KEYWORDS: History, Illustration, Detail
“Della trasportatione dell’obelisco Vaticano e delle fabbriche di Sisto V” is a book from Domenico Fontana and appeared in 1590. The title of the book translates to “The transport of the Vatican obelisk and the factories of Sisto V”.
As the title suggests, this book covers the transportation of the Vatican Obelisk. This giant 25 meters high and estimated 326 tons heavy stone came all the way from Egypt and was shipped to Rome by the Roman Emperor Caligula. It was first erected at the site of the old Vatican Circus where it stood for 1500 years, thanks to its solid pedestal. After time, the Vatican Circus fell into abandonment, yet the obelisk kept standing. Pope Sixtus V directed the obelisk to be re-erected in the center of St. Peters Square in front of the church of St. Peter. The work was done in 1586 and the obelisk hasn’t been moved ever since.
The book is split into 10 chapters, each between 19 and 81 pages long. The pages are printed in small letters with the pages being almost completely filled out with words. Also, the book contains a lot of drawings, pictures, sketches and plans of the obelisk and of how it got moved, which is a pretty complicated task given the size and mass of the monolith. At some points, the book feels like a novel, where the author is telling us the impressive story through text and pictures. The pictures seem more like old paintings, they are extremely detailed, contain a lot of decoration on the edges and corners such as angels watching the scene and even a frame, that underlines that painting look. It’s also very impressive to see how the pictures show such a great level of artistic features and yet manage to capture a lot of the technical details such as floor plans, cutting planes and perspectives.
The structure of the book is recognizable in the different chapters. In some cases, Fontana tells the actual story of the transportation of the obelisk. In those chapters, you can find three to four pages filled with text, followed by an illustration to visualize the narrated part. In other chapters, Fontana focuses mainly on details of the Church of St. Peters and other nearby churches. Those chapters show a great collection of drawings and sketches of building aspects such as facades, windows and frames, floor plans and arches.
Overall, the book manages to capture the story of the obelisk by presenting it through text and different technical and creative pictures, allowing even layman to follow the thoughts of Fontana.