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History of the Theater


The Theater in Antiquity - I

The Theater in Antiquity - II

The Theater in the Middle Ages

The Theater in the Early Modern Era

The Theater in the Modern Era

The Theater in the Early Modern Era

By Kristin Triff

Soon after the return of the papacy from Avignon in 1420, the Theater’s location along the papal possesso route (Rome’s main ceremonial pathway between St. Peter’s and the Lateran) together with Rome’s improving economic situation, brought a series of tenants, primarily members of the papal court, to the Orsini palace.  Property in the southern half of the Theater facing Piazza del Biscione was leased to the Venetian Cardinal Francesco Condulmer, nephew of pope Eugene IV Condulmer (1431-1447), who built an elaborately decorated residence around 1450.  Towards the end of the sixteenth century, Duke Virginio Orsini renovated this area of the palace, adding the distinctive loggia visible in Antonio Tempesta’s view of 1606.  Apart from this area, much of the Theater was inhabited but remained largely unimproved apart from the commercial and residential properties that were leased out to individual tenants.

View of Palazzo Osini at Pompey’s Theater (Giovanni Maggi, c. 1615)

This period was also one of intense antiquarian interest in the history of the Theater; as early as 1482, Flavio Biondo’s Roma Instaurata records the discovery, near the Church of S. Lorenzo in Damaso, of a large squared stone with the inscription recording the genius, or spirit, of the Theater of Pompey (genius theatri pompeiani).  This interest is reflected in numerous Renaissance reconstructions of the Theater by artists, engravers, and antiquarians including Pirro Ligorio, Giovanni Maggi, and Giovanni Battista Piranesi.


View of Pompey’s Theater  in Antiquity (Giovanni Maggi, c. 1615)

Following the sale of the Orsini palace to Prince Alberto Pio di Savoia da Carpi in 1652, the building wing facing Piazza Biscione to the north was renovated and enlarged to include a new apartment and façade, completed by Camillo Arcucci in 1667.  This new wing, which covered the existing façade of Santa Maria in Grotta Pinta seen in Tempesta’s view of 1606, necessitated the reorientation of the church toward the Via di Grotta Pinta to the east.  

View of Palazzo Pio looking southeast (Giuseppe Vasi, 1754)

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