The oldest books in the Art Library, Part VI

This post continues the series on some of the earliest books in the Art Library’s collection, all of which are housed in the Art Library’s rare book room.    If you want to see any of them, just ask at the desk.

Our next book to consider is another one with a very long title:   Roma Subterranea Novissima : In Qua Post Antonium Bosium Antesignanum, Io: Severanum … et Celebres Alios Scriptores Antiqua Christianorum et Præcipue Martyrum Cœmeteria, Tituli, Monimenta, Epitaphia, Inscriptiones, ac Nobiliora Sanctorum Sepulchra Sex Libris Distincta Illustrantur et Quamplurimæ Res Ecclesiasticae Iconibus Graphice Describuntur, ac Multiplici Tum Sacra, Tum Profana Eruditione Declarantur. It was written by Antonio Bosio  and published in 2 volumes in Rome in 1651.

Antonio Bosio (1575-1629) gave up the study of law at the age of 18 to devote himself to the study of early Christian history, particularly the Roman catacombs.  He  began his exploration of catacombs in 1593 and in the following years made many discoveries as he broke into numerous catacombs and cubiculum, small family tombs often decorated with frescoes.  Because of his systematic exploration of the catacombs, he is considered the founder of the science of Christian archaeology.

In 1597 he completed the Historia passionis SS Martyrum Caeciliae (Rome, 1600), illustrated with engravings by Antonio Tempesta. Roma Sotterranea was published in Italian between 1632 and 1634, shortly after Bosio’s death and was  profusely illustrated with plans and engravings by Francesco Fulcaro. The book was re-published by Paolo Aringhi in 1651, with considerable alterations and omissions, and it is this later edition, now with Novissima added to the title, which the Art Library owns.

Below is the title page and one of the interior pages of Roma Subterranea Novissima:

Why does the library collect rare books?  Because they are primary source materials of art history, offering a first-hand account of an artist’s life, the first critical response to a building or painting, or a new theory of art or architecture.  As the building blocks of art history, they remain relevant sources for researchers.



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