Die römische Leiche vom Jahre 1485 : ein Beitrag zur Geschichte der Renaissance / von Henry Thode. – [Innsbruck] : [Verlag der Wagner’schen Universitäts-Buchhandlung], .
17 p.,  leaves of plates : ill. ; 23 cm.
Not long ago, I cataloged a small pamphlet that I found interesting. The pamphlet itself wasn’t anything special; it was a short German pamphlet from the 19th century, another of the many offprints from journals that they made in those days. The pamphlet itself presents nothing difficult or unusual for the cataloger, but the subject intrigued me. In English the title reads: The Roman corpse of 1485: a contribution to the history of the Renaissance by a fellow named Henry Thode. [See his biography]
I had never heard of this. After reading a bit of the pamphlet, I learned that in 1485, some people were digging near the Via Appia Antica and discovered the tomb of a young girl from ancient Rome. The tomb was undisturbed and she was still in it. The workers were amazed that her body was in an almost perfect state of preservation. The condition of this young girl interested everyone, so the Papal authorities under Innocent VIII laid out her body at the top of the Capitoline Hill, in the Palazzo dei Conservatori, next to the cistern in the courtyard. Word spread quickly and thousands came to see her.
Apparently, this young girl was exquisitely beautiful and painters and other artists came to capture her likeness in various media. It was said that she was far more beautiful than any woman alive. My pamphlet has two plates relating to her—a drawing from the Albertina and a bust in Lille, France, placed at the beginning of the article. This was enough to do the subject analysis, as I’ll discuss at the end of the podcast. First however, I would like to discuss digital versions of this pamphlet.
This item was published in Vienna in 1883 and remember, it is an offprint from a journal. After some effort, I managed to find a copy of this pamphlet in the Internet Archive, not under this title but under the title of the journal Mitteilungen des Instituts für österreichische Geschichtsforschung. I want to point out some peculiarities concerning this journal issue.
First, when you look at this item in the multiple search results display, it says Mitteilungen des Instituts für österreichische Geschichtsforschung (Volume 4). When you click on the link and look at the record however, it says Mitteilungen for 1883. The volume 4 has turned into 1883. I have seen this happen quite often. It is something I have never really understood and I have become very confused when I click on an item with one title in the multiple results display but see another title in the individual display. I have added screen clips in the transcript that show this. https://archive.org/search.php?query=mitteilungendes08gescgoog
Also, it was interesting to note that the plates, which are at the very beginning of my pamphlet, are not in the copy that I see in the Internet Archive.
There is also a copy of this journal in Google Books, but I am in Italy and it turns out that the copy in Google is unviewable here, so for those outside the US, you must use proxy access to see this book. I won’t discuss how to do that, but it’s easy enough. The advantage of the copy in Google is that it has the plates before the text just as mine has, which for some reason are not in the Internet Archive version. I want to discuss this a bit more thoroughly because of a serious problem I noticed.
When I examined all of this, the files seemed to be the same in Google Books and in the Internet Archive, that is, they both say that they were scanned by Google. But if that is true, where are the plates? Could someone have removed them from the file for some unknown reason before putting it into the Internet Archive? That would be very, very worrying.
I had a suspicion though, that there may be a problem with the viewer because I have experienced similar troubles when viewing pdfs that I download from the Internet Archive onto my mobile devices. So I downloaded the entire pdf file from the Internet Archive and when I opened it up on my computer—sure enough—the plates are there, but they do not appear when you view them online in the Internet Archive, or at least they don’t for me. I have excerpted the plates and am placing them here because I have not been able to find them anywhere else on the web.
Apparently, this pamphlet is also in HathiTrust, (http://catalog.hathitrust.org/Record/006143850) once again findable only under the title of the journal and not by title of the article, but I am not allowed to see it because of “copyright restrictions”.
There is also access to many issues of the journal through Wikisource, including my volume of 1883. https://de.wikisource.org/wiki/Zeitschriften_%28Geschichtswissenschaft%29#3576-2
To sum up, what at first seems to be various digital copies, are actually either different copies of the single file scanned by Google, or different links leading to the same file at Google. More important for questions of access, to get the individual article, I must look under the title of the journal. The consequence is that when I search for the title of the article, I get zero results, except when I search in Google. That result gives me a link that does not have the title I searched however, and I have to click on something that says Mitteilungen des Instituts für österreichische Geschichtsforschung (Volume 4), and that is where my item actually resides. I don’t know how many people could understand this. In fact, I don’t even know if I could have figured it out, if I hadn’t already known it was part of a journal because I was cataloging it. If I were just searching for this topic and didn’t know about the existence of this article, would I click on the title of the journal? Even if I did click on it, would I then be able to find it in the cumulated volume for the entire year? I don’t know.
Finally, I can search Worldcat and find the article but there are no links to the full-text, only to the printed versions.
These are some of my experiences finding a 17 page item that was published 131 years ago and is in the public domain (the author died in 1920). It’s there, for free to anyone on the web, and this is certainly amazing and wonderful, but I don’t know how many people who are interested in this topic could actually find this article. Therefore, I feel free to draw my own conclusion: it should be a whole lot easier to find this item. I think that if the cataloging community took this task seriously and succeeded in making these sorts of things much easier to find—we could do it, after all–and most importantly: made the public aware that the work of catalogers can be of substantial help to everyone, I think the public would like it and the cataloging community would find plenty of support. But all of that would have to be demonstrated, and demonstrated very clearly. To everyone.
Setting all that aside, I want to focus now on the girl.
On my own—that is, not as a cataloger–I did a little research and learned that the discovery of this young woman attracted an incredible amount of attention, even people such as Vasari and Burckhardt wrote about her. Interest in her remains even today, since I have found several articles discussing the events. And I didn’t know anything about it at all.
Before we talk about the story, it is important to note that an excavation carried out in 1485 would not have been done for archaeological preservation as we would think of it today. In Medieval times, one of the major purposes of these so-called “excavations” was to find marble to throw into their lime kilns to make plaster. So if they found statues or something else made of marble, which seemed to be abundant around medieval Rome, the people of that time would just burn them up.
1485 was still toward the beginning of the Renaissance and the rediscovery and appreciation of the ancients was still taking place. But even the people of the Renaissance, those who revered the ancients, looked at antiquities in other ways than we do. This can be seen very clearly in the Cosmatesque floors around Rome. The floors are fabulous mosaics made mostly from the ancient Roman marbles that they found lying around, and people such as the Cosmati family (the basis of the word Cosmatesque) cut these Roman marbles they found, and then arranged them to create these wonderful mosaics. The roundels were cut from Roman columns. Here is an example in one of my favorite churches, Santa Maria in Trastevere. So, while one part of us can say how beautiful these mosaics are, another part can say, “Oh my God! What have they cut into pieces?”
They also made “improvements” on what they found. A great example can be seen in a famous statue, The Laocoön. This was a statue already famous in antiquity. It shows a man named Laocoön from the time of the Trojan War, who has just made Athena very angry when he told the Trojans not to take the giant wooden horse into the city of Troy (he is the one who said, “Beware of Greeks bearing gifts”) and the goddess sends two serpents out of the sea to strangle Laocoön and his two sons. The statue was in the palace of the Emperor Titus.
When the statue was found, bits were missing, but in particular, the father’s right arm was gone. All the sculptors of the time argued about that arm. Michelangelo thought it had been bent back, but others thought it was straight. There was a contest to restore the statue; Raphael served as the judge, and Jacopo Sansovino won. (See: Vasari, Life of Jacopo Sansovino) Sansovino added a straight arm, along with more of the snake and other bits. The straight arm continued until 1906 when someone found a piece of marble that was a bent arm and determined that it belonged to the statue. In the 1980s it was added, and while they were doing that, they took off other parts added in the Renaissance. So, it turns out that Michelangelo was right! I give both versions here that show how each era views the statue of Laocoön.
Quite different. The bent arm makes Laocoön look even more helpless. While I prefer the bent arm, I confess that for some of the rest, I prefer the Renaissance additions. I think these two pictures illustrate how the Renaissance viewed antiquities as opposed to how we view them today, while people in Medieval times would have thrown this statue in the fire.
There are many examples of Renaissance sculptors “restoring” statues from Rome. And a lot of them are fabulous.
But not everything was focused on improvements. Probably the best example of reuse are all those holes you see in the Colosseum. The holes were made by people in Medieval times looking to reuse the iron clamps that held up the marble facade.
To return to the girl. When the people who were doing those so-called “excavations” found her tomb, her body was covered by a substance that emitted a strange odor; some said the substance was made of myrrh and olive oil, others claimed it was aloe and turpentine, but whatever it was, it was about two inches thick all over her and throughout her sarcophagus. In any case, when they removed the substance, it turned out she was perfectly preserved. Her body was placed in the courtyard of the Palazzo dei Conservatori for people to view her and it was at this time, apparently, that the artists came. Here is a contemporary drawing of the girl’s body lying beside her coffin.
and a picture of what I believe is the same area in the Palazzo dei Conservatori. I believe that where the marble circle is in the center today, is where the cistern used to be.
(You can even see the marble circle itself through Google Maps. In fact, you can take a virtual walk through the museum!)
The contemporary accounts said her cheeks were rosy and her limbs were supple; her arms could be moved up and down. Her hair was blonde (some said it was black), braided, with a knot at the back. Her eyes were open, and when they would pull out her tongue and let go, it would retract back into her mouth. Apparently, she had been buried with jewels and even wore a golden cap but all of those things had disappeared.
After three days, her face began to turn black and it seems that the populace had gotten excited with everyone talking about superstitious events happening around town. The pope decided to remove her, and no one knows what happened to her body. She may have been re-buried, or simply thrown into the river. Of course, she could not have been buried in a cemetery because she could not have been a Catholic but I prefer to think she was reburied quietly somewhere instead of just being tossed into the Tiber.
This story reveals other differences from the time of the Renaissance and today. If archaeologists found her tomb today, I doubt they would pocket the jewels and gold, scrape off any goo covering her, exhibit her body publicly so that anyone and everyone could touch her and move her arms and legs and do who knows what, and in the end, fling her body into the river. I am glad that times have changed, at least a little bit.
Concerning her identity, no one knows who she was. There was apparently an inscription, but when we remember this happened over 500 years ago, it shouldn’t surprise anybody that questions have arisen as to its authenticity. In any case, people liked to believe that the girl was actually Cicero’s beloved daughter, Tullia. Cicero did own an estate in the area, and his friend Atticus (considered by some to be one of the first book publishers) was supposedly buried close by. But nevertheless it is a fact that Cicero’s daughter died in childbirth at 32 years old and she is believed to be buried south of Rome in Formia next to her father’s tomb.
Concerning the young girl’s beauty, people have even argued about that. Jakob Burckhardt claimed that she probably wasn’t so beautiful, but that people of that time were just awestruck by seeing an actual person from antiquity. “The touching point in the story is not the fact itself, but the firm belief that an ancient body, which was now thought to be at last really before men’s eyes, must of necessity be far more beautiful than anything of modern date.” (The Civilisation of the Renaissance in Italy, Project Gutenberg, p. 183)
Another opinion came from the late 19th century and the Aesthetic Movement through one of its leaders, Oscar Wilde. He said that when they brought her to the Capitoline, “… she became at once the centre of a new cult, and from all parts of the city crowded pilgrims to worship at the wonderful shrine, till the Pope, fearing lest those who had found the secret of beauty in a Pagan tomb might forget what secrets Judaea’s rough and rock-hewn sepulchre contained, had the body conveyed away by night, and in secret buried.” (Intentions, 1905. The truth of masks, p. 235)
Naturally, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. I found a photo of the bust, or a copy of the bust, now in Lille, France that was mentioned in my pamphlet. And of course, there is controversy on that too.
Some believe, as did the author of my pamphlet, that this bust was actually taken directly from the Roman girl, but others disagree. (See Fantasmi della storia dell’arte / Sylvia Urbani)
Of course, I don’t have an opinion about any of this and I don’t really care. I just like the story. I don’t know if this bust came from her or not, or if this is how she really looked, but I can understand that if this is based on reality, the people of Rome in the late 15th century could have thought she was stunningly beautiful.
I also found what may have been one the stories going around Rome that worried the Pope. The girl was mentioned in a book from the 17th century Pseudodoxia Epidemica or Enquiry into Very Many Received Tenets and Commonly Presumed Truths by Thomas Browne. This was a very popular book of science of that time. In his section on whether chameleons live only by breathing the air and don’t need to eat anything, he brought up the Roman girl and says that when the workers opened her tomb, there was an ancient lamp still burning inside! He seemed to believe it. (See Pseudodoxia epidemica, 1658, p. 197)
And finally, the story continues on to today. Just lately, the area of Santa Maria Nuova, along the Appia Antica where she was found, was opened for one day—and I missed it. I found an article announcing this one day event, and it tells about how the area came into the ownership of the city of Rome. In 1968, the area was bought by an American couple, and they had several notable guests, such as Brigitte Bardot. While the couple lived there, they could hear the sound of a young girl singing—someone told them the story of the girl and of course, it had to be her ghost—so they decided to sell to the city of Rome. (See Appia Antica: apre l’antico casale dei fantasmi, 07 luglio 2014, Artemagazine)
I would like to end with subject analysis. When I cataloged the book I certainly didn’t know everything I’ve related here, but I don’t think it would have helped much anyway. I had never cataloged anything on this type of subject before, so in such cases I always try to think of something similar I have heard in the news. This is one reason why I think it is so important for catalogers to keep up with the news—it makes their jobs a lot easier, besides being interesting.
As I tried to think of something similar, I remembered the Russians found a woman in ice in Siberia in the 1990s and looked her up. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Siberian_Ice_Maiden
It turns out that she has been set up as a subject: http://lccn.loc.gov/sh2006002607
650 0 Siberian Ice Maiden (Ice mummy)
There are a couple of other ice mummies, too.
I then looked at the records for these ice mummies to see if I could get some ideas for subjects, but in this case they didn’t help me much because those were books on archaeology and science while I decided that the emphasis of my pamphlet was not archaeology, but on the girl and her importance to the Renaissance.
So, this is what I did:
Excavations (Archaeology) — Italy — Rome — History — 15th century.
Human remains (Archaeology) — Italy — Rome.
Feminine beauty (Aesthetics) — Italy — History — 15th century.
Women — Rome.
I did not want to set her up as a separate subject similar to the Siberian Ice Maiden because I didn’t have the time, and would have needed many more resources. Besides, this was only a 17 page pamphlet!
I have lots of problems with these subjects though. For instance, I used the term “Excavations (Archaeology)” but it bothers me because I find it very difficult to apply that heading to people who are scavenging raw materials, stealing any valuables they come across, toying with a dead body and throwing the corpse into a nearby river. It sounds more like the plot of a crime novel.
Being truthful by using terms that describe what they were really doing, such as “Dumpster diving–History–15th century” or “Archaeological thefts” or even “Cemeteries–Desecration–Italy–Rome” none of those seem appropriate because that’s judging. The heading “Feminine beauty (Aesthetics)” seems better to me, but I don’t know how many people would actively look for this term. The Use For term, “Ideal beautiful women” would probably be easier for the public to find. Too bad cross-references don’t work in a keyword environment.
By the way, in my record, I did put in a link to the correct page of the digital version in the Internet Archive but I didn’t say anything about the problem seeing the plates. http://www.urbis-libnet.org/vufind/Record/British%20School%20at%20Rome.BSR101027
That is what I have learned from this 17 page pamphlet published 131 years ago. I thought I would share this in a podcast primarily as an illustration of a practical example of normal cataloging, to show some of the tradeoffs and difficulties I faced, plus some problems with digital materials. Also, it offered me a chance to show why I think cataloging can be so challenging as well as interesting.
The music to end this podcast must come from the Italian Renaissance. Fortunately, there is a huge choice. I have decided to go with “Fa una canzone,” a madrigal by Orazio Vecchi. Vecchi lived from 1550 to 1605. It was apparently written to be sung a capella, but this version, by a German group the Playfords, is one that I think is especially fun. For the music and translation, see http://www1.cpdl.org/wiki/index.php/Fa_una_canzona_%28Orazio_Vecchi%29. For the Youtube video see https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5vZnOT5unCE
I am also adding a few photos of walks I have taken throughout the years along the Appia Antica. You will see one fellow, grey haired (not me), who was the doorman at the American Academy in Rome, but also an author of some of the Rough Guides to Rome and its surroundings, Norm Roberson. He was a good friend who is no longer with us. I’ve added some other pictures of Appia Antica from different times, as well.
Thank you for listening to Cataloging Matters with Jim Weinheimer, coming to you from Rome, Italy, the most beautiful, and the most romantic city in the world.