Pantheon Nibby & Vasi

Antonio Nibby and  Mariano Vasi
This magnificent temple, the most celebrated monument of ancient Rome, both by its style and preservation, was erected by Agrippa in his third consulship in the year 727 of Rome or 27th before the christian era. By a passage of Pliny it was conjectured that the architect was Valerius Ostiensis, but that architect directed the works of the games of Libonius 166 years before the third consulship of Agrippa. It is evident that the circular part of the monument is detached from the portico , and that the latter was added subsequently, a fact that has given rise to serious disputes among the moderns though it is indicated by Dio who , while he makes no mention of the building of the monument in 7 26 affirms , that in 729 Agrippa completed the Pantheon , an • expression alluding by some to the construction of the portico. At any rate it is certain that to Agrippa are to be ascribed both \ the circular part and the portico since the former is firmly.bound to the thermae of which it forms a part, and as these were beyond all doubt built by Agrippa so also was the Rolonda and that the portico is also his work .is proved by the following inscription on the frieie :


thus, though some persist in believing that the round edifice and the portico are-constructions of two different periods, it is erroneous to suppose that the former was erected during the republic and the portico only by Agrippa, both being the work of that distinguished personage.

By Pliny we learn that this temple was dedicated to Jove Ihe Avenger, and by Dio that it contained the images of Mars and Venus who, possessing Ihe attributes of several divinities gave rise, in the opinions of the latter writer, to the name of Pantheon which the edifice slill preserves; Dio declares , however, that the name was derived from the roof being similar to tbat of heaven, so that the common opinion that it was called the Pantheon from being consecrated to all the gods is without foundation ; the statue of Julius Cassar was also placed in it by Agrippa. Though of the utmost solidity it suffered from fire under Titus and Trajan, was restored by Domitian , Hadrian, Antoninus Pius , Septimius Severus and by Caracalla; of the latter restoration the memory has been preserved in the inscription on the architrave by which it appears that this lima it was restored , not on account of fire bat of its decayed state


This restoration coincides precisely with the year 202 of the christian era when Severus entered upon his third and Caracalla on his first, consulship; all these repairs are proofs of iho care taken of this monument bj the emperors. After 202 no farther mention is made of (he Pantheon till 354 when, according to Ammianus, it excited the admiration of Constantios particularly bj its cupola. In 391 it was closed like all other pagan temples and remained so till 608; through the intercession of the Emperor Phocas it was consecrated as a church by Pope Boniface IV and dedicated to the virgin and martyrs from whom it derived its denomination of S. Maria ad martyres.

At that period the Pantheon was more en-lire than at the present day as it preserved the bronze tries that covered the roof and capola. In 663 Constanlius II Emperor of Constantinople came to Some and ordered them to be sent to his capital; he was killed at Syracuse and this bronze covering was sent by the Saracens to Alexandria. In 713 Gregory repaired this injury with sheets of lead. Anastasius IV built a palace near it as it then belonged to the Pope and now to the Apostolic palace. The temple suffered much from the factions of the lower ages ; in 1400 the three columns of the east portico were wanting, the roof and capola lost their lead covering, and the encrease of soil had buried the base of the portico columns. Repairs were made under Martin V, continued by Eugenius IV and Nicholas V whose arms exist on the lead covering which he completed. At the beginning of the XVI century the angular column wanting was replaced by another taken from the ruins; about 1631 Urban VIII made the capital on which is the Barberini bee; in 1632 the same Pope took down the bronze beams under the entablature of the portico with which be cast the four columns ( the ornaments of the confessional of the Vatican basilic and some cannon for the castle of S. An-gelo. Nardini was an eye witness to this spoliation which is further attested by an inscription of Urban VIII on the left of the great door of the Pantheon, and yet in the face of such documents the fact is still -revoked iu doubt by some persons. In 1662 Alexander VII by means of two granite columns found in the thermae of Nero at S. Louis des Francais completed the re* storation of the eastern side of the portico which be cleared , and repaired those parts that had suffered. On the capitals are hills surmounted by a star , the arms of his family. In the middle of last century considerable restorations were made in the cupola by Benedict XIV who reduced the internal attic to its present form. Under Pius VII a great part of the lead covering has been renewed and excavations made before the facade and on the sides which give a better idea of the edifice.

As the temple has only the front portico it is prostyle and having eight columns octostyle. The entrance was by an ascent of seven white marble steps , now reduced to two very low ones in travertine on account of the increase of soil. The front was 150 palms, the depth 10; the facade is supported by eight magnificent columns; on the architrave are the inscriptions of Severus and Caracalla; on the frieze the original one of Agrippa, on the tympanum was a bas relief of gilt bronze representing probably the battle between Jupiter and the giants, and the revenge of the god, to correspond with the dedication of the temple to the avenging Jove. The pinnacles of the facade supported statues ; in the central one Jupiter on a car in the act of darling his thunder; on the sides those of Mars and Venus divinities particularly worshipped in this temple. On the sides of the portico are three columns and a pilaster, four others in the interior portico; these columns of red and grey egyptian granite are Corinthian 6 palms 9 inches in diameter, 56 in height; the walls were lined with marble and divided into compartments on which were finely carved and executed the sacred utensils, paters, chandeliers; the external part of the portico was also decorated, particularly towards the west, on which side are two small antique doors loading lo the cupola, now reached by one towards the east.

The great door preserves its ancient jambs; on the sides the inscriptions of Urban VIII recording the spoils of bronze, the use made of them , the building of the belfries. Torrjgio who was a witness to these spoliations of the bronzes affirms that (hey weighed 450, 25i pounds, the nails alone 9374 pounds and that the cannon made of this metal were upwards of 80. On each side of the door in two large niches were the statues of Agrippa and Augustus as related by Dio ; the door is of bronze and antique , as also the grating above, although some moderns suppose that the original was carried away by Geu-seric : the pavement is of African marble.

The interior, of the circular form, is grand and majestic; the diameter without computing the wall encircling the temple, U 194 palms, the height from the pavement to the summit also 194 palms ; the thickness of the wall round the temple 28 palms; the pavement, as seen by lh« base of the columns , was raised when restored by Septimius Severus; the temple receives the light from a circular aperture 37 i/a palms in diameter; the tribune of the high altar is formed by a semi-circle cut in the wall, its arch similar to the one at the entrance, is decorated with two fluted pavouazzeito columns, lu the interior are sis chapels also cut out of the wall, each with two pilasters and two corinthian fluted columns, four of pavonaizelto, eight of giallo antico, each 5 palms in diameter and 40 in height without their marble base and capital; these columns and the pilasters support a magnificent white marble cornice with a porphyry frieze. Above is a kind of attic with 14 rectiline niches and a cornice supporting the large roof; this attic was restored by Benedict XIV previous to whom it was decorated with small porphyry pilasters the designs of which are preserved in Piranesi’s work. It is supposed that instead of columns between the niches there were bronze caryatides, the work of Diogenes the Athenian, highly praised by Pliny ; the roof was divided into five orders of compartments which were covered with gilt stuccoes and not with bronze as erroneously stated.

Between each of these chapels are eight other altars with corinthian columns supporting their frontispiece-, four of these have each two giallo antico columns, two of plain porphyry and two of plain granite; the walls up to the cornice , and the pavement are divided into compartments lined -with various marbles, these and the eight altars are attributed to Septimius Severus ; the colossal statue of Jupiter seems to have stood in the middle of the tribune. The paintings over the altars are by Majo , Majoli, Gabbo, Otlonc, Labruzzi , Pozzi.

As there existed in this church a confraternity of painters , sculptors, architects and virtuosi it contained many busts, but these having increased to a great extent, were transferred to the Capilol in 1821 , leaving however untouched the inscriptions to Raphael and to An-oibal Garacci on the sides of the altar of the Madonna by Lorenzelto ; this Madonna is denominated del Sasso probably a corruption of the word Sanzio the name of Raphael who, by bis testamentary dispositions as recorded by Vasari, desired to be buried in this edicola of which he built the altar, bad the statue executed at his expense by Lorenzelto and left an endowment for the benefit of his soul; the researches made in 1833 to find bis body were attended with success ; on the 14 September the skeleton was found entire, the cranium was formed in Ihejuslest proportions; his remains were exposed to public curiosity and in the evening of the 18 October were again buried with the honours due to so great an artist. Besides those of this immortal painter the Pantheon possesses the remains of 1’cruzzi , Giovanni da Udine , Pieriu del Vaga, Taddeo Zuccari, Annibal Garacci and of other distinguished artists, This temple celebrated for its form, antiquity and architecture, is deprived of ornaments either in painting or sculpture ; of tbe latter it contains only the 21 statue bj LorcBzetto and that of S. Joseph by d* Rossi.

The therma: of Agrippa were annexed le the back part of the temple wilh which they bad no communication; the baths were supplied with tbe Acqua Vergine waters brought to Rome by Agrippa ; amongst the statues they contained was one in bronze by the celebrated Lysippns; Pliny relates that it was transferred by Tiberias to the imperial palace and that the complaints of the people obliged him to replace it in the therms, some remains of which are now used as the sacristy.

Many modern writers pretend that these thermaj were situated on the spot where Romulus , when reviewing the troops , was killed by the Senators. Near the Pantheon is the ‘i The obelisk with hieroglyphics raised on this piazza was found in 1665 in the garden annexed to the Minerva convent; it was placed here by Alexander VII but being only 24 palms high the architect Bernini conceived the idea of raising it on the back of an elephant, the work of Ercole Ferrala. The repeated discovery of monuments relating to the Egyptian worship leaves no doubt that the temples of lsis and Serapis , known to the ancients under the names of Iseum and Serapeum were erected on tbe space of ground between the Minerva convent and the monastery at S. Stefano del Gacco. Besides the obelises at the piazza del Pantheon and the Minerva, the Isiac table at the Capitol was Count! in the gardens of Domitia, near S. Stefano del Cacco together with the celebrated statues of the Tiber and the Nile , the former in the museum at Paris, the latter in the Chiaramonli museum at the Vatican ; the name of the church, convent and piazza is derived from the temple of Minerva erected by Pompey after Lis victories. The palace opposite the church called the ecclesiastical academy was instituted by Clement XI for young men destined to the ecclesiastical career.
Antonio Nibby,  Mariano Vasi. New Guide of Rome and the Environs: According to Vasi and Nibby, Containing…M. Piale. Rome. 1849.



Back to JW Bailly Lectures

Stephanie Sepúlveda & John William Bailly  17 April 2018


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s