Hybrid event: 'A misleading source: The fortuna of a sixteenth-century woodcut and its impact on the history of Roman baths studies'
Roman baths were among the most visible and iconic reminders of the Classical world in early modern Europe, and their rediscovery sparked the imagination of artists, architects, and antiquarians. A medical concern for Classical balneology matched a curiosity for the physical remains of thermae and baths. So far, only specific aspects of such a multifarious cultural system have received scholarly attention, and these different strands have not yet been integrated into a sustained study. This paper contributes to filling this gap, using as a case study a woodcut depicting a cutaway view of a set of ancient baths, so far neglected by modern scholarship. First published in a mid-sixteenth-century treatise on balneology and based on a misinterpretation of Vitruvius (5.10.1), it reappeared as a copy of a Roman wall painting in several eighteenth-century architectural and antiquarian works. The remarkable resonance enjoyed by this image in specialist and popular publications until the early twentieth century makes it one of the most influential and controversial sources in the history of Roman baths studies. By exploring the reasons behind the enduring, uncritical acceptance of this depiction, I re-evaluate the role that written sources and illustrations had in shaping the memory of the past, raising broader questions concerning the nature of intellectual networks in eighteenth-century Europe.

Join the Zoom meeting:
Meeting ID: 746 727 0840
Passcode: 2L1TCF
Date: 8 December 2022, 15:00 (Thursday, 9th week, Michaelmas 2022)
Venue: Prague and online via Zoom
Speaker: Dr Giacomo Savani (University of St Andrews)
Organiser: Tomas Alusik (Charles University, Prague)
Booking required?: Not required
Audience: Members of the University only
Editor: Belinda Clark