Master Collection activity 9: a tour of Ancient Rome
Children investigate The Panorama of Rome, 1827 by Luigi Rossini .
They use it as a starting point for investigating the buildings and art of Ancient Rome, through the substantial ruins that survive and appear in it - including the Colosseum, the Roman Forum, the Arch of Constantine and the Basilica of Maxentius or Constantine.
The sites highlighted in the panorama can also be used by pupils to create their own ‘Tour of Ancient Rome’ or to explore the themes of city maps and panoramas and how to create them.
Increased knowledge and understanding of archaeological sites and evidence (surviving Roman buildings) and what they can tell us about life in the past, historic maps and panoramas and how to investigate them.
Develop skills and confidence in studying and interpreting maps, creating a map-based Tour of Ancient Rome or panorama.
KS1-4 Art (investigating prints and panoramas)
KS1-3 History (Romans, Ancient Rome, archaeological evidence).
KS1-4 Geography (maps and how to use them)
Using the Master Collection panorama as a starting point, explore some of its ancient Roman monuments and their importance across the centuries through comparative and contextual images.
Rome has a must-see destination since antiquity. Foremost among its ancient remains is the huge Colosseum. Other key monuments are Roman triumphal arches, in particular the Arch of Constantine near the Colosseum. The barrel-vaulted remains of the Basilica of Maxentius or Constantine are among the most imposing and were very influential for architects. The Roman Forum, where oxen grazed for centuries and gave it the Italian name Campo Vaccino, is littered with temple remains including standing columns.
Formerly also known as the Flavian Amphitheatre, after the Flavian dynasty founded by Emperor Vespasian (69-79 AD), the Colosseum was planned during Vespasian’s reign but completed and dedicated by his son Titus in 80 AD.
- It is pictured on this coin of Titus made that year, with the seated figure of Titus on the reverse surrounded by arms, probably a reference to the spoils from battles in Judea that funded the construction project.
- After a lightning strike damaged the Colosseum, it was repaired by Emperor Severus Alexander about 230 AD and pictured on his coins.
- Look at a reconstructed cross-section of the Colosseum by Vincenzo Brenna (1747-?1818) drawn in 1767-68.
- The 19th century architect, Charles Robert Cockerell (1788-1863), made detailed studies of ancient Greek and Roman architecture during an extended continental tour, later publishing drawings and descriptions that were hugely influential on others. He also designed classical-inspired buildings. See his elevation drawing of the lower half of a Colosseum
- Compare this to a much earlier drawing, from 1530-1540, of the Colosseum elevation across five bays by Amico Aspertini (1474-1552).
- Look at other views of the Colosseum etched by Luigi Rossini (1790-1857), who made the panorama, including views inside the entrance and looking along a colonnade level inside.
Luigi Rossini (cousin of the famous ‘Barber of Seville’ composer Gioachino Rossini) originally wanted to be an architect, studying at the Bologna fine arts academy before winning a competition in the architecture section at the Academy of Saint Luke. In Rome he was taken under the wing of classical sculptor Antonio Canova. But after falling in love with architectural prints made by Giovanni Battista Piranesi (1720-1778), Rossini decided to focus on making similar prints.
Look at Piranesi’s prints of the Colosseum. They conveyed how awe-inspiring the huge remains were, and themselves became inspirational for architects and artists.
- Piranesi’s etched view of the interior of the Colosseum (1756).
- Piranesi’s etched view of the Colosseum exterior (1756).
- Piranesi etched bird’s eye view of the Colosseum, with exterior and view looking down inside (1760-1778).
- Piranesi’s etched view of the interior (1760-1778).
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832), the great German writer, wrote on 11 November 1786 on seeing the Colosseum: ‘Once one has seen it, everything else seems small. It is so huge that the mind cannot retain its image; one remembers it as smaller than it is, so that every time one returns to it, one is astounded by its size.’
- English artist John Warwick Smith (1749-1831) tried to convey the scale and grandeur of the Colosseum in some of the numerous watercolour studies he made of it when in Rome 1780-1781, including this close-up view from the west, probably from the Arch of Constantine.
- Similarly in an oil painting attributed to Joseph Michael Gandy (1771-1843) showing the Colosseum about 1795, ‘before the broken exterior wall had been supported’ (RIBA).
- M. W. Turner during his tour of Italy also made many pencil and watercolour studies of the Colosseum from various viewpoints.
- Turner, ‘The Colosseum, Rome, from the West’, 1819 (Tate).
- Turner, ‘The Colosseum, Rome, from the South’ 1819 (Tate).
Artists were especially taken with how magical the Colosseum looked by moonlight.
- ‘The Colosseum, Rome, by Moonlight’ 1819, an interior view by Turner (Tate).
- ‘The Coliseum by Moonlight, Rome’ 1858 by Frederick Lee Bridell (1831-1863) (Reading Museum).
- ‘The Coliseum at Rome by Moonlight’ 1859, another version by Bridell (Southampton City Art Gallery).
- ‘The Colosseum, Rome, Italy, Moonlight’ about 1789 by Joseph Wright of Derby (1734-1797), an interior view (Derby Museums).
Over the centuries the Colosseum had become overgrown with plants and this made the ruins more romantic. This was very attractive to artists, picture collectors and writers.
- Romantic overgrown ruin is highlighted by Wright of Derby in his moonlight view (above) and more so in ‘The Colosseum, Rome, Italy, Daylight’ 1789 (Derby Museums).
- Richard Deakin MD, an amateur botanist working in Rome as an English physician, made a study of the plants in the Colosseum, identifying 420 different species. He published his findings in 1855 with his own lovely drawings as illustrations.
- The importance placed on the Colosseum by artists from early in the Renaissance is seen in the ‘Self Portrait with the Colosseum, Rome’ 1553 by Maerten van Heemskerck (1498-1574), in which you can see the top overgrown with plants (Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge).
- An early view of the romantic ruin by Willem van Nieulandt II (1584-c.1635), with Arch of Constantine on the left, both overgrown at the top (National Trust).
- An interior view of the overgrown Colosseum by Hendrik Frans van Lint (1684-1763) with cattle (Bradford Museums and Galleries).
- Piranesi’s etched ‘View of the Arch of Constantine and the Flavian Amphitheatre, called the Colosseum’ (1760-1778).
- The Colosseum looking a bit thin-walled in a painting by an 18th century imitator of Canaletto (National Trust).
- Turner’s 1819 watercolour sketch of the Arch of Constantine and the Colosseum (Tate).
Arch of Constantine
Most important of the triumphal arches in Rome for artists and architects, thanks to its size, proximity to the Colosseum and rich variety of sculptural detail (taken from earlier monuments built under Trajan and Hadrian).
- Turner’s oil painting of about 1835 gives a romantic misty sunlit view of the Arch of Constantine (Tate).
- Winston Churchill’s oil painting of about 1926, ‘The Forum in Rome, with the Arch of Constantine’, gives a view from modern times by the famous amateur artist (National Trust, Chartwell).
- Turner made a pencil drawing of the Arch of Constantine, 1819 (Tate).
This view of Turner’s is taken from the other side of the Arch to the sculptures drawn in the Master Collection double-sided Copy of Trajanic frieze and Copy of Hadrianic reliefs. Look at these drawings in conjunction with the views of the Arch of Constantine.
Basilica of Maxentius or Constantine
These remains were once thought to be part of the Forum of Peace, so the monument was sometimes erroneously called the Temple of Peace.
Begun by Emperor Maxentius (306-310) and completed by Emperor Constantine, the Basilica was a rectangular civic building with a large open space inside. It is the most impressive piece of Roman architecture in existence. The Basilica of Maxentius was the largest interior space constructed in the ancient world and is the greatest Roman vaulted structure. Its coffered concrete technology, barrel-vault form and Imperial scale would not be matched until the Renaissance. In terms of its use of concrete, the basilica’s design would not be superseded until the 20th century.
- Piranesi’s etched ‘View of the Temple of Peace’ (1760-1778) is one of the most famous images of the Basilica.
- Luigi Rossini (1790-1857), who made the panorama, etched a view looking along the inside of the three arched vaults of what he called the ‘Temple of Peace’.
- Compare the ruins with a digital reconstruction, such as the downloadable app with trailer at
- Further information about the basilica is at
- For a brief overview of barrel vaults ancient to modern, beginning with the Basilica of Maxentius.
- Its influence on Renaissance architecture can be seen in interior views of the Basilica of Sant’Andrea, Mantua, by Leon Battista Alberti (1404-1472), with barrel vaults and painted coffers.
- The coffering of the Basilica of Maxentius was much imitated, most impressively in the original Penn (Pennsylvania) Station, New York, by McKim, Mead & White (1901-1910, demolished 1963), which echoed the Baths of Diocletian and of Caracalla in Rome.
Early views revel in the Roman Forum as a romantic pastoral scene with cattle grazing (hence its Italian name, ‘Campo Vaccino’). Archaeological remains become of greater interest to artists and picture collectors in the 19th century.
- ‘Campo Vaccino, Rome, looking towards the Colosseum’ by Hendrik Frans van Lint (1684-1763) (Victoria Art Gallery, Bath)
- Piranesi’s etched view of the Roman Forum (Campo Vaccino) from the Capitoline Hill (1760-1778)
- A ‘View of the Forum in Rome’ 1814 by Christoffer Wilhelm Eckersberg (1783-1853) with ox carts (National Gallery, London).
- David Roberts (1796-1864), ‘The Forum, Rome’ 1859 (Guildhall Art Gallery).
- Robert Turnbull MacPherson (1814-1872) ‘The Forum, Rome’, with Colosseum in distance right (Stirling Smith Art Gallery & Museum).
- Luigi Rossini (1790-1857), who made the panorama, also etched views of temple columns in the Roman Forum (his ‘Temple of Concord’ is the Temple of Saturn and ‘Thundering Jupiter’ is the Temple of Vespasian).
Orientation and mapping
Luigi Rossini drew his panorama of Rome from a window in the church bell-tower or ‘campanile’ of Santa Maria Nova (originally Latin ‘nova’ rather than Italian ‘nuova’), also known as Santa Francesca Romana.
This church is next to ruins of the Temple of Venus and Rome, which has two back-to-back apses that contained statues of the two deities to which it was dedicated. The panorama shows an apse with a stretch of wall on its right; views from the other side have an apse with a fragment of wall on its left.
- Rossini’s ‘General view of the Temple of Venus and Rome’ (1821) looks towards the church bell-tower from the Colosseum (a fragment of whose arch frames the etching on the left).
- We can tell Rossini’s view was taken from the Colosseum as a very similar etching of 1818/1820 by James Hakewill (1778-1843) is titled ‘View from the First Gallery of the Colisseum’ and has an edge of a Colosseum arch as framing on the right.
- A side view of the temple apse and wall in the panorama can be seen in an image by Agostino Tofanelli (1770-1834) showing the monastery cloisters that existed around Santa Maria Nova until demolished in 1816 (the view being one of a ‘before and after demolition’ pair).
In the panorama, the view from the church bell-tower looks down onto the roof and we can see the backs of three sculptures on the roofline.
- These three sculptures can be seen in an oil-painted view of the front of the church by Bloomsbury Group artist Quentin Bell (1910-1996), ‘The Forum, Rome, with the Façade and Campanile of Santa Francesca Romana (Santa Maria Nuova)’ (National Trust).
The view in the middle of Rossini’s panorama, with the roof of Santa Maria Nova in the foreground, looks towards the north-west. From the direction the shadows of sculptures fall on the church roof, it’s possible to work out that the sun must be in the west. Get pupils to use a compass and map to work out where the view is looking and where the sun might be.
Explore the panorama in conjunction with modern maps of Rome. The modern Via dei Fori Imperiali now runs through part of the panorama view but monuments and churches can be correlated.
- For interesting location details with photos of modern views see:
Compare monuments in the panorama with images of the same from different viewpoints, as detailed under Ancient Rome above (e.g. find where Turner’s different views of the Colosseum were taken from). Other useful comparatives from different viewpoints are
- Turner’s 1819 panoramic view taken from the Palatine Hill (the area of walled garden with colonnaded podium in the middle distance, centre left of the panorama). It shows the Colosseum on the right, Santa Maria Nova tower in the centre (where the panorama was drawn from), and Basilica of Maxentius on the left (Tate):
- John Warwick Smith’s panoramic view of the Colosseum and Arch of Constantine (1780-1781), also taken from the Palatine Hill but from a different place to Turner’s view, and has remains of the Claudian Aqueduct on the right, with remains of the Baths of Titus in the distance (British Museum):
A panorama is a wide-angle or 360 degree image. Rossini’s Rome panorama is a 360 degree image: the right end can be joined seamlessly to the left end.
- Make copies of the Rome panorama so pupils can rearrange the right end to the left or join the pieces in a circle to see it’s a 360 degree view.
Panoramas were hugely popular in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Many were made on a vast scale and installed in specially built rotundas, such as the Colosseum in Regent’s Park and Rotunda in Leicester Square. Visitors ascended to a viewing platform and found themselves completely surrounded by a panorama of a city, a famous battle or other event, as if they were there.
- Decimus Burton’s design showing a section of the Colosseum, Regent’s Park, with a panorama, central enclosed staircase and viewing platform (Victoria & Albert Museum).
- A section of the Rotunda, Leicester Square, exhibiting two panoramas on different levels (Victoria & Albert Museum).
- A panorama of Rome by Lodovico Caracciolo (1761-1842) was at one time installed for viewing in 360 degrees at the Victoria & Albert Museum but now is in storage; photos show how it was previously installed.
- A panorama of London about 1806-1807, known as the Rheinbeck Panorama (after the town in the USA where it was found in 1940 lining a barrel of pistols), takes a bird’s eye view from the middle of the Thames, roughly where Tower Bridge now stands, and was probably a study for a much larger canvas never completed (Museum of London):
- For details of 360 degree panoramas currently in existence around the world see the database of the International Panorama Council at
Battle panoramas were very popular in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. There was no TV or cinema and the painted panoramas (as well as moving dioramas) were the nearest equivalent.
- Battle of Trafalgar panorama (displayed at Leicester Square, 1806-1807), no longer in existence but captured in a printed key of about 1806 (Royal Museums Greenwich).
- Storming of Seringapatam with the defeat of Tipu Sultan in 1799, published 1800 (Victoria & Albert Museum).
Panoramas could also be on a smaller, more personal viewing scale, such as
- ‘The Colosseum view of London’ published by the Illustrated London News in 1843 (Yale Center for British Art), high-res images of the whole view in sequence at
- Views of Westminster and London taken from the opposite bank of the Thames by Samuel and Nathaniel Buck, published in 1749 (Yale Center for British Art), high-res images of the whole view in sequence at
- Costa Scena or a Cruise along the southern coast of Kent (1823) by Robert Havell, going from Greenwich on the Thames to Calais, and rolled out from a hand-held drum (Yale Center for British Art).
- A fold-out panorama of Queen Victoria’s coronation procession in 1838 (Yale Center for British Art).
- A fold-out panorama of the marriage procession of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert in 1840 (Yale Center for British Art):
Ask pupils to make a panorama of:
- Folkestone Roman Villa and garden (Learn with Objects Romans topic)
- Victorian Folkestone or Folkestone today
- the classroom or playground, either through a sequence of drawings or by stitching together digital photos
- an event or a parade in history or today through a sequence of drawings or digital images
Learn with Objects links
Use Learn with Objects Master Collection 9: panorama of Rome and Learn with Objects Seaside Holidays 4: action at sea (a Victorian Panorama of Folkestone). Also see the activity on Seaside Holidays 4 Resources section.