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BOOK

REVIEW

Palladio's Rome: A Translation of Andrea Palladio's Two Guidebooks to Rome By Vaughan Hart and Peter Hicks, Yale, 285pp. £18.99

Here is another episode in the long later fascination with the antiquities of Rome.

As a publishing project it is delightfully quixotic. The book follows the tall narrow format common for guidebooks today, and the translators suggest that one might carry it round Rome, referring to the various sites it describes. I think this would be seriously frustrating.

There are two books here, bound as one. The first treats Classical antiquities not topographically but in categories such as gates, bridges, hills. But even baths, one of Palladio's favourite types, gets short shrift: all the baths in the city, plus the naumachias 'where they staged naval battles', are polished off in fewer than two pages. Earlier commentators who described Palladio's guidebooks as little more than lists were not entirely wrong. They reveal more about Palladio than about Rome, and describe more about how it was seen in the 16th century than a tourist might need to know.

The split into two is one of the most interesting features of this book. The second part covers churches, not as buildings - Bramante's Tempietto is mentioned in passing without naming the architect - but as stops on a tour of relics and indulgences. I cannot believe that this accurately reects this rational architect's interest in his favourite city. Instead of uncovering an unsuspected vein of superstition in Palladio, it reveals itself as a kind of hack work, calculated for popular appeal. Apparently it succeeded; he had noticed what brought most people into Rome and cashed in on it.

My favourite relics are a little offbeat - a coin from the 30 pieces of silver for which Judas sold Christ (an anti-relic? ) and, from the site of the Crucifixion, a piece of the good thief's cross. Both of these are secreted at San Sebastiano, along with the remains of 174,000 martyrs. The highest number of named saints' bodies is recorded at Santi Apostoli, 20 complete, and a considerable number of further arms, ribs, knees and shoulders.

Were the two pamphlets intended for two distinct markets? I suspect so, and can't see much sign of the 'single Christian vision' common to both that the translators try to conjure up. Palladio's attention even wanders in the Classical section, while there are amusing errors he shared with his contemporaries, like Santa Costanza as a reused pagan building. Its mosaics don't seem very spiritual, but it was nonetheless originally constructed as a Christian mausoleum.

Yale has supplied lavish illustration: current photographs as well as plates from Serlio for many pagan structures; less interesting frontal views for most of the churches. The editors' commentary is often fuller than Palladio's text and packed with information. A full translation of Raphael's famous letter to Pope Leo X about the antique monuments of Rome is included in an appendix - an unexpected and welcome bonus.

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