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View, Italy, Rome, Aerial, St. Peter’s Square, Charles E. Rotkin, Vintage Photograph, c. 1950s


Charles E. Rotkin (1916-2004)
St. Peter’s Square
American: c. 1956-58
Black and white photograph
16 x 20 inches
Provenance: Estate of the Artist

Original aerial photograph taken by Charles E. Rotkin of St. Peter’s Square, Vatican City, Italy, for his book Europe: An Aerial Close-Up. This photograph is published on pages 206-7 of that work, with Rotkin’s description:

“The colonnade and the Piazza San Pietro were designed to accommodate half a million people.  Giovanni Bernini, Rome’s leading architect and sculptor in the 17th century, was still in his twenties when he received this vast building commission from Pope Urban VIII.Bernini had several problems in designing so huge a public square.  One was to give the entering pilgrim a feeling of being enclosed within the safety and confines of the church without, at the same time, being overwhelmed by massiveness.  Accordingly, he designed the semi-circular columned arms which make the square seem considerably smaller than it actually is.  Within those arms, he then designed the pavement with a slight slope so that every person standing in the square would have an unimpeded view of the Papal loggia, the balcony on which the Pope appears to bless the multitude.

“Equally monumental is St. Peter’s façade, designed so gracefully and in such perfect proportion that it is virtually impossible to grasp its true size (151 feet high and almost 400 feet wide).  On top of the façade are statues of the Redeemers, St. John, and the Apostles, each of them eighteen feet high.  Here too proportion holds; their size seems altogether average and quite normal.”

Product Description Continues Below


Rotkin was a respected and prolific documentary photographer, widely published during the golden age of pictorial magazines, as well as in corporate publications.  The works that brought Rotkin the greatest renown, however, were his pioneering aerial photography collections, Europe: An Aerial Close-Up (1958) and The U.S.A.: An Aerial Close-Up (1962, 1968).  These books captured the popular imagination at the time, thrilling the public with novel perspectives of familiar places and the beauty of both the natural and the man-made environment.  Rotkin can be seen as one of the heirs to the 19th- and early 20th-century tradition of bird’s-eye views of American towns drawn by itinerant artists in the pre-aviation era and often made into prints.  Of course, the earlier artists’ work, though convincingly drawn and detailed, were typically imaginative projections based on their studies of the town from the ground.  These became obsolete with the advent of the airplane and helicopter, which offered actual bird’s-eye views, along with cameras that could take pictures at split-second shutter speeds.  Rotkin was one of the early pioneers of the new medium and technique.  His work remains significant as an early example of aerial photography with an artistic purpose, and also as historical documents of places that in many cases have significantly changed in the ensuing decades.Read more biographical information here.

Condition: Our Rotkin photographs were used by the photographer himself, often in connection with the production of his books.  Therefore, they have, to varying degrees, the usual expected light toning, wear, handling, soiling, soft creases, bumped edges, etc.  Some have short marginal tears.  Many were mounted on foam core by Rotkin.  Many have Rotkin’s markings — stamps, inscriptions, or labels — on the verso.  For a detailed condition report including the markings on this photograph, contact us and be sure to include the title of the photo in your inquiry.

Additional information


20th Century