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Toward a New City Image

Toward a New City Image

Leon Battista Alberti’s Descriptio urbis Romae (ca. 1450) and Francesco Rosselli’s Lost View of Rome (ca. 1485–90)

(p.19) Chapter One Toward a New City Image
Rome Measured and Imagined
Jessica Maier
University of Chicago Press

The late fifteenth century saw the emergence of two paradigms: Leon Battista Alberti’s Descriptio urbis Romae, a treatise describing the scholar’s method for making a geometric plan of Rome, and Francesco Rosselli’s panoramic view of the city. Situating both works relative to late medieval portrayals, this chapter shows how they established the cartographic and pictorial approaches that came to dominate city imagery. Alberti’s Descriptio stemmed from the stimulating atmosphere of mid-fifteenth-century Rome, particularly the intellectual circle of the curia. His friends included noted humanists Flavio Biondo and Poggio Bracciolini, and Alberti’s project fits well with their investigations of the city’s history and topography. Rosselli’s city view, by contrast, was the work of a professional printmaker—one of the first to specialize in realistic city portraits. His work, unlike Alberti’s, was a popular success that inspired a plethora of imitations. But Alberti’s map and principles had an equally significant influence in the realm of urban mapping. For all their differences, both works expressed Rome’s burgeoning renewal, or renovatio, and both were united by a commitment to measurement and exactitude that set them apart from all that had come before, while providing a foundation for all that came after.

Keywords:   cartographic, pictorial, Leon Battista Alberti, Descriptio urbis Romae, plan, Rome, humanism, Francesco Rosselli, city view, renewal

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