Envisioning Baroque Rome is a digital humanities project that provides an internet-based, 3D walkable reconstruction of the city of Rome ca. 1676, using the gaming platform Unity. The reconstruction is grounded in Giovanni Battista Falda’s (1643-1678) great bird’s-eye view map of that year, and subsumes the fine detail of over three hundred views of the city etched by the artist. The project enables visitors to enter the map, strolling the streets of the Baroque city as virtual pedestrians: gazing up at church facades that once towered over surrounding buildings, climbing the Capitoline Hill to look down on the tree-lined cattle market that once filled the ancient forum, crossing the Tiber River on the Ponte S. Angelo to explore the long lost portions of the Borgo neighborhood, even entering the Pantheon and following light from the oculus as it moves across the floor. Reconstructed from the map and etchings of a single artist, made over a period of just fifteen years, Envisioning Baroque Rome recaptures piazzas, streets, fountains, and architecture lost to the various urban renewal campaigns of the intervening centuries.
In order to “build” Envisioning Baroque Rome, a team of academics, architects, digital artists, and visual information specialists studies Falda’s Rome in map and views, checks Falda’s data against Rome today, against the surveyed map of 1748 by Giovanni Battista Nolli, and against seventeenth-century ichnographic and surveyed maps that survive in the Roman archives. We perform spot research to verify the heights of facades, the material of street surfaces, and the width of piazzas, or to understand the significance of ephemeral sites and structures included in the views and map. We then proceed block by block, façade by façade, to model the individual buildings in three dimensions, cladding them with the textures of Falda’s etchings to create an immersive, walkable, correctly scaled, and detailed version of the Rome that Falda’s etchings have preserved. As we complete each block we document our process: the sources we have used to check Falda’s accuracy, the discoveries we have made when Falda’s etchings contradict one another, the evidence of the map, or the buildings as constructed, and what these divergences teach us about his sources, methods and the architectural history of Baroque Rome.
Project History and Acknowledgments
Many people have contributed to the digital humanities project Envisioning Baroque Rome over the years. The project began with a pilot collaboration between Emory professor and architectural historian Sarah McPhee and architects Erik Lewitt and Jordan Williams of Plexus r+d, and was presented by McPhee to a gathering of architects and architectural historians convened by the Mellon Foundation in 2011.
The first published phase of the project, known as Virtual Rome, was made possible by the sponsorship of the Michael C. Carlos Museum, and was on view in the exhibition Antichità, Teatro, Magnificenza: Renaissance and Baroque Images of Rome in 2013. For this iteration Professor Sarah McPhee led a project team that included Erik Lewitt of Plexus r+d; Joanna Mundy, Graduate Assistant; Nicole Costello, Caleb Fruin, and Michael Musker, digital artists. Virtual Rome was sponsored by the Michael C. Carlos Museum, BULGARI, the Emory Center for Digital Scholarship, an anonymous donor. Vincent J. Buonanno generously supplied the digital images.
In the summer of 2016, Professor Sarah McPhee moved the project to the Emory Center for Digital Scholarship (ECDS). Renamed Envisioning Baroque Rome, the project continues under her direction with a team now including Aryabrata Basu, Visual Information Specialist; Joanna Mundy, Graduate Student Assistant; Nicole Costello and Michael Musker, digital artists. Envisioning Baroque Rome has received funding from the ECDS, the Emory Program for Research and Scholarship and from the personal research funds of Sarah McPhee.
Vincent J. Buonanno
Michael C. Carlos Museum
The Emory Libraries and the Stuart A. Rose Manuscript, Archives, & Rare Book Library
An Anonymous Donor
Emory Center for Digital Scholarship (ECDS): This site has been created with the support of the ECDS.