which, besides making them strange and eccentric, had &hellip revealed in them rather the obscure darkness of vice than the brightness and splendour of those virtues that make men immortal.&rdquo Not Raphael.

Of his precocity there was never any doubt. Right from the start, as his earliest surviving drawings (done when he was sixteen or seventeen) amply show, Raphael&rsquos hand was both brilliant and disciplined. He was apprenticed to the studio of one of the best-known and most successful painters in Italy, Pietro Perugino (1450&ndash1523). According to Vasari, young Raphael imitated Perugino&rsquos style, in all its elegance and sweetness, so closely that their paintings could hardly be told apart &ldquohis copies could not be distinguished from the master&rsquos originals.&rdquo What made him more than an epigone of this fine but provincial artist was a sojourn in Florence, where &ldquohe changed and improved his manner so much from having seen so many works by the hands of excellent masters, that it had nothing to do with his earlier manner indeed, the two might have belonged to different masters.&rdquo

Clearly, the road pointed toward Rome, where, thanks to Julius&rsquo patronage, a new interest in painting, as in architecture, was simmering. It is not known how word of Raphael&rsquos existence reached Julius II&rsquos ears. Perhaps Bramante, who came from the same part of Italy, recommended him. In any case, by 1508 the young painter, now in his mid-twenties, had been summoned to Rome and given the difficult and prestigious job of decorating the papal apartments in the Vatican Palace. From then until his death, he would be occupied with this commission, which required him to hire more and more assistants, including Giulio Romano&mdashwho would presently transfer what he had learned from Raphael about architectural design to Raphael&rsquos Villa Madama, in Rome, and about fresco to his own gloriously eccentric masterpiece for the Gonzagas, the Palazzo del Te, in Mantua. Giulio Romano was often accused of vulgarity, but in his hands in Mantua this became a virtue since he could not incorporate his life-affirming coarseness into Raphael&rsquos rooms for the pope, it went instead into the Mantuan frescoes, some of which fairly burst with stylish libido, and the enjoyably pornographic prints he made as illustrations to the work of the bawdy writer Aretino. It hardly surfaced in his Roman work.

The first room Raphael addressed in the Vatican Palace was the pope&rsquos library and office, the Stanza della Segnatura. The themes he chose, or was given, were those appropriate to Theology, Poetry, Jurisprudence, and Philosophy.

&ldquoPoetry&rdquo called, of course, for a scene of the gathering of ancient and near-contemporary genius on Parnassus, grouped around an Apollo, who is making music below his emblematic laurel tree. At the top are his agents, the nine Muses, the Greek deities of astronomy, philosophy, and the arts. The daughters of Jupiter and Mnemosyne, they are Calliope (Muse of the heroic epic), Clio (history), Euterpe (lyric poetry and flute music), Terpsichore (dance), Erato (erotic poetry), Melpomene (tragic drama), Thalia (comedy), Polyhymnia (mime, sacred poetry, and agriculture), and Urania (astronomy). Ancient poets in the fresco include Homer, Virgil, Sappho, Propertius, Horace, and Tibullus. Among the more modern writers, some of whom were Raphael&rsquos contemporaries, are Petrarch, Ariosto, Sannazaro, Boccaccio, and of course Dante. It is an anthology of what a person would need to have read before he could call himself civilized.

Traditionally, and rightly, The School of Athens, representing &ldquoPhilosophy,&rdquo is the grandest of the four compositions in the Stanza della Segnatura. The arch of the wall opens out into a perspective series of further arches: we seem to be in a majestically vaulted but unfinished architectural space. Blue sky can be seen through its gaps, suggesting that the building is the new Saint Peter&rsquos, of which Raphael was now the supervising architect. To a sixteenth-century visitor seeing this image for the first time, it would have suggested a pristine Rome, being rebuilt and restored&mdashjust what Julius II wanted his papacy to suggest.

It is filled with figures, explaining, arguing, reading, or writing. At their center, the vanishing point of the perspective, two men are advancing toward us. The one on the left, in the red garment, pointing upward, is Plato, indicating to his listeners, and to us, that the source of all ideal form is to be found in the heavens. He is holding a copy of his late work the Timaeus, which was devoted to natural science and sought to describe the relationship between gods and man in the world. The world, the Timaeus asserts, is eternal, because it is subject to eternal laws. Next to him, Aristotle, in the blue cloak, contradicts this he points downward, to the earth, indicating that true knowledge is to be found empirically, in the world as it is and its contents as they are. He carries a book inscribedETH[IC]A&mdashthe Nicomachean Ethics, regarded by Christianizing humanists of the day as the summit of Aristotle&rsquos thought. Each man has his eager group of listeners and disciples. The heroes of thought are sometimes given the faces of Raphael&rsquos contemporaries. Plato, for instance, has the archetypal-sage features of Leonardo da Vinci.

Raphael wanted his fresco to represent not the physical production of books, but the processes of thinking that go into them and undergird their arguments&mdashalong with the buzz of discussion that thought produces. If one man is writing something down, another is reading it over his shoulder. The School of Athens is often taken for an image of &ldquoclassical&rdquo composure, but in fact it is almost as animated as a battle piece, crisscrossed with vectors of agreement, exposition, and surprise. In the right foreground is a knot of figures watching a savant with protractors, drawing a geometrical figure on a tablet. He represents Euclid, demonstrating one of his theorems. But his face is that of Bramante, in whose buildings geometry played so large a creative role. In a corresponding position on the steps to the left is Pythagoras, busily writing in a book. Solitary, sitting apart, wrapped in a keep-away melancholy (the saturnine artist in contemplation), is Michelangelo, his pencil poised over a page. What is he thinking about? We don&rsquot and can&rsquot know&mdashbut we know what Raphael has been thinking about, and that is the permeability, the exchange value, of thought itself. And surely he could think about that, and find such a fluid, continuous embodiment for it, because he could draw on the help and interpretive support of the humanists in and around Julius II&rsquos court. Perhaps such a painting as The School of Athens could be called, in that sense, a collaborative work of art. Other painters worked under Raphael as painting assistants on the Stanza della Segnatura, but who worked with him in deciding its cast of characters and implied themes?

The theme of Raphael&rsquos frescoes in the Stanza d&rsquoEliodoro is broadly political. They represent God&rsquos way of protecting His Church from various possible threats.

Is its wealth threatened? Then the would-be thief has to consider a once-obscure incident related in the Apocrypha (2 Maccabees 3), where the larcenous general Heliodorus has been planning to loot treasure from the Temple of Jerusalem. We see him sprawling, blinded, and furiously attacked by two spectacularly beautiful youths while a horseman sent by Heaven tramples him down. From the left, this scene is watched by Julius II seated in a litter, which is borne by an entourage that includes likenesses of Raphael himself and his assistant Marcantonio Raimondi.

Is there concern or skepticism about the truth of dogma? Then the visitor must consult Raphael&rsquos fresco of The Mass at Bolsena, where we see a priest celebrating Mass it is the climactic moment of the ceremony, the consecration of the Host, when, at the words&ldquoHoc est enim corpus meum&rdquo (&ldquoThis is indeed my body&rdquo), first uttered by Christ at the Last Supper, the bread&mdashso Catholics are required to believe&mdashis transformed into the veritable flesh of Jesus. This Mass in the lakeside town of Bolsena, north of Rome, had a skeptic in its congregation who was unsure about the Transubstantiation, and to convince him God caused the Host in the priest&rsquos hands to bleed Jesus&rsquo own sacred blood. Raphael has this event watched by the kneeling figure of Julius II, who never saw it but wished to emphasize his devotion to the Eucharist.

Thirdly, is the seat of the Church, Rome itself, in danger of invasion? Raphael symbolizes this in The Meeting of Leo the Great with Attila, the least inspired and satisfactory of the four scenes, in which we see Attila the Hun and his barbarian hordes reeling back from the walls of Rome at a mere gesture from Pope Leo I. Raphael&rsquos figure of this pope is a portrait of the tenth Leo, Giovanni de&rsquo Medici.

Finally, is the person of the pontiff in danger? Then the viewer must consider the fourth wall of the Stanza d&rsquoEliodoro, with its fresco of The Liberation of Saint Peter, Raphael&rsquos superb night-piece of the saint incarcerated in the darkness of the Mamertine Prison in Rome, glowing like a firebrand beside the shiny black armor of his guards. The sense of life restored, the contrast between the vitality of the saint and the moribund, beetlelike quality of the guards&rsquo bodies, shows how carefully Raphael must have taken note of similar contrasts between the risen God and his slumbering captors in earlier paintings of the Resurrection of Christ. This must have been the last fresco of Raphael&rsquos that Julius could have seen he was painting it in 1513, the year the pope died.

The work of frescoing the stanze continued well past Julius&rsquo death and was still absorbing Raphael while he worked as papal architect on Saint Peter&rsquos. The clearest reference to the new pope, Giovanni de&rsquo Medici, who took office as Leo X, is quite indirect: it shows a miracle performed by his namesake, an earlier Pope Leo, the Fourth (reigned 847&ndash55), who miraculously extinguished a fire that threatened to destroy Saint Peter&rsquos along with all the buildings of the Borgo. In the so-called Stanza dell&rsquoIncendio, in the frescoFire in the Borgo, he appears as a small, distant figure making the sign of the cross on a balcony, near the vanishing point of the composition. Unless you look for him, you hardly know he is there, but the clue is given by the distant, agitated women beseeching him from below his balcony. The emphasis of the fresco is on the frantic Romans in the foreground, scurrying to and fro, disoriented by the threat of the blaze. The fire rages on the extreme left. On the right, one sees a crowd of women carrying pots of water to put out the flames. There, in the foreground, is a strong young man carrying an older one piggyback, accompanied by a boy: a direct reference back to images of Aeneas accompanied by his son Ascanius and carrying his old father, Anchises, away from the flames of Troy, on their way to found Rome. A mother hands her swaddled child over a wall, into the receptive arms of a helper a naked man hangs by his fingertips from the wall, about to drop to safety. (This is a fairly operatic moment, since it would clearly have been just as easy for the naked man to scoot around the end of the wall. But that would have deprived Raphael of the pretext to paint that magnificent body, muscles tensed at full stretch.)

In the years during which he worked on the stanze, Raphael did not limit himself to fresco. He also had a large output of portraits and devotional paintings. His portrait of Baldassare Castiglione is to be ranked with Leonardo&rsquos Mona Lisa as one of the suavely inventive masterpieces of that genre. His most popular religious paintings were of the Madonna and Child, usually with the infant John the Baptist. One typical complaint about Raphael concerns these images, which remained steadfastly popular from the sixteenth to the nineteenth centuries and influenced generations of artists, down to Ingres, who wrote, &ldquoWe do not admire Rembrandt and the others at random we cannot compare them and their art to the divine Raphael.&rdquo The group of German artists in Rome who called themselves the Nazarenes (Overbeck, Pforr, and others) venerated the early more than the later Raphael. Others thought him sentimental, stereotyped, and oppressively masterly nineteenth-century English artists like Millais and Holman Hunt called themselves &ldquoPre-Raphaelites&rdquo because they wanted to paint as though he had never existed.

But today it is difficult to have more than a glancing acquaintance with Raphael&rsquos devotional easel paintings without succumbing to their charm, and then realizing what unsurpassed mastery lies behind them. No matter how often one sees Baby Jesus and infant Baptist playing together, however strongly one may react against the repeated theme&mdashthe prophetic Baptist showing the little Saviour a stick, or wand, with a crosspiece which Jesus eagerly reaches out for, since it is a prefiguration of the cross on which he will die&mdashthe sheer beauty and fluency of the painting gets you every time. &ldquoImmortal,&rdquo &ldquodivine,&rdquo &ldquoperfection&rdquo&mdashsuch words, which Raphael&rsquos work evoked from earlier admirers, may die on our modern (or &ldquopostmodern&rdquo) lips, but their memory cannot be entirely effaced.

And certainly no need to be rid of it was felt in the early sixteenth century. Raphael was the ideal secular as well as religious painter, faultless in his production, his meanings always clear as springwater, his saints holy, his men noble and thoughtful, his women desirable, his technique impeccable. What other artist could have painted two little angels like Raphael&rsquos into an Assumption of the Virgin, giving them an enchanting air of childish detachment while not distracting at all from the majesty of the event? The answer is: none. Nobody had a word to say against him except the notoriously prickly Michelangelo, who learned that Bramante had let Raphael into the Sistine Chapel for an early, unauthorized look at its first completed ceiling section when its scaffolding was dismantled in 1511. &ldquoEverything he knew about art he got from me,&rdquo the titan grumbled, though serious enmity did not persist between them.

Raphael never let a client down, and among his clients were some of the most powerful men in Italy. Apart from the pope, his chief patron was the papal banker Agostino Chigi, for whom he painted two chapels in the churches of Santa Maria del Popolo (Chigi&rsquos own burial chapel) and Santa Maria della Pace. For Chigi he also painted his only major mythological subject, a Triumph of Galatea (c. 1511&ndash12), frescoing it on a wall of Chigi&rsquos Villa Farnesina in Rome. Where did this delectable sea nymph come from? Possibly, indeed quite probably, she is a portrait of Chigi&rsquos mistress. In the myth, Galatea was uncouthly loved by the monstrous Cyclops Polyphemus, in the Odyssey. (Polyphemus himself is depicted in a nearby fresco in the villa, by Sebastiano del Piombo.) She escaped from him over the sea, in a boat drawn by two dolphins, and in Raphael&rsquos version of the event one sees that one of these charmingly stylized marine mammals is chewing up an octopus, a &ldquopolyp,&rdquo in its sharp jaws&mdasha sight which Raphael no doubt remembered from a visit to a fish market, but which equally alludes to the defeat of Polyphemus. Nereids and other sea deities sport around her, putti flutter in the sky above. Galatea herself is enchantingly pretty, surfing along in graceful contrapposto, but she may not have been directly painted from a living model: &ldquoTo paint a beauty, I should have to see a number of beauties, provided Your Lordship were with me to choose the best. But in the absence of good judges and beautiful forms, I make use of an idea which comes to my mind.&rdquo

By then Raphael was famous throughout Europe, and so esteemed in the papal court that the pope&rsquos treasurer&mdashLeo X&rsquos chief minister, Cardinal Bernardo Bibbiena&mdashactually offered his niece to the painter in marriage. Even more remarkably, the painter politely refused. There seem to have been two reasons for this. The first was that Raphael&rsquos life was full of other women, notably La Fornarina, who was his adoring mistress for years. If his portrait of her (c. 1518) in Rome&rsquos Galleria Nazionale is truthful, which presumably it is, and correctly identified, which it may not be, one can well understand why he might not have wished to switch. The second reason is said to have been more practical: there was a possibility that Leo X might make him a cardinal, an office to which married men could not be raised. If that had happened, Raphael would have been the first and only artist in history to receive the red hat for making art. But neither that nor the marriage took place: in 1520, at the excessively young age of thirty-seven, Raphael died&mdashas a result, some said, of a fever caused by a particularly energetic night of love with La Fornarina, &ldquothe Baker&rsquos Daughter,&rdquo his delicious black-eyed woman of the people from Trastevere. He was buried in a niche in the Pantheon: the epitaph cut on his tomb slab was an elegant distich by his friend the poet Pietro Bembo: ILLE HIC EST RAPHAEL, TIMUIT QUO SOSPITE VINCI/RERUM MAGNA PARENS, ET MORIENTE MORI. &ldquoThe man here is Raphael while he was alive, the Great Mother of All Things [Nature] feared to be outdone and when he died, she, too, feared to die.&rdquo

The frescoing of the stanze was one of the two chief achievements of Julius&rsquo patronage. The other, it goes almost without saying, was the employment of Michelangelo Buonarroti. It was for Julius that Michelangelo, sometimes with the deepest misgivings and resentments, frescoed the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, producing what remains the most powerful&mdashif not in all ways the most likable or even comprehensible&mdashseries of images of the human figure in the whole history of European art. It would be followed, more than twenty years after Julius&rsquo death, by the Last Judgment on the altar wall of the chapel, conceived by Pope Clement VII late in 1533, commissioned by Pope Paul III Farnese in 1534, started as cartoons in 1535 and as fresco in 1536, and finally unveiled to very mixed reactions in 1541.

In between these fell the tragic debacle of Julius&rsquo tomb, Michelangelo&rsquos obsessive project. It was to have been a sculptural block about twenty-four by thirty-six feet, and thus with a &ldquofootprint&rdquo of over seventy square meters. It was designed to be on three levels, containing some forty-seven marble figures. It would have been in Saint Peter&rsquos, where, since Bernini had not yet appeared, it would have been the greatest sculptural project of the Christian world. And, Michelangelo being what he was, maker of the colossalDavidin Florence, it would have been entirely the work of one man. Ascanio Condivi, who knew Michelangelo and wrote his life, relates:

All around about the outside were niches for statues, and between niche and niche, terminal figures to these were bound other statues, like prisoners &hellip rising from the ground and projecting from the monument. They represented the liberal arts, and likewise Painting, Sculpture, and Architecture &hellip denoting by this that, like Pope Julius, all the virtues were the prisoners of Death, because they could never find such favor and nourishment as he gave them.

This was never achieved. Julius II died in 1513, but none of his successors was able, or willing, to support the project. Before long it was relocated, in a much-diminished form, to Julius&rsquo former titular church in Rome, San Pietro in Vincoli. Though it contains one tremendous finished sculpture for the tomb, the Moses, Julius II&rsquos final resting place does not even remotely resemble in scale, size, site, or imagery what Buonarroti had in mind. Julius himself had undermined Michelangelo&rsquos chances to complete it, by ordering him to paint the Sistine instead. Paul III had ruined them by insisting that he lay down hammer and chisel to paint the Last Judgment. Then there were the architectural projects for the Medici, such as the Laurentian Library and the façade of San Lorenzo, the Medici church in Florence. A man, even if that man is Michelangelo, can only do so much.

The Sistine Chapel was so called because it had been built thirty years before Julius&rsquo papacy by his uncle Pope Sixtus IV (reigned 1471&ndash84). Its architect was the otherwise unremarkable Giovannino de&rsquo Dolci. Its walls were frescoed by some of the greatest Quattrocento artists, including Luca Signorelli, Sandro Botticelli, Domenico Ghirlandaio, and Bernadino di Betto, better known as Pinturicchio but nine out of every ten people who visit the Sistine go there only for the ceiling.

The layout of the Sistine reflects a particularly medieval conception of world history. It was believed, in the Middle Ages, that humanity&rsquos past divided into three sections or epochs. The first was the story of the world before God gave the Law to Moses. The second was the Law as laid down to Moses. The third, life since the Law, centered on the birth and life of Christ: the period of the New Testament. Sixtus IV&rsquos artists had illustrated the third part and some of the second. However, this left the first untouched, and so it was to Michelangelo that Julius II entrusted the task of illustrating, on the ceiling, the epic narrative of the Old Testament.

The ceiling was blank, or almost. The only decoration on it was a uniform coat of ultramarine blue, dotted with golden stars. It was enormous, forty and a half meters long and fourteen wide, and every inch of it had to be painted by Michelangelo. The contract to paint the vault was drawn up and signed in May 1508, and the work was finished in October 1512&mdasha little more than four years, which included an interruption of close to a year, between 1510 and 1511. Considering that all, or nearly all, the painting was done by Michelangelo and not delegated to assistants, as Raphael might have done, this represented an astounding speed of execution. Of course, he did have assistants&mdashcarpenters to erect the high scaffolding and the ladders, studio men to grind the colors and mix the plaster, laborers to carry the paints and buckets of water up the ladders to the top of the scaffold, stuccatori to apply the wet plaster to the ceiling, and assistants to help hold the cartoons or design drawings in place while their lines were transferred to the plaster, whether by scratched-in marks from a stylus or by &ldquopouncing&rdquo lines of powdered charcoal dots through holes pricked in the paper. No one man could have done all that donkey work. The conception of the grand design must have been formed by conferring with others, chiefly Julius II and whatever clergy and theologians he might have brought in&mdashnot many, one suspects.

But all the rest&mdashwhich is to say, about 95 percent of the actual work, all the painting of more than ten thousand square feet of ceiling&mdashwas done by Michelangelo alone, and the more one knows about the technique of buon fresco, as this kind of painting was called in his native Florence, the more astounding the achievement of the Sistine becomes.

An artist could not just paint his design on a hard, dried plaster surface. That invited disaster, and when even an artist as skilled as Leonardo da Vinci tried it with the Last Supper in Milan, disaster obligingly came. The reason is that no wall made of bricks, mortar, and plaster is ever completely dry and impermeable. Waterborne salts work their way in from outside and destroy an oily paint film lying on top of plaster inside. This does not happen, or not as gravely, when the colored pigment is integrated with the plaster, and such is the essence of buon fresco. For the paint to be integrated with the plaster, it must be applied while the plaster is damp&mdashideally, two or three hours after the laying of the intonaco, as the fresh lime plaster is known. Then the two form an indissoluble chemical bond when they dry.

But fresco has its peculiarities, and the chief one is that it has to be done piecemeal. The artist must complete painting a section of the intonaco before it dries. If the pigment is put on dry plaster, as it sometimes has to be for retouching and correction, it is said to be done a secco and lacks the durability of true fresco. However, not all pigments are suitable for fresco, because some&mdashparticularly the blues and greens, such as ultramarine and malachite&mdashare vulnerable to the alkaline action of the lime. These were used a secco.The preferred fresco pigments included the ochers, brown and yellow earths, hematite reds, umber, burnt sienna, ivory black, and vine black. The borders of each section must therefore be planned, like a large jigsaw. Each is limited to the work that can be done in a single day. The patch of each day&rsquos surface was known as a giornata, and it is easy for a trained eye, close up, to follow the outlines of each giornata and thus reconstruct the order in which the fresco was done. If repair work is needed, as it sometimes was, it was done by brushing water-based paint onto the now dried intonaco. A further complication is that in fresco colors do not dry the way they look when wet&mdasha problem that does not arise with oil paint or watercolor. Pigments with a green or black hue dry lighter, whereas iron-oxide pigments dry darker matching up wet and dry demands from the artist the most acute powers of visual memory.

It is not known exactly how the narrative of the ceiling was composed. Michelangelo undoubtedly had input from others (especially the pope) in doing it. (He claimed he invented it all, but he was given to claims like that.) The basis of the vault we see now is nine scenes from the book of Genesis, framed in fictive (painted) stonework, running crosswise between the long walls. They begin at the altar end of the chapel with three scenes of cosmic creation, The Separation of Light from Darkness, The Creation of the Sun and the Moon, and The Separation of Land from Water. Then follow three more: The Creation of Adam, The Creation of Eve, and The Temptation of Adam and Eve combined in one panel with The Expulsion from the Garden of Eden. Finally, one sees The Sacrifice of Abel (or perhaps that of Noah), The Flood, and The Drunkenness of Noah, complete with the ancient patriarch&rsquos eldest son committing what had become known as the Sin of Ham&mdashnot overindulgence in prosciutto crudo, but gazing upon his inebriated father&rsquos nakedness.

Gazing on masculine nakedness was, of course, Michelangelo&rsquos unwavering obsession. On the painted stone frame surrounding these scenes sit the ignudi, the beautiful naked youths who have no part in the biblical narrative but are purely the invention of the artist, and make up the grandest anatomical repertoire in Western art. They serve to hold up garlands and painted bronze medallions. The spandrels of the chapel hold mighty figures depicting those who foretold the coming of Christ to the ancient Gentiles (the Sibyls) and to the ancient Jews (the Prophets). They alternate down the walls: the Libyan Sibyl, then Daniel, then the Cumaean Sibyl, then Isaiah, and so on. It seems, the more one looks at this huge vocabulary of human form, that Michelangelo did more than any artist before him to give posture and gesture their utmost eloquence. Here is the Libyan Sibyl, arms spread wide to hold open her enormous book, showing her back but looking over her shoulder. Here is the figure of Jonah, just released from the mouth of the whale&mdashwhich is actually more the size of a large tarpon&mdashleaning back and gazing upwards in astonishment at a sky which he never thought to see again. Goethe, after visiting the Sistine, wrote that no one could have any idea of what a single individual could accomplish on his own unless he had stepped inside this huge hall. It is still true, and no other work of art can deliver that.

The effort of painting the ceiling, lying on his back, was brutal and interminable, even for a man in his mid-thirties in peak physical condition. Michelangelo wrote a sardonic sonnet about it, addressed to his friend Giovanni da Pistoia. &ldquoI&rsquove grown a goiter at this drudgery,&rdquo it begins,

The kind wet cats get in the Lombard swamps

Or in whatever country the things live&mdash

My belly&rsquos rucked up underneath my chin,

My beard points up, my memory hangs down

Under my balls, I&rsquove grown a harpy&rsquos breast,

And all the while my brush above me drips,

Spattering my face till it&rsquos an inlaid floor.

He feels crippled, permanently deformed&mdash&ldquoI am recurved like a Syrian bow&rdquo&mdashand his thinking is distorted:

A man shoots badly with a crooked gun.

And so, Giovanni, come to rescue me,

Come rescue my dead painting, and my honor&mdash

This place is wrong for me, and I&rsquom no painter.

The Sistine ceiling is almost all body, or bodies the only sign of a nature that is not flesh is an occasional patch of bare earth and, in the Garden of Eden, a tree. Michelangelo was not even remotely interested in landscape in this respect, as in many others, he was completely the opposite of Leonardo da Vinci. The human body, preferably male, its structure, musculature, and infinitely diverse postures, framed all the expressive powers he wanted to use. A dumb tree? A patch of unconscious grass? A wandering, arbitrarily shape-shifting cloud? Forget it. None of these, in Michelangelo&rsquos eyes, had the grand complexity, the sublimely purposeful integration, of the human body, created in God&rsquos own likeness. Leonardo might suspect that universal laws lay hidden in the behavior of water pouring from a sluice gate into a still pond, but such speculations were of no interest to Michelangelo.

Twenty-one years after the ceiling was complete, in 1533, Michelangelo began work on his fresco for the altar wall of the Sistine, and this time the work contained nothing but bodies (though there is a small patch of water, representing the river Styx, at the bottom). The subject of this monumental muscle-scape was the Last Judgment. It is a huge creation, and he took eight years over it, finishing it in 1541, at the age of sixty-six&mdashalmost twice the age he was when he began the Sistine ceiling.

Politically, a great deal had happened in Italy in those twenty-nine years, and the most traumatic event of all had come in 1527, with the Sack of Rome. Barbarians and other enemies had got as far as the walls of Rome in previous years, but none had actually succeeded in breaching them on a large scale. The Sack of 1527, however, was almost another Cannae in its traumatic effects on Roman self-possession and self-confidence.

Europe had now become an immense cockpit in which national factions were battling it out for international dominance. Long and inconclusive wars (1526&ndash29) were fought in Italy between the troops of the self-styled Holy Roman Emperor Charles V and the hodgepodge alliance of France, Milan, Florence, and the Papacy. There is considerable truth in the saying that the Holy Roman emperor was neither holy, nor Roman, nor in any real sense an emperor. Nonetheless, Pope Clement VII had thrown his lot in with Charles so as to avert France&rsquos defeat at the hands of Charles&rsquos army. But the imperial forces did defeat the Franco-Florentine-papal alliance&mdashonly to find there was no money to pay the troops their promised fee. Frustrated, the imperial forces mutinied and forced their commander, Charles III, duke of Bourbon, to lead them in an attack on Rome. Rome was a fat, rich city, full of treasure so it was assumed. The army of the Holy Roman emperor contained a substantial number of Lutheran sympathizers, grimly delighted at the thought of attacking the throne of the Great Whore of Babylon, the Catholic Church and, whatever their religious views, all thirty-four thousand soldiers wanted their promised back pay. So they marched south, spreading rapine and chaos as they went, and arrived beneath the Aurelian walls of Rome in early May 1527.

The city was not strongly defended. It had better artillery than its attackers, but only five thousand militia and the small papal force known as the Swiss Guard. Duke Charles III died in the attack&mdashthe great goldsmith-sculptor Benvenuto Cellini, never averse to self-promotion, claimed to be (and possibly was) the marksman who shot him. With him died the last possibility of restraint on the imperial invaders, among whom were fourteen thousand fearsome German Landsknechte, thirsting for blood, sex, and gold. The Swiss Guard was cut down almost to the last man on the steps of Saint Peter&rsquos&mdashout of its five hundred members, only forty-two escaped and, with commendable bravery and guile, managed to smuggle Pope Clement VII by a secret corridor out of the Borgo and to precarious safety as a prisoner in all but name in the Castel Sant&rsquoAngelo. About a thousand defenders of the city and its churches were summarily killed. Then the sack began.

Before long, it was for the living in Rome to envy the dead. Priests were dragged from their sacristies, savagely humiliated, and put to death, sometimes on their own altars. Hundreds of nuns were gang-raped and then killed, starting with the younger and more attractive ones. Monasteries, palaces, and churches were gutted and torched, and the higher clergy&mdashincluding many cardinals&mdashhad to pay heavy ransoms to the implacable soldiers. Some of the minor scars of these days can still be seen today: in one of Raphael&rsquosstanze, a mutineer left his scratches on the fresco of Heliodorus. The chaos went on for weeks. The Emperor Charles V was unable, and not altogether willing, to stop his troops. Not until June 6, after a month of unremitting plunder and rape, did Clement VII formally surrender and agree to pay a ransom of 400,000 ducats for his own life.

It was spared, but there was no way to restore the prestige of his papacy, or the sense of inviolability that went with Rome&rsquos position as caput mundi. If God had allowed this to happen, what reliance could be put on Rome&rsquos supposedly divine mission? In minds all over Europe, the Sack of Rome was an omen, joining in terrible synergy with the Reformation, which was by now a ten-year-old movement with undeniable staying power. God was abandoning the city had already abandoned it, perhaps. A judgment had fallen. This was the end of the Renaissance papacy in Rome, that short and glorious thing. And although Michelangelo, who witnessed these things, was not given to writing about current events, it is surely not wrong to see in the titanic pessimism of the SistineLast Judgment some character of response to the sacking of the helpless city six years earlier. Possibly, indeed probably, the image of Charon, the diabolic ferryman, whacking the terrified souls out of his boat with his oar, harks back to some moment Michelangelo had witnessed when a gleefully ruthless Landsknecht was driving a gaggle of helpless citizens out of their shelter with stabs and swipes of his halberd.

The wall of figures is huge it is also almost unbearably claustrophobic, because there is no &ldquospace&rdquo in the ordinary sense of the word: no landscape or skyscape in which you can imagine your own body moving. It is packed almost to immobility with enormous bodies. Its actors are vehemently corporeal, and yet not of this world. We see, as we have seen in other Last Judgments, the division of the damned from the saved, the former going down to Hell, the latter rising to glory under the aegis of Judge Jesus. And yet there is something disquietingly irrational about the scene, if something as huge and dispersed as this can rightly even be called a &ldquoscene.&rdquo Why does Jesus look more like a relentless Apollonian Greek god than the &ldquonormal&rdquo judge and Saviour of other Last Judgments? Why does Jesus&rsquo mother crouch so submissively by his side, as though terrified by the revelation of her son&rsquos capacity for wrath against sin? Perhaps both are related to the line of Dante&rsquos which had probably inspired Michelangelo before, when he carved the adult and supremely beautiful dead Christ lying in his mother&rsquos lap, Figlia del tuo figlio, Daughter of Your Son. But why does Saint Bartholomew, customarily depicted holding up his own skin (which was flayed from him in his martyrdom), hold up a human skin whose collapsed face is unmistakably that of Michelangelo himself? And why on earth did Michelangelo give the blessed Bartholomew the face of that most unsaintly writer, the satirist and pornographer Pietro Aretino, whose collection of sexual &ldquopostures,&rdquo illustrated byGiulio Romano, was one of the repressed classics of High Renaissance titillation? These and a dozen other questions rise unbidden whenever one enters the chapel and gazes at its altar wall, and they bring with them the thin thread of possibility that they could be answered, at least partly, if only one could see Michelangelo&rsquos work as it had been when his brush left it.

In the meantime, both the ceiling and the Last Judgment had been condemned to woeful indignities. Some popes later than Paul III quite vehemently disliked it. Paul IV (reigned 1555&ndash59) called the Judgment &ldquoa stew of nudes,&rdquo meaning &ldquostew&rdquo in the Renaissance sense of a public bath, a stufato, a whorehouse. Another Medici pope, Pius IV (reigned 1559&ndash65), ordered that some of the figures be made decent with painted loincloths this task was assigned to a good painter, Daniele da Volterra, who ever after was known as il braghettone, the trouser maker. Clement VIII (reigned 1592&ndash1605) wanted the whole thing whitewashed over, but fortunately was dissuaded by his clerics.

No art-interested person who was in Rome in the late 1970s and early &rsquo80s is likely to forget the passions roused by the project of cleaning the Sistine. Lifelong friendships were broken the field of discussion, usually a relatively tranquil one, was swept by hails and cross-fires of moral disagreement.

The argument tended to revolve around one central question: was the grayness, the almost monochrome character of so much of Michelangelo&rsquos coloring, deliberate or accidental?

There is always a certain resistance to cleaning any beloved work of art. The thought of damage, the natural fear of radical change, combine in what sometimes amounts to an anguished conservatism. And sometimes it is not a bit unreasonable: those who remember certain paintings in London&rsquos National Gallery, before the director Sir Philip Hendy&rsquos restorers were unleashed to use their swabs and solvents upon them, bitterly recall that they were not merely spruced up but skinned alive. The puritanical belief that cleanliness is next to godliness, that the more you take off the closer to the original truth you come, was still very strong in some quarters of the picture-cleaning trade in the late 1970s, and in the early 1960s it was virtually a dogma. The reduced color of the Sistine ceiling seemed to accord very well with the belief that Michelangelo was primarily a sculptor, a man who naturally thought in terms of monochrome substance. People didn&rsquot want to think that the grayness which lent the figures a marmoreal grandeur, even as it deprived them of detail, was just dirt, soot, and centuries of grime.

Elaborate explanations were devised by the anti-cleaning faction, which, it is only fair to say, included some of the most distinguished art historians in Italy and elsewhere. The most popular idea was that Michelangelo, disliking the relative brightness of the Sistine frescoes, had applied an última mano, a &ldquofinal touch,&rdquo in the form of a darkening and unifying wash of pigment and animal glue-size. Obscure and ambiguous ancient texts about the use of atramentum, a dark tonal wash, in antique painting were resurrected to suggest that Michelangelo had used it, too.

Glue there certainly was, and dark-wash pigment, too. But Michelangelo did not put them there. They were later accretions. The pigment was mostly airborne soot, from hundreds of years of burning candles. (Before the age of electricity, the Sistine was lit by large, stout candles, smoking away on an internal ledge below the level of the frescoes. They were not beeswax, which burns relatively cleanly, but the kind of black gunk you get on a barbecue from grilling chops.) And the glue was animal size, much of it also applied long after Michelangelo&rsquos death by intrusive conservators who sought to bring up the higher tones in the frescoes by darkening the lower ones. The net result was a messy obscurity. Various attempts were made over the years to clean some of the film of dirt away, but none succeeded.

If you wanted to know what colors Michelangelo really preferred in a painting, it made sense to look at his one surviving complete easel picture, the Doni Tondo, or Holy Family (c. 1504). Bright, singing colors&mdashcolori cangianti, as they were called, the hues of shot silk, the crinkled sky-blue of Mary&rsquos skirt, the opulent yellow of Joseph&rsquos garment, the general clarity of light&mdashnone of this looked remotely like the colors of the Sistine ceiling. Inevitably, when the ceiling was cleaned in 1999 and colors similar to those of theDoni Tondo began to appear, there were cries of protest from art historians who felt that Michelangelo had been traduced: the &ldquonew&rdquo colors were those of later, Mannerist art, characteristic of artists like Pontormo or Rosso Fiorentino. The obvious deduction from this should have been that the bright colori cangianti of Mannerism had been copied from the Michelangelo of the Sistine, by artists who regarded Michelangelo as the ultimate guide and wished only to follow him in homage, when they flocked to the Sistine to see his new work. But critics of the restoration were determined to put the cart before the horse.

Seeing the Sistine frescoes in their renewed state a decade later, one can only guess what the hysteria of opposition had been about. They can now be seen in their full plenitude of color, and it is one of the world&rsquos supreme sights. At this point I should perhaps confess a bias: working for what was then a major American magazine, Time, I was lucky enough to get extended access to the ponte or moving bridge between the Sistine walls on which the cleaners worked, and spent the better part of three days up there, with my nose a couple of feet from the fresco surface, seeing the way Michelangelo&rsquos color was coming alive once more after so long a burial under waxy residue, and how the forms were being reborn. This was a privilege, probably the most vivid one I had in a fifty-year career as an art critic. It left me in no doubt that the Vatican team&rsquos meticulous high-tech efforts, inch by inch, were as great a feat of skill and patience as John Brealey&rsquos magnificently discreet cleaning of Velázquez&rsquos Las meninas in Madrid, and that an enormous cultural truth, once obscured, was now coming to light.

Michelangelo&rsquos frescoes are, of course, a magnetic point of concentrated attraction for visitors to Rome&mdashso much so that it is no longer possible to appreciate them in peace, thanks to the intolerable jam-packed year-round crowds. Michelangelo&rsquos Romanarchitecture is, however, a different matter. Its chief undertakings were three: the reform of the Capitol, complete with its bronze of Marcus Aurelius on horseback the design of the grandest palace in Rome, Palazzo Farnese and the development of the Basilica of Saint Peter&rsquos.

Sometimes, while he was working on the Last Judgment, Michelangelo was approached in the hope that he would turn to public-architecture projects. With the Judgment finished, and the Paoline Chapel behind him, he was relieved to give himself over to architecture, and the first of the schemes in which he immersed himself was the redesign of Rome&rsquos mythic and historic nucleus, the Capitol (in Italian, Campidoglio). The need for a renewed Capitol had become clear in 1536, nine years after the Sack of Rome, when the victorious Charles V made a state visit to the still horribly scarred Rome, and Pope Paul III realized that, although temporary processional arches were run up to greet the emperor along the old Roman route of triumph, there was no great central piazza for a reception ceremony.

The Capitoline Hill, with all its historical associations, seemed suitable, and in 1538, Paul III ordered the bronze statue of Marcus Aurelius on horseback to be moved from its site outside the Lateran to a new spot on the Capitol. The pope thought, wrongly, that it was a statue of the Emperor Constantine, hence Christian. It was a fortunate mistake, since only the fact that all Romans in the Middle Ages had assumed it to be Constantine (or, later, the Christian Antoninus Pius) had protected it from being demolished and melted down as a pagan monument. Michelangelo, interestingly enough, opposed placing the Marcus Aurelius on the Capitol&mdashwe don&rsquot know why&mdashbut, fortunately for Rome, the pope overrode him. He was made an honorary citizen of Rome in 1537, and, flattered by this compliment, he pressed ahead with ideas for the Capitol. He designed an oval base for the statue, which he surrounded with an oval pavement, replacing the amorphous piazza in front of the Palazzo del Senatore. He put in two symmetrical staircases on the face of that palace, and designed a fine wide stepped ramp, the cordonata, linking the piazza to what is now the level of Piazza Venezia below. So the visual axis of the cordonata runs through the Marcus Aurelius and up to the junction of the twin stairs on Palazzo del Senatore. Now the statue needed a new architectural environment. To one side of it, built on the ruins of what was once the Temple of Jupiter, was the fifteenth-century Palazzo dei Conservatori. Michelangelo gave it a new façade, with powerful full-height Corinthian pilasters, and on the other side, facing it, he built the matching Palazzo Nuovo, now the Capitoline Museum, which holds its prodigiously rich collection of Roman antiquities.

In this way, Michelangelo created one of the greatest urban centers in the history of architecture only a few others in Italy, such as Piazza San Marco in Venice and the Piazza del Campo or shell-shaped piazza in Siena, compare to it in spatial beauty, and none can approach its phenomenal richness of art content. Nothing could rival it, or ever will. Its effect on visiting aesthetes was summed up in a much later drawing by the neoclassical artist Henry Fuseli, who had moved to Rome for an eight-year sojourn in 1770. It showed a figure, head buried in his hands in despair, seated before the enormous marble foot and hand of Constantine this is still on the Capitol. Its title is The Artist in Despair over the Magnitude of Antique Fragments. This emotion was often felt, and by many but not by Michelangelo. Raphael was the more enthusiastic preserver of the two.

Through his short life, Raphael actively promoted the preservation of Rome&rsquos innumerable ancient ruins and monuments. A report on their decay was submitted to Julius II&rsquos successor, Leo X, who in 1515 appointed Raphael to be prefect of the antiquities of Rome. This did not give Raphael the power to block the plunder of ancient marble. Rather the reverse&mdashit put him in charge of gathering ancient material to be used in building the new Saint Peter&rsquos. So there is something hypocritical about the lamentations in the report. It is not clear who compiled and wrote it. Unsigned, it has been ascribed to Bramante, Raphael, the writer Baldassare Castiglione, and others. Since a draft copy of the report written in Baldassare&rsquos hand was found in the Castiglione family library, and since Raphael (1483&ndash1520) was not only the architect-designate of Saint Peter&rsquos and the chief adviser on aesthetic matters to Leo X, but also an intimate friend of Castiglione, it is likely that the two men wrote the report together.

The author(s), says the report, have been all over Rome, looking, drawing, measuring, and it has been a decidedly mixed pleasure: this knowledge of &ldquoso many excellent things has given me the greatest pleasure on the other hand, the greatest grief. For I beheld this noble city, which was the queen of the world, so wretchedly wounded as to be almost a corpse.&rdquo In Rome, antiquity had been mercilessly despoiled by the Romans themselves, the fine stone of the ruins looted, the columns felled and carted away, the marble statues and friezes burned for lime, the bronzes melted down. This had been going on for hundreds of years, without hindrance from pope or Senate. The Romans had done more damage to Rome than the worst barbarian invasions. Compared with them, &ldquoHannibal would appear to have been a pious man.&rdquo &ldquoWhy should we bewail the Goths, the Vandals, and other perfidious enemies of the Latin name, when those who above all others should be fathers and guardians in defense of the poor relics of Rome have even given themselves over to the study&mdashlong study&mdashof how these might be destroyed and disappear?&rdquo This Ubuesque project of demolishing the ruins, this relentless urbicide, was Rome&rsquos biggest, almost its only, industry.

How many pontiffs, Holy Father, who have held the same office as yourself, though without the same knowledge &hellip have permitted the ruin and defacement of the ancient temples, of statues and arches and other edifices that were the glory of their builders? How many allowed the very foundations to be undermined so that pozzolana [volcanic ash] might be dug from them, so that, in but a little time, the buildings fell to the ground? How much lime has been burned from the statues and ornaments of ancient times?

This piecemeal destruction of the city by its ignorant developers was &ldquothe infamy of our times,&rdquo an atrocious historical castration. Raphael and Castiglione knew very well whom they were pleading to. He was Giovanni de&rsquo Medici, successor to the mighty Julius II, the last layman to be elected pope, the second son of Lorenzo the Magnificent of Florence, then only in his early forties.

He had received a good humanistic education at Lorenzo&rsquos court in Florence, from such luminaries as Pico della Mirandola, Marsilio Ficino, and the poet Angelo Poliziano. Both in Florence and in Rome, he had been immersed in art and literature his reverence for the classical past was thoroughly instilled, not just an affectation or a pseudo-intellectual quirk. Moreover, he did not have automatic respect for the opinions of earlier popes, especially on such matters as architectural history.

&ldquoSince God has given us the papacy,&rdquo Giovanni de&rsquo Medici famously remarked after his election as Leo X, &ldquolet us enjoy it.&rdquo He set out to do so, and he did. Venice&rsquos ambassador to Rome, Marino Giorgi, wrote that Leo was &ldquoa good-natured and extremely free-hearted man, who avoids every difficult situation and above all wants peace.&hellip He loves learning of canon law and literature he possesses remarkable knowledge.&rdquo He had a menagerie of pets, including a tame white elephant. He was, according to the 1525 testimony of the historian and politician Francesco Guicciardini, an active and unembarrassed homosexual, &ldquoexceedingly devoted&mdashand every day with less shame&mdashto that kind of pleasure which for honor&rsquos sake may not be named.&rdquo And he was culturally serious. Leo X restored the University of Rome, which had fallen on hard times during the pontificate of Julius II. He increased the salaries of its professors, expanded its faculties, and underwrote a Greek printing press, which created the first Greek book to be published in Rome (1515), an important step in the implantation of humanistic ideas in the city. He gave papal secretaryships to scholars and poets, such as Pietro Bembo and Gian Giorgio Trissino.

All this cost money&mdasha great deal of it. Leo X badly depleted the papal treasury in two or three years. Naturally, it embarrassed him, as Christ&rsquos vicar on earth, to find himself presiding over a city as miserably shorn of its ancient glory as Rome had become. The Church needed defenses, of which new buildings were the manifest and concrete proof. Julius II and his architect Bramante had begun to replace the old Saint Peter&rsquos with a vast new basilica, and now Leo X set out to double its size, a thing unheard of in the previous history of Christianity. Much of the time these expansions were chaotic, since new popes tended quite often to allow the projects of those before them to lapse. The military, political, architectural, and artistic ambitions of successive pontiffs drove the Papacy into long spasms of bottomless debt, causing inextricable woes to its bankers. Leo X was certainly not exempt from these financial horrors, and his short-term palliatives for them were a disaster for the Church. He was one of the most feckless spenders in the history of the Papacy. One cannot help liking him for his attachment to the fine arts, especially for his encouragement of literature and scholarship. But the Church needed a more restrained man, and restraint was not a virtue Leo X understood. He needed immense sums, not only to support his luxurious tastes, but to finance large projects, of which the largest was building the new Basilica of Saint Peter&rsquos. He therefore opened the door to one of the worst rackets in ecclesiastical history: the large-scale sale of indulgences.

When not enough cash was flowing in from it, Leo sold (to selected buyers, of course) the prestige of association with the Papacy. He invented all manner of new papal offices, and sold them to the highest bidders. It was reliably estimated that when Leo died more than two thousand people were paying for offices he had created, generating a capital value of three million ducats, which yielded the pope 328,000 ducats a year. Cardinals&rsquo hats were commonly sold, and this caused the higher levels of the hierarchy to silt up with avaricious crooks. Leo was even reported to be pawning and selling some of the artistic contents of the Vatican&mdashfurniture, plate, jewels, and works of art.

It is not certain that Leo X fully understood the determined anger propelling the epic change in the history of ideas and of worship that was about to rock Europe there could hardly have been two more dissimilar men than the Medici pope and the German monk named Martin Luther who, in the fourth year of Leo&rsquos papacy, on October 31, 1517, nailed his ninety-five theses to the church door in Wittenburg. Luther was a deeply educated man, but he had none of the hedonistic delight in culture that animated Leo. In no way could he have been called a sensualist, which Leo in all respects was.

The indignation and disgust this caused among the faithful was to be one of the prime causes of the Reformation, in which for doctrinal reasons the epochal split between Catholicism and Protestantism took root. But at the same time that Leo was disposing so recklessly of such magnificent works of art, he was acquiring others, notably books and manuscripts for the ever-growing Vatican Library. In the process, the pope who gave rise to the Reformation was also fostering a new intellectual elite: the Roman humanists.

The Roman Kingdom (753–509 BC)

Also referred to as the Roman Monarchy, or the Regal Period, it was the earliest period of Roman history, when Romulus had founded his city on top of the Palatine hill in 753 BC.

Little is certain about the Kingdom’s history, as no records and few inscriptions from the time of the kings survive, and the accounts of this period written during the Republic and the Empire are thought to be based on oral tradition. It ended with the overthrow of the kings and the establishment of the Republic in 509 BC.

An illustration of early Rome. (c) Sutori

For Rome’s foundation myth see Romulus & Remus.

During the Roman Kingdom, seven kings ruled the city of Rome: Romulus (753-716 BC), Numa Pompilius (715-673 BC), Tullus Hostilius (673-641 BC), Ancius Marcus (641-616 BC), Tarquinius Priscus (616-579 BC), Servius Tullius (578-535 BC) and Tarquinius Superbus (535-509 BC).

The kings, excluding Romulus, were all elected by the people of Rome to serve for life, with none of the kings relying on military force to gain or keep the throne. The insignia of the kings of Rome were twelve lictors wielding the fasces bearing axes, the right to sit upon a Curule chair, the purple Toga Picta, red shoes, and a white diadem around the head.

The Seven Kings of Rome (c) KnowTheRomans

After he killed his brother Remus, Romulus began building the city on the Palatine Hill. He permitted men of all classes to come to Rome as citizens, including slaves and freemen without distinction. He is credited with establishing the city’s religious, legal and political institutions. The kingdom was established by unanimous acclaim with him at the helm when Romulus called the citizenry to a council for the purposes of determining their government.

Romulus established the senate as an advisory council with the appointment of 100 of the most noble men in the community. These men he called patres, and their descendants became the patricians. To project command, he surrounded himself with attendants, in particular the twelve lictors. He created three divisions of horsemen (equites), called centuries: the Ramnes (Romans), the Tities (after the Sabine king) and the Luceres (Etruscans). He also divided the populace into 30 curiae, named after 30 of the Sabine women who had intervened to end the war between Romulus and Tatius. The curiae formed the voting units in the popular assembly, the Comitia Curiata.

The Rape of the Sabine Women by Pietro da Cortona.

Romulus was behind one of the most notorious acts in Roman history, the incident commonly known as the Rape of the Sabine women. To provide his citizens with wives, Romulus invited the neighbouring Sabine tribe to a festival in Rome where the Romans committed a mass abduction of young women from among the attendees. War broke out when Romulus refused to return the captives. After the Sabines had made three unsuccessful attempts to invade Rome, the women themselves intervened during the Battle of the Lacus Curtius to end the war. The two peoples were united in a joint kingdom, with Romulus and the Sabine king Titus Tatius sharing the throne. In addition to the war with the Sabines, Romulus waged war with the Fidenates and Veientes.

The Intervention of the Sabine Women by Jacques-Louis David, 1799.

He reigned for thirty-seven years. According to the legend, Romulus vanished at age fifty-four while reviewing his troops on the Campus Martius. He was reported to have been taken up to Mt. Olympus in a whirlwind and made a god. After initial acceptance by the public, rumours and suspicions of foul play by the patricians began to grow. In particular, some thought that members of the nobility had murdered him, dismembered his body, and buried the pieces on their land. These were set aside after an esteemed nobleman testified that Romulus had come to him in a vision and told him that he was the god Quirinus. He became, not only one of the three major gods of Rome, but the very likeness of the city itself.

A replica of Romulus’ hut was maintained in the centre of Rome until the end of the Roman Empire.

After Romulus died, there was an interregnum for one year, during which time ten men chosen from the senate governed Rome as successive interreges. Under popular pressure, the Senate finally chose the Sabine, Numa Pompilius, to succeed Romulus, on account of his reputation for justice and piety. The choice was accepted by the Curiate Assembly.

Numa’s reign was marked by peace and religious reform. He constructed a new temple to Janus and, after establishing peace with Rome’s neighbours, closed the doors of the temple to indicate a state of peace. They remained closed for the rest of his reign. He established the Vestal Virgins at Rome, as well as the Salii, and the flamines for Jupiter, Mars and Quirinus. He also established the office and duties of the Pontifex Maximus. Numa reigned for 43 years. He reformed the Roman calendar by adjusting it for the solar and lunar year, as well as by adding the months of January and February to bring the total number of months to twelve.

The Menologium Rusticum Colotianum with Zodiac signs, Festivals, and Agricultural Activities. A Roman marble calendar dating to the 1st c. AD. (c) Museo Galileo

Tullus Hostilius was as warlike as Romulus had been and completely unlike Numa as he lacked any respect for the gods. Tullus waged war against Alba Longa, Fidenae, Veii and the Sabines. During his reign, the city of Alba Longa was completely destroyed and Tullus integrated its population into Rome.

Tullus is attributed with constructing a new home for the Senate, the Curia Hostilia, which survived for 562 years after his death. His reign lasted for 31 years.

Battle of Tullus Hostilius and the Veientes, painting by Giuseppe Cesari.

Following Tullus’ death, the Romans elected a peaceful and religious king in his place, Numa’s grandson, Ancus Marcius. Much like his grandfather, Ancus did little to expand the borders of Rome and only fought wars to defend his territory. He also built Rome’s first prison on the Capitoline Hill.

Ancus further fortified the Janiculum Hill on the western bank, and built the first bridge across the Tiber River. He also founded the port of Ostia on the Tyrrhenian Sea and established Rome’s first salt works around the port.

He died a natural death, like his grandfather, after 25 years as king, marking the end of Rome’s Latin-Sabine kings.

Silver denarius struck by L. Marcius Philippus, in Rome, 56 BC.
Obv: ANCVS: Head of Ancus Marcius, lituus behind.
Rev: PHILIPPVS AQVA MAR: equestrian statue on 5 arches of aqueduct (Aqua Marcia). (c) Johny Sysel

L. Tarquinius Priscus was the fifth king of Rome and the first of Etruscan birth. After immigrating to Rome, he gained favor with Ancus, who later adopted him as son. Upon ascending the throne, he waged wars against the Sabines and Etruscans, doubling the size of Rome and bringing great treasures to the city. To accommodate the influx of population, the Aventine and Caelian hills were populated.

One of his first reforms was to add one hundred new members to the Senate from the conquered Etruscan tribes, bringing the total number of senators to two hundred. He used the treasures Rome had acquired from the conquests to build great monuments for Rome. Among these were Rome’s great sewer system, the Cloaca Maxima, which he used to drain the swamp-like area between the Seven Hills of Rome. In its place, he began construction on the Roman Forum.

Imaginary view of the Temple of Jupiter Capitolinus, painting by C.R. Cockerell RA, 1788 – 1863.

Priscus initiated other great building projects, including the city’s first bridge, the Pons Sublicius. The most famous is the Circus Maximus, a stadium for chariot races. After that, he started the building of the temple to the god Jupiter Optimus Maximus on the Capitoline Hill. However, before it was completed, he was killed by a son of Ancus Marcius, after thirty eight years as king.

Priscus was succeeded by his son-in-law Servius Tullius, Rome’s second king of Etruscan birth, and the son of a slave. Like his father-in-law, Servius fought successful wars against the Etruscans. He used the booty to build the first wall around the Seven Hills of Rome, the pomerium.

A map of the Servian Walls circuit around Rome. (c) Vera Machline

Servius Tullius instituted a new constitution, further developing the citizen classes. He instituted Rome’s first census which divided the population into five economic classes, and formed the Centuriate Assembly. He used the census to divide the population into four urban tribes based on location, thus establishing the Tribal Assembly. He also oversaw the construction of the temple to Diana on the Aventine Hill.

Servius’ reforms made a big change in Roman life: voting rights based on socio-economic status, favouring elites. However, over time, Servius increasingly favoured the poor in order to gain support from plebeian class, often at the expense of patricians. After a forty four year reign, Servius was killed in a conspiracy by his daughter Tullia and her husband L. Tarquinius Superbus.

A section of the Servian Walls outside Termini station.

The seventh and final king of Rome was L. Tarquinius Superbus. He was the son of Priscus and the son-in-law of Servius, whom he and his wife had killed.

Tarquinius waged a number of wars against Rome’s neighbours, including against the Volsci, Gabii and the Rutuli. He also secured Rome’s position as head of the Latin cities. He also engaged in a series of public works, notably the completion of the Temple of Jupiter Optimus Maximus, and works on the Cloaca Maxima and the Circus Maximus. However, Tarquinius Superbus’s reign is remembered for his use of violence and intimidation to control Rome, and his disrespect of Roman custom and the Roman Senate.

Tarquin and Lucretia by Titian, 1571.

Tensions came to a head when the king’s son, Sextus Tarquinius, raped Lucretia, wife and daughter to L. Tarquinius Collatinus and Sp. Lucretius Tricipitinus respectively. Lucretia told her relatives about the attack, and committed suicide to avoid the dishonour of the episode. Four men, led by L. Junius Brutus, and including L. Tarquinius Collatinus, P. Valerius Poplicola, and Sp. Lucretius Tricipitinus incited a revolution that deposed and expelled Tarquinius and his family from Rome in 509 BC.

Tarquin was viewed so negatively that the word for king, rex, held a negative connotation in Latin language until the fall of the Roman Empire Julius Caesar was famous for rejecting the title of rex and rumours of his ambition to become a king led in part to his assassination.

Brutus and Collatinus became Rome’s first consuls, marking the beginning of the Roman Republic. This new government would survive for the next 500 years until the rise of Julius Caesar and Augustus, and would cover a period during which Rome’s authority and area of control extended to the majority of the Mediterranean Basin.

The Capitoline Brutus.

With Seamus Heaney in Elysium

An iconic motif: Aeneas and the Sibyl (at upper left) in the Underworld, c.1530 (a plaque with enamel and gold on copper)

Image from the Fitzwilliam Museum, University of Cambridge, United Kingdom / Bridgeman Images

An iconic motif: Aeneas and the Sibyl (at upper left) in the Underworld, c.1530 (a plaque with enamel and gold on copper)

Image from the Fitzwilliam Museum, University of Cambridge, United Kingdom / Bridgeman Images

Aeneid Book VI: A New Verse Translation, by Seamus Heaney, Litt.D. ’98 (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $25))

In the fall of 2002, in those war-darkened days when Seamus Heaney was still among us at Harvard (then as Emerson Poet in Residence), he generously agreed to come to a session of my freshman seminar on poetic translation. For two hours he joined in discussions of the Horace translations by some of the 12 entranced 18-year olds, some now published poets and writers. He also talked about his own Horatian translation, of Odes 1.34, written the year before in response to the terror attacks of September 11, 2001. The poem concerns life’s unpredictability, in the metaphor of Jupiter’s lightning striking in a clear sky. At the time of the seminar, Heaney was still living with the poem, first published as “Jupiter and the Thunder” in The Irish Times of November 17 of that year. He would continue to do so until it was published as “Anything Can Happen, after Horace Odes 1.34”in District and Circle (2006), with Horace made new: “Anything can happen, the tallest towers | Be overturned.”

Since that visit, fully five verse translations of the entire Aeneid, the Roman epic of Horace’s contemporary Virgil, have appeared: by Stanley Lombardo (2004), Robert Fagles (2006), Frederick Ahl (2007), Sarah Ruden (2008, the first by a woman), and Barry Powell (2016). In 2011, A.T. Reyes published C.S. Lewis’s Lost Aeneid (book 1 and most of book 2, in rhymed alexandrines). Each has its appeal, each its adherents. Let a thousand Aeneids bloom, I say, for to read the poem in the Englished versions of some of our age’s best poets is to be doubly enriched. There has been no comparable period in the 600 years since the first English (Middle Scots, actually) translation by Gavin Douglas, written in 1523, published in 1553. Others followed until Dryden’s great Aeneis of 1697 silenced translators throughout the eighteenth century and into the nineteenth. (Wordsworth started a version and got through most of book 3, before abandoning it.)

Into this abundant stream steps Seamus Heaney with the posthumous Aeneid Book VI, marked “final” in his hand a month before he died. In fact, Heaney had been in this stream for some time. As he put it in Stepping Stones (Dennis O’Driscoll’s series of interviews with the poet):

[T]here’s one Virgilian journey that has indeed been a constant presence, and that is Aeneas’s venture into the underworld. The motifs in Book VI have been in my head for years—the golden bough, Charon’s barge, the quest to meet the shade of the father.

By then he had already begun the translation, “in 2007, as a result of a sequence of poems written to greet the birth of a first granddaughter,” he writes in the Translator’s Note that leads off this new volume. It is also “the result of a lifelong desire to honour the memory of my Latin teacher,” Father Michael McGlinchey, with whom he read Aeneid IX at St. Columb’s College in County Derry. He recalls McGlinchey’s “sighing, ‘Och boys, I wish it were Book VI.’”

Virgil (70-19 b.c.e.) sits between Clio, the Muse of history, and Melpomene, the Muse of tragedy, in this third-century mosaic from a site at Sousse, Tunisia.
Musee National du Bardo, Le Bardo, Tunisia / Bridgeman Images

Even earlier, in 1991, “The Golden Bough,” a translation of Aeneid 6.124–48, came out as the first poem in Seeing Things. Twenty years later, “Album” (also in 2010’s The Human Chain) fondly recalled three separate embraces of the father dead since 1986, culminating in a simile “just as a moment back a son’s three tries | At an embrace in Elysium”—a clear invocation, in words full of their own literary memories, of Aeneas as the hero tries and fails to embrace the shade of his own father. The 12 sections of “Route 110” (in The Human Chain) “plotted incidents from my own life against certain well-known episodes in Book VI” (vii–viii), by way of the bus route from Belfast to Heaney’s home in County Derry. In “Route 110,” the poet buys a “used copy of Aeneid VI,” then takes the bus ride home, reading of Lake Avernus and “Virgil’s happy shades” to the sound of “Slim Whitman’s wavering tenor.”

Lingering Where It Matters

Aeneid VI starts with the hero’s making landfall at Cumae, the northern point of the Bay of Naples. There the Trojan exile meets the Sibyl, prophetess of Apollo, who guides him down into the Underworld, directs him to the golden bough that will give him access, and joins him on his ghostly journey: encounters with Charon’s ferry of the dead, the hellhound Cerberus, Trojan comrades and Greek foes fallen in the war at Troy, the shade of Dido who died for love of him, and finally to the desired meeting with his father, Anchises (replacing the mother visited by Homer’s Odysseus).

The lines of “The Golden Bough” from 1991, now iambic pentameter like the whole book, have been tightened and trimmed, overhauled and reordered in a process revealed at the end of the preface:

rhythm and metre and lineation, the voice and its pacing, the need for a diction decorous enough for Virgil but not so antique as to sound out of tune with a more contemporary idiom—all the fleeting, fitful anxieties that afflict the literary translator.

Virgil’s language is not ornate: “neither overblown nor understated,” as a Roman contemporary put it. All great poetry is modern, that is, readable in the modernity of its idiom—whatever the occasional recourse to high style, to archaism, to technical language, to neologism. The job of the translator is to create poetry out of poetry, idiom out of idiom, and Heaney has done that job superbly, capturing the energy of the original, emptying the word-hoard with narrative, description, and character speech brilliantly represented and renewed, always in tune with the varying emotional registers of this, the most pathetic of the Aeneid’s books. Rare is the translation that brings over into true poetry, as this one does, the words, the tone, the music of the original.

Seamus Heaney
Photograph by David Levenson/Getty Images

Heaney’s 1,222 lines convey the entirety of Virgil’s 908, printed on facing pages—clearly important for Heaney. The morphological and syntactical compression of Latin, relative to English, make this just about right (Dryden needed 1247 lines, Mandelbaum, 1203). Heaney, like them unconstrained by the Latin line, can linger where lingering matters, as when Aeneas looks his last at the unresponsive shade of Dido, in a single, packed line of Latin that here becomes almost two: “gazes into the distance after her | Gazes through tears, and pities her as she goes.” The expansion by repetition draws attention as well to Virgil’s striking use of the verb prosequor, here used in Latin for the first time to mean “follow after with the eyes.” Elsewhere, memory of a son’s fall, through failure of a father’s art, leads to a second failure of art, and the falling of the artist’s hands: “Twice | Dedalus tried to model your fall in gold, twice | His hands, the hands of a father, failed him.” The consecutive lines of Virgil begin with bis (“twice”), a word effectively moved to line-end in the English. In the Latin, Virgil’s description ends mid-line, mirroring the unfinished artwork, but the translation needs two full English lines. Virgil in three words gets the horror of the father trying and failing to depict the death of the son: patriae cecidere manus. He does so by placing the adjective (“belonging to a father”), which in Latin can have the force of a noun, in the emphatic first position. Heaney gets the same effect in nine words, by doubling “hands” (manus), supplying the noun (“of a father”), with the indefinite article universalizing the catastrophe. “Fall” and “failed”—cognates in Latin as well (casu….cecidere)—get to the heart of the noun and verb. This sort of exercise could be repeated over and over again throughout the translation. Or just read it, and know you are close to the poet with whom Heaney was living these last years.

English, in Touch with Metaphor

English for the most part has lost touch with the metaphor in its (frequently Latin) etymology, but Heaney’s English nestles up to those origins, again keeping a version of the Latin in his words. He clearly cares about the language and about his representation of it. The body of a dead comrade “Lies emptied of life” (iacet exanimum, literally, “breath gone out of it”) the cave to the Underworld is “A deep rough-walled cleft, stone jaws agape” (hiatu, often with the meaning bodily gape, yawn). Down below we meet various personified evils, including “Death too, and sleep, | The brother of death,” as always eschewing the Latinate (consanguineus) with the Anglo-Saxon “brother” underscoring the metaphor. And where Heaney finds pure metaphor, he translates that, too, as in Virgil’s “rowing with wings” for Daedalus, or his “prows frill the beach” for the Trojan ships on the shore of Italy.

Among many vivid descriptive passages are the lines on Charon, the ferryman dear to Heaney, as to Dante, Dryden, and Delacroix, among many others:

And beside these flowing streams and flooded wastes

A ferryman keeps watch, surly, filthy and bedraggled

Charon. His chin is bearded with unclean white shag

The eyes stand in his head and glow a grimy cloak

Flaps out from a knot tied at the shoulder.

All by himself he poles the boat, hoists sail

And ferries dead souls in his rusted craft

Old but still a god, and a god in old age

Is green and hardy.

Not a single Latinate word, as the vitality and squalor come fully across. Later Charon delivers his unwonted mortal cargo to the further shore,

Under that weight the boat’s plied timbers groan

And thick marsh water oozes through the leaks,

But in the end it is a safe crossing, and he lands

Soldier and soothsayer on slithery mud, knee-deep

In grey-green sedge.

Every word has an analogue in Virgil’s Latin, but the voice is that of Heaney. The sounds of Hell are well represented, as in the punishment of Salmoneus for imitating Jupiter in his thunder cart with “the batter of bronze and the clatter | Of horses’ hooves,” the alliteration responding to and extending that of Virgil (cornipedum pulsu). Or in the noise of the Fury Tisiphone’s torturing sinners: “Sounds of groaning could be heard inside, the savage | Application of the lash, the fling and scringe and drag | Of iron chains.” Or “a grinding scrunch and screech | Of hinges as the dread doors open.”

Some critics, chiefly Anglo-Saxonists, found fault with the Hiberno-Englishisms of Heaney’s translation of Beowulf, as indicating inept appropriation. But others rightly saw it as an act of stealing in the best sense, transforming “the song of suffering that is Beowulf into a keen for his own people’s troubles,” (as Thomas McGuire wrote in New Hibernia Review). The much reduced use of such language in Aeneid Book VI confirms this more creative view of the matter. Not that Virgil cannot be treated that way at times, as with “scringe” (“scratching sound”) above. In fact the practice of domesticating into Hibernian—never intrusive, but unmistakable—continues that found in Heaney’s translation and adaptation of Virgil’s pastoral eclogues in Electric Light, from 2001: “Bann Valley Eclogue,” where the Virgilian golden age is thoroughly Irish: “Cows are let out. They’re sluicing the milk-house floor” or the translation, “Virgil: Eclogue IX,” where a bull is “The boyo with the horns,” while the older shepherd says, “That’s enough of that, my boy. We’ve a job to do.” Virgilian pastoral and Irish poetry are akin, both close to the soil, in Heaney as in Patrick Kavanaugh and John Montague.

At Home in Ireland

So it is that this Aeneid can feel at home in Ireland: “fell like a dead man | On a heap of their slobbered corpses” for confusae (“jumbled”)—perhaps recalling the “warm thick slobber | of frogspawn” from “Death of a Naturalist” “nor bury in home ground” “in the very lowest sump” of Silvius, “the lad you see there.” Heaney’s Aeneas, at the funeral of his captain Misenus, even takes on the look of Father McGlinchey, “asperging men lightly | From an olive branch.” This all works because we want to hear Heaney along with Virgil. Does he go too far when the Sibyl, to subdue Cerberus, “flings him a dumpling of soporific honey | And heavily drugged grain”? I think not. It is worth it to think of our poet smiling at that line, even in the Underworld.

In a fragment of an Afterword, Heaney called it “the best of books and the worst of books.” Best because of “the pathos of the many encounters it allows the living Aeneas with his familiar dead.” Worst “because of its imperial certitude, its celebration of Rome’s manifest destiny, and the catalogue of Roman heroes…,” down to the man under whose new monarchy Virgil would find himself: the “last of the war-lords,” as Augustus has been called. Though these lines— Anchises’s, not Virgil’s own—are not without pathos, and resist being called encomium, Heaney here thought the translator’s task “is likely to have moved from inspiration to grim determination,” as his preface puts it. Not that his translation fails them in any way. But his heart is elsewhere, as was Virgil’s, in Aeneas’s encounters with dead comrades and his dead lover Dido, in the reunion with his father and the embrace that cannot happen, and in the loss, memory, and consolation that come through the music of these scenes. The poets are also in Elysium, an inviting spot as the legendary Musaeus describes it in Heaney’s evocative verse:

None of us has one definite home place.

We haunt the shadowy woods, bed down on riverbanks,

On meadowland in earshot of running streams.

It is not hard to imagine Seamus Heaney, who spent so much time with Virgil in this world, now reunited in the next, haunting such woods with the Roman poet, as they do in this breathtaking new translation.

Aeneid Book VI: A New Verse Translation, by Seamus Heaney, Litt.D. ’98 (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $25))

Richard F. Thomas, Lane professor of the classics, is the author of several works and commentaries on Virgil, and co-editor, with Porter professor of Medieval Latin Jan M. Ziolkowski, of the three-volume The Virgil Encyclopedia (2014). For more on the Encyclopedia, see “A Poet’s March of Ages” (January-February 2014, page 11). For more about the poet, read “Seamus Heaney, Digging with the Pen,” by Adam Kirsch (November-December 2006, page 52).

Crosby Opera House

An exceedingly handsome and costly Opera House is being erected on Washington street, between State and Dearborn, by U.H. Crosby, from very elaborate plans, in course of preparation by W.W. Boyington. As the plans are not totally matured, we can give but a very brief notice of this truly splendid edifice. It will be of the Italian style of architecture, fronting on Washington street, running as far back as Court place. The entire space occupied will be 140 feet front by 150 feet length. The erection will consist of a fine five stories block on Washington street, and in the rear will be a handsome building for operatic purposes, 90 feet wide by 150 long, and nearly the whole height of the entire block. The entrance way will be a fine piece of workmanship, replete with rich stone cuttings and statuettes. Without exception, this edifice will be the most handsome building in Chicago.

Chicago Tribune, April 20, 1865

To the wealth and public spirit if U. H. Crosby, Esq., Chicago is indebted for her magnificent Opera House, and the splendid stores adjoining. Of one of these last and an enterprise connected therewith we propose briefly to speak. No. 65 Washington street is a large room thirty feet by one hundred and eighty, immediately east of the entrance to the Opera House, which under the supervision of H. M. Kinsley, formerly of the Tremont and Sherman Houses is to be devoted to supplying the material and gastronomical wants of the people, as the auditorium above is to be devoted to supplying the artistical and musical wants. New York has her Delmonico and her Maison Doree, but it has been reserved for Chicago to unite in one the far famed excellencies of the two chief establishments of the great metropolis.

In front, the store is lighted by immense windows of plate glass, extending from the cornice above to the window-ledge below, and filling, with a single plate on each side, the spaces between the door and the partition walls of the structure, and these are probably among the largest specimens of plate at present in the city. In the rear, a softened and subdued light is conveyed though brilliantly stained glass and ground windows, and in the center the same effect is produced from the skylight set in the ceiling overhead.

On entering the door, the first object which strikes the eye is a magnificent marble soda fountain, with pure silver trimmings and attachments, the whole costing not less than $1,500. This is the only fountain in the country from which soda is drawn from porcelain cups. On the opposite side is a marble counter, with show-cases, devoted to the sale of cigars and bouquets.

The Octagon in the center is used, one end for the sale of confectionery and the other for the office of the Cashier of the establishment. Beyond stand the tables upon which are to be placed the viands which may be ordered, richly carved in walnut and marble topped, all extending, in three rows, from the center to the rear of the apartment, and grouped about with walnut chairs and sofas upholstered in blue “terry reps.” The chairs are entirely unique, and designed expressly for the establishment. They are called the Crosby dining chair.

In the geographical center stands an elegant clock, seven feet high, with fiur dials plainly visible from every part of the room. It is of exquisite workmanship and cost not less than $500. Upon the walls are eight splendid mirrors, five feet wide by eleven feet hight, in frames of walnut, elaborately carved and ornamented. In the rear is a very large, well appointed aquarium. The cost of this is $500. The apartment at night is lighted with massive chandeliers of an original design, and by rows of bracket lights upon the partition walls. A room adjoining the center is set aside for a ladies’ sitting and toilet room. The furniture, office, and interior decoration is composed of heavy black walnut, and presents an extremely massive and elegant appearance, in marked and pleasing contrast with the vivid white of the marble floors and appointments.

In the kitchen below, the same attention has been paid to completeness and convenience. Wine cellars, store-rooms, ovens, confectionaries, and pastry rooms, steam boilers, ranges, boilers, and labor saving contrivances, the latter operated by a steam engine, are among the peculiarities of the kitchen. It is the most complete department of the kind in the country.

The china, glass and silver have all been manufactured expressly for this place, and most of it from original designs. Wines and liquors will be supplied to parties, but only at table. There will be no bar in the house. The kitchen will be under the supervision of Mons August, formerly of Delmonmico’s, and Maison Doree, New York. He has been induced to take charge of the cuisine through the influence of Mr. Grau. The help employed will be young ladies at the counter, and colored men for the waiters. The entire cost of the fitting up of the establishment, will considerably exceed $30,000. It is the Delmonico of the West.

The furniture was supplied by W. W. Strong, 263 Randolph street the gas fixtures by H. M. Wilmarth, 182 Lake street the china and glass ware by Davis, Collamore & Co., New York the silver plated ware, and clock by Giles Brother & Co., 142 Lake street the cooking apparatus by Edward Whitely, Boston the linen by Ross, Foster & Co., 165 Lake street the marble by Schureman & Melick, 210 Clark street, and the painting by W. F. Milligan & Co., 169 Randolph street.

To-night after the conclusion of the opera, this elegant saloon and restaurant will be opened to the public, and our readers will be able to see how nearly our description tallies with the truth.

It has been, in a word, the determination of Mr. Cosby to make this restaurant, like the opera House itself, the completest establishment oft he kind in the country. That it is so is due to his literality, enterprise and good taste.

Exterior of Crosby’s Opera House
Harper’s Weekly, June 6, 1868

Chicago Tribune, April 21, 1865

The Opera House is opened. The event long expected, much contemplated, anxiously awaited, some time deferred on account of the national bereavement, came off last evening the grand Temple of Music erected by Crosby was opened up to the world by Grau the event was a triumphal success.

We have previously announced that every seat in the house was taken long before the time came for occupying them it only needs now to say that the miserable weather of last evening did not deter the holders of tickets from honoring the manager with their presence, nor did it in the slightest degree detract from the character of the audience. The skies without were dark, the rain fell heavily and the loud thunder pealed across heaven’s archway, making anything but “comfortable,” out of doors. But inside the hall there was nothing to remind us the war of the elements. The building was dedicated to the Goddess of Harmony, (or a twin sister) and nought interfered to mar the splendors amid which her gentle reign was inaugurated. Cloaks and jewels were numerous, as though the sun had shone out brightly. The only difference was, perhaps, that the call for carriages was greater than it otherwise would have been. Such a gathering of vehicles has certainly never before seen in Chicago. Long lines stretched all along Washington and Dearborn streets, and wound sinuously far into the adjacent thoroughfares. It is fair to presume that private and punlic stables were alike emptied of their equine denizens for the grand occasion.

A description of the building has already been given. Thise who had the good fortune to be present last evening will agree with us that the published descriptions were far too tame expressions of the reality. The tout ensemble is vast, complete, magnificent, with scarcely a single fault in detail to mar the general effect. Prominent among the little offenses are a disproportionate size of the brackets which support the soffit of the proscenium arch, and a rather unpleasant draft in the aisles, the result of a somewhat too vigorous ventilation—it strikes us that thus last might be easily remedied it is sufficiently unpleasant to those seated within its range to make it worth the effort.

A very striking point in the general look of the auditorium is the tone and harmony of the coloring. All is quiet, subdued very favorably contrasting with the glaring reds, whites and yellows of most public structures. There is nothing to offend or fatigue the eye. The general work of the furniture is blue, a very mild color it is just sufficiently relieved to avoid monotony without paining by the undue use of violent pigments. The lighting arrangements aid this materially the spectator has not to look at and through a blaze of gaslights these are all far enough removed from the ordinary range of vision. Look upward to the dome, and you see a blaze of light which may recall ideas of the midday sun but the gaze averted from the ceiling meets nothing but a mild reflection of the rays, shorn of all their basic actinic properties.

The acoustic qualities of the hall are all that could be desired. The greenness of the walls and the dampness of their paint coatings, combined with a very favorable atmosphere last evening, caused a lack of the full mellowness of sound we may expect to find in the future but in this respect it was far less disagreeable than we anticipated, while in point of distinctness the acme of perfection has been attained. Every sound was equally audible in the farthest part of the galleries as from the orchestra chairs not a note or articulation was lost to any one. Those who failed to hear Mr. Crosby from the ultimate parts of the house may rest assured that the failure was owing to to his extreme modesty he was scarcely audible to those sitting immediately in front of the stage.

Auditorium of Crosby Opera House

And then the scenery and stage fittings well, we can only say they would do honor to any theater in the Old or New World. We cannot imagine an improvement in the paintings, and the working was admirable. We presume there were few in that audience but expected to see trouble in shifting scenes. There was not an iota. Everything worked as smoothly as and with as complete with the absence of Liten or noise as if the scenes had been trained to run in those groups for half a century. A few new features were introduced is stage management, not necessary to be particularize, which might with advantage ne noted by other parties.

We must not omit to speak of the admirable arrangements for the conduct of the members of the audience to their seats. There was no confusion, notwithstanding the rush. The seats were apportioned off into sections, and a sufficiently large and thoroughly drilled corps of ushers were in attendance to indicate locations. They were dressed neatly, and wore white kids but what is better, they understood and did their duty well. The chief of staff—Mr. John Newman, late of the Museum—is entitles to mention for his efficient supervision of these details.

Crosby’s Opera House looking east along Washington Street.

Chicago Illustrated, March 1866
Author: James W. Sheahan
Artist: Louis Kurz

On this plate is given a view of the front of Crosby’s Opera building, the finest public building in the West, and hardly excelled by any similar structure in the United States. The magnificent Opera House, which is without equal in the United States, forms but a part of this elegant and costly structure. The main building, the front of which is represented in the plate, is on Washington street, between State and Dearborn streets. The view is taken from State street, looking west. The building has a front on Washington street of one hundred and forty feet is four stories high, with a Mansard roof, and the architecture is Italian. It is built of the now justly celebrated Athena marble, quarried within forty miles of Chicago, which is extensively used in the construction of so many public buildings and private residences in Chicago.

The need of an opera house in Chicago had become more and more apparent, as the population of the city got larger, and its wealth and taste had in like manner increased. Chicago had always been a liberal patron of music, and its local celebrities, as well as foreign artists, found a public always willing to greet them and to make that greeting substantial.

In 1863, Mr. Uranus H. Crosby, of Chicago, a gentleman of means and of great enterprise, conceived the idea of building in this city an edifice of this kind, which, while designed to be of personal profit to its projector, should also be a credit and an ornament to the city, and give stability to the growing interest of the fine arts. Filled with this most honorable ambition, he, in company with W. W. Boyington, Esq., an architect of Chicago, visited the other cities of the country, examining with care all the buildings erected for like purposes, profiting alike by the practical excellencies and the practical defects which they witnessed. The results of this careful and deliberate examination was the plan of the present building, which, without exception, is generally acknowledged the best designed structure of the kind in America. It embraces all the conveniences and excellencies of the various similar establishments, and as few of their deficiencies as possible. The front of the building combines simplicity with massiveness, and the ornamental designs are sufficiently elaborate, and yet do not, as is too often the case, spoil the general effect. In the centre is a projection which is twenty-three feet wide, through which is an arched entrance to the building. Upon the parapet above this entrance are placed four statues, representing respectively Painting, Sculpture, Music, and Commerce. These were designed and execute by L. W. Volk, Esq., a sculpture of Chicago. Higher in this same central projection are two large figures, designed also by Mr. Volk, representing Music and the Drama. These are placed one on each side of an elaborate dormer window.

On the ground floor are four large halls or stores, each thirty feet front by one hundred and eighty feet deep, and sixteen feet high. These are occupied respectively by Root and Cady, J. Bauer and Company, and W. W. Kimball, as music and piano stores, and by H. M. Kinsley’s celebrated and elegant confectinery, ice cream and dining establishment.

The second floor of the main building is occupied by offices-real estate, insurance, millinery, and others. The third floor is similarly occupied. The fourth floor is devoted to the studios of artists, the following persons being now there: George P. A. Healy, J. H. Drury, C. Highwood, J. R. Sloan, Mrs. S. H. St. John, P. F. Reed, J. H. Reed, H. C. Ford, John Antrobus, E. Seibert, and D. F. Bigelow. On this same flooris a very fine Art Gallery, thirty feet wide by sixty feet long, and eighteen feet high. It is admirably arranged for the purposes to which it is devoted. It is filled with the works of the artists of this and other cities, and is one of the most attractive exhibitions of Chicago.

In the rear of the building is the Opera House, from which the whole edifice takes its name. Passing through the main entrance, already described, to the next floor, a spacious corridor is reached, which is richly ornamented with frescoes, mirrors, and statues. From this corridor open to the right two most spacious and richly furnished toilet rooms, for ladies and gentlemen. On the left of the corridor are three large doorways, through which the visitor enters the auditorium of the Opera House. The effect which is produced by the appearance of the hall, upon opera night, when filled by an audience is very fine. There are seats for three thousand persons. It is in all its parts and appointments, the finest theatre in the country, and has been so pronounced by all the artists who have seen it. It must, in fact, be seen to be greatly justly appreciated. No description, no matter how elaborate, will convey that sufficient idea of it that is once obtained by a personal view. It has that rare advantage, that a person in any part of the hall, whether in the topmost seat of the gallery, or on either side, or in the most remote part of the lobby, can see and hear every thing that passes on the stage. The view is wholly unobstructed.

The dimensions of the auditorium are eighty-six by ninety-five feet, and sixty-five feet high. The ceiling is a triumph of art. It is crowned by a central dome, some twenty-eight feet in diameter. This dome is encircled by panels bearing portraits of Beethoven, Mozart, Auber, Weber, Verdi, Wagner, Gounod, Gluck, Bellini, Donnizetti, Meyerbeer, and Rossini, and the other parts of the ceiling are richly frescoed and moulded in gilt. Directly in front of the stage, and over the orchestra, is a painting forty feet long. from the “Aurora” of Guido Reni, the panels on either side of which are filled with allegorical representations of Tragedy and Comedy.

The stage is extensive and convenient, and supplied with every facility. There are six proscenium boxes. The main floor is apportioned to the orchestra, the parquette, and the dress circle, the parquette rising from the orchestra to nearly the height of the circle. The second floor is the balcony circle, the centre of which is divided into fifty-six private boxes these immediately front the stage. On the next floor is the family circle, which, though elevated, is none the less convenient. It is comfortable and admirably adapted to hearing and seeing what passes on the stage. The gallery fronts are protected, and at the same time handsomely ornamented with open wire-work, painted in white and gold, and cushioned with blue silk.

The arrangements for heating and lighting this building are complete, and have proved most successful. The entire number of burners are lighted by one operation of an electric apparatus. The means of exit from the Opera House are various, and so arranged that in case of an alarm, or of actual danger, the audience may get out of the building without confusion, easily, expeditiously, and safely. In addition, there has been added to the building another wing, fronting on State street, and containing a fine music or concert hall, fifty by ninety feet, with galleries on three sides.

The cost of the entire building and site was nearly, if not quite, seven hundred thousand dollars. This magnificent edifice was built 1864-5, and was ready for occupancy in March, 1865. The inauguration of the Opera House was intended to have taken place on the night of Monday, April 17th, 1865 but the death of President Lincoln, which took place on the Saturday previous, caused it to be postponed until Thursday, the 20th of April, when it was opened by Grau’s Italian Opera troupe, the opera being “Il Trovatore.” Previous to the opera, and as soon as the orchestra had taken their seats, there was a universal call by the densely packed audience for Mr. Crosby. That gentleman appeared, and as soon as the applause which had greeted him had subsided, made a brief and excellent address in acknowledgement of the compliment. He declined making a speech, preferring, as he said, to let the building speak for itself. His personal object, as a business man of Chicago, had been to use every effort in his power to promote the interests, elevate the tastes, and conduce to the happiness of the great city in which he had cast his lot. He introduced to the audience the Honorable George C. Bates, who read a poem written for the occasion by W. H. C. Hostner, Esq., the “Bard of Avon.” The audience assembled on that evening was undoubtedly the most numerous and brilliant ever assembled on a like occasion in this city.

The following are the persons whose names are connected with the erection and construction of this building:

Proprietor . . . U. H. Crosby.
Architect . . W. W. Boyington.
Ass’t Architect and Draughtsman . . John W. Roberts.
Fresco Painting . . . Jevne and Alumini.
Painting and Graining . . . Heath and Milligan.
Scenic Artist . . . William Voegtlin.
Stage Carpenter and Machinist . . . Wallace Hume.
Carpenter and Mason . . . Wallbaum and Bauman.
Cut Stone . . . L. H. Bolderwick.
Heating Apparatus . . . Murray and Winne.
Gas Fixtures . . . H. M. Wilmarth.
Plumbing . . . John Hughes.
Plastering . . . C. Kobolt.
Plate Glass . . . John R. Platt, New York

Harper’s Weekly, February 9, 1867

We present on this page a sketch of the drawing of the Crosby Opera-House Art Association at Chicago, Illinois, on January 21. The large building was densely packed with an excited and enthusiastic throng, and Washington Street was blocked up with people. Order was only preserved by a strong police force posted on either side the main entrance and along the stairways. The parquet, orchestra chairs, balcony, boxes, and family circle were filled with the crowd, which included many ladies. The stage was occupied by the Committee, and the orchestra by the reporters. At 12 o’clock the Committee appeared on stage with boxes containing the tickets.

The numbered tickets were then deposited in the large wheel, and those upon which the names of the prizes were engraved in the small wheel. When it was completed both wheels were tightly closed and revolved for five minutes for the purpose of thoroughly mixing the tickets.

Before the drawing commenced it was announced that there were between twenty and thirty thousand tickets unsold, which belonged to Mr. Crosby. Mr. Pilsifer, of Boston, was designated to draw from the small wheel, and Mr.T. C. Doss, of Chicago, from the large one. These gentlemen then took off their coats, bared their arms, and went to work as shown in our sketch.

The latest information concerning the chief prizes is that the Opera-House was drawn by A. H. Lee, of Prairie du Rocher, Illinois one or two valuable paintings were drawn by others but the more valuable ones of the “Yosemite Valley,” “An American Autumn,” etc., were found to have fallen in the lucky Mr. Crosby. Mr. Lee subsequently sold his ticket for $200,000. The balance-sheet of Mr. Crosby shows that his total profit on the speculation amounts to $650,000.

Drawing prizes in the Crosby Opera House Lottery
Sketched by Theodore R. Davis

Chicago Tribune, July 16, 1871

The summer season at Crosby’s Opera House is at an end, and the building will now be given up to the carpenters, painters, decorators, and upholsterers, that it may be in order for the fall campaign of opera.

Chicago Tribune, September 29, 1871

It has been two or three years the cherished design of the gentlemen controlling the Opera House to restore the splendor of its faded auditorium, to renew seats worn out by thousands of visitors, and to make it look more resplendent than when it was first thrown open to the public. But season after season slipped by, and it was not until this summer that the management was able to obtain the time necessary to execute the extensive repairs determined upon. But this business of repairing grows on one. The workmen have been busy since the middle of July, and are not yet through, and the sum which it was intended to expend had swollen from $30,000 to $80,000, the bronzes alone costing $5,000. By working day and night, and employing as many men as there is room for, however, the Opera House will be opened on the 9th proximo, on which occasion Theodore Thomas will occupy the house. 1

Yesterday afternoon Mr. Garrison, the well-known Treasurer and Manager, invited the representatives of the press to visit the scene of his labors, in order that they might see what had been done, and what was doing, and although the place was obstructed with scaffolding and filled with workmen, yet it was not difficult to form an idea of what the appearance of things will be when the work is completed.

Upon leaving the street and ascending the steps to the lower floor of the Opera House, the first things noticeable are the iron pillars that rqn from floor to ceiling. These have been colored brown, and ornamented with gold lines. The ceiling of the entrance is elegantly frescoed with an Egyptian pattern, surrounded with stucco work in white and gold, producing a beautiful effect. The grand stairway has been altered by the erection of a balustrade upon the left hand side. The large newel posts at the bottom are each surmounted with an elegant bronze figure of an Egyptian female water-carrier. There is but one companion pair of these bronzes in America. The newel posts at the upper extremity of the stairway are ornamented with bronze figures of Egyptian female oil-carriers. From the oil and water pots of these figures extend the gas jets. Heading the stairway, the enlarged proportions of the ticket office attract attention. Heavy walnut wainscoting, of an elegant pattern, extends around the hall. A magnificent bronze chandelier depends from the ceiling. A large panel in the ceiling is frescoed in oil with brilliant colors of carmine and gold and fancy design. The remainder of the ceiling is of a remarkably handsome pattern, in aq pearl color. The floor, from the stairway to the entrance of the hall leading to the main auditorium, is laid in marble slabs.

The hallway from the box-office to the auditorium is frescoed in ten panels, each one containing a German fancy sketch, surrounded with green and gold lines. The two outside ones will hold bronze figures, the one of Madame de Pompadour, and the other of Madame de Maintenon. A large mirror will occupy the central niche, with a female figure in bronze holding an elegant clock, standing in front. The three statues will be elevated upon handsome pedestals. A large skylight has been erected in the hall, and from this will be suspended a superb chandelier, which is said to be the largest parlor chandelier in the West. Its cost was $600. The paneling of the skylight, which is beautifully painted, is finished with gilt moulding.

The walls of the auditorium, which is far more brilliant and dazzling than ever before, are colored with modest ornamentation. The floor is covered with heavy Brussels carpeting, with black background and gold medallion figure. The seats of the dress-circle are of black walnut, and newly upholstered with scarlet plush, a line of gold moulding running just above and setting it off nicely. Every seat is stuffed with curled hair, and is soft and comfortable. Twenty-one and one-half inches are allowed to each seat, which is 2¼ inches more than regular width. The plush was made in Ems, France, for Mr. Crosby, and two months ago was in the raw material. It cost $140 gold, per piece, each piece containing but 37 yards.

The walls on the main floor and galleries are wainscoted to the height of four feet, with panels of black walnut surrounded by strips of birdseye maple.

The parquette is finished with opera chairs of unique design and elegant finish. The upholstery is crimson plush, and the frames are heavily overlaid with gold leaf. The cost of these chairs was $15 each, and 350 are used. The floor of the parquette, which is shaped like a lyre, is of walnut and maple, the stripes of the latter being twice the width of the former. To the great advantage of those who may be seated near the footlights, the floor has been raised, so that, at whatever point a person is situated, he has an excellent view of the stage. The balustrade around the parquette will be a pure white ground, with dark-colored panel ornamented gold stucco of pleasing design.

The balcony circle is reached as heretofore by stairways from the main floor. The newel posts at the bottom and top of the balustrades support bronze figures of Egyptian pattern, from whose hands a spray of three lights is sent out. The upper newel posts will also be surmounted with bronzes of fine design. Half way up the stairs a niche had been set in the wall, on both sides of the house, and verdi figures of Egyptian oil-carriers will be placed in them. The hall of the balcony circle will be covered with a carpet similar in pattern to that the background is crimson instead of black. The sofas in this circle are also similar to those of the circle below. The balcony boxes have been padded with crimson rep, with plush trimming, a gold moulding running between. They are carpeted with pearl-colored Brussels, with gold tendril running through it. Large reception chairs upholstered in pearl color are to be placed in the boxes. The front partition lines will be covered with gold gimp. Six chandeliers depend from the beautifully frescoes ceiling, directly over the boxes.

In all respects the upper circle will be as finely furnished as the lower, save that the seats are upholstered with crimson rep instead of plush.

The proscenium boxes are painted white, heavily inlaid with gold leaf, and while giving evidence of great elaboration, are not gaudy in effect. Instead of being papered, as before, the walls are padded with curled hair, covered with heavy crimson rep. In each corner is a piece of shell-work in rep, and the padding is surrounded with crimson plush, something darker than the rep, and a heavy gold gilt moulding. The floors are to be covered with heavy carpets of splendid pattern, and the furniture will consist of a sofa and chairs in each box, the latter being of carved work.

The lower left hand box is retained by Mr. Crosby, and is furnished differently from the others. The sofa and chairs will be upholstered in gold silk brocade that cost $20 in gold per yard. In a niche in this box will be placed a solid silver tankard that cost $500. The entrance doors to the boxes are of drab color, with heavy gold mouldings around the panels, and look remarkably rich.

The light will come mainly from the dome, and will furnished by innumerable gas jets, reflected by corrugated silver reflectors. The latter cost $600. The dome is magnificently frescoed in fancy patterns and brilliant colors, and when lighted will present a magnificent appearance.

The Crosby Opera House between Dearborn & State Streets shows high curbed walks and good street surface. One of Chicago’s first gas lights, installed in 1850, is shown in foreground.

No less attention has been paid to the main ceiling than to the other portions of the audience chamber. Surrounding the dome are several panels. In alternate panels are portraits of Shakespeare, Byron, Mendelssohn, Mozart, Meyerbeer, and Beethoven. Beautiful fancy pieces ornament the remaining panels. These occupy but one-half the ceiling. Elegant fresco work covers the remaining portion, and, as the colors are bright and tastefully blended, the effect is very fine. Directly over the stage is a representation of Mount Parnassus, upon the summit of which are seated Apollo, Melpomene, and Thalia. At the foot of Apollo is the Castilian fountain, overshadowed by a large fig tree. The cornices are marbled, and look remarkable well. The proscenium walls are ornamented with figures, the designs being from the Grand Opera House, Paris.

The wooden box that surrounded the orchestra has been removed, and in its place is a low balustrade of black walnut with white posts, of heavy pattern, that gives a substantial and handsome appearance. It has also been enlarged so as to seat eighty-three persons, eighteen more than it formerly held.

The changes in the stage are slight, its dimensions being unchanged. A new floor has been laid, new scenery painted, a new curtain procured, of scarlet rep, finished at the bottom with a plush flounce four feet deep.

So rich and splendid is the new house, differing from the old one in all except architectural lines, that few who visit it on Monday week will be able to recall it as it once was, but they will, doubtless, be so delighted with all they see that they will only enjoy it as it is, and not give a thought to its past appearance.

Chicago Tribune, October 5, 1871

The sale of tickets for Theodore Thomas’ season of concerts, which begin at Crosby’s Opera House on Monday evening next, began on yesterday, and from the immense rush at the box office, the indications point to a season of unparalleled success. The public curiosity to inspect the wondrous changes which have been made in the auditorium, together with the furore which the largely-augmented orchestra may be expected to create, will, without doubt, conspire to render the re-opening one of the most notable events in the history of music in Chicago. A gorgeous treat of sight and sound in store.

Theodore Thomas, Volume I-Life Work by George P. Upton, 1903

The Crosby Opera House had been brilliantly decorated and renovated throughout during the summer of 1871 and was to to have been dedicated it anew by Mr. Thomas and his orchestra on Monday evening, October 9. It was lit up for the first time on Sunday evening, for the pleasure of friends of the managers, and two or three hours later was in ashes. Mr. Thomas and his orchestra reached the Twenty-second Street station of the Lake Shore Railroad while the fire was at its height and left the burning city at once, en route for St. Louis.

Albert Crosby said upon the ruins of the new Crosby Opera House:

I would not have minded the loss of the building, if only Chicago had only seen it once.

Crosby Opera House
North side of Washington between Dearborn and State Streets
Sanborn Fire Map


Chicago Evening Post, December 20, 1867

The Music Center of Chicago.
During the past few years, no house in Chicago has advanced more rapidly than the great music establishment of Root & Cady, No. 67 Washington street, under Crosby’s Opera House. One great reason for this is found in the fact that with the celebrated composer, Mr. Geo. F. Root, as a member of the firm, they have attained a peculiar excellence in their musical publications that places them at the front of that department. Their publications now exceed any other house west of New York, and they have become a centre around which the musical lights seem to gather. They are also agents for the celebrated Steck pianos, an instrument which has no superior in the market. In choosing it to place before their customers, they have exhibited the same regard for the public interest as in the high tone they take in all they place before the world. Their large sales show the good policy of the manufacturers in choosing good house as agents, and the house in selecting so superior an instrument for their trade.

The Steck piano has the approbation of the best musicians, and its variety of tone, and general excellence makes it unequalled as a parlor instrument, and we we would specially commend it to those who want the best. In reference to general business, the magnificent store and publishing house tell their own tale. Every music dealer in the northwest knows the reputation of Root & Cady, and their hundreds of daily orders make the house one of the busiest in this busy city.

An 1867 ad for the Root & Cady Music Publishing Company which was located inside the Crosby Opera House.

After the Great Fire destroyed the Opera House, Mr. Kimball opened his piano store on the southeast corner of State and Adams. His first year’s rent was $12,000, but he received over a million dollars in sales.

Mr. Root and Mr. Cady went separate ways. Mr. Root gave up selling musical instruments, continued to sustain a business long enough. Mr. Cady went bankrupt and left Chicago.

Crosby Opera Waltz for piano music score
Composed by Frederic Woodman Root in 1865
Dedicated to U.H. Crosby, Esq.

Chicago Block 37, on which Crosby’s Opera House was located, continued to be a star-crossed site. In 1989 the city demolished the deteriorated properties then on the block, and, only after almost twenty years of discussions, disputes, and deals that fell through, it has only recently been redeveloped. During a portion the period when Block 37’s fate was in limbo, however, it hosted a summer outdoor art studio for Chicago public school students—named gallery37—and a skating rink during the winter.

LEFT: Block 37, 1830
RIGHT: Block 37, 1989


1 Theodore Thomas (1835-1905) was the founder of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and was helped in the construction of Orchestra Hall.

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