ANTOINE BABUTY DESGODETS i les messures del Pantheon
Francisco Martínez Mindeguía, Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya

This is the main elevation of the Pantheon in Rome, drawn by Antoine Babuty Desgodets and published in Les édifices antiques de Rome, dessinés et mesurés tres exactement (The Ancient buildings of Rome, exactly drawn and measured), in 1682.

The Pantheon is probably one of the most drawn buildings of the history of architecture, with a symbolic weight that affects many aspects of architecture. Of all remains of Ancient Rome, this is perhaps one of the most emblematic buildings, entirely preserved and without many alterations. Its formal clarity, the logic of its constructive system and the symbolic content of its design have been valued.… Brunelleschi discovered how to build the dome of Santa Maria del Fiore in Florence mostly.whilst studying its oculus (the skylight), without the need for costly support belts. And drawing its interior, Rafael understood the correct way to represent Ancient architecture.

Clearly, the interest in the Pantheon is related to the interest in the Ancient architecture of Rome, started in the Renaissance. Such interest began with the literature and studies of Petrarca and Boccaccio. When Petrarca went to Rome (in 1337)to see the site and the buildings of Ancient Rome, in order to learn directly what was mentioned in the writings of Cicero, he found a city that did not know its own age. He desperately came to say “who is more ignorant of the history of Rome that the Romans themselves? ... Nowhere else in the world is Rome less known than in Rome” (in Trionfi e canzoniere, 1494).

It is usually accepted that these architects considered the architecture of Ancient Rome as the model to copy and learn from, par excellence. This is not literally true because Baroque architects also took it as a model and so did the neoclassic ones, and each of these architectures are very different from the other. This happens because who copies, at least if he does it in an intelligent way, always selects and values before copying. Everyone sees in Antiquity what he is searching for and what makes sense him. Thomas Browne, a seventeenth century writer, said thatthere is no man alone, because every man is a Microcosm, and carries the whole world about him“ (Religio Medicis, 1642). Otherwise, we could not understand that the same model has served the Renaissance, the Baroque and the Neoclassical.

For example, the Renaissance architects never copied the articulation of columns in the Arch of Constantine nor those of the Forum Transitorium, which they had in Rome. But the Baroque ones did.

And neither the ones of the Forum Transitorium, which they had in Rome. But the baroques yes.

The Renaissance and Baroque architects worshiped Vitruvius and the architecture of Ancient Rome, but they knew they had flaws, that not all models were equally good and that they should choose well. The ruins of Antiquity have always been there, unchanged, so that everyone could take what they wanted. And this is the way it has been done.

From these early times the architects understood the necessity of going to Rome to see directly what they knew only by reference. This means that they went there to draw it. Some of these drawings are preserved in libraries, archives or museums. Others were published. One of the most representative buildings was the Pantheon, both for its formal qualities and for having been preserved intact. Besides, it is a building that always raised difficulties in drawing.

This is one of those drawings, by Francesco di Giorgio Martini (1439-1502).

The problem is that, intentionally or not, the drawings did not correspond with reality. This drawing of Giorgio Martini has two attics, a different orientation of the aedicula and the skylight is missing

The Renaissance architect finds in the Roman ruins what he is searching needs for his own architecture and when he draws, he does not represent so much the building, as the personal interpretation he makes of it.

  This drawing is by Bernardo della Volpaia, an architect who worked in Rome with Bramante and the Sangallo family. His precise birth and death dates remain unknown (a drawing of the Codex Coner, fol. 35)

Another drawing, in this case attributed to Raphael (1483-1520). It could very well be a copy of one of his drawings (preserved in Florence, Uffizi A 164)

It is said that when Raphael was commissioned to be in charge of St. Peter’s works after Bramante's death, he tried to find a useful way to represent the interior space of the dome he had to complete. And so he went to draw that of the Pantheon and saw that it could not be represented by means of perspectives, because the resulting images were only partial, never a whole picture. From this and other similar experiences, he wrote the famous letter to Leon X in 1519, recommending a listing of all the ancient architecture, representing it in plan, section and elevation.

The following image is an anonymous copy of the drawing above (or a copy of the original itself)

It is interesting to see that it was customary to draw not only the buildings, but the drawings themselves. The drawing has the added value of the author’s point of view, his synthesis and interpretation.

The difficulty of representing this space by a perspective remained a challenge, one that Giovanni Battista Piranesi (1720-1728), among others, tried to solve.

But this solution meant to go outside the interior space.

  Giovanni Paolo Panini (1691-1765) also tried it, with a general exterior perspective as well .

There are mixed examples, such as Nicolas Beatrizet’s (? -1565), a famous draughtsman and engraver, but always imperfect .

Rafael's ideas were followed by Antonio da Sangallo il Giovane and Baldassarre Peruzzi. This is one of Peruzzi’s drawings (1481-1536) of the Pantheon (preserved in the Biblioteca Comunale Ariostea, MS Class I, no. 217)

The goal of the Renaissance architects was the broad knowledge, of humanist character. But knowledge was becoming more and more specialized and the importance of data increased.

During the Renaissance, Alberti’s treaty –which has no drawings- was published (1404-1472). It provides a theoretical reasoning that completes and lets us analyze the ruins of Antiquity in Rome. Any drawing would only specify the theoretical reasoning and would reduce its amplitude. In the following century, the treatises were already accompanied by drawings and, even more, some of them had very little text.

The most importantly, by the extent it wants to cover, is perhaps that by Sebastiano Serlio, who -as could not be otherwise- drew the Pantheon as well, but now in plan, section and elevation.

(The images are from Il Terzo Libro d’Architettura, published in 1540)

The other treaty, which possibly surpassed the previous one in prestige, was that of Andrea Palladio’s (1508-1580), I Quattro Libri dell'Architettura, 1570,
For reasons that would be worth analyzing, Palladio’s authority became indisputable in France, at the time of Degodetz (second half of the seventeenth century). However, the problem faced by architects was that their interest in the precision of architectural data was not fulfilled by these drawings, because they were all different from one another. Owing to the importance of data and proportions of ancient architecture, more precise information was required. For this reason, the prime minister of Louis XIV (the Sun King), Jean Baptiste Colbert (1619-1683) sent Desgodets to Rome in 1674. His mission was to draw and measure the ancient monuments. By this time, Colbert had already founded the Académie Royal de Peinture et de Sculpture (1648), the Académie de France in Rome (1666) and that of Architecture in Paris (1671). Later he would also establish the Prix de Rome.

Desgodets travels to Rome by boat, along with some pensioners of the Academy. During the time of Louis XIV, the figure of the pensioned by the king was created, according to which a student of proven abilities was sent to Rome to complete his studies. The ship in which they were travelling was captured by Tunisian pirates, and they remained two years as prisoners before reaching Rome.

Desgodets was 21 years old at that time and spent 16 months in Rome. Without any registered help, he measured 49 monuments, with a precision never seen before and his work marked the standard level for all similar works thereafter. The book was published in 1682 under the title Les édifices antiques de Rome, dessinés et mesurés tres exactement (The Ancient buildings of Rome, exactly drawn and measured). The Pantheon is the centre point of the book, with the largest number of sheets.

Desgodets accomplished the drawings of the 3 different types of capitals in the porch, the 3 interior ones and the 3 of the altar, besides the cornices, the door and the wall.

The study allowed proving that there was no such thing as consistency in the proportions of Antiquity: that was a myth. And what was more serious: it questioned Palladio’s drawings. This was a problem for French intellectuality, born out of an absolute monarchy, which had converted a matter of taste, trend or sensitivity (always arbitrary), into an unquestionable norm. The members of the Academy judged the work negatively, firstly, because it questioned the values upon which its credibility stood; secondly, owing to the excess of measurements in the drawings and thirdly, by the author’s youth.

Thereafter, all works were judged according to this task.

Recommended bibliography :
- Tod A. Marder, "Bernini and Alexander VII: Criticism and Praise of the Pantheon in the Seventeenth Century", The Art Bulletin, vol. 71, nº. 4, dec. 1989, pp. 628-645.
- W. Herrmann, "Antoine Desgodets and the Académie Royale d'Architecture", The Art Bulletin, vol. 40, nº. 1, mar. 1958, pp. 23-53.
- Flavio Celis D'Amico, "Desgodetz y los orígenes del levantamiento Moderno", Revista EGA, n. 11, 2006, pp. 77-87.

©of Francisco Martínez Mindeguía’s texts
Francisco Martínez Mindeguía is Profesor Agregado at the Superior Technical Architecture School of Vallès (Escuela Técnica Superior de Arquitectura del Vallès), UPC

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