Rome: Matteo Gregorio de Rossi, 1692.
Single sheet etching. 680 x 450 mm.
FIRST STATE (of 2). Carlo Losi printed a second issue in 1773.
An excellent, bright copy with the image in very sharp impression. Light soiling to the blank margins, far from the plate mark.
A splendid view of Ponte and Castel Sant’ Angelo with the Girandola.
The print shows Ponte Sant'Angelo in Rome, decorated with sculptures of the angels designed by Bernini, each holding an Instrument of the Passion of Christ. Most of the statues were completed in 1669 when Pope Clement IX, who had given Bernini the commission, died. The Angel with the Cross, considered the masterpiece of the master stone-carver Ercole Ferrata, was not completed until 1670; in the following year the bridge was formally inaugurated.
The composition of this print is based on an earlier (1671) print by Falda, which lacked the fireworks display, issued to commemorate the inauguration of the bridge.
The scene in De Rossi’s print shows very clearly minute details such as the “machine”(fireworks apparatus) and various bystanders, gathered to watch the display. The crowd is far from homogeneous. In addition to people marveling at the spectacle, we see children reeling arm-in-arm in a dance, a man with his back to the fireworks (his attention focused on trying to woo a woman) and a pair of men in a boat startled by one of the fireworks hitting the water precariously close to their craft.
From the fifteenth well into the nineteenth century, the Girandola over Castel Sant'Angelo was Rome's most famous fireworks display. Two elements make it immediately recognizable: the massive cylinder of the castle and the explosion of rockets. The first documented exhibition of fireworks in Rome took place in 1410, but it was only in 1471, at the coronation of Sixtus IV, that fireworks began to be set off at the Castel Sant'Angelo, the fortress-like structure originally built as Hadrian's mausoleum.
The earliest published description of the Girandola was in 1540, in Vannoccio Biringuccio's Pirotechnia: "They make use of the whole castle, which is indeed a very pleasing shape.... They hoot many rockets that are a palmo [about nine inches] long and hold three to four ounces of powder each. These are constructed so that after they have moved upward with a long tail and seem to be finished they burst and each one sends forth anew six or eight rockets. Fire tubes are also made and small girandolas, flames, and lights, and even the coat of arms of the pope is composed in fire."
Another 17th c. writer described the spectacle: "all the windows, bell towers, and balconies of the city are illuminated." At a sign from the papal palace the Girandola begins with mortars and artillery "such that the whole city trembles"; when the rockets are unleashed, "it seems as if the sky has opened, and that all the stars are falling to earth, a truly stupendous thing and most marvelous to see."…
“This extraordinary sight was recreated every year at Easter and on June 28, the eve of the feast of Saints Peter and Paul, as well as for the election and coronation of a new pope. The Girandola remained a high point on the itinerary of visitors to Rome until the late 1800s, when it was feared that continuing the explosions could do irreparable damage to the fabric of the building. Many nineteenth-century English writers described it. Charles Dickens, in 1845, wrote not only of the spectacle but also of the aftermath: "The show began with a tremendous discharge of cannon; and then, for twenty minutes, or half an hour, the whole castle was one incessant sheet of fire, and labyrinth of blazing wheels of every color, size, and speed...
“In half an hour afterwards, the immense concourse had dispersed; the moon was looking calmly down upon her wrinkled image in the river, and half a dozen men and boys, with bits of lighted candle in their hands, moving here and there, in search of anything worth having, that might have been dropped in the press, had the whole scene to themselves."(Suzanne Boorsch: Fireworks! Four Centuries of Pyrotechnics in Prints and Drawings, New York, Metropolitan Museum, 2000, exhibition cat., p 38-39).