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Hieronymus Cock's Aesthetic of Collapse

Christopher P. Heuer
Oxford Art Journal
Vol. 32, No. 3, Mal'Occhio: Looking Awry at the Renaissance Special Issue (2009), pp. 387, 389-408
Published by: Oxford University Press
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/25650876
Page Count: 21
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Hieronymus Cock's Aesthetic of Collapse
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Abstract

All ruins bespeak both persistence and decay. Yet the specificity of Roman ruins, for the Antwerp publisher Hieronymus Cock (c. 1510—1570), lay less in a charged sublimnity than in a lingering power to model, to furnish templates in his Netherlandish here-and-now. Cock's astonishing series of etchings, the Praecipua Aliquot Romanae Monimenta was published in 1551. One of the earliest products of Cock's revolutionary Aux Quatre Vents firm, the Praecipua has long proven problematic to art historians, since it seems less to document ancient Rome than to present the city as landscape, a sprawl of disabled structures. Writing in 1907, for example, the archaeologist Hülsen complained that Cock's views 'teach us nearly nothing' of antiquity, and 'depict only how grave the monuments' "en-rubblement" (Verschüttung) has become'. Yet the sixteenth-century appeal of Cock's prints lay precisely with this enactment of decay. For his audiences Cock fragmented views of the Colosseum, blurred distances between buildings like the Septizodium and the Baths of Diocletian, and dotted the ruins with tiny animals and human figures. Ultimately, the etchings mattered not as antiquarian documents but as pattern prints, templates re-used and excerpted by German intarsists, Dutch metalsmiths, and Italian painters. It was the print medium that enabled such copia to reconstruct a Rome that was no longer there, less by showing it than re-staging via a kind of antiquarian virtuality, its aesthetic of bricolage.

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