Riding the wave


The Angelo Rocca fund at the Biblioteca Angelica in Rome

The Angelica Library in Rome - named after the Augustinian friar Angelo Rocca who was the factual founder of the Library, after leaving the Augustinian convent in Rome his collections - is very prestigeous, both for its seat of great architectural beauty, and for the importance of its belongings, which includes over one hundred thousand volumes printed between the 15th and 19th centuries.

A sui generis fund - in the present interest devoted to town views and representations, not simply as a branch of landscape painting, but rather as an opportunity to study the environment from an historical point of view - is the collection of perspective drawings of over ninety minor towns and villages, of which more than seventy located in Southern Italy, collated in 1583-84 by Angelo Rocca, general secretary of the Order. Of these, almost thirty are in the Archives of the Augustinians and the remaining are at the Angelica.

The collection has its genesis in the interest that during the Renaissance was addressed to town maps, triggering a large production of atlases of cities, often called town theaters, i.e. collections of charts illustrated with town views. The South of Italy, however - excluding the most famous centers of classical antiquity - was traditionally neglected by major cartographers, with the exception of the not many atlases/pilot books of regional interest, for the needs of local coastal sailing.

Particular documentary value, therefore, holds the work commissioned by Angelo Rocca to his fellow-friars, at the end of the 16th century, during his visits to various Augustine monasteries.

He intended to create an atlas of southern cities on the model of Teatrum Urbium of George Braun and Franz Hogenberg, the latter being the engraver of most of the tables of Ortelius's atlas and then - together with his compatriot, between 1572 and 1618 - the author of a world atlas in six volumes, the first of which was devoted to the Civitates Orbis Terrarum ("Towns the world over").

To carry out his project, Rocca had undertaken a systematic survey of the territory, materially entrusted to the monastery priors, whom he had sent a questionnaire - today kept with the manuscripts of the fund at the Angelica Library - with specific questions about the history of the towns and with detailed instructions on how to prepare the drawings required.

Barletta - a bird's eye view in brown ink, with caption indicating major religious sites.
It obviously is by the same author of Molfetta.

The collection - partially published and widely commented by Nicoletta Muratore and Paola Mufanò, with introduction and preface by C. Federici and Teresa Colletta, in Immagini di città raccolte da un frate agostiniano alla fine del XVI secolo, (Istituto Poligrafico e Zecca dello Stato, 1991), ("Images collected by an Augustinian monk in the late sixteenth century" (Government Printing Office and Mint, 1991, unfortunately sold out) - is complete with about 900 unpublished papers describing the depicted towns: it describes not only their backwardness, poverty and brigandage, but also their ancient history, the pride of their inhabitants, the opulent majesty of their palaces and churches, the solemnity of their ceremonies, the variety of local products.

The drawings are obviously of different authors and are uneven in style and quality: some are of a purely landscape type, but others put emphasis on the town features, complete with captions with lists of streets and monuments. Sometimes there is a prevailing interest in fortifications , emphasizing the military role of the place, in other cases there is a predominant attention to convents and religious institutions, consistent with the ecclesiastical position of the authors. Perhaps it was this divergence of style and content the main reason that prevented Angelo Rocca from publishing his Atlas, but whatever their artistic value, the drawings represent a documentation unique in its kind, and, like all town-views, are fundamental for studying the environment.
To compare them with later images, we have added in our section on "Toponomastica" ("toponyms") views of Gaeta, Ischia, Massa Lubrense, Ostuni, Salerno, Siracusa, Sorrento, Trani, Vico Equense.

Campagna - a bird's eye view of the village near Salerno, pencil-drawing, at the Biblioteca Angelica
Giovinazzo - View of the village near Bari, seen from southwest, brown ink and pencil. Evidence is given to the well with the tower and warehouses of the port, the bishop-seat and the most important churches. Insert with the author's name - Pompeius Limpius - and the date 1581.
In the Augustine Archives.
Molfetta - bird's eye view in brown ink, caption listing main places of interest, at the Biblioteca Angelica.
Probably by the same author of Barletta.
Otranto - brown ink with a touch of red and green. Map of the city with the castle and the fortified walls.
At the Biblioteca Angelica.
The charts have been published in Coste del Mediterraneo nella cartografia europea 1500-1900 , by Paola Presciuttini, Priuli & Verlucca Publishers, 2004, 179 p., 318 ill.