ArsRoma – Art historical research database of painting in Rome 1580-1630

Object of Research

Work on the research database ArsRoma began in 2001 under the aegis of Professor Sybille Ebert-Schifferer. The database focuses on the production of art, particularly history painting, in Rome from 1580 to 1630, thus documenting a pivotal period when painting and the visual arts, especially in Rome, developed in new groundbreaking ways. Under the influence of a classicist revival the synthesis of diverging alternative concepts to Mannerism gave rise to a new artistic language that was to shape courtly and religious art in Europe for several decades.

The databank project focuses on a period leading to the reorganization of Europe’s political and cultural map. Scholars like Galileo Galilei laid the foundation of modern natural sciences. Early Baroque art from Rome of the years around 1600 became a source of inspiration for the fine arts in absolutist Europe. The genesis of this international new artistic language was by no means a linear or uniform process and was preceded by a phase of individual artistic experimentation that gave rise – albeit only for a brief period – to a competitive plurality of different aesthetic approaches. In the first third of the seventeenth century – and for reasons that merit further research – this diversity crystallized into a handful of stylistic options that may have served different functions. The project aims to show the mechanisms by which style was formed during this important transitional period in European painting and visual art and to investigate the artistic choices as well as the formation of historical and social networks that underpinned them or developed in parallel. Ultimately, the database seeks to shed light on the interplay of artistic, sociological, cultural, historical and political reasons why certain stylistic options were adopted while others were rejected.

For many artists, sculptors and architects Rome was one of the most important stages of their professional career. Very few of Rome’s greatest and most successful artists were actually born or trained in the city. Rome attracted artists from near and far, Lombards like Caravaggio, Bolognese painters such as the Carracci and their pupils Guido Reni and Domenichino, Flemings like Peter Paul Rubens and François Duquesnoy, Frenchmen like Nicolas Poussin, Germans like Adam Elsheimer and entire groups of artists like the Netherlandish Bentveughels and the Bamboccianti. They all spent formative years in Rome, and many settled there for good. For them Rome was and remained the place to study antiquity. Moreover, the engagement with the artistic production of fellow colleagues and competitors as well as with that of Raphael and Michelangelo, whose High Renaissance style had gained a normative status, was naturally to be studied in Rome before other places.  

Rome beckoned with the promise of untold fame and riches, but all too often delivered artistic and economic failure. Exceptional forms of patronage led to spectacular commissions that allowed artists to display the full range of their skill and inventiveness. At the same time, artistic activity was determined by a complex network of protectionism and clientelism as well as by national and local interests that shaped an individual artist’s living and working conditions and, with them, his career. Increasingly, artistic production was influenced by a burgeoning international market, so that an artist’s fortune no longer depended solely on patrons and collectors but also on the likes and dislikes of a new breed of middlemen, consultants, agents and art dealers. Often the artists themselves assumed one or more of these functions: Peter Paul Rubens, for example, brokered the sale of works by Caravaggio to the Gonzaga court of Mantua. The great patrons – the Borghese, the Ludovisi, the Giustiniani or the Mattei – were joined by a host of smaller collectors whose role remains underappreciated, but whose stylistic preferences are crucial to an understanding of art around 1600. Artists of the period made extensive use of coded physical expressions and gestures that were based on rhetorical models, an aspect ArsRoma devotes a great deal of attention to.

The database brings together individual lines of enquiry – into the formation of style and the reception of models, the motivation of patrons and the art market, the emergence of social and political networks among artists and their patrons – each of which encompasses data volumes that are too large and too complex to be processed by traditional research media. As a consequence these lines of enquiry have drifted apart, sometimes so far apart that they are pursued by scholars of neighbouring disciplines who research and publish the same object without any meaningful interchange. This situation leaves gaps and contradictions that have been cast into sharp relief by the work on the database. ArsRoma is a research database that does not only help answer questions; it also articulates desiderata.

Technical, systematic and content-related aspects

The ArsRoma and Lineamenta databases have been incorporated into the database platform ZUCCARO and form the basis of an information system on Italian art history. The standardised data modelling system makes it easy to configure and adapt the basic modules to the needs of other projects of similar nature in the humanities. The flexible and highly generalisable database concept allows researchers to submit complex questions. For art historians – indeed for anybody working in the humanities – this is a fundamental prerequisite for the productive use of databases, but not one that all systems deliver equally well.

A differentiated linking system individually defined by the researcher integrates historical data regards art and culture in an object-orientated  way rather than solely in a tabular or relational format. A thus compiled research database answers to a great variety of needs of specialists. A useful tool right from the start, ZUCCARO can be constantly expanded and updated. The Hertziana hopes to introduce a multilingual user interface and navigation system to facilitate the ongoing cooperation with international projects.

The data volume of ArsRoma provided the basis for the project »Image Construction in Annibale Carracci’s and Caravaggio’s Paintings: Analysis of art historical databases by means of scalable image matrices« completed in 2008. On the occasion of the 400th anniversary of Caravaggio’s death it was decided to perpetuate this project and continually update the data concerning this great master of Roman Baroque painting. Information on his artistic circle is currently in the process of being expanded with overviews of other artists’ œuvres that will be linked to the Caravaggio data.

Information on the most important Roman collections of antiquities (put together, for example, by the Giustiniani, the Mattei or the Farnese) is likewise constantly expanded and updated.  

An important research objective is the identification of classical sculptures with the help of reproductions in prints and the reconstruction – as far as possible – of their provenance complemented by in-depth annotations on the objects. To accomplish this goal, great seventeenth-century repertories of prints after antique sculptures, for example the collections compiled by François Perrier or Pietro Santi Bartoli, are entered into the ArsRoma database. The juxtaposition of engravings with the actual sculptures and reliefs also allows for links to the locations of the works and to information from other databases such as Lineamenta or Internet resources of other cooperation partners.

The cooperation with the net-based research platform »sandrart.net«, a joint project of the Bibliotheca Hertziana, the Kunsthistorisches Insitut in Florence, the Art History Department at Frankfurt University and the Städel Museum in Frankfurt, seeks to link the two databases and make them fully searchable from both ends. The linking of data from ArsRoma with the »Census of Antique Works of Art known to the Renaissance« (Humboldt University, Berlin and Berlin-Brandenburg Academy of Sciences and Humanities, Berlin) is continued contemporaneously. By interconnecting ArsRoma, Census and sandrart.net the project partners intend to provide the possibility to access as much information as possible about antique works of art and their reception in the early modern era. The planned cross-platform accessibility and reciprocal supplementation of data, research results, source references and images from three differently conceived databases will provide a broad overview of the artistic production and the cultural climate in seventeenth-century Rome.

Another European cooperation is the cultural programme »HyperRecords. Making Museum Records Interoperable« (completed in 2006). 

The database platform ZUCCARO also offers access to a multitude of Roman maps and vedute which quite literally present a panorama of the city’s urban development.

ArsRoma

Research Group Leader
Prof. Dr. Sybille Ebert-Schifferer

Research Associates
Dott.ssa Eva Bracchi
bracchi(at)biblhertz.it
Dr. Brigitte Kuhn-Forte
kuhn(at)biblhertz.it