The Indispensible Work on the Construction of Saint Peter’s Basilica

Fontana, Carlo (1638 - 1714)

Templum Vaticanum Et Ipsius Origo Cum Aedificiis maxime conspicuis antiquitus, & recens ibidem constitutis; Editum Ab Equite Carolo Fontana Deputato celeberrimi eiusdem Templi Ministro, atque Architecto. Cum plerisque Regulis, novisque Architecturae Operationibus ab Ipsomet in lucem evulgatis. Cum Indice Rerum notabilium ad calcem locupletissimo. Opus In Septem Libros Distributum, Latinisque literis consignatum A Joane Jos: Bonnerve De S. Romain. Et dicatum Eminentissimis, ac Reverentissimis Dominis Cardinalibus Sacrae Congregationi R. Fabricae Divi Petri Deputatis.

Rome: Ex Typographia Io: Francisci Buagni, 1694


Large Folio: 44 x 32 cm. [32], [4], 489, [29] pp. Collation: a4, b6, c-d4, A4, B2, C-X4, Y2+1, Z4; Aa-Cc4, Dd2, Ee3, Ff-Gg4, Hh2, [inserted plate], Ii-Zz4, Aaa-Fff4, Ggg-Kkk1, Lll-Vvv4, Xxx6. With 79 full-paged plates, some of which are folding.


Bound in contemporary calf, the spine with elaborate gold-tooling, with minor wear and some expert repairs. Internally, a very good copy with the usual light spotting and occasional foxing associated with this work, as well as a few stains. Complete with all 79 full-page engraved plates (a handful with discreetly mended tears, a few creases or minor stains), the engraved portrait of Fontana (not found in all copies) - captioned 'Eques Carolus Fontana Ann. LIII' and signed 'R. V. Auden aert Gand. ad Vivum del et sculp.' - and a two-page tribute to him from Giuseppe Ghezzi, Secretary of the Academy of St Luke (of which Fontana was President from 1693 to 1699). The majority of the plates are conjugate with text leaves. With a few exceptions, they are numbered on the rectos to correspond to their place in the pagination. For the few anomalies in this scheme, see the (admittedly tedious) note at the end of this description.

This impressive production was commissioned by the Sacred Congregation of the Construction of St Peter's (the Fabricca), to justify the expense of rebuilding the church. It is presented by Fontana in seven parts: (1) Cose piu notabile della potenza Romana (on the historic importance of St Peter's - here a plate is included showing overlapping plans of Old and New St. Peter’s, as well as Nero's Circus), (2) Antica Basilica (i.e. the Constantinian basilica - with a plate based on Alfarano's plan and inventory), (3) Trasporto dell'obelisco (on Domenico Fontana's moving of the obelisk, with new illustrations of residential areas), (4) Portici, piazze (proposals for the enlargement of Piazza San Pietro and for a new piazza behind the apse), (5) Tempio Vaticano (affirming the safety of the dome, and describing the appearance of all parts of the church), (6) Spese (the costs of construction - St Peter's being declared costlier than the temple of Solomon) and (7) Pantheon & altri tempii (stressing the height of the church, compared particularly with the cathedral of Florence). This is followed by a comprehensive Index.

A note on the plates: The 79 plates are inserted throughout the text pages and are numbered continuously with them (each plate having a page number on its recto, its verso being blank and unnumbered). There are occasional inaccuracies in this sequence, as follows: between the plates paginated “169” and “173” there is neither a pl. numbered “171” nor pages 171-2. This is no doubt due to the fact that the folding plate “169” is counted as four pages (169-172). There situation is also found: between plate “213” and plate “221”, where there are no plates 215, 217 and 219 nor pages 215-220; and between plate “245” and page 249 there is no pl. “247” nor pages 247-8. There are two more discrepancies: Between pp. 204 and 207 there are two plates, both numbered 205; and between pages 342 and 343 there is also a plate numbered 343.

National Gallery (Washington), Mark J. Millard Architectural, IV (2000), no. 38, p.141-8; Royal Institute of British Architects, British Architectural Library ... Early printed books, 2 (1995), no. 1096; Johns Hopkins University, The Fowler Architectural Collection (1961), no. 122, p.105-6.