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MLN 119.1 Supplement (2004) S88-S107

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The Donation of Constantine, Cartography, and Papal Plenitudo Potestatis in the Sixteenth Century:
A Paper for Salvatore Camporeale

Pauline Moffitt Watts
Sarah Lawrence College

Historiae oculus geographia
(Motto from the frontispiece of Abraham Ortelius: Theatrum mundi, Antwerp, 1624)

Historians of cartography have observed that the proliferation of maps and mural map cycles in 16th century Italy is evidently intertwined with the shifting configurations of political and territorial hegemony that mark the early modern period. These maps trace and celebrate the expansion of Europe into Africa, Asia, and the Americas, and document claims to territorial possessions within both Europe and its newfound lands. They appear in paintings as accoutrements of political power, they fresco the walls of the private quarters and public chambers of powerful rulers and regimes. Most of them use Ptolemaic techniques to create mathematically proportioned projections and scales; the resulting precisions imply that the jurisdictions and polities they document are precise and "real"—that they are legitimate and historically stable and continuous. But frequently these maps are in fact graphic representations of what Eric Wolf once called "imagined entities," rather than actual jurisdictions or polities. As such, they are polemical and controversial—fluid rather than frozen in time and space. In this paper for Salvatore I want to look at [End Page S88] how and why three such imagined entities were depicted in the Galleria delle Carte Geografiche in the Vatican Palace. 1

The Galleria was executed from 1578-1581 during the pontificate of Gregory XIII (1572-85). Its walls (close to 400 feet long) are decorated with thirty-two panels of maps of various regions in Italy designed by the Dominican cartographer, Ignazio Danti, and its vault is frescoed with an intricate arrangement of panels of various sizes, shapes, and hues. Originally there was an anamorphosis located at the north end of the Gallery opposite the entrance, a mirror displaying an image of the Eucharist reflected from a distortion hidden above. 2 [End Page S89]

A walk down the length of the gallery from south to north simulated a walk down the Italian peninsula from north to south, following the spine of the Apennines from Venice and Genoa down to Sicily. At the south entrance to the corridor two maps designating Italia Antiqua (to the left) and Italia Nova (to the right) faced each other. This pair introduce the two walls of maps of particular regions, many of which contain detailed miniatures of important cities. The maps are scaled and contain much hydrological and topographical detail with particular attention given to lighting the undulation of hills and valleys; some have diminutive vignettes of specific historical events. Framing the south door, which was the entrance to the Galleria, were smaller maps of Venice and Ancona (to the left) and Genoa and Civitavecchia (to the right). Framing the portal at the north end which originally displayed the mirror reflecting the anamorphosis of the Eucharist, were maps of The Isle of Corfú and the Tremiti Islands to the left and the Isle of Malta and The Isle of Elba to the right.

The south entrance of the Galleria (framed by maps of Genoa, Venice, Civitavecchia and Ancona which introduce the maps of Italia Antiqua and Italia Nova) connects to the Gallery and Chapel of Pius V. On this level, both the Gallery and the Chapel of Pius V provide entrances on their eastern sides into a series of rooms that lead to the stanze and loggia of Raphael, and to the Sala di Costantino. A staircase flanking the western end of the Cortile della Sentinella descends from the southern entrance to the Chapel of Pius V down a floor directly to the western entrance to the Sistine Chapel which in turn opens into the Sala Regia at its eastern entrance. These are all public rooms; the Sala Regia and the Cappella Sistina are of particular importance. The Sala Regia was the primary locus of public consistories, the room where Popes formally received secular...


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