The entry of a Viceroy into Naples

The collection of Cassiano dal Pozzo at the British Library

Cassiano dal Pozzo's collection of prints and drawings is one of the most important collections of the early modern period. It was an attempt to embrace the entirety of human knowledge through visual media. Mark McDonald reviews some of the prints acquired by George III and now held at the British Library.

The British Library houses a large number of prints that came from the collection of Cassiano dal Pozzo (1588–1657). Cassiano was one of the most important patrons of artists in Rome during the first half of the 17th century. For this discussion, his dedication to forming what he described as his ‘Paper Museum’ is of greatest interest. The ‘Museum’ that was housed in his library in the small palazzo in Rome comprised a vast collection of drawings and prints bound in albums that recorded the natural world, antiquity, the built environment, human appearance and behaviour. The aim of the Paper Museum was ambitious, to graphically represent the known world in areas that interested Cassiano. In building the collections, Cassiano was assisted by his younger brother Carlo Antonio who continued to augment the collection after Cassiano died. Of the collection that survives, there are around 6,200 drawings and over 3,200 prints but it is likely there were originally many more. Carlo Antonio died in 1689 and the collection eventually passed to Pope Clement XI, thence the Pope’s nephew Cardinal Alessandro Albani who in 1762 sold it to King George III. Today many of the prints are in the British Library (albums and single sheets), but material can also be found in the Royal Library at Windsor Castle and at the British Museum with a number of prints and drawings scattered across the world.

Born in Turin, Cassiano worked briefly as a judge in Siena before moving to Rome in 1612. During his first years there he mixed with antiquarians, erudite men of letters, members of the church and noble families. The environment in which Cassiano lived no doubt inspired his intellectual and artistic interests that is also demonstrated by the many prominent artists and those lesser known that he employed to make drawings for him. Furthermore, from the early decades of the 16th century Rome developed into one of the most important centres of printmaking in Europe and by the time Cassiano arrived, there was a flourishing and competitive industry. It is not surprising then that someone with Cassiano’s interests was attracted to prints and he probably began collecting them in earnest in the 1620s. It should however be noted that he did not commission printmakers in the same way as he did artists to produce drawings and thus, his collection was largely shaped by what was available on the market.

The way in which Cassiano presented and arranged his prints marks him as unique. Understanding his method is important to appreciate the seriousness with which Cassiano approached this project. Prints and drawings were mounted in the same way to achieve a consistency and to invite careful contemplation. There is no suggestion that the collections were anything other than carefully planned. The presentation of the prints, and the precise method used to mount them is highly distinctive. An aperture was cut in a mount sheet with great precision and overlapped with the print and two brown framing lines in ink drawn around the image (see Aegidius Sadeler II's print below).

Bartholomeus Spranger and his deceased wife Christina Muller

Bartholomeus Spranger and his deceased wife Christina Muller

Aegidius Sadeler II (about 1570–1629) after Bartholomeus Spranger (1546–1611)

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The back of the print where it joined with the mount was burnished to ensure that it aligned perfectly and were are no undulations in the folios when an album was open or closed. This mounting technique is described as ‘Type A’ and was the result of a campaign for the purposes of compiling the albums that was carried out before 1640. Given the large number of Type A prints (around 1,000) this must have been a period of intense activity aimed at consolidating the collection. The effect of such careful presentation can be fully appreciated when there is more than one print to a page (see Alessandro Baratta's prints below).

The entry of a Viceroy into Naples

The entry of a Viceroy into Naples

Alessandro Baratta (1583–after 1632)

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At some point it was decided not to continue with the initial campaign, presumably because of the time involved and the cost of achieving such a high standard of presentation; a less demanding method was adopted where there are no framing lines, the window is cut more roughly and the glue on the verso is not burnished (described as Type B).

The British Library collection of dal Pozzo prints reflect Cassiano’s wide range of interests: architecture, tombs, processions, ceremonies, dress, antiquities and topography. Within the collection there are a large number of unique prints or those that are very rare. Cassiano was interested not only in the subject of his prints but the quality of the impression acknowledging their richness and beauty. For example Cassiano’s copy of Pietro Ferrerio’s Palazzi di Roma I contains some of the best-known impressions. He must have bought these directly from the publisher in Rome and probably requested the finest impressions. The British Library albums are structured differently. Some contain a single sequence of prints focus on a defined subject. One album, for example, has prints relating to the funeral of Charles III in Nancy in 1608 and Henri II’s entry into the city in 1610.

The effigy of Charles III lying on a bier in the Salle d’honneur, Ducal Palace, Nancy

The effigy of Charles III lying on a bier in the Salle d’honneur

Freidrich Brentel (1580–1651) after Jean Lahire (fl. 1608–41) and Claude de la Ruelle (fl. c. 1608–41)

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The prints from Peter Paul Rubens’s Palazzi di Genova, published in 1622, are individually mounted. The album Templa Diversa Romae, despite its title, contains prints that all relate to St Peter’s.

Michelangelo’s design for the south elevation of St Peter’s

Michelangelo’s design for the south elevation of St Peter’s, by Giovanni Ambrogio Brambilla.

Giovanni Ambrogio Brambilla (fl. from 1575, d. after 1599) after Étienne Dupérac (c. 1520–1604)

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Other albums attend to broader subjects. Templa Diversa contains prints of churches in Italy, Spain (see Pedro Perret's print below) and France, whereas Popish Ceremonies I contains many prints of processions, festivities, investitures and so on (see selection of prints below). The primary organising principle in most of the albums (of both prints and drawings) was grouping subjects by type, sometimes sequenced hierarchically. For example, the album Depositi e Funerali begins with images of tombs, from those of saints descending to those of the nobility, then catafalques divided in a similar way, ending with funeral processions. Templa Diversa that was mentioned above begins with churches in Rome, starting with St John Lateran (the papal archbasilica) followed by a selection of Roman churches, then others from elsewhere in Italy before moving to Spain and France.

Longitudinal section through the Escorial from east to west

Longitudinal section through the Escorial from east to west

Pedro Perret (1555–c. 1625) after Juan de Herrera (1530–97)

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The entry of Charles V into Bologna

The entry of Charles V into Bologna

Anonymous (c. 1529–30)

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Public Domain in most countries other than the UK.

Several of the albums have been rebound thus disrupting their original order and some albums contain much later additions. The Collection of Dresses for example in its current modern binding contains at least three separate earlier compilations. The first section of the album comprises carefully arranged prints depicting costume (Type A mounts). This is followed by a section of prints of the same subject that is not so carefully mounted or arranged (Type B). The album ends with prints devoted to Ottoman subjects (Type A). These three groups once formed separate albums.

A little explored area of dal Pozzo material at the British Library is the prints and drawings from King George III’s topographical collection (now in the Map Department). One album of drawings containing plans of fortified palaces remains intact (118.e.18, below). Although originally bound in albums, the prints have been separated and integrated with the main collection.

Fortifications on the Island of Saint-Honorat

Fortifications on the Island of Saint-Honorat

Pierre Daret (c. 1604–78)

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It is hard to know how they might originally have been arranged but given Cassiano’s attention to order, it seems chronology or region might have been the guiding principle. The topographical material is closely related to the King’s Military prints at Windsor Castle – a collection that suffered a similar fate – where over 500 dal Pozzo prints of sieges and battles originally in albums have been broken up and integrated with the collection.

Furthermore, it is likely that a large number of 16th-century Italian printed maps in the King’s Topographical Collection are from the dal Pozzo collection, but they have lost all physical trace of provenance. This material reflects Cassiano’s great interest in geography and identity that we also see in other parts of the collection, for example the many prints depicting dress, as below.

A standard bearer facing left

A standard bearer facing left

Abraham Bosse (1604–76)

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The surviving print albums and loose sheets should not be interpreted as evidence of an omnivorous approach to collecting where the dal Pozzo brothers bought everything that came their way. A much more tailored approach is apparent. For example, Templa Diversa does not include more than a selection of monuments from Italy, France and Spain. Each section in the album of tombs and processions (Depositi e Funerali) is small and there was evidently no intention to include particular individuals because of their specific ecclesiastic significance. Why one saint or pope and not another? The contents of these albums might imply that their arrangement was stimulated not by an overarching didactic or documentary impulse, but rather to capture different examples of subjects, and through recognition to prompt cognitive extrapolation. The examples of types of monuments, tombs or processions could allow the viewer to fill gaps with their own knowledge of such things. Recognising chains of visual associations is key to understanding some of the print albums where the visual echoes that can be identified in sequences and juxtaposition of images can create for the viewer a narrative trajectory of surprise, enjoyment and erudition.

In Rome, Cassiano was part of an active scientific and intellectual community. The many drawings he commissioned – for example of different types of flora – relate to each other through the comparative methods (analysis of form and variation) that reflected the preoccupations of early modern aesthetic and scientific enquiry, especially within the context of the Accademia dei Lincei to which Cassiano belonged. 

In a similar way, the careful arrangement of prints in the Type A albums was informed by the need to compare and contrast to promote different possible readings. The meaning of images was constantly discussed in Cassiano’s circles and his print collection reflects the culture and interests of the 17th century, where their potential uses move beyond the accumulation of images ostensibly for the visual information they embodied to the creation of meaningful sequences for contemplation and enjoyment within a social context.

With all of Cassiano’s collections there is an implied audience that is made present through the admiring comments made by visitors to the Paper Museum, not dissimilar to those who examine the albums in the British Library today. Such an impressive collection attracted distinguished visitors from across Europe, for there was the expectation that such collections would be ‘open’ to interested parties. Cassiano’s friend, the Italian Jesuit and botanist Giovanni Battista Ferrari, described one such visit in 1652. When taking him by the hand, Cassiano ‘drew me into the domestic Parnassus that is his library. In this wonderful choice of books I saw included most graphically nothing less than the whole of antiquity, not only of Rome but of elsewhere.’ [1]

The intellectual, social and artistic world in which Cassiano lived is key to understanding his interest in prints, what he collected and how they were organised. Order and system were at the heart of the collections as a whole and Cassiano’s practices reflect wider preoccupations. However, hierarchical presentation is only one aspect of the print collection that affects its organisation; another is what happens when images are viewed together in a sequence. These are complex matters that are slowly becoming better understood. The British Library collection of dal Pozzo prints together with those at Windsor Castle provides an incomparable opportunity to explore these subjects.

Note to Reader: For a full account of the print collection along with catalogue raisonné of the prints, see Mark McDonald, The Print Collection of Cassiano dal Pozzo I: Ceremonies, Portraits and Genre, ed. Martin Clayton, Series C:I of The Paper Museum of Cassiano dal Pozzo: A Catalogue Raisonné (London, 2016). Part II on Architecture and Military History will be available shortly (London, 2017).

Footnote

[1] D. Freedberg, ‘From Hebrew and gardens to oranges and lemons: Giovanni Battista Ferrari and Cassiano dal Pozzo’, in Cassiano Atti 1989, p.37.

Dal Pozzo prints in the British Library

Depositi e Funerali (134.g.9)

Processioni e Feste (135.g.1)

Charles III Cérémonies Funèbres (136.g.10)

Popish Ceremonies I (134.g.10)

Popish Ceremonies II (134.g.11)

Collection of Dresses (146.i.10)

Templa Diversa Romae (54.i.7)

Templa Diversa (3.Tab.34)

Palazzi di Roma I (3.Tab.65)

Palazzi di Roma II (7.Tab.48)

Palazzi di Genova (54.i.15)

Antiquitates Romanae (7.Tab.49)

Speculum Romanae Magnificentiae (7.Tab.1) Single prints found in the King’s Topographical Collection

  • Mark McDonald
  • Mark McDonald is a Curator of Prints and Drawings at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. He is currently completing a six-volume publication of the print collection of Cassiano dal Pozzo.

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