Disselkamp, Martin : Nichts ist, Rom, dir gleich. Topographien und Gegenbilder aus dem mittelalterlichen und frühneuzeitlichen Europa, Stendaler Winckelmann-Forschungen 10, 259 Seiten, 62 Abb., gb, ISBN 978-3-447-06869-7, € 50,- (D)
(Harrassowitz Verlag, Wiesbaden 2013)
Compte rendu par William Stenhouse, Yeshiva University

Nombre de mots : 1205 mots
Publié en ligne le 2014-03-31
Citation: Histara les comptes rendus (ISSN 2100-0700).
Lien: http://histara.sorbonne.fr/cr.php?cr=1959
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           Martin Disselkamp’s suggestive new book presents a history of the reception of Rome in the late medieval and early modern periods, and especially the sixteenth century. He covers both descriptions and reconstructions of the ancient city, and responses to them in literature and art. His is a huge undertaking – as he points out, Rome was almost ubiquitous and certainly without equal in the cultural production of the renaissance – and so his treatment is necessarily fragmentary. But his examples of the phenomenon, ranging from plays to elegies to philosophical reflections, are well-chosen and provocative, and his book is a fertile demonstration of the importance of an approach to the city that crosses contemporary departments and disciplines. 


           Ostensibly, Disselkamp progresses by case study: the chapters engage with the Mirabilia Romae, and books, poems, or plays by Petrarch, Georg Fabricius, Joachim du Bellay, Montaigne, Justus Lipsius, Shakespeare, and Sigmund von Birken. Most of these figures’ contributions are very well known, with the exceptions of Fabricius, a sixteenth-century German humanist from Chemnitz, and von Birken, a poet who published an account in verse of the 1659-61 Grand Tour of Christian Ernst, the young Margrave of Brandenburg-Bayreuth. In practice, though, Disselkamp takes the works and experiences of these figures as springboards to consider other related phenomena. In the chapter on Du Bellay, for example, Disselkamp builds on the poet’s references to ancient buildings (in particular, those in Antiquitez 7 and 27, and Songe 4) to consider sixteenth-century representations and reconstructions of ancient triumphal arches, and their modern adaptations for the royal entries of Henri II. He moves from Montaigne’s Journal de voyage, to the famous discussion of travel in ‘On Vanity’ (Essais iii.9), and to wider questions raised by the emergence of the Artes apodemicae. When looking at Shakespeare, he starts not with the better known Julius Caesar or Antony and Cleopatra, but with Coriolanus. As he shows, this play is actually Shakespeare’s most profound treatment of Rome, which the playwright uses to explore moral questions of patriotism, service, and political participation. The last of these allows him to compare Shakespeare’s presentation of popular power with Anthony Munday’s antitheatrical criticisms, and plays by John Marston and Thomas Dekker, but also with a contemporary painting from the workshop of Toussaint Dubreuil, showing Henri IV of France vanquishing the Lernaean hydra, and Poussin’s mid seventeenth-century depiction of Coriolanus, inviting the viewer to reflect on the stability of the state. The chapter on Lipsius focuses on his 1598 Admiranda, sive, de magnitudine Romana libri quattuor, a celebration of Rome shaped by the confessional politics of his time. But Disselkamp also discusses Lipsius’ antiquarian reconstructions of Roman military equipment and Roman amphitheatres, and other political and philosophical reflections on Rome’s extent, including Giovanni Botero’s Delle cause della grandezza, e magnificenza delle città (1588) and Johannes Caselius’s less well-known Magnificentia et magnanimitas (1587).

           For the most part, Disselkamp examines works written north of the Alps, by writers whose response to contemporary Rome was complicated by political or religious concerns, such as Petrarch’s fourteenth-century exile from Italy, Fabricius’s Protestantism, or Du Bellay’s commitment to the French language and the idea of a “translatio studii” from Rome to France. It is striking that his survey largely bypasses the Italian humanists of the fifteenth century. It was they who pioneered research into the ancient city’s ruins and institutions, and they, Flavio Biondo above all, who advocated a restoration of Rome. Their optimism was largely lost to sixteenth-century ultramontanes. Those scholars looked to the ancient city for what Disselkamp calls solidity and certainty (p.8), and a stable reference point through which to assess the contemporary world; for the most part they lamented and pondered the fragmentary, ruined remains of what they found. It is this sense of loss, and of the difficult relationship between present and past, that shapes the diversity of responses Disselkamp finds.


          Disselkamp mostly focuses on textual responses. His work, though, offers important contexts for visual  representations of the city and its remains, especially from the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries. Fabricius’s work on Rome came in three parts: a description of the city, showing considerable debts to his colleague Bartolomeo Marliani’s recent publications; a collection of inscriptions, with an especial interest in legal material; and a collection of poems based on his journey south. His tripartite response – documentation, compilation, and inspired reaction – was typical, although rarely so pronounced. Disselkamp juxtaposes this work with the efforts of artists to present what they saw. These included Martin van Heemskerck’s depictions of the looming ruins of the city, and the fragments of statues preserved in its collections, which highlighted what had been lost. Other artists, though, revealed what could be done with the remains. Disselkamp shows how Fabricius’s work contributed to a nascent archaeological impulse to assemble and illustrate related artefacts: the results included Jean-Jacques Boissard’s collection of inscribed bases and altars from the city, published at the end of the century; Alessandro Donati’s Roma vetus ac recens, originally published in 1638; or Giacomo Lauro’s 1612 Antiquae urbis splendor, which included plates of objects on a theme, idealized representations of buildings, and reconstructions of particular ceremonies. Here Disselkamp illustrates Lauro’s plate of objects related to sacrifice (which shows coins, platters, altars, knives, and vases) and, in the De Bellay chapter, versions of the arch of Augustus (lost, but illustrated in coins, which are the basis of Lauro’s version) and a triumphal entry of Julius Caesar. He also ties Fabricius’s contributions to the emergence of historical maps of Rome in the sixteenth century. These were the archetypal antiquarian productions of the period, combining physical observations with information drawn from textual accounts of the city, and presented eruditely and attractively (Disselkamp could, perhaps, have made more of how the maps appeared in Fabricius’s own works). Fabricius’s work thus offers a useful perspective to consider antiquarianism more widely.


           Disselkamp’s strength therefore lies in his effective juxtapositions and willingness to pursue themes across scholarly fields, and, often, periods. In the chapter on Montaigne, for example, he nicely compares Piranesi’s depictions of old and new in his print of the Aqua Claudia and Anio Nuovo with Montaigne’s reflections on ruins. Specialists might find less of interest in the particular chapters, an unsurprising consequence of Disselkamp’s pointilist approach. He understandably chooses not to delve too closely into the huge bibliography on Shakespeare’s engagement with Rome, for example, omitting valuable works like Warren Cherniak’s The Myth of Rome in Shakespeare and his Contemporaries (2011), which includes an important chapter on Coriolanus; his reading of Lipsius’s Admiranda is indebted to Marc Laureys’ pioneering studies. Collectively, however, this is a rich and rewarding study. Previous attempts to assess the huge place Rome held in pre-modern Europeans’ imagination include Gérard Labrot’s L’image de Rome, une arme pour la Contre-Réforme, 1534-1677 (1987), which considered Rome’s place in the Catholic world, and Margaret McGowan’s The Vision of Rome in Late Renaissance France (2000), which examined attitudes towards ancient and modern Rome in the kingdom of France. Disselkamp’s work complements these important studies, and will stand alongside them.