Excavating the Tombs of Ancient Rome

ARCHITECTURE. Bartoli, Pietro Santi (1635-1700)

Gli antichi sepolcri : ovvero Mausolei Romani, ed Etruschi, trouati in Roma & in altri luoghi celebri; nelli quali si contengono molte erudite memorie, raccolti, disegnati, & intagliati da Pietro Santi Bartoli ed ora esistenti tra le Stampe di Domenico de Rossi erede di Gio. Giacomo, a S. Maria della Pace, con privilegio del sommo pontefice.

Rome: Stampe di Domenico de Rossi, erede di Gio. Giacomo [de Rossi], 1727


Folio: 33 x 22.5 cm. 8 lvs. of letterpress (the last one blank), 114 engraved plates (2 of which are double-paged.) The plates are numbered 1-110 (with four other plates numbered 1, 4, 72, and 72.)


Bound in contemporary stiff vellum over boards (light soiling), citron spine label, gilt. A fine copy with v. light soiling to title, 4 plates very slightly toned, small light stain in blank margin of one plate, and a few instances of negligible foxing. This edition was published by the heirs of Domenico de Rossi, who had published the third edition in 1704. It has substantially less text than the 1699 second edition, which also had 12 more plates than the 1704 and 1727 editions. This is apparently due to the fact that Bartoli’s heirs retained the rights to those additional plates.

First published in 1697, this is a fascinating and beautifully executed work documenting the ancient sepulchral monuments of Roman and Etruscan Italy. In particular, it highlights tombs discovered from 1689 onwards in the grounds of the Villa Corsini at the Porta San Pancrazio in Rome. The images include renderings and cross-sections of tombs and columbaria,  detailed depictions of tomb paintings, sarcophagi, funerary urns, free-standing and relief sculpture, and inscriptions. Bartoli’s engravings preserve, visually, a number of tombs and artifacts now lost.

Some of the most famous monuments of the late republican and imperial periods are featured, including the pyramidal tomb of Gaius Cestius, the tomb of the Scipios, the tomb of Caecilia Metella, the Mausoleum of Augustus, the Mausoleum of Hadrian (shown both in its ‘restored’ state and in its more familiar guise, as Castel Sant’Angelo), and the columns of Trajan and Antoninus Pius. A number of Etruscan artifacts are depicted, including a number of sculpted sarcophagi and urns with inscriptions in the Etruscan language. There are also three plates (one folding) of the Portland Vase.

Pietro Santi Bartoli "was born in Perugia in 1635 and died in Rome on 7 November, 1700. According to tradition, he was a pupil of Poussin. 

In coordination with the pope’s nephew, Cardinal Camillo Massimo (1620-1677), Bartoli and his close collaborator, the antiquarian and art theorist Giovanni Pietro Bellori, together with the publisher Giovanni Giacomo de Rossi, “effected a well-coordinated project that sought to catalogue and thereby safeguard the immense Roman archaeological patrimony by means of a series of illustrated volumes” (Wohl)

After Bellori’s death, Bartoli succeeded Bellori as Commissioner of Antiquities of the Papal States (Commissario dell’Antichità) and served as antiquarian to Queen Christina of Sweden, then resident in Rome. In the preface to “Gli Antichi Sepolcri” ( 1697), Bellori describes how, from an early age, he was "fired with enthusiasm for beauty" and how, with Bellori, he went around studying classical remains. His love of antiquity impelled him to try to record what he saw, "with the utmost accuracy." Bartoli and Bellori both lament the ravages of inexpert excavations, and a part of their mission was to record the works of art before they were destroyed.