Oracular Architecture: Language, Inscription and Sculptural Relief in Late Renaissance Rome

  • Nicholas Temple (Speaker)

Activity: Talk or presentation typesInvited talk


This paper examines the ‘oracular’ presence of architecture during the late Renaissance in Rome; the capacity of building facades, and their topographical settings, to ‘speak’ of Rome’s mytho-historic past. The investigation examines this topic in the context of the growing influence of archaeological finds as a source of fertile and imaginative reconstructions of historical narratives, in which buildings serve as actors on the stage of Rome’s rich and turbulent political and religious histories. In contrast to the 15th and early 16th centuries, when the topography of the city was largely understood in terms of its inscriptive testimonies (evidenced for example in the extensive surveys of inscriptions by Flavio Biondo and Poggio Bracciolini), the later part of the 16th century witnessed a more intensive interest in the role of ancient sculptured relief as models of figurative narrative for animating building facades. The presentation will consider this influence in the context of the oracular status of ancient sculpture in the 16th century, drawing upon Leonard Barkan’s insightful study of ‘talking statues’ in his Unearthing the Past: Archaeology and Aesthetics in the Making of Renaissance Culture, in which the pursuit of a poetic form of language “....was in its essence derived from a need to make inanimate things speak and thereby to attain personhood.” Among the personalities to be explored will be Pirro Ligorio and such architectural examples as the Palazzo dei Pupazzi, along the via dei Banchi Vecchi, and the Casino of Pius IV in the Vatican Gardens.
Period26 Mar 2015
Event title61st Annual Meeting of the Renaissance Society of America
Event typeOther
Conference number61
LocationBerlin, Germany, BerlinShow on map
Degree of RecognitionInternational