The interest of architects, antiquarians and historians in the monuments of the ancient world was certainly not a new phenomenon in the seventeenth century. Vitruvius, the only surviving text on ancient architecture, dating to early Imperial Rome, included descriptions of many notable ancient buildings still extant when written. In turn, Renaissance architects and humanists such as Serlio and Palladio would add their own observations on the remains of classical antiquity. However, the end of the sixteenth and into the seventeenth century witnessed a change in both approach and goal. The scientific Renaissance of Galileo and Newton would impact this renewed engagement with the architectural ruins of the ancient world in an appeal to exactitude, accuracy and what approximated a scientific methodology.
In this milieu were those educated aristocrats ambitious and adventurous who combined their classical sensibilities with a growing spirit of exploration felt throughout a civilization extending itself intellectually, artistically, economically and geographically. The Grand Tour served them as a geographic and literal journey into history, which had inspired their imagination. The authors of these books are caught between these two impulses in their search not only for noble architectural models from antiquity on which to design their own built environment, and to tour the past scientifically and romantically.
The plates engraved for these books range from dissections of the classical orders (always of importance in discourses on architectural theory), plans, ornaments, reconstructions and picturesque views which record the ruins in situ but also impart the authors' excitement and atmosphere of their architectural and archaeological adventure.
These books complement the artistic impulses and influences documented in The Splendor of Ruins loan exhibition and the works on paper exhibition Surveying the Ruin both on view at the Allen Memorial Art Museum.