The Virtual Tourist in Renaissance Rome: Printing and Collecting the Speculum Romanae Magnificentiae

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The Virtual Tourist in Renaissance Rome: Printing and Collecting the Speculum Romanae Magnificentiae. Edited by Rebecca Zorach. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press. 2008. Pp. 184. $25.00 paperback. ISBN 978-0-943-05637-1.)

Speculum Romanae Magnificentiae, "The Mirror of Rome's Magnificence," is one of the more remarkable publishing ventures of the sixteenth century, an ingenious do-it-yourself kit that allowed even moderately well-off visitors to Rome to assemble a collection of prints showing the city's ancient and modern monuments and supply it with a lavish title page, engraved, c.l575,for the project's creator, the French-born, Rome-based printer Antonio Lafreri. Because the sheets, including the title page, were sold individually, no two Speculum collections are alike; many of them contain prints from Lafreri's competitors, and many contain later material that has nothing to do with Lafreri, but everything to do with Rome. The most extensive Speculum collection to survive to the present day is housed in the Department of Special Collections of the University of Chicago libraries: It includes 994 pieces ranging in date from the 154Os to 1762. In many ways Lafreri's project represented a triumph of new media in his own era, and it seems eminently appropriate that the Chicago Speculum collection can be consulted today online as well as in situ. A special exhibition in 2007-08 called attention to the completion of the digital project, to the Chicago Speculum collection itself, and to the extraordinary supplemental holdings of the university's Department of Special Collections. Curated by University of Chicago art historian Rebecca Zorach, it includes specialized essays by Zorach, Birte Rubach, David Karmon, Rose Marie San Juan, and Nina Dubin, as well as catalogue entries by Chicago graduate students. The book follows the extremely attractive format used by Special Collections on other occasions, with lavish illustrations and elegant graphics, enabling readers who have never seen this remarkable collection to garner a vivid idea of its depth and quality. …