Sacred and Christian Rome

ca. 1674-1677Maratti, CarloItalian, 1625–1713pen and brown ink, brown and grey wash over red chalk18 11/16 in. × 14 13/16 in. × 5 11/16 in. (47.47 cm. × 37.62 cm. × 14.4 cm.)

Gift of Susan Dwight Bliss


This drawing was likely part of a series of designs made by the leading Roman painter Carlo Maratti for the Altieri Palace of Pope Clement X. This sheet depicts an allegorical scene of the passage of power and authority from the ancient Romans to the contemporary Catholic church. In the drawing, the river god Tiber hands the twins and founders of Rome, Romulus and Remus, to the figure of Christian Rome, who holds an orb and cross in her right hand, symbolizing the dominion of Catholicism over the world. For centuries following the Renaissance, various European peoples would stake their claim as the rightful heirs of the ancient Romans in politics, arts, and literature. This tradition was inherited and continued by the founders of the United States, who would come to regard the American project as a new Roman Republic. 

This and other similar sheets, dozens of which have been identified, were designs intended for the spandrels surrounding Maratti’s celebrated ceiling painting The Triumph of Clemency (1674–1677). Here Catholic Rome is depicted triumphantly, wearing armor and holding Roman standards while towering above the ancient river god.

—Sean P. Burrus

Susan Dwight Bliss

Sole heir to wealthy financier George T. (1816–1901) and Jeanette Dwight Bliss (1852–1924), Susan Dwight Bliss was a New York collector and philanthropist. She inherited a sizeable collection of ancient Mediterranean and historic European art from her parents, prominent collectors of the Gilded Age, and continued to collect rare books, manuscripts, and historic art and artifacts herself.