The 'Museo Cartaceo', or ‘Paper Museum’, is a collection of more than 7,000 watercolours, drawings and prints, assembled during the seventeenth century by the famous Roman patron and collector, Cassiano dal Pozzo, and his brother Carlo Antonio dal Pozzo. It represents one of the most significant attempts ever made before the age of photography to embrace all human knowledge in visual form.
The Paper Museum reflects the taste and intellectual breadth of one of the most learned and enthusiastic of all seventeenth-century Roman collectors. As an important member of Cardinal Francesco Barberini's household, as well as patron of artists such as Poussin, and a friend of Galileo, Cassiano dal Pozzo crossed the boundaries of artistic, scientific and political disciplines, to create his unique visual encyclopedia.
The Paper Museum was sold by Cassiano’s heirs to Pope Clement XI Albani in the early eighteenth century. It remained in the Albani collection until it was acquired from Cardinal Alessandro Albani in 1762 by George III – though not in its entirety – for his library at Buckingham House. In 1834, the collection was transferred to the Royal Library created by William IV at Windsor Castle.
The Catalogue Raisonné
Drawings and prints in the Royal Library at Windsor Castle, the British Museum, the Institut de France and other collections
The publication of a catalogue raisonné of the Paper Museum provides access for the first time to a major source of reference for the intellectual, cultural and scientific history of seventeenth-century Europe. The drawings are catalogued by subject-matter in an attempt to reconstruct the method of classification employed by Cassiano. The objective is to identify the subject of each drawing and to describe the circumstances in which the drawing was made, wherever possible with reference to surviving documentation. Documenting antiquities and architecture, botany, geology, ornithology and zoology, the drawings constitute a visual database that provides us with a significant tool for understanding the culture and intellectual concerns of a period during which the foundations of our own scientific methods of research and classification were laid down.
The print collection survives in fourteen albums, miscellaneous compilations and impressions from disassembled albums divided mainly between the British Library and the Royal Library at Windsor Castle (where the bulk of the drawings are housed). Cassiano and his brother rarely commissioned printmakers to engrave plates as they did drawings, but they bought what was available from the flourishing printmaking industry of the time and organised it around specific subjects. Amongst these are costumes, religious processions and ceremonies, tombs and catafalques, the history of St Peter’s, architecture, topography, maps and military engagements, portraits, social and humorous subjects, and so on.
The Catalogue is being published in twenty Parts (thirty-seven separate volumes), divided into three series: Series A, which covers Antiquities and Architecture (in ten Parts); Series B, which deals with Natural History (eight Parts); and Series C, covering the prints (two Parts). Each Part in a series is devoted to a particular area of the collection and the catalogues have been written by leading scholars in the relevant areas. Eighteen Parts (thirty-two volumes) have been published to date (2021).
The final two Parts – A.III Sarcophagi and Other Reliefs (four vols), and A.IV Statues and Busts (one vol) – are close to publication but were temporarily put on hold in 2021 until the funding required to bring them to completion is available.
The published volumes cover not just the major portion of the Paper Museum that is housed in the Royal Library at Windsor Castle, but also the material now in the British Museum's Department of Greek and Roman Antiquities, the British Library, the Library of the Sir John Soane's Museum, the Institut de France in Paris and a number of other public and private collections. The volumes thus bring together again the contents of the original Paper Museum for the first time since its sale and dispersal in the eighteenth century.
Each volume consists of introductory essays followed by catalogue entries; the latter provide commentaries as well as details of the media, annotations, inscriptions, drawing-sheets, mount-sheets, watermarks, provenance and related literature. The volumes also include concordances, bibliographies, documentary appendices, watermark listings and indices.
A special feature of the Catalogue Raisonné is the corpus of illustrations: every item in the collection is reproduced, usually as a full-page colour plate, and selected comparative illustrations (in both colour and black and white) show extant monuments or decorations in situ as well as natural history specimens.
Cassiano dal Pozzo (1588-1657) was born in Turin and brought up and educated in Pisa. In 1612 he moved to Rome, where he found himself among influential and cultivated patrons. After taking up a position in Cardinal Barberini's household in 1623, Cassiano soon became a prominent figure in Rome's aristocratic and intellectual life. By that time Cassiano had been joined in Rome by his younger brother Carlo Antonio (1606–89), who shared his brother's artistic and scientific interests and played a significant role in augmenting the collection.
Cassiano's patronage extended to both the well and lesser-known artists of his day, and his close connections with leading European scientists, scholars and philosophers kept him fully informed of the latest archaeological and scientific discoveries . Through his association with Prince Federico Cesi and his membership of the first modern scientific society, the Accademia dei Lincei (founded by Cesi), Cassiano obtained drawings that provided visual evidence of scientifically, and for the first time microscopically, observed natural phenomena, thus establishing a firm basis for scientific classification. Fruit, flora, fungi, fauna, minerals and fossils - all were meticulously recorded, whether commonplace or exotic. As antiquarian, Cassiano applied the same rigour and systematic methodology: classical and early medieval monuments were painstakingly measured, drawn and annotated. These were then classified thematically to reveal unique testimony of ancient religion, custom, dress, architecture and spectacle.
Contact the Dal Pozzo Catalogue Project
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Royal Collection Trust
Stable Yard House, St James’s Palace