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30 December 2012

Emulation: I.1

News from Hadrian’s World
the Madonna di Loreto and Trajan's Column, from Piazza Venezia
I’m winding up my manuscript on Emulation to deliver to the publisher. It’s been rewarding writing the book, largely because I have learned so much about the nature of emulation, and learning about it has been fueled by trying to describe it in action (as I see it), in historical examples of painting, sculpture, and architecture. I plan on posting examples of the kind of explications I’ve made in the book as a series, at least once a month, until the publication date in year or so. I’ll welcome comments, especially those that will help hone the argument before it’s too late!

But a recent news story has amplified my excitement about one of the book’s speculations, and I’m posting here a trial run of an interpretation of some newly unveiled archeological excavations around the Piazza Venezia (stories in Italian at Corrriere della Sera, in English at The Guardian).

Trajan's Column and fragment of a column
from the temple's portico (?)
One of the examples of emulation that I’ve treated is the Imperial Fora in Rome. The Fora seem to be classic cases of urban architectural emulation, as Caesar rivaled the Roman Forum, then Augustus Caesar’s, etc., culminating in the Forum of Trajan, the ne plus ultra of the fora, but also a case apart. In the emulative spirit, I tackled a vexing aspect of Trajan’s Forum, the fact that no temple has been found (presumably beyond the Column, wherein were interred the emperor’s ashes). It is said Hadrian designed the temple posthumously for his revered predecessor, and that it was the building of which he was most proud—which is saying something for the patron/architect of the Pantheon.

My insight is that the reason the temple has not been found, even though it presumably would have been on axis and thus partly under what is today open ground (i.e. relatively easy to excavate), is that it is in fact under the Renaissance church of the Madonna di Loreto. Antonio da Sangallo’s round (or really octagonal encased in a square) church is the largest, complete Renaissance centrally planned church in Rome. It is twinned by the eighteenth-century church of Ss. Nome di Maria, about which I will have more to say in a future post.

The reason no one to my knowledge has conjectured this is that the church is not on the axis of the Forum. And it is round. My speculations are based on the architecture we associate with Hadrian, his penchant for round or centrally-planned buildings and complexes, and his villa’s capacity to reconcile disparate axes. What if Hadrian’s temple to Trajan was round, was oriented perpendicularly toward the Forum’s axis, and was encased in a partially encircling precinct wall (not unlike Bernini’s church at Ariccia)? The plan here shows a conjectural reconstruction, with a peripteral colonnade to address the fact that the fragment of a 2m diameter column shaft of green marble lying near Trajan’s Column has always been assumed to belong to the portico of the temple, and its size implies an unusually large temple. But if the church, relatively modest in size, is built over the cella, then the temple’s scale could be increased by the colonnade wrapping it, a precursor to the Temple of Venus at Baalbek. See the plan.

the recently revealed curved wall edging the auditoria
But here’s where it gets really interesting, and topical. In recent weeks the Italian press has covered the unveiling of the excavations near the Loreto church for the building of a new metro line. And what I saw for the first time in person last Friday was a part of what has been found, supposedly the site of an auditorium of Hadrian’s (used especially for philosophical discourses). The most exciting part for me is a curved bit of wall that seems to be centered on the Loreto church, and it has been described as part of a street wall. Which, to my mind, seems to confirm my conjectural reconstruction of the precinct wall of the presumed temple.

Find the site at 41°53'45.61" N  12°29'01.10" E

Note that the orientations of the buildings beyond the Trajanic complex are roughly north-south, parallel and perpendicular to the ancient Via Flaminia/Via Lata (the modern Via del Corso); this is, of course, also the orientation of the monumental complexes of the whole Campus Martius.

As the drawings for my Forum plan have evolved only over the last few of months while illustrating the evolving manuscript, it seems downright providential that this new evidence has come to light just now. I would welcome any constructive observations, including illustrated ones, that can help make sense of what seems to be the beginning of a whole new understanding of how the Imperial Fora plugged into their contexts, and even more importantly, the spirit of adventure in the classical tradition that Hadrian's architecture represents.

And, at the start of the new year, I wish everyone who strives to emulate
Buon Anno Nuovo!