La riscoperta del battistero di S. Giovanni a Canosa di Puglia nel XVIII secolo

Author: Petra Lamers

The Rediscovery of the Baptistery of S. Giovanni in Canosa di Puglia in the 18th century

Louis-Jean Desprez accompanied Dominique Vivant Denon on the trip through southern Italy to make drawings, of the major sites of classical antiquity and their most important works of architecture, on behalf of Jean-Claude Richard, Abbé de Saint-Non. Those drawings became the basis for the prints in Saint-Non’s Voyage pittoresque de Naples et de Sicile, published in four volumes between 1781 and 1786.
In Apulia, the ruins of the early Christian baptistery of S. Giovanni in Canosa were considered to date from antiquity. The surviving sketches by Desprez are the earliest visual records of the building, which was only rediscovered the 20th century. With regard to its reconstruction, however, solely the engraved view in the Voyage pittoresque has been consulted up till now – but not the drawings made by Desprez in his Stockholm sketchbook. On one of the sheets Desprez has sketched the bi-apsidal narthex. The second sheet is more accurately a double page on which the artist has drawn a ground plan, another view in the lower pictorial field, and a small reconstruction of the building.
Desprez’ small reconstruction sketch wholly supports the assumption that the building dates from antiquity. His drawings are able to support the reconstruction of the baptistery in key points and to refine its details. They thereby underscore the importance of the Voyage pittoresque for the documentation and reconstruction of the monuments of southern Italy. Desprez’ sketches also allow us to reconstruct the castle built by Frederick II in Lucera, form a picture of the church of the Madonna di Santa Croce in Barletta, which was destroyed in 1809 by an earthquake, and gain an impression of Palermo cathedral before its renovation and remodelling by Ferdinando Fuga.