This 1748 map of Rome, known as La Nuova Pianta di Roma, is the work of Giambattista Nolli, an architect and planner originally from Lombardy. It is considered one of the most accurate, elegant, and celebrated maps of Rome, a milestone in the history of art and cartography. This map allows its viewer to see Rome as it was in the 18th century—a city that was on the cusp of modernity while still connected to its Ancient roots.
Nolli’s map is famed for its departure from the frequently produced ‘view-map’, which portrayed the city with a bird’s eye view. Rather, Nolli’s map is a ‘plan-map’, specifically a ‘figure-ground plan’ map, where all public and semi-public spaces are shown in white, emphasizing the diverse nature of the city during the 18th century. Inhabited areas are shaded, a feature which displays the population density of the city at the time. While this map of Rome is not the first of its kind, as Leonardo Bufalini (1486/1500–1556) created a similar type of map in 1551, Nolli’s map went far beyond Bufalini in its attention to detail and more precise measurements (Vatican Library, VcBA 11052240). Additionally, Nolli was the first to orient the city to the north as opposed to the east, as had been done by previous cartographers. Engravings representing Ancient and modern Rome designed by the painter Stefano Pozzi decorate the outer parts of the map, adding visual embellishment to Nolli’s purely topographical depiction of the city.
La Nuova Pianta di Roma was commissioned in 1736 and then presented to Pope Benedict XIV Lambertini in 1748. It was printed on twelve separate sheets, which were then labeled and bound together alongside a smaller-scale map that featured engravings by Giovanni Battista Piranesi. Although the smaller-scale map would not have included as much detail as the much-larger twelve-sheet map, it was valued for its portability and used in the 18th century by visitors to the city. An additional engraving by Nolli depicting a plan of ancient Rome, which was based on Bufalini’s 1551 rendition (Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1977.661.2), was also a part of this binding.
The engravings around the map feature images of Classical landmarks such as the Colosseum, Arch of Constantine, the Forum, and Trajan’s Column. The allegorical figures Romulus and Remus are depicted in the lower left corner, shown as broken statuary. On the right, a personification of the Church is shown seated in front of the Capitoline and its buildings designed by Michelangelo. These vignettes situate the map within the 18th century through their elegant rendition of modern structures, while alluding to the Ancient history of the city through the inclusion of decorative Roman ruins and allegorical figures. Thus, this map is a fascinating commentary on the way that the modern and the antique connected in 18th-century Rome. Pozzi’s decision to include illustrations of imaginary ruins in his engraving was perhaps an artistic decision spurred by the vogue for Panini’s painted capricci. More specific Antique references were also utilized by painters of Grand Tour portraits such as Pompeo Batoni, Angelika Kauffmann and Anton von Maron (cat. 41).
It is difficult to overstate the importance of Nolli’s La Nuova Pianta di Roma, as it was the model for every subsequent 18th-century urban map in Europe. Nolli’s map was also utilized by the city as an important record for centuries after its creation, despite the changes in structures over the years as the city grew outside its original footprint and its density changed. The farmland portrayed here around the city’s center would eventually disappear along with most of the private estates and gardens within the original city walls. Together with paintings such as Gaspar Vanvitelli’s The ‘Casino’ of Cardinal Annibale Albani on the Via Aurelia (cat. 2), Nolli’s map survives as a record of a Rome during this period before the onslaught of urbanization in the late 19th century totally changed the character of the city and its former relationship with the countryside. An award-winning interactive digital version of this map, initially created by the University of Oregon in 2005 with funding from the J. Paul Getty foundation, has become a reference point for scholars of urban history.❖