An inspection of the great Cryptoporticus and Vasari’s account

After several months of work by a group of conservators, we are about to complete the intervention to secure the decorations of the Great Cryptoporticus which delimits the East Wing of the Domus to the north.

The Great Cryptoporticus, Room 92 – SSBAR Archive

The Great Cryptoporticus, Room 92 – SSBAR Archive

Detail of the paintings of the Great Cryptoporticus – SSBAR Archive

Detail of the paintings of the Great Cryptoporticus – SSBAR Archive

The other day I went up onto the scaffolding to check how work was progressing and verify some conservation problems on the vault.

Detail of the paintings of the Great Cryptoporticus – SSBAR Archive

Detail of the paintings of the Great Cryptoporticus – SSBAR Archive

As I ascended (the vault is up to 12 metres above floor level), I found myself face to face with details of the paintings and took some photographs. They are not of particularly high quality, but they should be seen as a reflection of what my eyes took in. At that moment, I thought how privileged I was to find myself in the same situation as the 16th-century artists who discovered the paintings of the Domus Aurea by lowering themselves down from above. I paused to examine the details and the beautiful colours, distracted for a moment from my inspection.

Detail of the paintings of the Great Cryptoporticus – SSBAR Archive

Detail of the paintings of the Great Cryptoporticus – SSBAR Archive

Below, I report what Giorgio Vasari wrote in the mid-16th century in his famous work, the Lives of the Artists, describing the visit made by Giovanni da Udine and Raphael to the Domus Aurea in around 1509: “certain rooms were discovered, completely buried under the ground, full of little grotesques, little figures and scenes, with other stucco ornaments in low relief. For when Giovanni went with Raphael, who was taken to see them, they were both struck dumb at the freshness, beauty and refinement of those works, and it seemed amazing to them that they had been preserved for such a long time; but it was no great wonder, for they had not been open or exposed to the air, which over time, with the changes of the seasons, consumes all things”.

Scaffolding in the Great Cryptoporticus - Archivio SSBAR

Scaffolding in the Great Cryptoporticus – Archivio SSBAR

Almost five centuries have passed since their visit and despite its many problems the Domus is still there, with all its historical and cultural fascination. In a few words, Vasari sums up what remains the principal conservation problem of this monument: the need to stabilize temperature and humidity levels, isolating it as far as possible from changes in the external climate. This is what we are working so hard to achieve.

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L'autrice

Fedora Filippi

Fedora Filippi

Scientific director of the Domus Aurea from 2009. Archaeologist and coordinator at MiBAC (the Italian Ministry for Cultural Heritage and Activities) from 1980. She is also responsible for the safeguard of the western Campus Martius and Trastevere. Coordinator for the safeguard of archaeological heritage in Rome’s Historic Centre. Director of the SSBAR historical archive. An expert in particular on urban archaeology, she has edited numerous academic publications, especially in the field of Roman archaeology.

3 thoughts on “An inspection of the great Cryptoporticus and Vasari’s account

  1. Generally I don’t learn article on blogs, however I would like
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  2. It is sobering to wonder how the art of the Rinascemento would have developed if none of the Domus Aurea had been seen by Raphael etc.

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