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Frescos. Classicism Preserved

300 Bartoli.Vatican b-wThe Raphael Vatican loggia frescos are probably among the most readily recognized today, but fresco wall decoration was not a new idea when the Vatican contracted hundreds of skilled artisans during the main period of embellishment, from the 15th to 17th centuries. Raphael's Vatican frescos, based on the Roman grottos, with grotesques of maidens and men, centaurs and other natural and mythological elements, were revered from the time they were painted early in the 16th century, but pictures were painted on walls for thousands of years before this.
Between 1670 and 1677, Pietro Santi Bartoli (1635-1700) endeavoured to capture the beauty and essence of Raphael’s classical frescos in his own fresco compositions of maidens and men, centaurs and other mythological elements. Hand-coloured with gouache they are really spectacular and most unusual 17th century engravings.

Lavega Herculaneum cherubs

Swiss architect and engineer Domenico Fontana (1543-1607) was responsible for much of Rome’s redevelopment.
In 1600 he accidentally discovered the buried region of Pompeii during tunnelling for the construction of a viaduct. Not then identified as a great municipalilty, dedicated excavation of these ruins did not begin until 1748 - and were haphazardly undertaken for the next 112 years. Another great region of the 1st century, Herculaneum was not discovered until 1709 when men digging a well uncovered a decorated wall of the city.

Herculaneum fresco, Vanni c1757

As a town had been built above it, excavation did not commence for 30 years. Artifacts and decorated walls from Pompeii and Herculaneum were illustrated as they were exposed, and engravers transposed them onto plates for prints to be made to circulate details of the findings. Fine engravers of architectural antiquities were also engraved the frescos for the most important 18th century archaelogical work Le Antichita di Ercolano Esposta (The Antiquitiesof Herculaneum Exposed), published in Naples between 1757 and 1792.


Some of these wonderful copperplate engravings have cross-hatched or bare sections to show where paint or mosaic had been destroyed - to remind us of their source. Not only is it amazing that these frescos survived and were rediscovered, it is also amazing that fine engravings depicting them survive today. They are, after all "just pieces of paper" as someone pointed out the other day. These beautiful antique engravings represent life and art from hundreds of years ago. Before modern technology, circulation and preservation of information had to be painstakingly carved or drawn onto a plate for prints to be made.

(For more information on early printing methods check out our website Library

there's a great selection of beautiful rare 18th century classical artwork on our website at or arrange a visit to the Antique Print Clubhouse in the Gold Coast Hinterland.
Email or phone +61 412 442 283 for further information or assistance.

Posted: 26/02/2014 10:15:39 AM by | with 0 comments