Beyond the description in Martin V’s Papal Bull of 1425, there are paintings, drawings and prints that provide a visual description of 15th-century Rome. These include maps and views of the city used as illustrations in books and even backgrounds of paintings. Together they can show us how Rome appeared in Kempe’s day. Some include changes and/or additions from later in the century.

1. Hartmann Schedel, View of Rome, 1493, from Liber Chronicarum (woodcut).

The Nuremberg Chronicle includes woodcut views of major cities. View of Rome includes the Vatican.  The print shows post-Kempe buildings such as the Hospital of Santo Spirito, and the Benediction loggia at Old St. Peters, but the Borgo (residential area) remains much as it would have been in 1415. The main body of St. Peter’s has not yet been altered. The opposite bank of the Tiber is dominated by the Pantheon, Colosseum, and Column of Antoninus.  No other sites Kempe visited can be distinguished.

2. Early engraving of Rome illustrated in P. Tomei: L’Architettura a Roma nel Quattrocento

Looks very much like the woodcut from the Nuremberg Chronicle, with slight variations, likely dates to c.1500.

3. Masolino, Founding of Santa Maria Maggiore (Miracle of the Snow), 1428-32, Galleria Nazionale di Capodimonte, Naples.

This image dates to just after Kempe’s time. The background shows what is considered a topographically correct view of Rome circa 1520, looking south from Santa Maria Maggiore, including Monte Testaccio, the Meta of Remus, Porta San Paolo, the Aurelian walls and the Alban Hills.

4. Taddeo di Bartolo: Map Medallion of Rome, 1414, fresco in the Palazzo Publicco in Siena.

This fresco is exactly contemporary with Kempe’s visit.  It shows a spotty treatment of monuments but contains a good detail of Vatican and Santa Maria Maggiore and San Giovanni in Laterano.

5. Pietro del Massaio, Map of Rome in his edition of Ptolomy’s Cosmographia, 15th century.

The print is earlier than The Nuremberg Chronicle and shows the Vatican more as it was earlier in the century. The new additions of the Hospital of Santo Spirito and Sistine Chapel are shown, but its shows a clearer view of Old St. Peter’s.

6. Capitoline Hill

Although Kempe does not specifically mention it, she very probably visited the Capitoline Hill and the Church of Santa Maria in Aracoeli there.  Later Michelangelo would transform the site. A 15th century drawing (Louvre, Cabinet des Dessins) shows the medieval Senator’s Palace and the edge of the church as it looked in Kempe’s day when the Capitoline was refered to as the “Campo Vaccino”. There are similar drawings by Martin van Heemskerck, c.1535, and Hieronymous Cock, c.1545 (in Operum Antiquorum Romanorum...Reliquiae, Antwerp, 1562.)

7. Church of St. John Lateran San Giovanni in Laterano

  •  exterior of church, obelisk, baptistery, palace and Benediction Loggia in Vatican Library (Salone Sisto) fresco, c.1588. in this image they are much as they would have been in 1415, before Baroque modifications.
  • similar view in a drawing dating to approximately the same period (c.1580) by an anonymous Dutch artist (Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana, Rome)
  • 16th century print shows Lateran Palace, Northern Portico, Obelisk and Baptistery. All, except the Northern portico built by Domenico Fontana, look as they did in 1415, and do today.
  • 17th century manuscript illumination of Lateran Palace Benediction Loggia (copy of a fresco c.1300)
8. St. Mary Major Santa Maria Maggiore
Exterior of church and obelisk in Vatican Library (Salone Sisto) fresco, c.1588 - goal of fresco is to show urban modifications of Pope Sixtus V, however the view of SMM shows it in it’s original form, before the Baroque modifications.
9. Vatican
  • a fresco in San Martino ai Monti
  • an illustration in Giacomo Grimaldi’s Descrizione della Basilica Antica di San Pietro in Vaticano, 1519 (based on descriptions and drawings of the original structure).
  • many drawings of the 16th century, showing what still existed of the original building, as the new structure was built around it. These include drawings made by the Dutch artist Martin van Heemskerck, c.1533-35
  • a fresco by Giorgio Vasari (Sala dei Cento Giorni, Palazzo della Cancelleria, Rome), dating to 1544, which pictures Pope Paul III directing the construction of New St. Peter’s. On the right, the nave of the first building is evident, as is the original position of the obelisk.
  • drawing, c.1570 showing atrium of Old St. Peter’s in front of the church, during construction of Michelangelo’s dome
  • drawing, c.1560 of the interior, with altar-shrine of the original building still standing in the midst of the new crossing (Hamburg, Kunsthalle, 21311)
  • reconstruction drawings of Giotto’s Navicella