Medieval Fabric in Roman Palaces: Reuse and Referentiality
Guendalina Ajello Mahler
New York University, New York, USA
The city of Rome is rich in reused architectural elements of all kinds, including medieval structures. There are the substantially preserved medieval buildings of the Orsini and Savelli baronial complexes, later renovated by Orazio Torriani and Baldassarre Peruzzi respectively, and a number of medieval towers, preserved but refaced: within Palazzo Orsini a Pasquino by Antonio da Sangallo, Palazzo Mattei di Giove by Carlo Maderno, Peruzzi's unrealized design for Palazzo Massimo alle Colonne, and Michelangelo's Capitoline project.
The intentional incorporation of medieval structures in early modern Roman palaces was a distinctive practice, different from the purely opportunistic reuse of earlier fabric, the incorporation of spolia, or the inclusion of new but medievalizing structures. While some of these practices have been thoroughly investigated, others have barely been explored, and the methodologies for understanding one do not automatically apply to the others. A tower preserved for symbolic reasons invites a very different kind of analysis from one retained for sheer lack of funds or newly built in an archaic style. Yet, it is perhaps inadvisable to separate these choices entirely from one another. It can be difficult to decipher architects' and patrons' perceptions of specific architectural forms or their intentions in adopting particular architectural solutions. Moreover, the meanings of these interrelated practices can be both mixed and mutually informative.
Roman palaces may serve as a prism through which to examine architectural reuse and symbolic allusion to the medieval past in the Eternal City.