Giovanni Jacopo (Giacomo) de Rossi — Nitra Castle

The oldest piece of art in Nitra Gallery’s collection has been transferred from the Regional Museum in Bojnice in July 1965.

Inventory No.: G 85

Artist: Giovanni Jacopo (Giacomo) de Rossi
Title: Nitra Castle

Dating: 1670
Technique: copperplate engraving
Material: paper
Dimensions: height 32 cm, width 43 cm; (height 30 cm, width 38 cm)
Signature: none

The oldest piece of art in Nitra Gallery’s collection has been transferred from the Regional Museum in Bojnice in July 1965. It is an engraving from the second volume of a three-volume book titled Historia di Leopoldo Cesare, Continente le cose piu memorabili successe in Europa dal 1656 fino al 1670 published in Vienna in 1670 (the third volume is from 1674) by an important imperial Flemish publisher called Johann Baptist Hacqué (1634 – 1678).

The extensive book describing various political and military successes of the emperor Leopold I between 1656 and 1670 was written by an Italian mercenary, geographer and diplomat Galeazzo Gualdo Priorato (1606 – 1678). It contains a large number of illustrations depicting European monarchs and aristocrats, vistas of towns, castles and fortresses, battle scenes and maps. Most of the engravings were made by Dutch artists, but also Germans and Italians.

The Nitra Gallery’s engraving is attributed to Giovanni Jacopo (Giacomo) de Rossi, though some art historians do not mention him in this regard. [1] It is possible he was only the engraver or the publisher, but the author of the original template might be somebody else as this kind of workflow was very common at the time. We know the matrices made for this book were later reprinted in other publications and also distributed in the form of free sheets. An identical engraving can be found in the collection of the Orava Gallery (titled Nitra), in the Christian Museum in Esztergom, Hungary as well as in the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C.. They also sometimes pop up in auction houses and secondhand bookstores.

We know our piece is a print which was originally a book insert and not just a free sheet as it contains two apparent vertical fold lines. The number “258” is printed in the upper right corner, marking it a book page. The upper central part says “DISSEGNO DI NITRIA IN PROSPETTIVA” which means “a drawing of Nitra in perspective” in Italian. Even though the artist used perspective and even a few image plans giving the impression of depth, Zobor and the Tribeč mountain range are comically small in comparison with the disproportioned castle.

So what does our engraving actually portray? Taking into account the book texts and another engraving numbered 419 capturing the occupation of Nitra by general de Souches, it describes the events of Nitra being freed from occupation by the Ottomans in 1664.

On October 12, 1663, Nitra Castle was seized by the Ottoman army led by Hüseyin Pasha, shortly after taking control of the strategic stronghold in Nové Zámky. They succeeded thanks to their greater numbers as well as the fact the commander of the Nitra Castle named Nyitrai and his soldiers were demotivated by low pay and they gave up without a fight. In the beginning of April 1664, the emperor army led by general de Souches, the captain of the Levice castle, Štefan Kohári, and other commanders came to Nitra to take the town back. After several days of bombarding, the Ottomans burned down the Upper and Lower Towns and retreated to the castle where they eventually capitulated on April 18, 1664.

General de Souches wanted to level the destroyed Lower Town, but eventually changed his mind after Kohári’s protests as there would be no place to accommodate a permanent military guard. The castle and the cathedral were later mostly rebuilt and in 1674 in order to prevent any more Ottoman raids, the Nitra bishop Tomáš Pálfi ordered new bastions and fortifications to be built, in the form we know them today.

The front part of the engraving, the first plan, portrays a horse-rider standing by a tree trunk – probably general Louis Raduit de Souches (1608 – 1682) himself. The assumption is based on a humorous “coded” message as the French word “souche” means a trunk, stump. The soldier standing to his right is showing him the marching troops. On the left side, the artillery and cavalry and preparing to attack the Ottomans.

The hill we see in the central part of the second plan is probably Šibeničný vrch [Gallows Hill], under the Klokočina subdivision in the town district of Čermáň, also known as Borina – thanks to the pine trees [“borovica” in Slovak] artificially planted there in the late 19th century. The name Šibeničný vrch has been in use since 1848 when the town gallows were moved here from the their original location by the town cemetery. During the Great Moravian era, a small fortified settlement stood here and at the turn of the 16th and 17th centuries, a watchtower Turecká varta [Ottoman Watch] was built here as a part of the anti-Ottoman signal system (further towers were on Kalvária [Calvary Hill] and in Veľké Janíkovce). The watchtower is depicted on the top of the hill in the engraving.

The Lower Town, depicted in the third plan of the composition, is dominated by the tower of the Church of St Jacob that used to stand in today’s Svätopluk Square by 1880 (the church was destroyed in 1786). The Upper Town depicted in the image contains not just the castle and the cathedral, but also the Franciscan monastery with the Church of Sts Peter and Paul. On the other hand, one of the biggest sacral dominants of today’s Nitra, the Church of St Ladislav, is not depicted here as it was built a century later.

Giovanni Jacopo (Giacomo) de Rossi (1627 – 1691) was an Italian engraver, printer and publisher active in Rome. His father, Giuseppe de Rossi (1570 – 1639) founded a printing press in 1663. Giovanni Giacomo took over in 1653 and after marrying a rich widow in 1657, his career blossomed and he turned the family business into the most important and busiest printing presses of the 17th-century Rome. His financial success supposedly let him to also open a casino. After his death, his son Domenico took over the business. Today, it is the Italian National Institute for the Graphic Design (L’Istituto Nazionale per la Grafica) which houses the works of many important artists, including the original matrices by Giovanni Battista Piranesi.

Omar Mirza
December 2020

Notes:
[1] See the collection item description by Miroslav Kindl in the Olomouc Museum of Art, available at: https://www.muo.cz/en/collections/books–41/galeazzo-gualdo-priorato–284/ (accessed on December 11, 2020).

Sources:
FOJTÍK, Juraj (ed.): Nitra. Bratislava: Obzor, 1977 (1978).

Online resources:
https://www.britishmuseum.org/collection/term/BIOG44264
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Giovanni_Giacomo_de_Rossi
https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Galeazzo_Gualdo_Priorato
https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Johann_Baptist_Hacque