[ROME]. POLENI, Giovanni. Memorie Istoriche Della Gran Cupola Del Tempio Vaticano E De' Danni Di Essa , E De' Ristoramenti Loro Divise In Libri Cinque.

Padova, Nella Stamperia del Seminario, 1748.


Folio (460 x 325 mm). Five books in one volume. Contemporary quarter calf over patterned paper-covered boards, brown morocco and gilt lettering piece to the spine, all edges speckled red; pp. [8], 118 leaves paginated in four columns recto and verso, apart from the final leaf which is paginated on the recto only, the pagination includes 9 folding, etched plates lettered A-G, H-K, 19 folding, etched plates hors-texte, numbered I-XIX; the binding rather rubbed at the extremities, the corners bumped, with some loss of the paper covering the boards, internally a bright, crisp copy.

Provenance: 1. John Lewis Wolfe (1798-1881), architect and stockbroker, with his ink signature dated Rome, 1822, to the upper margin of the title 2. Joseph Gwilt (1784-1863), architect, with his engraved armorial bookplate to the front pastedown. 3. Sir Albert Richardson P.R.A. (1880-1964), architect, author and teacher, with his engraved bookplate to the front pastedown and his ink signature dated 1907 to the recto of the ffep.

While the overall design of St. Peter's in Rome was Michelangelo's, work on the building continued throughout the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries under a number of architects, each modifying the original design to a greater or lesser degree. The dome itself was left unfinished at the time of Michelangelo's death in 1564 and work on it was continued, first by Vignola, and then by Giacomo della Porta, the latter altering the profile of the dome to improve its stability. Nevertheless cracks appeared almost immediately upon its completion. Work on the nave and the façade of the building by Carlo Maderno and then Bernini probably contributed to a further weakening of the dome, a problem exacerbated by earthquakes occurring in 1703 and 1730. Nothing, however, was done to address the problem until the election of Benedict XIV as Pope in 1740. He appointed four successive commissions to report in exhaustive detail on the fabric of the entire building, the conclusion on each occasion being that in general the structure was basically sound and in particular that there was no danger of the dome collapsing. It wasn't until a fifth commission of twenty-nine experts under Giovanni Poleni, the Professor of Mathematics at the University of Padua, that a number of solutions were proposed: these included, as James Lees-Milne notes, 'substituting copper for lead on the dome, … filling up the spaces made for Bernini's staircases to the loggias within the four crossing piers, … strengthening the buttresses of the drum, and removing the lantern.' In the end it was Poleni's own proposal that prevailed, advising that the worst cracks should be filled and that the dome be encircled at strategic points with iron trusses; the positions of these may be seen in Plate K of the present volume. The work was carried out between 1743 and 1744 by the architect Luigi Vanvitelli. The Memorie was commissioned by Benedict in 1745 as record of the remedial works and comprises a history of the dome, details of the work of the fifth commission and the solution. The etched plates and ornaments are by Pietro Monaco after drawings by Poleni and Antonio Visentini respectively. According to Poleni himself only 700 copies of the Memorie, were printed.

The present work has an interesting provenance having belonged to the architect, James Lewis Wolfe. It appears to have been purchased by him in Rome in 1822 at the end of a tour of Europe in the company of fellow architects that included Thomas Leverton Donaldson, the co-founder and first President of the R.I.B.A. Subsequently the volume seems to have found its way into the library of the architect Joseph Gwilt, to whom Wolfe had been articled in 1813. Wolfe's architectural career was short, concluding when he joined his brother's newly established company as a stockbroker, the pair establishing a highly successful business that continued until 1848. An interest in architecture, however, was continued by James, acting as adviser to his close friend, the architect Charles Barry. The design of the latter's Travellers' Club and the Reform Club both in London, owe much to Wolfe who had encouraged Barry to make a close study of the principal Renaissance buildings of Florence and Rome. In 1907 the volume was acquired by Sir Albert Richardson.

Lees-Milne, James. St. Peter's. Hamish Hamilton, 1967.

BAL Early Printed Books 2588