The Circus Maximus was the first and largest circus in Rome, the site of games and entertainments, including charioteers, horseback riders, athletes, gladiatorial contests and musicians. The oval shape was particularly well suited to races, and on the track of this print, as the captions indicate, are both large chariots pulled by four horses and single riders. In the center is a large obelisk labeled “sacred to the sun,” a smaller one labeled “sacred to the moon,” and other sculptures including a statue of Fortune, a monument to Neptune topped with sculptures of dolphins, and at either end, groups of three large pillars called “metae,” which marked the starting line of the race course, with another set at the opposite end. In the lower left corner Roman soldiers are restraining two men, though whether they are being forced to compete or being carried away is not clear. Captions also label the orientation of the arena (e.g. “Hinc Aventinus” showing the location of the nearby Aventine hill).
Antoine Lafréry (also known by the Italian name Antonio Lafreri) was a French printseller and publisher, and possibly also an engraver, who moved to Italy and was active in Rome from around 1540 until his death in 1577. His firm published maps and a wide range of prints: ancient and modern Rome, portraits, ornament and mythological, historical and religious subjects. He also bought and sold drawings, coins and medals. Among Lafréry’s publications were two architectural treatises and several sets of ornament prints, including Speculum Romanae Magnificentiae (c. 1540-c.1565). According to the subtitle of Speculum, it had the most accurately drawn representations of nearly all the extant monuments of the City of Rome; in the 1570s, the Lafréry catalogue listed some 500 subjects. Speculum did not have fixed contents; each copy was unique and varied in terms of the number of pages, subjects included, and even the printers and engravers. Moreover, later collectors also added prints to earlier sets. The University of Chicago holds the largest extant collection of Speculum, which may be viewed online on its web site (see References below).
Claude Duchet (also known by the Italian name Claudio Duchetti) was an Italian printseller and publisher. He inherited half of the plates of his uncle, the engraver and publisher Antoine Lafréry, and also commissioned plates from artists such as Perret, Thomassin and Brambilla. Upon his death in about 1585, his firm was operated by his brother-in-law Giacomo Gherardi as “Claudii Ducheti Heirs” until his son Claudio reached the age of majority.
Pirro Ligorio was an Italian architect, painter, landscaper and antiquarian, best known for designing the Villa d’Este at Tivoli (1550-69). He also built the Casino of Pope Pius IV in the Vatican Gardens (1558-62) and destined stucco ornaments for the Casino and other buildings. Ligorio published a work on Roman antiquities.
Nicolas Beatrizet was a French engraver active in Italy during the first half of the 16th century.
Inscriptions: ANTIQUITATUM STUDIOSIS. EN VOBIS CANDIDISSIMI ANTIQUITATUM STUDIOSI CIRCI MAXIMI DESCRIPTIONEM NON QUALEM PLANE SCIOLI QUIDAM CAECUTIENTES (GREEK) IN SUIS ILLIS DE URBE PRISCA MENDACISSIMIS UNDECUNQUE VOLUMINIBUS EFFIGIATAM INVULGARUNT SED QUALIS APELLAEA PYRRHI LIGORII PICTORIS NEAPOLITANI MANU EX VETERUM ET CLASSICORUM AUCTORUM MONUMENTIS AD UNGUEM REPRAESENTATA ET SUMMA CUM MICHAELIS TRAMEZINI CURA ET INPENSA EX AENEIS TABULIS MIRIFICE INCISIS FORMATA CUM HIS OMNIBUS COGNITIONE DIGNISSIMIS QUAE AD HUIUSCE REM ATTINE[N]T PULCHRERRIME DEPICTIS AC NOMINATIM EXPRESSIS NUNC PRIMUM IN LUCEM PRODIT ATQUE ITA QUIDEM ABSOLUTE UT EO NOMINE NIHIL AMPLIUS ADIICI AC DESIDERARI POSSIT. QUARE SI CONTEMPLATI OTIOSE HANC TABELLAM FUERITIS ATQUE UNUMQUODQUE DILIGENTER CONSIDERAVERITIS DOCTISSIMA MILLAM CASSIODORI AD FAUSTUM PRAEPOSITUM DE LUDIS CIRCENSIBUS EPISTULAM AB IMPERITIS ANTIQUARIIS MINIME INTELLECTAM: AD HANC FRUGIFERUM ILLUM TERTULLIANI DE SPECTACULIS COMMENTARIOLUM NECNON SUB OBSCUROS DIONYSII ALICARNASSEI DE CIRCI CATAGRAPHE ET POMPALOCOS: PRIMAM ITEM HORATII AD MAECENATEM ODEN QUIN ETIAM VETERUM NOMISMATUM ET LAPIDUM MARMORUMQUE DE CIRCIS DIFFICULTATES NULLO NEGOTIO INTELLIGETIS
LEX IULI TERTII PONTIFICIS OPTIMI MAXIMI IUSSU SANCTIONE AC DECRETO BIBLIOPOLA IMPRESSOR MERCATOR INSTITORUE LIBRORUM QUISQUIS ES TABELLAS HASCE CIRCI MAXIMI DESCRIPTIONIS A MICHAELE TRAMEZINO EDITAS AB EDITIONI QUAE FUERIT ANNO A CHRISTO NATO MDLIII MENSE IUNIO EIUSDEM FELICISSIMI PONTIFICATUS ANNO III INTRA DECENNIUM MICHAELIS IPSIUS IN IUSSU NE IMPRIMITO NEVE USQUAM GENTIUM CITRA EIUSDEM PERMISSUM IMPRESSAS VENALES HABETO SANCTIO QUI VERO SECUS FECERIT ANATHEMA SUPRA SCRIPTO MICHAELI ET POENAE MULTAEVE NOMINE AUREOS QUINGENTOS DARE DAMNAS ESTO.
CIRCUS LONGITUDINE STADIIS TRIBUS PATEBAT LATITUDINE VERO STADIO UNO SED CUM AEDEFICIIS IUGERUM QUARTERNU[M]
Translation [partially by University of Chicago]:
Part of the first text says: “Students of Antiquity, behold! An illuminating drawing of the Circus Maximus in antiquity…by veteran Neapolitan painter Pirro Ligorio, Neapolitan painter and from the monuments of Classical authorities; represented with the greatest care by Michele Tramezzini and fashioned by incised bronze panels at amazing cost….”
The second text asserts that Michele Tramezino published the work in 1553 under the authorization of Pope Julius III.
“(A48) Circus Maximus.” University of Chicago Library. http://speculum.lib.uchicago.edu/search.php?search%5B0%5D=circus+maximus&searchnode%5B0%5D=all&result=2 (30 August 2012).
“Antoine Lafréry.” British Museum Collection Database. http://www.britishmuseum.org/research/search_the_collection_database/term_details.aspx?bioId=118308 (24 August 2012).
Bénézit, E. Dictionnaire critique et documentaire des Peintres, Sculpteurs, Dessinateurs et Graveurs. France: Librairie Gründ, 1966. Vol. 5, p. 355.
Gill, N.S. “The Circus Maximus and the Roman Circus.” About.com. http://ancienthistory.about.com/od/colosseum/a/CircusMaximus.htm (30 August 2012).
“Pirro Ligorio.” Encyclopedia Britannica. 2012. http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/340854/Pirro-Ligorio (30 August 2012).
“Speculum Romanae Magnificentiae.” University of Chicago Library. http://speculum.lib.uchicago.edu/content/introduction.html (24 August 2012).
“Speculum Romanae Magnificentiae Roma nell’incisione del Cinquecento.” Mandragora Publishing House. 2005-2012. http://www.mandragora.it/en/speculum-romanae-magnificentiaebrroma-nellincisione-del-cinquecento-en.html (24 August 2012).