Rome: Antoine Lafréry, 1549.
Single sheet engraving. 476 x 337 mm. Image area: 405 x 310 mm.
FIRST STATE (of four).
Signed and dated in the plate by the publisher: “Antonii Lafrerii Romae 1549”. Paper with a hard to discern circular watermark. A fine copy, the impression sharp and with good contrast. Very faint foxing and very light soiling to the blank margins.
The tomb of Caecilia Metella, one of the best-known and most recognizable monuments of Roman antiquity, is located at the third mile of the Via Appia. The tomb was erected by Quintus Metellus Cretico (consul in 69 BC, who had the title of Cretico for having defeated the resistance of the Cretans in 67 BC) in honor of his daughter, Caecilia. Proposed dates for the creation of the tomb range from 67 B.C. to the end of the Augustan age. In the second century the tomb was owned by Herodes Atticus, “who consecrated it to the memory of his wife, Annia Regilla, along with various chthonic deities.”(Gerding). By the ninth century, the tomb was the property of the church.
In the Late Middle Ages, Pope Boniface VIII (1294-1303) gave the tomb to his nephew Pietro Caetani. Around 1303-4, Cardinal Francesco Caetani incorporated it into a castle complex and equipped it with a wall. The crenelations at the top are part of those medieval modifications. The tomb was subsequently owned by the Savelli, Colonna, and Orsini families, before being abandoned in 1484. The tomb was damaged in the mid-16th c., after this print was published.
The inscriptions on the print record both the tomb’s early history and the lore surrounding the sepulcher.
The first inscription, in all capitals, reads: “Near the Echo of Metella. Creticus is said to have buried his daughter [and] Crassus his wife. From that time on, this place causes laments to echo.”
The second sentence refers back to the inscription at the head of the print. The “echo” produced in the tomb was said to be able to reach the “Hippodrome” (in reality, the Baths) of Caracalla and return back to the tomb again five times.
The second inscription gives a description of the tomb’s construction and more details on the echo, already famous in antiquity:
“The sepulcher of Metella, wife of Crassus, visible on an elevated point of the Appian Way. Therefore [i.e. because of its prospect], it needed to be rather large in size and circular. It is made of squared Tiburtina stone, with its admirable marble band decorated with trophies and ox heads, by which it is commonly known [i.e. as “Capo di Bove”]. It was, as is clear from the testimony of Tullius, famous in antiquity in this way: Echo, by returning the sound of words from the Hippodrome of Caracalla five times, seemed to all [in both locations], astonishingly, to be nearby.”
The “testimony” of Cicero refers to Cicero’s remark, at Tusculanae disputationes 1.7.13 (ca. 45 BC), “An tu egressus porta Capena, cum Calatini, Scipionum, Serviliorum, Metellorum sepulcra vides, miseros putas illos?” but this reference is now believed to refer to another tomb.
The print is based on a drawing preserved at the University of Ghent. (See Rubach, “Ant. Lafreri Formis Romae” p. 47 and 312) Both the print and the drawing reconstruct some details of the frieze. The bulls shown in the drawing and the print are references to the popular name of the tomb, “Capo di Bove”.
This engraving, published at Rome by the French emigree printer Antoine Lafréry, would later be absorbed into the vast publishing phenomenon that came to be known as the "Speculum Romanae Magnificentiae" (“The Mirror of Roman Magnificence”).
The “Speculum” had its genesis at Rome in the years following the sack of 1527, when the Spanish emigree Antonio Salamanca began producing engravings of Roman subjects with regularity (prior to the sack such prints were few and appeared sporadically). In the 1540s, Lafréry began a rival enterprise, copying many of Salamanca’s engravings. In 1553, these two competing Roman publishers entered into a contractual alliance for twelve years, “with the explicit purpose of printing and selling copper-plate prints of ancient and modern subjects… When the contractual agreement between Salamanca and Lafréry was established in 1553 the underlying principle of the ‘Speculum’ was in place: it was to be a corpus of documentary prints of ancient and modern Roman subjects, mainly in folio.”(Parshall)
Lafréry’s and Salamanca’s engravings, illustrating the ancient and modern marvels of Rome (tombs, temples, palaces, baths, statuary, obelisks, columns, inscriptions, frescoes, etc.), were purchased by tourists as souvenirs, studied by antiquarians, used as models by artists and architects, and circulated as virtual visits for armchair travelers beyond Rome. By the late 1570s, collectors could also purchase an engraved title page (by du Pérac) while selecting prints for their own Speculum collections. As a result, Lafréry’s customers or those of his heirs (Salamanca had died in 1562 and Parshall suggests that the title was only in use after Lafréry’s death in 1577), collected images to suit their own needs or taste. After the death of Lafréry, two-thirds of the existing copper plates went to his heirs, and another third was sold to other publishers.
The print predates the Lafrery-Salamanca partnership. Rubach notes three subsequent issues, one with additional shading and hatching (no date given), the others printed in the 17th c. by Orlandi (dated 1602) and Van Schoel (undated but ca. 1614-1622).
Hülsen, Speculum (1921), p.143 n. 38A; Marigliani, Lo splendore di Roma (2016) II.31 (p. 107); Rubach cat. 300