1871. Hardcover. Oblong folio (350 x 450 mm). With 32 watercolors of high quality by Annibale Angelini delineated from the original frescos. Original red pebbled cloth (shaken), upper cover with the crowned monograph of Prince Camillo IX (Vittorio Emanuele) Massimo. In excellent unrestored state. Very good. Item #1574
An important discovery. This album of watercolors is the only surviving record of the once spectacular frescos and interiors of the elegant garden Casino Felice of the Villa Peretti Montalto alle Terme (later known as the Villa Massimo), built for Sixtus V by famed Roman architect Domenico Fontana. After centuries of neglect, the Villa, its two palaces, and its lush gardens were destroyed in the 1880s in order to make way for the central railroad station in Rome, the Roma Termini. The long-lost frescos of the Casino Felice are of the greatest interest to scholars of Renaissance Italian art: among the artists were C. Nebbia, F. Rosselli, D. Cresti (called il Passignano), G.P. Severo, L. Mainardi and G. Stella. All iconographic depictions of the these frescos survive only in the present album of watercolors.
Situated on the highest point in Rome (on the Esquiline Hill overlooking the Diocletian Baths), the Villa Peretti Montalto was the palatial home of Cardinal Montalto Felice Peretti (b. 1521) who became Pope Sixtus V in 1585. Construction of the Villa and gardens continued unabatedly until the Pope died in 1590. The 160-acre Villa became the largest and most luxurious ever built within the Aurelian walls. The Pope’s ambitions knew no bounds. In order to provide fresh water for the palace and its vast gardens, fish ponds, fountains, fruit trees, and cypresses, Sixtus commissioned Fontana’s brother Giovanni to engineer and build an aqueduct fifteen miles long (!) which came to be known as the Acqua Felice.
Despite the tragic destruction of the Villa, and the complete lack of documentation of its art and architecture, the present manuscript allows us, for the first time since the 19th-century, to study and partially reconstruct the pictorial decoration of the interiors of the Casino Felice. The existence of the present manuscript was discovered by Patrizia Tosini in the archives of the Massimo family, but the manuscript itself was presumed lost (Tosini, 2015).
The Villa Peretti Montalto had two palaces. The Casino Felice, the favored residence of Sixtus and the subject of the present manuscript, was built first (1578-1581), while Peretti was still a Cardinal. Then, as Pope, he authorized his sister Camilla Peretti to build the Palazzo alle Terme (1586-1588). The Casino Felice was situated on an elevated place in the gardens, and consisted of three floors. Although it was the smaller of the two palaces, it was more secluded, and Sixtus preferred to stay there according to Fontana.
The present manuscript was created by Annibale Angelini in 1871-1872 for the then owner of the Villa Peretti Montalto, Prince Camillo IX (Vittorio Emanuele) Massimo (1803-1874). Angelini (1810-1884) was Prof. de Geometria, Propet. et Ottica nell'Accad. di S. Luca (Perugia). It was his intent to “restore” the Casino Felice, but as we can see from his watercolors in the present album, this would have taken years. Angelini’s patron, Vittorio Emanuele Massimo, died the following year and the project was abandoned. By 1888 the Casino Felice was completely destroyed.
Vittorio Emanuele had long been interested in the history of his beloved Villa; in 1836 he published the single most important monograph on its history, the Notizie istoriche della villa Massimo alle Terme Diocleziane. The text describes the layout of the Casino Felice in some detail, and a floor-plan of the 1st floor was given (plate V, p. 137), but no illustrations of the frescos or interior decorations have ever been published.
Based on solely on Massimo’s descriptive text, a theoretical reconstruction of the interiors of the Casino Felice was proposed by Sigrid Epp and Rita Torchetti, who in addition offer a possible layout of the second floor. Moreover, the names and locations of some of the Renaissance frescos are also proposed. The present manuscript largely confirms their theories, although they had no idea what the frescos actually looked like.
After the death of Sixtus V, the Villa Peretti Montalto passed to the Pope’s great-nephew Cardinal Alessandro Peretti Montalto. When the main branch of the Peretti family became extinct, the Villa passed to the Savelli family. In 1696 the Villa was sold by auction to the newly appointed Cardinal Gio. Francesco Negroni (1629-1713), treasurer to Innocent X. But the Negroni family lived in Genoa, and basically neglected the property. It was purchased by Giuseppe Staderini, a merchant, in 1784, who immediately cut down all the trees, and in 1786 sold all the sculpture (including the famed Bernini sculpture of Neptune and Triton, now in the V&A). The now dilapidated Villa was bought in 1789 by Prince Camillo VII Francesco Massimo (1730-1801). His son Vittorio Emanuele, Marquis Camillo VIII (1770-1840) was the author of the aforementioned “Notizie istoriche della villa Massimo” (1836). The property was inherited by his son, Vittorio Emanuele (who commissioned the present manuscript), and thence to Massimiliano Massimo, a Jesuit, who sold the entire property to the Church. As a form of compensation, the Palazzo Massimo alle Terme was built as a Jesuit school near the site under the direction of architect Camillo Pistrucci. Construction of the Palazzo took four years (1883-1887); this fine building now houses a section of the Museo Nazionale Romano, the Istituto Massimiliano Massimo being relocated to the EUR district in Rome in 1960.
While the frescos in the Casino Felice were completely lost, a group of thirty-six fragments of frescos from the Palazzo Peretti (Salone Sistino) were saved. Prof. Tosini (2015) has undertaken extensive research about the surviving pieces, which include fourteen landscape views (now in the Istituto Massimiliano Massimo), twenty female allegories of the Virtues, and two coats of arms of the Peretti Montalto family. Just prior to the destruction of the Palazzo Peretti, these fragmentary frescos were detached, remounted on canvas, and dispersed. Three locations of the surviving Palazzo Peretti fragments are known, all in Rome: the Istitutio Massimiliano Massimo, the Palazzo Ricci Paracciani, Collezione Milton Gendel, and a Private Collection.
In the archives of the Istituto Massimiliano Massimo, Prof. Patrizia Tosini made an amazing discovery of an album of photographs of the frescos of the Palazzo Peretti (but not the Casino Felice). This photograph album, assembled in 1888 just prior to the Villa’s destruction, is the subject of her new monograph (see below). In the same archive she also discovered the 1870 contract between Annibale Angelini and Camillo Vittorio Massimo to create the present manuscript. Prof. Tosini transcribes Angelini’s detailed description of the Casino Felice in full. However, without the present album of watercolors the frescos would have forever remained “invisible.”
COLLATION: Numbered sequentially 2-34, including blank leaf “2,” complete.
3. Floor plan of the Piano Terreno / title: Pianta del Palazzo Peretti alla Terme Diocleziane, restaurato, nelle pitture, per ordini di Sua Eccellenza il Sig. Principe Don Camillo Massimo. Dall’Artisto Cav. Prof. Annibale Angelini; 1871 e 1872.
4-6. Piano Terrano: Portico del Palazzo (Epp & Torchetti: A)
7-11. Piano Terrano: Scala (Epp & Torchetti: B)
12. Primo Piano: Vestibolo (Epp & Torchetti: C)
13. Primo Piano: Il sogno di Innocenzo III (Epp & Torchetti: C.d)
14. Primo Piano: Il Cardinale Montalto ritratto nel suo studio (Epp & Torchetti: C.e)
15. Primo Piano: Galleria del Mose (Epp & Torchetti: A)
16. Primo Piano: Mose salvato dale acque (Epp & Torchetti: A.1)
17. Primo Piano: Roveto ardente (Epp & Torchetti: A.2)
18. Primo Piano: Miracolo della verga tramutata in serpente (Epp & Torchetti: A.3)
19. Primo Piano: Mose e il Faraone (Epp & Torchetti: A.4)
20. Primo Piano: Sortilegi dei maghi egizi (Epp & Torchetti: A.5)
21. Primo Piano: Mose muta le acque in sangue (Epp & Torchetti: A.6)
22-23. Primo Piano: Camera di Constantino (Epp & Torchetti: D)
24-25. Primo Piano: Camera di David (Epp & Torchetti: E)
26. Primo Piano: Camera di Elia (Epp & Torchetti: G)
27. Primo Piano: Camera dell’ Ascensione (Epp & Torchetti: H)
28. Secondo Piano: Galleria (Epp & Torchetti: A)
29-30. Secondo Piano: Camera de quadri dei ruderi Romani (Epp & Torchetti: D)
31. Secondo Piano: Camera di Abramo (Epp & Torchetti: G)
32. Secondo Piano: Camera della Samaritana (Epp & Torchetti: H)
33. Secondo Piano: Gabinetto (loose sheet) (Epp & Torchetti: I)
34. Terzo Piano: Camera a Loggia (Epp & Torchetti: L).
1-2. two states of the engraved plate that was published in Massimo’s Notizie (opposite p. 58)
3. Floor plan of the Piano Terrano of the Casino Felice (ink and wash)
4. unidentified architectural drawing (watercolor).
PROVENANCE: Camillo IX (Vittorio Emanuele) Massimo (1803-1873), by descent to his daughter Maria Francesca Bourbon del Monte (Massimo) (1846-1893) and her husband Ranieri Bourbon del Monte, 3rd Prince of San Faustino (1843-1892) -- by descent to their son, Carlo Bourbon del Monte, 4th Prince of San Faustino (1868-1917) -- by descent to his son, Ranieri Bourbon del Monte, 5th Prince of San Faustino (1900-1977) -- by descent to his wife, the American Lydia Bodrero (1902-2009) -- by descent to her son, Montino Bourbon del Monte, 6th Prince of San Faustino, Marchese del Monte Santa Maria, of Santa Barbara, CA (b. 1942).
LITERATURE: Domenico Fontana, Della trasportatione dell'obelisco vaticano, 1590, ff. 37-8. Camillo Vittorio Massimo, Notizie istoriche della villa Massimo alle Terme Diocleziane con un’appendice di documenti (Rome, 1836). Patrizia Tosini, Immagini ritrovate: Decorazione a Villa Peretti Montalto tra Cinque e Seicento (Rome, 2015), especially pp. 127-131 for the text of Angelini’s description of the Casino Felice. Sigrid Epp & Rita Torchetti, “Villa Montalto: Casino Felice” in: Roma di Sisto V: le arti e la cultura (Rome, 1993), pp. 152-155.
CATALOGUER’S NOTE: We are grateful for the scholarly generosity of Prof. Patrizia Tosini (Università di Cassino e del Lazio Meridionale) in the preparation of this description. Prof. Tosini hails the discovery of the present manuscript and is presently working on a detailed study of it. She enthusiastically welcomes all inquiries. Please contact us to receive further information and images.