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  • Pirro Ligorio: the Renaissance Artist, Architect, and Antiquarian
  • Frances Muecke
Coffin, David R. , Pirro Ligorio: the Renaissance Artist, Architect, and Antiquarian, University Park, Pennsylvania State University Press, 2004; cloth; pp. xiv, 226; 145 b/w illustrations; RRP US$55; ISBN 0271022930.

For all his ambition, versatility, flashes of innovation, and sheer hard work, Pirro Ligorio (c. 1513-1583) has to be classed as a minor figure, albeit one whose manifold interests brilliantly illuminate his time. In this first extensive biography Coffin neatly fits Ligorio's life and career into four chapters. The first, 'Early Years in Rome', brings him from Naples to Rome at the time of the election of Paul III Farnese and the city's revival after the Sack, and then up to one of the highpoints of his career as an antiquarian, the topographical maps of Rome. In Chapter 2 ('Ligorio in Papal Employ') he is a papal architect under Paul IV, Pius IV, and, briefly, Pius V. Among many small jobs of repairing and altering parts of the Vatican Palace (including the henhouse, p. 67) he built the Casino of Pius IV (a summer retreat in the gardens of the Vatican), the Nicchione at the north end of the Belvedere Court, and the Palazzetto of Pius IV on the Via Flaminia (outshone by its close neighbour, the Villa Giulia). He was briefly the architect of St Peter's. At the end of the chapter he is 55, out of a job, the leading antiquarian in Rome (p. 76), selling his manuscripts and wonderful collection of coins and medallions to Cardinal Ranuccio Farnese, but not wishing 'to sell myself to the lord duke' (p. 80), Alfonso II d'Este of Ferrara, whose service he nevertheless entered in late 1568.

Chapter 3 ('The Villa d'Este at Tivoli') is familiar ground for Coffin, who treated it at length in The Villa d'Este at Tivoli (Princeton, 1960). Here the focus is on Ligorio's role as deviser of the iconographic programme of the garden for Cardinal Ippolito II d'Este, whose service he entered in 1549 as antiquario. The decorations of the villa itself were still in progress when Ligorio left for Ferrara. He sent back from there a manuscript with designs for tapestries, ingeniously tailoring the mythical life of Hippolytus to his Ippolito (pp. 99-104). There [End Page 149] were some highpoints in the next years at Ferrara: appointment as Lector at the University in 1569, acceptance as an important courtier, a gift of citizenship, friendship with Tasso. Despite this one cannot help feeling sorry for Ligorio in his Ferrarese tramonto ('Ligorio in Ferrara'). His experience and skills as collector of antiquities, iconographic designer, and architect were put to Alfonso's service, 'on a smaller scale', as Coffin says (p. 127). He designed triumphal arches for entries, set up Alfonso's museum and library, and was responsible for the programmes for the redecoration of the castle after an earthquake in 1570. The earthquake prompted a treatise and a design of earthquake proof building (pp. 110-11). At the same time he continued his antiquarian research.

Nothing is known of Ligorio's early education. He came to Rome as a painter, soon developing interests in classical antiquity that remained focused on iconography, archaeology, and topography. In the 1540s he was involved in the discovery of the consular Fasti (p. 11) and later did important work on Hadrian's villa (pp. 104-5). Unlike the antiquarians before the Sack of Rome Ligorio appears not to have had a humanist formation. He must have been able to read Latin (p. 20) but he wrote in Italian. His one small book, Libro di M. Pyrrho Ligori, delle antichità di Roma ne quale si tratta de' circi, theatri, & anfitheatri (1553) was published by Michele Tramezzino of Venice, who specialized in such works, in the same period publishing the Italian translations of Biondo Flavio by Lucio Fauno.

Ligorio's first attempt at an encyclopedia of antiquity was to consist of 50 books. He left it in Rome in 1567. It had already won the praise of the contemporary Spanish antiquarians, Onofrio Panvinio and Agosto Agustín. In Ferrara he worked...


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