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Drawing - Design for the decoration of the nave

Design for the decoration of the nave

  • Object:


  • Place of origin:

    Italy (made)

  • Date:

    early 18th century (made)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Poletti, Ferdinando (painter)

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Pasted in a folio album containing 53 pages, bound in brown 18th century tooled calf, with gold and green decorated end papers.

  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    Prints & Drawings Study Room, level H, case 93, shelf F, box 9

Physical description


Place of Origin

Italy (made)


early 18th century (made)


Poletti, Ferdinando (painter)

Materials and Techniques

Pasted in a folio album containing 53 pages, bound in brown 18th century tooled calf, with gold and green decorated end papers.


Length: 547 mm, Width: 355 mm

Descriptive line

Drawing, design for the decoration of the nave, showing a specimen bay for the funeral of Emperor Joseph I, by Ferdinando Poletti, early 18th century.

Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)

Ward-Jackson, Peter, Italian Drawings Volume II. 17th-18th century, London: Her Majesty's Stationary Office, 1980, pp. 168-169.

The text is as follows:

(active early 18th century)


As Mr Allan Braham was the first to perceive, the drawings catalogued under this name were made for the funeral service of the Emperor Joseph I in S. Maria dell’Anima, the German church in Rome, in 1712. They are pasted in a folio album containing 53 pages, bound in brown 18th century tooled calf, with gold and green decorated end-papers. There is no title on the binding, but the drawing on the first page is headed Disegni originali del P. Guerini in ink in an 18th century hand.

Some of the pages are stamped in dark purple ink with the Ex Libris of Dr W. Müseler. The album was included, and two drawings were illustrated, in the Marlborough Rare Books Catalogue, 1963, no. 50, with an attribution to the Neapoliton painter Domenico Guarini. But nothing more is known of the provenance of the book, which was bought by the Museum in 1969. Among the drawings for the funeral of Joseph I, are others connected with the funeral of his father Leopold I, which took places in 1705. These are catalogued separately under the name Carlo Fontant, who was responsible for the designs, having held the appointment of architect to the Emperor. Joseph Schmidlin in his Geschiechte der deutschen Nationalkirche in Rom, S. Maria dell’Anima (Freiburg im Bresgau, 1906, pp. 575ff.) gives an ccount of the two funerals and of the sources on which a history of them may be based. The most important printed source for Jospeh’s funeral is the contemporary accoubt of Giangi Vittorri Romano: ‘Esatta Relazione del funebre catafalco inalzato nell’imperial chiesa dell’Anima…in occasione delle solenni essequie par l’Augustissimo Imperatore Giuseppe Primo. Con disegno, dispisizione & invensione del Signor Ferdinando Poletti Romano Architetto, allievo di Casare Corvara dif el. Mem. Insigne Architetto di detta Imperiale Chiesa,’ Rome 1712.

This established the interesting fact that the designs are not by Carlo Fontana (who was now 74 years old and in bad health) but by Ferdinando Poletti, a Roman and a pupil of Cesare Corvara (1650-1708), architect to the church of S. Maria dell’Anima. This little-known artist, presumably an architect, was probably identical, as Braham observes, with the Ferdianndo Poletti who was active, especially as a designer of temporary decorations, in the service of Austian Viceroy of Nepals in the years 1720-21. (See F. Mancini, Feste ed apparati civili e religiosi in Naoli, 1968, p. 41 and passim.)

All the drawings in the album are in pen and ink and wash, unless otherwise stated. Many of them can be recognized in Vittorii’s description. They are accordingly listed here in groups in the same order as Vittorii.

LITERATURE Allan Braham, ‘Funeral decorations in eighteenth century Rome’ (Victoria nd Albert Museum Brochure no. 7), London, 1975.

What follows is to a great extent based on this study by Mr Braham and on conversations with him. I am grateful to him for much valuable advice.


Design for the decoration of the nave, showing a speciment bay
Inscribed with a scale
21 ½ x 14 (547 x 355) E.286-1969

LITERATURE Braham, pl. 15

This design gives a clear idea of the general scheme in the main body of the church. It corresponds closely with Vittorii’s description, which may be translated as follows, omitting the less relevant passages:

On each pilaster was a large vase…in the form of an incense-burner (for detailed studies see no. 1114)…on either side of which sat a putto, each in a different pose (some of them are studies separately in nos. 1115 and 1120)…In the openings of the arches, between one pilaster an another, were beautiful large shells, made up out of funeral draperies, with pendant folds, and underneath were wight large cartouches (there being eight bays in the nave), finely fashioned with various scrolls, volutes and foliations, painted in whitish chiaroscuro heightened with silver, with a winges death’s-head at the bottom (for studies of similar cartouches see nos. 1097-99)…Hangin from the death’s-head were pendants of funeral drapery knotted in such a way as to resemble bunches of laurel, to which were attached gilt chandeliers with eight branched…hanging perpendicularly in the openings of the arches.’

The female figures standing on the bases of the pilasters are, according to Vittorii, two out of 24 mourning women representing the Hapsburg dominions, 12 of them being in the nave and 6 in each aisle (they are studied in detail in nos. 1124-46). The shields that they support were charged with the appropriate arms, some of which are shown in no. 1147.

The roundels attached to the pilasters are not mentioned bu Vittorii. They may have been transferred to the choir (see nos. 1148-55)


Pen and ink; Wash






Prints, Drawings & Paintings Collection

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