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Attrib­uted to Cor­nelis Hen­drik­sz. Vroom, Dutch, c. 1591-1661

Ruins of the Tem­ple of Min­er­va in the Forum of Nerva, c. 1610-20 

Begin­ning in the six­teenth cen­tu­ry, Dutch artists work­ing in Rome reg­u­lar­ly made draw­ings of ancient ruins as source mate­r­i­al to include in their his­tor­i­cal paint­ings. This draw­ing shows an oblique view of the remains of the Tem­ple of Min­er­va, which once stood in the Forum of Nerva. As early as 1592, mar­ble blocks and columns from the tem­ple were reused in new build­ing cam­paigns and in 1606, Pope Paul V ordered all remain­ing ele­ments dis­man­tled for other projects, includ­ing a foun­tain bear­ing his name. The Peck draw­ing is one of only a hand­ful of images that doc­u­ments this lost ruin, mak­ing it his­tor­i­cal­ly significant.

The ruins in this draw­ing were mis­tak­en­ly iden­ti­fied in pre­vi­ous pub­li­ca­tions as those of the Tem­ple of Venus Gen­etrix, three tall columns of which remain stand­ing in the Forum of Cae­sar.1

They are actu­al­ly the remains of the Tem­ple of Min­er­va, which once stood in the near­by Forum of Nerva. The mar­ble blocks and columns of the tem­ple were reused for other build­ing projects at least as early as 1592, but its defin­i­tive demo­li­tion appears to have come at the hands of Pope Paul V (1550 – 1621). In 1606 he ordered the spo­li­a­tion of its mar­ble for the foun­tain that bears his name on the Jan­icu­lum Hill, the Fontana del­l’Ac­qua Paola.2

Other por­tions were used for the high altar in the new St. Peter’s Basil­i­ca and for the Borgh­ese Chapel in Santa Maria Mag­giore. As one of only a hand­ful of images that doc­u­ments this lost ruin from antiq­ui­ty in situ, the Peck draw­ing is of great his­tor­i­cal sig­nif­i­cance.3

The famous colon­nac­ce, the columns in the cen­ter back­ground of the draw­ing, still stand today in the Forum of Nerva. Just vis­i­ble to the right of the columns in the far dis­tance, where the road leads through the build­ings, are the arch­es of the Basil­i­ca of Max­en­tius and Con­stan­tine. North­ern artists vis­it­ing Rome from the six­teenth cen­tu­ry onward fre­quent­ly made draw­ings of ancient ruins that often served as source mate­r­i­al for their paint­ings of his­tor­i­cal sub­jects. Dur­ing his trip to Italy in the 1530s, Maarten van Heemsker­ck (1498 – 1574) was one of the first to record the ruins of the Tem­ple of Min­er­va, show­ing the tem­ple frontal­ly with the colon­nac­ce to the right Fig. 7.1.4

Maarten van Heemskerck, View of the Forum of Nerva
Fig. 7.1

Maarten van Heemsker­ck, View of the Forum of Nerva, c. 1532 – 36. Pen and brown ink, 210 × 287 mm. Berlin, Kupfer­stichk­abi­nett, inv. no. 79d2a37r.

Hierony­mus Cock (1518 – 1570) issued a sim­i­lar view in print in 1551, show­ing the façade at a slight­ly oblique angle Fig. 7.2.5

Hieronymus Cock, View of the Forum of Nerva
Fig. 7.2

Hierony­mus Cock, View of the Forum of Nerva, 1551. Etch­ing, 187 × 298 mm. Ams­ter­dam, Rijk­sprentenk­abi­net, inv. no. RP-P-1882-A-6457.

Other Dutch and Flem­ish artists who drew the ruins include Cor­nelis Cort (1533– 1578), Matthi­js Bril (c. 1550 – 1583), and Sebas­t­ian Vrancx (1573 – 1647).6

A recent­ly dis­cov­ered draw­ing by Pieter Last­man (1583 – 1633) from 1606 is the last dated image before the tem­ple’s demo­li­tion appar­ent­ly began in earnest that year.7

One of the inter­est­ing fea­tures of the present work is the unusu­al view­point, look­ing oblique­ly from the left front cor­ner of the tem­ple, rather than frontal­ly or from the right as in most other images. Notably the left-hand wall of the tem­ple is miss­ing here, reveal­ing hous­es beyond. This might reflect an inter­me­di­ate stage in the process of dis­man­tling the struc­ture. The orig­i­nal­i­ty of the view and its sure­ty of line sug­gests it was not copied from anoth­er source, but rather gen­er­at­ed from direct expe­ri­ence, prob­a­bly just before its final dis­man­tling. The fig­ure of the shep­herd with his flock, who is quite dras­ti­cal­ly reduced in scale (com­pared to the win­dow of the house at right, for exam­ple) is some­what puz­zling, but artists occa­sion­al­ly employed such effects to exag­ger­ate the grandios­i­ty of the ruins.

While sig­nif­i­cant from a his­tor­i­cal and art his­tor­i­cal stand­point, the author­ship of this draw­ing remains unclear. George Keyes gave it to Cor­nelis Vroom in the adden­da to his cat­a­logue of the artist’s paint­ings and draw­ings.8

Vroom was one of the most high­ly laud­ed land­scape painters of his day. Theodor­us Schrev­elius in 1648 called him the great­est liv­ing land­scape artist in Haar­lem, along with Pieter Moli­jn (1595 – 1661), but only a small hand­ful of his draw­ings appear to have sur­vived, per­haps fewer than two dozen with secure attri­bu­tions.9

Nowhere to be found in the present work is Vroom’s high­ly dis­tinc­tive and tight­ly ren­dered pen work for foliage and veg­e­ta­tion used in his land­scape draw­ings, though the type of sub­ject mat­ter here is dif­fer­ent by nature, show­ing urban ruins rather than woods and fields. In his cat­a­logue of Vroom’s works, George Keyes attrib­uted the Peck draw­ing to him by link­ing it to a sheet in Lei­den show­ing the Tomb of Cecelia Metel­la in which there is Vroom­like veg­e­ta­tion Fig. 7.3, as well as a draw­ing in Düs­sel­dorf that depicts still-uniden­ti­fied Roman ruins Fig. 7.4.10

Cornelis Vroom (attributed to), Overgrown Ruins
Fig. 7.3

Cor­nelis Vroom (attrib­uted to), Over­grown Ruins. Pen and brown ink, brown, red, and green wash­es, 204 × 315 mm. Düs­sel­dorf, Kun­st­mu­se­um, inv. no. z4243.

Cornelis Vroom (attributed to), The Tomb of Cecelia Metella in Rome
Fig. 7.4

Cor­nelis Vroom (attrib­uted to), The Tomb of Cecelia Metel­la in Rome. Pen and brown ink, green­ish-brown, gray, and red wash­es, 183 × 295 mm. Lei­den, Uni­ver­siteits­bib­lio­theek, inv. no. PK-T-AW-310.

Pieter Bies­boer, how­ev­er, reject­ed the attri­bu­tion to Vroom of both those sheets and the present work.11

The three draw­ings taken togeth­er, all views of ruins, would be our only sur­viv­ing visu­al evi­dence that Vroom was in Italy, a trip con­sid­ered increas­ing­ly doubt­ful.12

An attri­bu­tion to Vroom also faces the prob­lem in chronol­o­gy. Vroom would have only been around fif­teen years old in 1606, and a doc­u­ment in the Haar­lem archives places him that year in his home­town, where we assume he spent his teen years.13

Keyes pre­sumed that Vroom’s trip to Italy took place in the 1610s rather than in the pre­vi­ous decade when the Tem­ple of Min­er­va was still stand­ing, a con­tra­dic­tion that result­ed from the misiden­ti­fi­ca­tion of the ruins.14

Vroom began his career in Haar­lem as a marine painter like his father (who prob­a­bly trained him), with his ear­li­est known work dated 1615, before switch­ing to land­scape in the early 1620s.15

Vroom may have copied an ear­li­er image of the ruin that is no longer extant, but it seems more like­ly the draw­ing was made by anoth­er artist, prob­a­bly Dutch or Flem­ish, who was active in Rome around 1600 – 10. The style does not con­form to the oeu­vres of iden­ti­fi­able artists there at the time. The use of rose-col­ored wash­es for cer­tain pas­sages, like­ly made with pow­dered red chalk, was not a com­mon prac­tice and pro­vides a poten­tial­ly use­ful clue. Peter Schat­born made the sug­ges­tion that Leon­aert Bramer (1596 – 1674) was one of the only North­ern artists to use red chalk and color wash­es in his draw­ings of ruins dur­ing his stay in Rome from 1616 to 1628.16

He also would have been there too late to record the ruins of the Tem­ple of Min­er­va per­son­al­ly, but a pair of draw­ings that Schat­born assigns to Bramer’s still-mys­te­ri­ous Roman peri­od, one of the Ponte Rotto and anoth­er of the Arch of Sep­ti­m­ius Severus, do bear some styl­is­tic cor­re­spon­dences with the present sheet.17

Their line work, sim­i­lar appli­ca­tion of color wash­es (which also sub­tly define wall tex­tures), sharp oblique shad­ows, and unusu­al view­points all offer points of sim­i­lar­i­ty. If indeed by the same hand as the present draw­ing, those two sheets might actu­al­ly be by an artist other than Bramer, active in Rome slight­ly earlier.

End Notes

  1. Keyes 1982, 119 – 21; and Chapel Hill, Itha­ca & Worces­ter 1999 – 2001, 112 – 13, no. 39. My thanks to both Tim­o­thy Riggs and Stijn Alsteens for bring­ing the dis­crep­an­cy to my attention.

  2. Lan­ciani 1901, 255 – 56; and Horster 1984, 133 – 35, also dis­cussing some of the prob­lems of chronol­o­gy of the spo­li­a­tion of the temple.

  3. See Horster 1984 for the best sur­vey of these images, most­ly by North­ern artists, but also some by (or from the cir­cle of) Gio­van­ni Anto­nio Dosio. For some of the Dutch and Flem­ish draw­ings of the Forum of Nerva, see also Ams­ter­dam 2001, 11 – 13.

  4. Hülsen & Egger 1913 – 16, vol. 2, 26 – 27; and DiFu­ria 2019, no. 26.

  5. Riggs 1977, no. 22.

  6. For the draw­ing by Cor­nelis Cort (Ams­ter­dam, Rijksmu­se­um, inv. no. rp-t-1922-7), see Boon 1978, no. 152. For the draw­ing by Matthi­js Bril (Paris, Musée du Lou­vre, inv. no. 20.958), see Lugt 1949, vol. 1, no. 359; copied by Jan Brueghel I when he was in Rome in the early 1590s (see Horster 1984, 152 – 53, figs. 15 – 16, mis­tak­en­ly reversed). For the draw­ing by Sebas­t­ian Vrancx (Chatsworth, Devon­shire Col­lec­tion, inv. no. 1136), see Jaffé 2002, vol. 2, no. 1316.

  7. Ams­ter­dam, Rijksmu­se­um, inv. no. rp-t2012-22. See Schat­born 2011; and Leonore van Sloten in Ams­ter­dam 2014, no. 53.

  8. Keyes 1982, 119 – 21.

  9. See Bies­boer 1978 – 79 for an impor­tant review of Keyes’s 1975 cat­a­logue. Bies­boer, on rea­son­able grounds, rejects or casts seri­ous doubt on fif­teen of the thir­ty-seven draw­ings cat­a­logued, includ­ing the Roman ruin in Lei­den; Keyes 1975, vol. 2, no. D17.

  10. For the Lei­den sheet, see Keyes 1975, no. D17. The Düs­sel­dorf draw­ing appeared in Keyes’s adden­da as part of the argu­ment for also adding the Peck sheet (then in the col­lec­tion of Hans van Leeuwen); see Keyes 1982, 119 – 21. My thanks to Anna Schütz for send­ing me a dig­i­tal image of the Düs­sel­dorf draw­ing (inv. no. z4243), which appears to be by a dif­fer­ent hand than the Lei­den and Peck draw­ings, clos­er to Cor­nelis van Poe­len­burch or an artist work­ing around 1620 who had a greater inter­est in the veg­e­ta­tion rather than the ruins. Keyes’s fur­ther argu­ment that the minis­cule herder and his flock in the present sheet match those in a draw­ing by Vroom in the Vic­to­ria & Albert Muse­um (inv. no. D.977 – 1900; Turn­er & White 2014, no. 416) is prob­a­bly best dis­missed as being too coincidental.

  11. For his rejec­tion of the Lei­den draw­ing, see Bies­boer 1978 – 79, 210 (under no. D17). His rejec­tion of the Düs­sel­dorf and Ack­land draw­ings was expressed in an email to the present author, 22 May 2021. The draw­ing in Lei­den cur­rent­ly main­tains its orig­i­nal attri­bu­tion (also doubt­ful) to Pieter Monincx.

  12. See Irene van Thiel-Stro­man in Bies­boer et al. 2006, 329.

  13. Ibid., 328 – 29.

  14. Keyes 1982, 119 – 21 (not­ing that Vroom would have been back in Haar­lem by 1617 at the latest).

  15. For Vroom’s bio­graph­i­cal data, see Van Thiel-Stro­man in Bies­boer et al. 2006, 328 – 32; Keyes 1975, vol. 1, 8 – 16.

  16. Ams­ter­dam 2001, 56.

  17. For the prob­lem of iden­ti­fy­ing sheets from Bramer’s Roman peri­od, see Schat­born in Ams­ter­dam 2001, 54 – 56; and Michiel Plomp in Delft 1994, 187 – 89. For the draw­ing of the Ponte Rotto, in Berlin (inv. no. KdZ 12291), see Bock & Rosen­berg 1930, vol. 1, 217, no. 12291, vol. 2, 140 (as Jacob Pynas); and Ams­ter­dam 2001, 56, fig. D. For the draw­ing of the Arch of Sep­ti­m­ius Severus, in Ham­burg (inv. no. 1963 – 312), see Ste­fes 2011, no. 150 (as attrib­uted to Leon­aert Bramer). Schat­born links these two draw­ings to two oth­ers bear­ing sig­na­tures by Bramer (see Ams­ter­dam 2001, 54 – 55, figs. A & B). Plomp rejects the attri­bu­tion of these lat­ter draw­ings to Bramer; see Delft 1994, 187, and 206 (note 29).