Collecting uncollectables: Joachim Du Bellay
Keywords:Du Bellay, Wonders of the world, Roman Antiquities, Pliny the Elder, Copiousness
Lists of wonders have circulated for millennia. Over and over, such inventories of spectacular man made constructions have been rewritten, re-edited and reimagi-ned. Both the wonders and the lists of wonders, preferably of the seven, have had a profound and long-lasting effect, and have been abundantly imitated, copied and reworked. Renaissance creative thinking was obsessed with the seven wonders of the ancient world, and early-modern Europe experienced a surge of visual and verbal depictions of wonders. This article is about a remarkable list of seven wonders, included in one of Joachim Du Bellay’s canonical poems on Roman antiquities (Antiquités de Rome), published in Paris in 1558. Du Bellay shapes his list of wonders by exploring pat-terns of both repetition and mutability. Almost imperceptibly, he starts suggesting connections between 16th-century Rome and distant civilizations. Through the eyes of a fictive traveller and collector, the poet venerates the greatness and la-ments the loss of ancient buildings, sites and works of art, slowly developing a ver-bal, visual and open-ended gallery, creating a collection of crumbling or vanished, mainly Roman, architecture. This poetic display of ruins and dust in the Eternal City is nourished by the attraction of the inevitable destruction of past splendour and beauty. In the sonnets, Du Bellay imitates classical models and patterns. Whi-le compiling powerful images and stories of destruction, he combines techniques associated with both a modern concept of copy and more ancient theories of co-pia. In this context, this article also explores whether Pliny’s Natural History might be a source for the imaginary collection of lost sites and wonders in Du Bellay’s Antiquités.
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