The treatise of Camillo Agrippa is a piece of work imagining the transfer of an antique Obelisk to the Piazza San Pietro. The book is all about the possible techniques on how to move the Obelisk and not about the context. Agrippa doesn’t explain anything about the Obelisk and it’s history, neither does he mention the reasons of the move.
As I wanted to find information about both the old and the new locations of the obelisk, I tried to simply text Alice “Piazza San Pietro” with the topic architecture. This was a bit too vague for our friend Alice and I didn’t manage to find books about the centuries that interested me. I understood that the Piazza San Pietro changed a lot throughout history, so it was important to find more specific books. I decided to look for a book that could explain me more about this evolution and about the history of San Pietro, with the hope to find something mentioning the square both at the arrival of the obelisk in the year 37 as well as in the 16th century when it was moved.
To understand more about the history of the Piazza San Pietro, I asked Alice to tell me more about it. I texted Alice “History San Pietro” and used the topic architecture. In the Xenotheka Library, Mc Kitterick’s work “Old Saint Peter’s Rome” seemed to offer the information I was looking for. The obelisk is mentioned in the introduction as well as in chapter 14 “Plus Caesare Petrus: The Vatican obelisk and the approach to Saint Peter’s”. The book gives us information about the original location of the obelisk and about its displacement: ” the pilgrim encountered a large Egyptian obelisk, made of red granite, and the bronze orb at its summit was popularly believed to contain the remains of perhaps the most famous of all ancient Romans.20 In the Middle Ages, this obelisk, generally referred to as the ‘agulia’, stood adjacent to the south flank of the church of Saint Peter’s, but in 1586, Pope Sixtus V determined that it should be moved to its present location in the center of the piazza.” Later in the same chapter, the author writes about the history of the obelisk, explaining that it originally came from Egypt and was first brought to Rome by the Emperor Caligula in the year 37 and placed on the spina of the Vatican circus. In 1538, the Pope Sixtus decided to move it to the Piazza San Pietro. It was, at that time already, the only remaining one of all the obelisks that had been brought to Rome from Egypt. All this documentation about the obelisk and its history is illustrated by images from the obelisk and by drawings of its displacement.
Further than teaching more about the Obelisk itself, Mc Kitterick’s work helps to understand the evolution of San Pietro throughout history and it’s undeniable importance for the papacy. Many key events of the Christian and in general Roman history happened in San Pietro. Both the Basilica and the Piazza San Pietro became symbols of Christianity. This was indeed the purpose of the displacement of the obelisk in the 16th century, Sixtus V wanted to show the power and the authority of the papacy by reforming Rome.
Learning about Sixtus V also seemed important to understand the context of the displacement of the Obelisk, so I texted Alice “Sixtus V work” , I used the topic Renaissance and again, the Xenotheka Librairy. I found the book “Sixtus V and the Lateran Palace” by Corinne Mandel. By explaining the life and work of Sixtus V, this book helps to understand how ambitious this Pope was and how important art and architecture were for him. It is indeed his ambition that allowed Sixtus V to move the Obelisk to San Pietro, since a few other Popes before him had mentioned the project without ever realizing it. Sixtus V also restored other architectural elements of the Antiquity, such as ancient Roman columns or different aqueducts. He worked with different architects and renovated many churches, buildings, squares and even roads of the city of Rome or as written in Mandel’s book: “Sixtine Rome would be transformed into a grand reflection on earth of the Heavenly City.”
With the help of those books, it is possible to understand the context and the reason of the displacement of the obelisk to the Piazza San Pietro, offering a great base for the lecture and the appreciation of the more technical treatise of Agrippa.