Detail from Circus Maximus by an unknown artist from a book by Onofrio Panvinio, 1580. Dayton C. Miller Collection, Music Division, Library of Congress.
The scene depicted is the Circus Maximus in Rome in which a long procession of figures enters and moves through the circus. The procession is arranged in four rows with two rows at top and two rows at the bottom, each row alternating from right to left, then left to right; it begins at the upper right and exits at the lower right. In the center is a long, raised horizontal platform that supports an obelisk in the center of the composition. At each end of the platform are goal posts (meta). Along the top of the platform are small altars bearing gifts or offerings to the gods. There are six entrances to the circus - one on each corner and one each on the left and right. Spectators line the upper edge of the circus and before them is a stream of water that seems to follow the circumference of the circus like a moat.
The longest inscription, in Latin, is along the top edge of the image, beneath the moat. Another inscription at the center left describes Onofrio Panvinio, of Verona, as the author of this work. Each of the groups of figures in the procession is identified in a brief Latin description, as are the entrances, the obelisk, and the goal posts (meta) at each end of the horizontal platform.
This appears to be a plate from a book authored by Onofrio Panvinio (1529-1568), an historian and archeologist who was born in Verona and died in Palermo. He belonged to the order of Augustinian Hermits, received his doctorate in theology in 1557, and had been appointed the corrector and reviser of books in the Vatican Library the previous year. Panvinio was considered the greatest church historian and archeologist of his era and he authored numerous books on history, liturgy, theology, and archeology, some of which were published posthumously. At the top right, the Latin text indicates this plate was printed in Venice in 1580 during the papacy of Gregory XIII. It seems most likely that this plate was intended to illustrate a manuscript on the Roman circus and triumphal processions authored by Panvinio, but was published posthumously.
Regarding the musical instruments represented in the procession, Maurice Byrne offers the following comments: Of the two groups of musicians labeled "Tubicines," the first are the players of the Cornu (a curved trumpet), two of which have creatures heads, a Celtic influence, while the next musicians play the straight tuba, also a trumpet. Following them, the "Tibicines," play the tibia, or aulos, but the instruments are inaccurately drawn because they have conical bodies and flared bells. The musicians at the far right, "Cytharoedi," play the lyre. He adds that it would require further research to discover the source used by the artist in order to understand why the images of the tibia/aulos are drawn this way. He wonders if some of these figures may have appeared on Trajan's column, for example.
- See his biography in the Catholic Encyclopedia which lists his most important works. [back to article]
- A copy of a 1600 edition is in the John and Mabel Ringling Museum of Art in Sarasota, Florida, a description of which is quoted here, under Onofrio Panvinio: "Onvphrii Panvinii Veronensis, De lvdis circensibvs, libri II. De trivmphis, liber vnvs. Quibus vniuersa ferè Romanorvm vetervm sacra ritvsq. Declarantvr, ac figuris aeneis illustrantur... Venetiis: Apud Ioannem Baptistam Ciottum Senensem, 1600. This account of circus games and triumphal processions, first published in 1596, is the third oldest known circus book. The work is based on a manuscript left by Panvinio at the time of his death in 1568. The engraved title page is set within an architectural frame with figures and scenes of Roman circuses. The coat of arms above the title is that of the dedicatee, Francesco Maria della Rovere, duke of Urbino. The figure of Aurora, below the title, is the device of the printer Giovanni Battista Ciotti." Other editions, listed in the National Union Catalogue, were published in 1601, 1642 and 1681. The description given in the National Union Catalogue for the 1642 edition states: "Illustrations: 38 etchings, chiefly based on Roman coins and sculpture, comprising illustrated t. p., portraits of Panvinio and Argoli, pictorial headpiece, and 34 large etchings (many double) depicting Roman games and triumphs and circuses at Rome, Pompeii and Constantinople. Most are dated 1580 and were presumably used in the Venice, 1600 edition." The 1600 and 1642 editions measure 39 cm. The 1681 edition is given as 38 cm. None of these editions is in the Library of Congress. The works of Panvinio, including De Ludis Circensibus, can be found in volume 9 of a 12-volume Thesaurus of Roman writings on Antiquity compiled by Joannes Georgius Graevius, 1632-1703. It is titled Thesavrvs antiqvitatvm romanarvm, in quo continentur lectissimi quique scriptores, qui superiori aut nostro seculo reipublicae rationem, disciplinam, leges, instituta, sacra, artesque togatas ac sagatas explicarunt & illustraunt, congestus a Joanne Georgio Graevio. Accesserunt variae & accuratae tabulae aeneae .... Traject., ad Rhen., apud Fransiscvm Halmam; [etc., etc.] MDCXCIV-MDCXCIX [1694-1699]. 12 vols. Rare Book Division. Library of Congress. LC call number: DE3.G7a. Volume 9 is dated 1698. There is a plate of the Circus Maximus between pages 364/365 and 366 (the pages are each numbered at the top left and right). It was clearly based on this image and carries nearly an identical inscription including the date 1580 and the mention of Pope Gregory XIII. However, this is a very "free" adaptation of the etching found in the Miller collection. The figures in the Graevius plate are more robust and more sculptural in feeling. They are also presented in perspective, moving from very large figures in the foreground to small figures in the background, and their placement varies slightly from the original etching of 1580. There are, in addition, several other plates devoted to each group represented in the procession in which the role of each is presented in more detail. For example, the carriages with statuary drawn by elephants and other animals are presented as "medallions" and include inscriptions identifying the gods to whom they honor, and the sacrificing of the oxen is given in more detail. For further research, see article by Zerner in the Art Bulletin, 1965, pp. 507-512, on the 1642 edition of Panvinio's De ludis circensibus containing prints attributed to Etienne Duperac. Reference per George Clarke Print Collection, Worcester College, Oxford, print ID 5421. [back to article]
- These comments are courtesy of Maurice Byrne, via Robert Bigio, London, 5 July 2007. [back to article]