Learning to Read

Feats of Scholarship

The Writing on the Wall

Epigraphy and Wanderlust

Cities and Men

The Currency of the Ancients

The Visual Image of Antiquity




The Visual Image of Antiquity


The Apollo Belvedere

Hendrik Goltzius, The Apollo Belvedere


Pietro Perret, Laocoön

Analysis of Beauty

William Hogarth, The Analysis of Beauty

Lion Hunt

Marcantonio Raimondi, Lion Hunt


The antiquarians initially attempted to treat ancient sculptures simply as more records of history, on a par with coins and inscriptions, or indeed somewhat less informative. The effort of dispassion proved difficult for some. Poggio Bracciolini collected sculptures as avidly as he did books, admitting "I admire these marbles carved by great artists, perhaps too much, perhaps more than a learned man should." Others, especially artists, were unabashed in their admiration. According to the famous formulation of Giorgio Vasari (1511-1574), the artists of Italy acquired "the ability to distinguish the good from the bad, and abandoning the old style they began to copy the ancient with all ardor and industry."

Both modes of response, the historical and the aesthetic, could be observed at the 1504 excavation of the Laocoön, discovered in a vineyard. As one artistically-inclined witness would later recall, when the sculpture became visible, "we began to draw, and all the while they talked about ancient things." Soon a canon of the most-drawn and most-discussed sculptures emerged. By 1591, when the Dutch artist Hendrick Goltzius (1558-1617) executed a series of drawings of the ancient sculptures of Rome, this canon was well established. Goltzius's subjects included the Apollo Belvedere and the Farnese Hercules, which reappear over a century later in The Analysis of Beauty of William Hogarth (1697-1794). For Hogarth there were among ancient statues only "twenty that may be justly called capital."

Neither Hogarth nor Goltzius showed much interest in using art to study history. Few antiquarians, in their turn, expressed feeling for the formal qualities of ancient sculpture. Each canonical object presented a different aspect to each observer, and from their interplay a rich visual image of antiquity emerged. The reliefs on the Column of Trajan were to Raphael examples of "the perfect style"; to Giovanni de' Rossi (1627-1691), they were "a universal store of information concerning antiquity." For both, as for many visitors to Rome, the column was a link to a noble past, and a rule against which modern achievements could be judged.


[Bryn Mawr College Library Special Collections]

The Column of Trajan

The Column of Trajan all'antica

The Column of Trajan

The Column of Trajan alla moderna