The Temple of Serapis was an impressive Roman ruin that was finally destroyed around 1630. The composition is based on a print by Etienne Dupérac (1520-1604), a French architect and printmaker who published I Vestigi dell'Antichità di Roma in 1575, one of the first collections depicting views of Roman ruins ever produced (fig. 1).
Situated on the Quirinal Hill, the temple would have occupied the area now filled by the Colonna family gardens - where an enormous fragment of the cornice still survives - and the Gregorian University. The temple's dimensions made it an obvious source of marble. As early as the 8th century, Justinian had eight columns removed for the construction of Santa Sophia in Constantinople. In 1348 the marble steps were removed for the church of Santa Maria in Aracoeli and around 1489 a lot of building material was taken for the Cancelleria of Cardinal Riario. The destruction continued throughout the 16th century, until in 1533 the site became known as cava di Montecavallo (quarry of Montecavallo). Marbles were taken for the construction of Palazzo Farnese, of Villa Giulia, and for the Colonna Palace itself, until the last remaining portion of the temple fell in 1630.
The name of the monument has been the cause of much controversy. In the Renaissance it was known variously as the Frontispizio di Nerone, Casa di Nerone, Tempio di Giove and Palazzo di Mecenate, and later as either the Temple of the Sun, the Temple of Serapis. More recently it has been referred to as the Temple of Hercules and Dionysus.
Fifteenth century representations of the temple can be found on several maps of Rome. These illustrations confirm what is written in sources; that only a portion of the frontispiece and a skeleton of the stairs remained. More informative about the state of the monument are the drawings made by foreign artists visiting Rome in the mid-16th century, notably the sketches by Marten van Heemskerck in his Roman sketchbook (Berlin, Kupferstichkabinett, 79 D 2, fol. 36) and the above mentioned print by Etienne Dupérac.
One of the most recent discussion on the temple can be found in: C. Brothers, 'Reconstruction as Design: Giuliano da Sangallo and the "palazo di mecenate" on the Quirinal Hill', Annali di architettura. Rivista del centro internazionale di Studi di Architettura Andrea Palladio di Vicenza, 14, 2002, pp. 56-9.
We are grateful to Professor David Marshall for his help in identifying this view.