The Campidoglio : The Intriguing Meaning of Michelangelo’s Oval Design
By Graziano Baccolini
I decided to write something on the square of the Capitoline Hill when I realised that even in television cultural transmissions the meaning of the Michelangelo’s pavement design is not reported, but it is considered as a simple ornamental or geometrical motive.
For me, and for others 1, the meaning is very clear and stunning.
Michelangelo, permeated of classical culture and in his intent to connect his origins to the cultured Etruscans and Romans, wanted to restore in this place, with his intriguing oval design, the Centre of the World.
This place was the most sacred point for the ancient Romans and probably also for the Etruscans when they reigned on Rome. It was the point of arrival of the triumph that crossed the imperial Forum. It had to become again Umbilicus Caput Mundi.
The ancient Umbilicus , whose rests have been found a little lower, on the top of Forum, was ideally connected to the Greek navel of Delfi1, where there was the Oval stone defined Omphalos. Michelangelo, because he could not put in the centre of square an Oval Stone as that of Delphi, designed a motive which could be connected to the Omphalos.
Figures of such Oval stones with the lozenges are still found on Roman coins and also in frescos at Pompei2. These lozenges designed by Michelangelo probably indicate the meridians and the parallels, as in the Oval stone preserved into the Museum of Delphi. Besides, the pavement of the Michelangelo’s square is convex with on the centre the star with twelve points indicating the constellations. The structure with lozenges makes apparently greater this convexity, giving the feeling to be in the centre of an enormous sphere. This feeling was probably what Michelangelo wished. Probably, the popes have understood it and for this reason they have never permitted to do this pavement. Rather, they have put in the centre of this square a statue of emperor Marcus Aurelius , believing he was Costantine (and for this had been saved!). Michelangelo didn't want any statue! It would have decreased the meaning and effect of the Navel of the World.
Only in 1940 it was realised the Michelangelo’s pavement! But till now most of the people ignored his stunning meaning.
1)The idea the design of Michelangelo can be connected to the stone - navel has also been suggested by Charles de Tolnay famous historical of Michelangelo's art and was taken back by the contemporary historian James Sloss Ackerman in Architecture of Michelangelo now translated in almost all the languages. Despite Acherman is considered one of the greatest historical of the art and of the architecture, his interpretation of the oval shape of the piazza of the Capitoline Hill has been never reported. Personally my interpretation was born after having ascertained, with my studies3,4 on the site of Montovolo, that the Oval stone has been one important religious symbol also for the Etruscans like for the all ancient oriental civilisations and fundamental symbol to indicate the Navel of the World even for Etruscans. Obviously the Romans have taken it back, as also numerous coins attest, up to when Christianesim has tried to destroy all these symbols of the ancient religions. This is the probable motive why the popes have not allowed Michelangelo to put in action his design of the square.
2)W:H: Rocher , Neue Omphalosstudien, Lipsia, 1915
3) G. Baccolini , Hera ,16, 61, 2001.
4) I miei studi sul sito di Montovolo sono riportati anche nelle seguenti pagine Web:
The Campidoglio Square with Michelangelo’s Pavement Design
The Campidoglio pavement
The Omphalos of Delphi (Delphi Museum)
Author, Prof. Graziano Baccolini, Università di Bologna
Gennaio 03 (Italian Version)