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  • Print publication year: 2019
  • Online publication date: July 2019

Two - The Text

from Part I - The Canon and the Basilica


Readers coming for the first time to the full text of Maffeo Vegio’s De Rebus Antiquis Memorabilibus Basilicae S. Petri Romae may feel a bit baffled. The work is dazzling in its presentation of antiquities previously unknown, some for which Vegio is our sole source. It would be easy to assume that his concern, like Poggio’s and Flavio Biondo’s before him, was mainly antiquarian – that he perhaps saw himself as “the father of Christian archaeology” (as he is sometimes called). Yet the most exciting of these discoveries are held to the last chapters of his work. The reader familiar with Pietro Mallius’s twelfth-century “Description of the Vatican Basilica” might sensibly expect that we have here a canons’ inventory, primarily useful for the staff of the basilica as a compendium of information, though Vegio’s work might be more reasoned and critical. Or maybe it is meant as a polemic in the long-standing rivalry between the Vatican and Lateran basilicas or a preservationist counterargument to the faction in the Curia that wished to tear the building down in favor of a more structurally stable or more aesthetically imposing basilica. Truth be told, Vegio’s work contains a bit of all of the above.