Giacomo Raffaelli (Rome 1753 – 1836), The Flavian Amphitheatre
Micromosaic on antique red marble cassina 27 x 32 cm. Engraving on the back, engraved in marble: RAFAELI ROM.
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Icon of ancient Rome and frequently reproduced in the micromosaic decorations of paperweights, snuffboxes, jewels, the Flavian Amphitheater also became the symbol of secular Rome, as opposed to the sacred one. In the representation presented here, the ancient monument – in its previous state the restoration of Giuseppe Valadier – appears to be devoid of any further significance, even without the emphasis that the piranian ruinism had given it.
Located in an area almost at the edge of the town, the Colosseum in the course of the eighteenth century still appeared underground, inside as well as outside, with the achievement of very high altitudes, and only between the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century began the excavation conducted by the engineer Carlo Lucangeli. Already Carlo Fontana, in 1705, had put forward a proposal for an earthwork, but the first attempts were made only in the two-year period 1805 – 1806, under the direction of Carlo Fea. Interrupted in 1807 with the invasion by the French of the papal state, the works began again under the new administration without substantial changes to the initial project and its actors. In 1811 the start of the excavation of the northern slope of the monument was begun and a wall was then built that served as a buttress to the ground wall on the slopes of the Oppio hill: the same that can be identified, in the foreground in the center, in this micromosaic that bears the frame with the coat of arms of Pope Pius IX, while on the right side there is a portion of the wall surrounding the vineyard of Cardinal Carlo Emanuele Pio di Savoia.
The precarious stability of the Flavian Amphitheater had aroused, since the late eighteenth century, concerns about the safety of visitors and in 1795 had been built filled walls between the arches of the first two orders, partially visible in this micromosaic.
Even the Arch of Constantine in the eighteenth century appeared heavily buried due to urban waste that covered it up to about half of the plinths. It was thanks to Pius VII to begin excavation work on the monument that had already begun in July 1804. The arch was completely freed from the heaps of earth that concealed the lower part, allowing the flooring to be brought to light under the central archway and it was therefore circumscribed by an oval wall, then demolished in 1829, from which a ladder led to the original level.
The present Colosseum, work by Giacomo Raffaelli, the most famous mosaic artist of the 18th century, whose works are kept in the most important museums and collections in the world, also remembered for having created an extraordinary version of Leonardo’s Last Supper, performed with the technique invented by him, is therefore posed not only as a refined example of micromosaic, but also as a precious historical document.