The Plays of Nicholas Breakspear

1 September

2013.09.01 15:08

The last line (so far) of 'It rocked Eisenman on his chair...' reads:
"It wasn't enough that Maria remained a virgin consort to a 14 year-old Emperor, she then had to witness the only English Pope take her sarcophagus for himself. She's now writing The Plays of Nicholas Breakspear."

1159.09.01 death of Pope Adrian IV [aka Nicholas Breakspear]

The tomb of Pope Adrian IV is presently within the Vatican crypt of the Basilica of St. Peter, and it bears a stricking resemblence to the Sarcophagus of Maria, first wife of the Emperor Honorius as depicted by Piranesi within Il Campo Marzio...

...except Piranesi does not depict the two Medusa head medalions. Obviously Piranesi took some artistic license in his depiction (which in itself is not unusual for him), but this difference raises a whole casket full of problems. For a start, it's most unlikely for the sarcophagus of a teenage Christian imperial wife to bear such pagan iconography--Maria was married to the son of the Emperor Theodusius I who legally abolished all paganism throughout the Roman Empire and installed Christianity as the only state religion. Was Piranesi trying to hide some sort of Imperial blemish? I doubt it. Looking deeper, if Breakspear was entombed within this late-antique sacophagus soon after his death 854 years ago today, then it could not be the sarcophagus of Maria because that sarcophagus was not discovered until 3 February 1544 during the demolishions of the old Basilica of St. Peter, Vatican. Of course, the papal remains could have been placed within the newly found sarcophagus after 1544. but there are no records of such an event having taken place. In fact, there are no records, as far as I can find, that even link the sarcophagus of Pope Adrian IV with the sarcophagus of Maria, except, as it happens, my own recognition of the resemblence between the actual papal sarcophagus and Piranesi's depiction of the imperial sacophagus. So what's really going on here?

This key position is as head-piece of the Latin language dedication of Il Campo Marzio to Englishman Robert Adam.

2002.01.19: "The sarcophagus of Maria may well be the last substantial imperial artifact of (the city of) Rome, and, after an illustrious title page and a frontispiece, it is an image of the sarcophagus of Maria that Piranesi uses to begin his Campo Marzio publication. In a most elegantly covert way, Piranesi began the 'history' of the Campo Marzio with what is really it's ending, and what is probably the world's greatest designed architectural inversionary double theater goes on from there."

What may well actually have happened is that, after finding textual evidence of the discovered existence of the sarcophagus of Maria, Piranesi went about looking for the actual sarcophagus, but didn't find it anywhere within the collections of the Vatican or Rome. However, he still needed an image of the sarcophagus to grace the Dedication to Robert Adam, so he decided to use the late-antique sarcophagus that happens to hold the remains of the only English Pope as a model. I wonder if Adam was even ever aware of the fabricated connection.




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