The study of spolia – the constructive or deconstructive reuse of materials from earlier buildings – was problematic in research for a long time, because neither art historians nor archaeologists felt fully responsible for the area. In addition, the study of art concentrated primarily on remnants reused aesthetically or ideally in their new site of presentation.
The goal of the dissertation to be written is to break up this limited way of viewing the subject and grasp the matter of spolia in its important historical and architecture-historical meaning, in the example of the construction of the New St. Peter’s in Rome. Unlike the spolia research that has been conducted up till now, both the ancient spaces and monuments from which spolia were taken in Rome and the affected spaces and ideas of space in the Renaissance and their changes will be examined.
A basic idea of the project is thus the expansion of research approaches in spolia studies with the aid of object-oriented archaeology.
The city of Rome takes central importance in this project. The great construction projects in the Renaissance required vast amounts of material, substantial portions of which were taken from ancient building substance. In addition, the relatively extensive documentation of the construction of the New St. Peter’s offers an outstanding starting point for studying the use of spolia.
Thus, for example, documents from the construction shed of St. Peter’s, the Archivio della Reverendissima Fabbrica di San Pietro, provide the record of a removal of spolia from a large number of ancient monuments in Rome. The monuments and spaces named therein can be archaeologically examined more thoroughly in regard to their ancient structure; also, the state of these sites during the Renaissance can be analyzed, thereby supplementing the topographical image of Rome in Antiquity and in the Renaissance.
The central question – how have these spaces changed because of the removal of spolia and were the spolia removed by plan or on coincidental occasions? – must be investigated in direct connection with other fields of problems. These include legal issues (Who had access to the spolia? Who owned the remnants of ancient monuments? How were excavating licenses issued?), technical and archaeological aspects (How were these massive materials transported? Were only selected pieces used? Do the spolia provide indications of the appearance and construction of the ancient monuments?), and cultural-historical matters (What respect did Antiquity enjoy when it came to exploiting the monuments?).
Initially, knowledge of the sources on the spaces in question will be expanded and deepened. The list of sites and monuments derived from the written records of the Fabbrica di San Pietro will be supplemented with pictorial evidence on the monuments from Renaissance-era drawings. To this end, the databank of the Census will be used. In a favorable case, this will already permit the determination of changes in the construction substance and the confirmation of the written sources.
After the topographical stock is registered, the focus will shift to external circumstances affecting the buildings. Additional contemporaneous sources (legal texts, Papal Bulls, communal tax lists, city maps, etc.) will be used to determine who owned the remnants of the monuments and how the Vatican behaved, for example in regard to preserving monuments. Central aspects of this include Renaissance excavation activity and the trade in spolia that resulted from it.
In the end, the obtained results will be brought together to understand the significance of the use of spolia in Renaissance Rome in an overall view and to discover the change in spaces and sites caused by the transposition of the material, whether by intent or due to economic constraints. Finally, the new use of the spolia in New St. Peter’s will be examined; in individual cases, for example the columns, this will surely be possible.
Seen together with other works on spolia and the other sub-areas of Research Area E I of the Topoi project, the dissertation project with the examination of the material reuse and redesign of the ancient legacies in specific spaces will contribute to triggering a “spatial turn” in research on spolia.