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The Landscape of Laundry in Late Cinquecento Rome Author(s): KATHERINE W. RINNE Source: Studies in
The Landscape of Laundry in Late Cinquecento Rome Author(s): KATHERINE W. RINNE Source: Studies in

The Landscape of Laundry in Late Cinquecento Rome Author(s): KATHERINE W. RINNE Source: Studies in the Decorative Arts, Vol. 9, No. 1 (FALL-WINTER 2001-2002), pp. 34-60 Published by: University of Chicago Press on behalf of the Bard Graduate Center Stable URL: Accessed: 31-12-2015 16:03 UTC

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Studies in the Decorative Arts.

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Cinquecento Rome

Landscape of Laundry in Late

Although wateris a sine qua non forall human life,archaeological, historical, and literary records concerning its management,particularly regarding domestic practices suchas cooking,gardening, and laundry are scant.Since women typicallyperformed theseessential everydaytasks, lack of knowledge ofthe activitieslimits understanding of theirlives. Waterwas neededforall such choresand was typically collectedat fountains,springs,wells, orstreams.Unlikemostdomestic labor, which wasconductedinsidethe home,laundering wasa publicactivity, often performed outsideat a fountainor along a riverbank.Insidethehomea womanhadmorecommandovertheconditionsunderwhichsheworked

than she did outside, where piazzas,streets, and streamswere usually undercivil supervision.Hence, the publicplaces wherewomencollected water, ordidtheir laundry, had the potential to becomeflash points for physical and emotionaltensionsbetween women, and thecivilauthor-

itieswho sought to control public activities.An investigation ofthese interactions providesinsight intohitherto neglectedaspects ofwomen's livesin late cinquecento Rome. Just as growingknowledge of Imperial Roman bathingpractices revealsmuchabout the social and cultural institutionsthat shaped the public livesofancient Romans,particularly men, an increasedawarenessof practices associatedwith washing linens

and clothing in the cinquecento can reveala great deal aboutthe daily lives of women, who held the primaryresponsibility for doing the laundry. The officialchoiceoflocationsfor publiclaundryactivities, the physical characterof the siteswithinthe topography of the city as a

whole, and the policiesdevelopedby communitiesand governments to overseethosesitesandactivitiescommunicatemuchaboutthestatusof womenwhoworkedat thesetasksandabouttheofficialattitudestoward theuse of public streetsand piazzas fordomestictasks. Controlanddistributionofwateris crucialto thesmoothfunction- ing of anycity. Thusitis remarkable,considering theextentandfameof Roman aqueducts andwater systems, thattherecordfordomesticwater usein ancientRomeisso slim.As Dora Crouch, one ofthefewscholars to tacklethe subject ofwater distribution,points outin Water Manage- mentinAncientGreekCities (1993), very littleisknownaboutdomestic

KatherineW. Rinne is AssociateFellow, InstituteforAdvanced Technology in the

Humanities,University of Virginia.


StudiesintheDecorativeArts/F all-Winter2001-2002

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wateruse in theGreek world, evenforsitesthatarewell documented,

suchas Athensand Morgantina,Sicily. Paolo Squatriti, in Waterand Society in Early Medieval Italy, A.D. 400-1000 (1998), justifiably com- plains thatthedocumentationto support an understanding ofdomestic waterutilization during themedieval period is meager at best, and that evidenceforthe washing ofclothesis almostnonexistent.Nor is the situationmuch improved fortheRenaissance. Only forthelateRenais- sanceand Baroqueperiods is enough knownto allowsomeinferencesto be drawnabouttherolethatthe public water supplyplayed in the daily

lifeof the city,includinglaundrypractices. The documentsconsist primarily of payment recordsto the architectsand sculptors of the various laundryfountains, and papal edicts warning ofthe punishments awaiting thosewhodaredto wash dirty linensin theothercivicfoun- tains, whichwereintendedto ornamentthe public streetsand piazzas, suchas thePiazzaNavona. Fromthe late sixteenth through thenine-

teenth centuries,prints,drawings,frescoes, and finallyphotographspro- vide a wealthofvisualdetailaboutthe physicalsettings ofthe public

fountains,includinglaundry basinsand the peopleusing them.1 Many laundry basinsremainedfunctionaluntilthe end of the nineteenth

century.Although thereare working nineteenth-and early twentieth- centurylaundry fountainsstill operating in small towns throughout Italy,2 thereareno survivingexamples in Romeitself. In Rome during theRenaissanceand Baroqueperiods, the provision

of publiclaundryfacilities,superficially a mundane concern, bristledwith

political and social

purposely createdin whichwomenconducteda seeminglyprivate do-

mestic activity the washing of dirty linens -

siting,physicalconfiguration, andadministrationofthesefacilitieshad a

serious impact on the livesofthe people who usedthem -

and their daughters as well as professionallaundresses, someofwhom wereformer prostitutes.3 The juxtaposition of virtuousand "compro- mised" women,working side byside, createdan unusualsocialtensionin the publicpiazzas, both among thewomenthemselvesandbetweenthem and the menwho observedthem.As a result,laundry activitieswere

strictlyregulatedby both papal and communal policy, and womenwere harshlypunished for operating outsidetheestablished physical andsocial

parameters. An examinationof threelate cinquecentopubliclaundry fountainsas reflectionsofchurchand communitypolicy is particularly

revealing. The threenew public laundry sites in questionopened within twenty-fiveyears ofone anotherinRome.In 1563 Pope PiusIV opened theFontedi San Giorgio, a laundry in theVelabro district, whichwas

implications. Here a landscape for laundry was

in the public realm.The



Laundry inLate Cinquecento Rome 35

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suppliedby a natural spring neartheTiberRiver.The second laundry fountain, theLavatoiodellaPiazzadel Popolo, was suppliedby the newly

restored aqueduct, the Acqua Vergine.Sponsoredby theciviladminis- tration, theCommuneof Rome, thefountainwasbuiltin 1581 to the west of the Piazza del Popolo. The third, the Lavatoio Felice, was

completed in 1588 by Pope SixtusV and was suppliedby the Acqua Felice, whichhe had inaugurated the year before.The aqueduct and laundry werenamedforthe papalpatron - FelixPeretti.The laundry was

locatedon top ofthe Quirinal hill. All threelaundrieswere placed in peripheral areasat the edge ofor beyond the abitato, theinhabitedareaofthe city, ratherthanwithinthe mainresidentialareasconvenientto thewomenwhowoulduse them. Whereasthe siting ofthefirst fountain, theFontedi San Giorgio, was determined by thelocationofthe existingspring, the locationsofthe

otherlaundrieswerenot similarly restricted by watersource.The

Vergine servedmostofthe low-lyingCampo Marzio, whilethe Acqua Felice supplied the Quirinal,Esquiline, and Capitoline hillsas wellas the

Suburra, thesouthernendofthe Campo Marzionotserved by the Acqua Vergine, and the Velabrodistrict.What werethe politics and urban policiesmotivating thechoiceofthesesites?Were they viablelocations for public laundries?


The Water Supply in Rome

In ordertounderstandfresh-waterdistribution policy in cinquecento Rome, it is important to understandwhocontrolledthe water, whatit wasused for, wherethe majority ofthe population waslocatedinrelation to the water sources, how thewaterwas physically movedaroundthe city, and finally, howmuchwaterwasavailablefor publicconsumption. As mentioned earlier, thereis an abundanceof literatureabout the

ancientRoman and Baroqueaqueducts and fountains, and yet little knowledge ofwaterdistributionforeither period.Additionally, thereis little understanding of waterdistributionforthe nearly one thousand years that separate these periods, whenfreshwaterresourceswerese- verely limited.

Romanfountainswerefamed throughoutantiquity fortheir quantity and beauty as well as the abundanceand salubrity of theirwaters. Between312 B.C. and 226 A.D. eleven aqueducts werebuiltto servea

staggering numberof fountains.4In 97 A.D, Sextus JuliusFrontinus, administratorof the waterboardunder EmperorNerva,reported 630 public fountainsin the city. The RegionaryCatalogue, an inventory of public works probablydating fromthetimeofConstant ine, listed 1,352

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Laundry inLate Cinquecento Rome 37

public fountains-5 Allowing forthe likelyexaggeration ofthe Regionary

numbers, evenhalfthat figure wouldbe impressive. Withthetransferof

the capital of the Roman Empire to Constantinople in 330 A.D., however, thevastsumsof moneynecessary to maintainthenetworkof aqueducts andfountainswereno longer available. Gradually the system deterioratedandmostofthe public fountainsceasedto function.In 537

A.D., the majority ofthe aqueducts were sabotagedby invading Goth forces, thus cutting offwaterto both public and private fountainsand almost completelydepriving the hillsof Rome of theirwater supply. Although several aqueducts wererestoredalmost immediately,many people moveddownto thelow- lyingCampus Martius (later calledthe Campo Marzio) to be close to the river, or they abandonedthe city

altogether. Thus thehillswere nearlyemptied of population. For the nextmillenniumthe Tiber Riverwas the primary water sourceforindustrialand domesticneeds.Therewerea few exceptions. Individuals,families, or organizations suchas monasticcommunitieswith somewealth might ownordrilla newwellfortheir private use.A small numberofnatural springs, suchas theFons Juturna intheRoman Forum, continuedtoflowatleastuntiltheNormanSack of 1084, whenmuchof the city was reportedly buriedunderfivetotenmetersofrubble.6In 1122 Pope CallistoII diverteda smallbrookknownas the Acqua Marranaso

thatitenteredthe city fromthe east,through thePorta Metronia, and thenflowed through the valley of the CircusMaximusto the Tiber River.7 Although intendedto provide waterforthe animalsand lands owned by thechurchofSan GiovanniinLateranoandlocated along the route, the Acqua Marranawas crossed by publicbridges and flowed

partiallythroughpublic land:itcould conceivably havebeenaccessed by the Roman populace.Although a fewof the aqueducts wererestored intermittently,only a handfulofthe hundredsoffountains they once servedwere operable betweenthesixthandfifteenthcenturies.A statute published in 1452 by theMaestridelle Strade, theciviladministrationin charge ofthemaintenanceof publicstreets, mentionstheirmandateto

careforthe publicfountains, butit appears thattherewere only a fewfor themto maintain (Fig. I).8

Only a few piazzas had workingfountains, wherewomencollected freshwaterthat they carriedhomefor drinking,cooking,laundry, and

bathing. The Acqua Virgo, an aqueduct built byAgrippa in 19 B.C., was only 19.04 kilometersin length and ran entirelyunderground untilit reachedthe city.Consequently itwastheeasiest aqueduct to maintain, and in factitwasrestored periodicallyduring themedievaland Renais- sance periods. Extensiveand well-documentedrestorationswere spon- sored byPope HadrianI in the770sand byPope NicholasV in 1453.9

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38 StudiesintheDecorativeArts/Fall-Winter2001-2002 FIGURE 1 Publicfountainsdocumentedin Rome b y 1 5 7 0 . ©

FIGURE 1 Publicfountainsdocumentedin Rome by 1570.© KatherineW. Rinne, 2000.

At aboutthesametimethatNicholasrestoredthe Acqua Virgo, then

knownas the Acqua Vergine, he also builta new public fountainat Santa MariaMaddelenanearthe Pantheon10and commissionedLeon BattistaAlbertito remodeltheFontanadi Trevi.11Bothfountainsdrew

waterfromthe Acqua Vergine. The Acqua Traiana, whichenteredthe city fromwestoftheTiber River, wasbuilt byTrajan in 109A.D. Itwas

restored by HadrianI in the eighthcentury and later byPopesGregory

IV (827-844) andNicholasI (858-867) in orderto insurea continuous

supply ofwaterto millson the Janiculumhill, to the Vatican, and to public fountainslocatedinthePiazzadi San Pietro.12The Acqua Traina

was probably not functioningduring the late Middle Ages and early Renaissance. Rather, thehandfulof public fountainsassociatedwiththe

VaticanandSt. Peter'swere probablysupplied from nearbysprings.13 In

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Laundry inLate Cinquecento Rome 39

Laundry inLate Cinquecento Rome 39 f r o n t o f the C h u

frontof the Churchof Santa Maria in Trastevere, therewas also a

fountain,perhapssuppliedby one ofthenumerous springs on theeast slope ofthe Janiculum hill14This fountain, which appears ina 1471 map ofRome by Pietrodel Massaio,15 wasrestored by NicolasV forthe1450 Holy Yearand againbyPope AlexanderVI in 1500-Ifa womandidnot livenearone ofthese publicfountains, oriftherewasno wellorcistern waterwithinher livingcompound, she collectedTiber Riverwater

herself, or bought itfromthe acquaeroli(watersellers) whosolditfrom barrelscarriedfromdoorto dooron donkeys.

The first comprehensive overhauland amplification of the public fountain system since antiquity(as opposed to the constructionor restorationofa singlefountain) wasinitiated byPope PiusV in 1566in response to a typhoidepidemic, whichkilledthousandsof people in the

denselypopulatedCampo Marzio.16Like Nicholas, he too sponsored a


The eighteen newfountains proposed for

Rome in 1570.© KatherineW. Rinne,


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restorationofthe Acqua Vergine, buthe wentmuchfurtherto increase water distribution,developing a seriesofnew public fountains.On July

31, 1567, Pius establishedthe Congregazione cardinalizia super viis pontibus

fontibus, the "Congregation ofcardinalsin charge of streets,bridges, and fountains," to overseethe public and private distributionofwater.17On September18, 1568, he named Giacomo della Porta, who was the architectforthe city ofRomeatthe time, as thetechnicaladvisorforthe

restorationofthe Acqua Vergine andto supervise the design,placement, and constructionof new fountainsand theirconduits.18In 1570 the

Congregazioneproposed a plan for eighteen new publicfountains, all of whichwereintendedforthe majorpiazzas and streetsof the Campo Marzio (Fig.2).19 The firstofthesenewfountainswas designed in 1572 and completed in 1575 forthe Piazzadel Popolo (Fig.3). It was soon followed by othersin thePiazza Colonna, Piazzadel Pantheon, and the PiazzaNavona.

By 1594 the Acqua Verginesupplied at least thirtypublic foun^ tains - fromthe Piazzadel Popolo to the PonteSant' Angelo and the

Campo dei Fiori.A second aqueduct, the Acqua Felice, was commis- sioned byPope SixtusV and completed in 1587, and by 1594it supplied

an additional twenty-threepublic fountains.These too were widely

dispersed -

Fountainon the top ofthe Quirinalhill, to thePiazzaMontanaranext totheTeatroMarcello. By 1600therewereatleast sixtypublic fountains withinthe wallsof Rome. Most wereeithersmall drinking fountains

fromthe piazza in frontof the Villa Medici, to the Moses

FIGURE 3 Giacomodella Porta, Fontanadella Piazza

del Popolo,designed1572,completed 1575.FromGianbattista Falda, Le fontane

diRoma (Rome,1675). Photo:Fiske

Kimball Library,University of Virginia.

Photo:Fiske Kimball Library,University of Virginia. This content downloaded from on Thu, 31 Dec

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Laundry inLate Cinquecento Rome 41

Laundry inLate Cinquecento Rome 41 attachedto streetwallsof p a l a c e s , or

attachedto streetwallsof palaces, or purely decorativefountainsthat

were usuallyplaced in thecenterof importantpiazzas and intendedto ornamentthe city, butanimal troughs and laundry fountainswerebuilt at severallocationsas well. Gradually the focusof water-gathering activitiesshifted away fromthe Tiber River into the neighborhood



Documented public fountainsin use in

intramuralRome by 1600,including

animal troughs,drinking, and laundry fountains,categorizedbyprimary use.

© KatherineW. Rinne, 2000.

Laundry Sitesin Pre-Baroque Rome

As withotherdomesticactivitiesbetweenthesixthand sixteenth centuries, littlereliabledocumentationhas come to lightconcerning laundry. Whatis knownindicatesthattherewere physical limitsto the availability of water, andthereweremoral problems faced by thewomen who of necessity wereforcedto washclothesin public.According to

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Patricia Waddy, noblewomenand theirattendantsin the early seven-

teenth century had privatelaundries, whichwere usually builtin palace basements.20Beforethenmost palaces didnothave pipedwater, and it is unclearwherethesehouseholdswashedtheirclothesand linens. Servants might haveusedwellwateror gone downto theriver. Perhaps

laundry was transported to a country villaestatewith pipedwater, and thenreturnedto theurban palace in wagons.21 For ordinarywomen, the TiberRiverwas probably the majorpublic washsitebetweenthesackof 537A.D. andthelate cinquecento whennew public laundrieswerebuilt. Womenknelton flatstonesat thewater's edge andscrubbedthe laundry withsmaller stones, orstoodand stamped on theclotheswiththeirbare feet (Fig.5). Forthe"annual wash," whichwasthe springcleaning, when all winterclotheswere washed, cauldronswereset up, and clotheswere boiledand soaked overnight in a causticsodaorash solution, and then

washedat theriver's edge. Since wet laundry is extremelyheavy, there

was probably a

drying areaon the nearby bank.


CarletonH. Graves,Wash-Day in Italy,

photo © 1900. CourtesyLibrary of


y , p h o t o © 1900. CourtesyLibrary of Congress. This content downloaded from

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Laundry inLate Cinquecento Rome 43

Evenin thebestoftimestheTiberwas a miserable place to work.

The riverbankwas squalid. Filth washed ashorefrom shipping and

riversideactivitiessuchas slaughterhouses, brick factories, cat gut deal-

ers,mills, and tanneries.Refuseflowedinto the Tiber fromthe few functioning sewers.The same 1452 edictfromthe Maestridellestrade concerning themaintenanceof public fountainsalso specified thatrefuse

from fishmongers and butchers,etc., be dumpeddirectly intotheTiber (as opposed to public streetsand piazzas), thus assuring its primacy as the chiefsewerofRome.22The Tiberwas also notoriousfor frequent and devastating floodswhichmusthave destroyed or rendereduseless any riverbankwashsites.In wintertheriverwas swollenwith rain, and in summer, whenthewaterswereslowand rank, therewasconsiderablerisk ofdisease.At the relatively cleanerTibersitesat thenorthend ofthe city, womenwereoftenthreatened by nude male batherswho swam

nearby, for example at the beach adjacent to the

Spirito in the Borgo. Fromat least1599 on, menwerefineda hundred scudiif caughtcompromising the moralsof the "marriedwomenand maidens"neartheriverine laundry sites.23Facedwithmiasmic physical

conditionsand morallycompromised social settings, it seems apparent thatifmoresalubrious large siteshad been available, Romanwomen wouldhave usedthem.

It appears thattherewereat leasttwo pre-cinquecentolaundry sites inadditionto theTiberRiver.One was along thebanksoftheMarrana BrookinsidethePorta Metronia, where JohnCapgrave observedseveral

nuns doing their laundry in 1450.24Therewas probably another laundry at the TreviFountain.In a 1414 fresco map of Rome by Taddeo di Bartolo, locatedin thePalazzoPubblicoin Siena, theTreviis depicted withthree separate basins. Considering the scarcity offresh water, it is possible thateachbasin may havebeenintendedfora different purpose:

one forhuman consumption, anotherfor animals, and the thirdfor

nonpotable usessuchas laundry orleather tanning. The acquacaduta, or run-offwaterfromthemain basin, could easily havebeen piped intoan animalbasinand thena laundrybasin, as wasdonewithlater Baroque fountains.25When Alberti redesigned the TreviFountainin 1453, he

substituteda singlelarge basin. Giacomo della

fountain,probably in 1563,26 and perhaps addeda

one that appears to thenorthofthefountainin the cityplans of 1575 (printed in 1577) by EtienneDu Perac, of 1593 by Antonio Tempesta, andof1625 by Giovanni Maggi.27 Itisunclearwhetherthisfountainwas

a laundry basinor a basinforfullersor purgatane to processwool, or perhapsboth, at alternatetimesof the day or week.In 1570 Pius V provided a fountainfor fullers, but in 1585 SixtusV placed a "long

Ospedale di Santo

Porta redesigned the laundry basinlikethe

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laundry basin to the right ofthe Trevi

laundresses, and other cleaners of stains,"28

forthe use of fullers,dyers, and

Late CinquecentoLaundry Sites

In the late cinquecento therewereseveralsiteswithintheabitato thatwere largeenough to accommodatea public washsite. They hv eludedthePiazza Navona, Piazza Colonna, Piazzadi San Pietro, andthe Campo dei Fiori.For religious and ceremonialreasonsthePiazzadi San

Pietrowas clearly out of the question, and the Navona and Campo locationswere alreadyassigned toother significant civicfunctions.Since 1477, the PiazzaNavona was used as a communal market, as was the Campo dei Fiori, whichwas also an officialsitefor public executions. Whilethese noisy andmalodorousactivitieswereconductedinthemidst ofthe abitato, womenwhowere performing themostmundanetaskswere shuntedto the periphery and not allowed equal accessto thesecentral piazzas, whichall contained public fountains by 1594- One such laundry siteoutsidetheurbancenterwastheFontedi San Giorgio at thefootofthePalatinehillneartheTiberRiver.The district,

knownas the Velabro, was richwithhistoricand mythicsignificance. Structuresin the adjacent area includedseveralancient buildings, in-

cluding the Temple ofHercules (also calledthe Temple of Vesta), the Temple ofPortunus (also knownas the Temple ofFortuna Virilis), the

PonsSublicius (a bridge overthe Tiber), and the JanusQuadrifrons(a triumphalarch, also knownas the Tempio di Giano). In fact, it was nearby thatthe infantsRomulusand Remus purportedly driftedashore

during a Tiberflood. Indeed, theVelabro district,onlyslightly abovethe levelofthe river, was frequently flooded.The site,just at the edge ofthe

abitato, was fed by a natural spring,29 which provided an abundant, reliable supply of water, andhad probably beenusedas a washsitebefore thenewbasinwasbuilt.A drawingby MaartenvanHeemskerckofabout

1535 depicts an earlier, informalwashsiteneartheruinsofthe Janus

Quadrifrons.30 A

head, and some clean linenshave been set out on the hillsideand

weighted withstonesas theydry.Although the neighborhood immedi- ately tothenorthwestwas denselypopulated, therewere very fewhouses immediately aroundthe laundry site itself.The titularchurchesSan Giorgio in Velabro, Sant' Anastasias, andSantaMariainCosmedinwere

nearby. In orderto increaseaccessto freshwaterin the city,Pope PiusIV improved conditionsaroundthisnatural spring andbuiltthenew public fountain, whichincludeda laundry, in 1563.In a 1575 cityplan(printed

womanis shown carrying a bundleof laundry on her

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Laundry inLate Cinquecento Rome 45

in 1577), EtienneDu Perac depicted the laundry, whichwasreached by

a ramp andlocatedin an excavatedareathatseemsto havebeenabout

two metersbelow ground level.31The print showsthirteenwomen engaged in thevariousactivitiesof washingclothes, andthesite appears

largeenough to have accommodatedat leasttwicethatnumber.The ground outsideandabovetheworkareawasusedfor drying clothes.The

U-shapedbasin,apparently abouta meter high,32 was long and narrow, and womenare shown working in a line on both sides. An early

seventeenth-century version by MarcusSadelerofa detailfromtheDu

Perac print illustratesthecharacterofthesiteandshowsthe laundry in

the foreground(Fig.6). Simple as these arrangementswere,they offered realamenitiesandinnovations.Womenworked standingup, whichisfar

less physicallydemanding than working on handsand kneeson a hard stonesurface. The location,probablyonly elevenmetersabove sea level at the bottomofthe ramp, was clearly vulnerableto frequentfloodingby the TiberRiver.The riverflowedat an averageheight ofsix and one-half metersabovesea level, anditcouldrisethreetofivemeters during severe winterstorms.On average, Romesuffereda minorfloodaboutonce every ten years anda major flood (greater thansixteenmetersabovesea level)

once everyforty-oneyears.33 For example, on September15, 1557, the areawas underas muchas six metersof water, and on December 24, 1598, the year ofthemost devastating floodrecordedin Rome, it was

t i n g floodrecordedin R o m e , it w a s FIGURE 6


Marcus Sadeler, Vestigi del Tempio di Giano

in Roma,Prague, 1606. Engraving, 12 x 19 cm.Version^ofdetailof plan ofRome by

EtienneDu Perac, 1575 (printed1577). Privatecollection.

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under nearly sevenmetersofwater. Furthermore, itwaslocatedalmost directly overtheCloaca Massima, theancientchannelthatdrainedthe RomanForumand the EsquilineHill, and servedas the major sewerfor this part ofthe city. WhenevertheTiberroseevena fewmetersabove itsnormal level, riverwatercouldback up intotheCloaca andfloodthe

laundry area.34It isnot surprising,then, thatas early as 1567Sebastiano Varo describedthe laundry as "filledwith dirt, so thatthe earthfrom abovenowoverfillsthe laundry basins."35In additionto these physical deficiencies, therewereotherdrawbacksas well.

A largepopulation of poorprostitutes livedintheimmediateareaof

theFontedi San Giorgio,36 nearthechurchoftheir patron SantaMaria Egiziaca, which occupied the ancient Temple ofPortunusclose to the

laundry.37 In the sixteenth century, the profession of laundresswas

consideredsuitableforformer prostitutes.38 The proximity of practicing

prostituteslivingnearby, and ex-prostitutesworking as laundresses may have taintedthe laundry area forthe virtuouswomenwho worked

alongside them. Ordinary housewivesand girlsdoing the familylaundry became particularly vulnerabletoharassment.To washclothesin public,

with rolled-upsleeves,hitched-upskirts, and wet bodices,may have suggested the same level of sexual availability that lingered around former prostitutes. In July 1566 Pope PiusV movedthese prostitutes to another ghetto knownas the "Ortaccio," an area betweenthe Piazza

Lombarda (now the Piazza Cinque Lune), the Piazza Condopula(now thePiazzaMonte d'Oro), andthePortodi Ripetta, neartheMausoleum

of Augustus.39 Evenafterthe prostitutes were removed,however, women werestillat risk.In 1567 SebastianoVaro noted "manyinsolent, im- proper, and presumptuousyouths" who molestedthe womenwithdis- honest words,signs, andacts"without anyregard to public honororthe

privacy ofthe womenwho gatherthere,includingmany maidensand marriedwomen."40With constant flooding and continual harassment, the situationmusthave been almostas intolerableas working at the TiberRiver. The Fontedi San Giorgio, shownas abandonedin the 1625 city plan by Giovanni Maggi, seemsto have been restoredand possibly enlarged in 1637 whenan iron factory wasbuiltnextdoor.41Boththe 1637restorationanda laterone followedin theaftermathof floods, one on February22, 1637, andanotheron November 5, 1660.42The sitewas described again in 1662 as being"dry and fullofdirtand coveredwith plants."43 In 1663,however,4,744 cubicmetersofearthwereremoved fromthe Piazza del Pantheonand then deposited close to the San Giorgiolaundry fountain.The site appeared in a pair of "before"and

"after" plans thatindicatean intentionto restorethe laundryfollowing

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the transferof earth.44The fountain may have continuedin use, al-

thoughperhapssporadically, untilat least 1756 when it, or another nearbylaundry ofthesame name, waslistedin a city wide inventory of


The second laundry, the Lavatoiodi Piazzadel Popolo, was com- pleted in 1584- According to Alberto Cassio, writing in 1756, it was intended specifically "forthe use of poor womenwho did not have a place to washlinens."46This laundry was located adjacent to a small

growingneighborhood at the edge of the abitato -

contextof habitation, not desolation, as seen at the Velabro. The laundry sitewas a small rectangular area just offthePiazzadel Popolo,

withhousesto thesouthandwestand a walled garden to the north; its boundary was not an excavatedearthen wall, but housesand shops.

Interestingly, it

pope.47 The laundryappears on the 1593 Tempestacityplan and was namedas a distinctfeatureofthe1625 Maggiplan (Fig.7), demonstrat-

ing its acknowledgedimportance to the city.By the eighteenthcentury,

it provided thenameforthe adjacentstreet, via delle Lavandare.48A

frescocommissioned byPope SixtusV fortheBiblioteca Vaticana, and

paintedby CesareNebbiain 1589to commemoratetheerectionofthe

obeliskin thePiazzadel Popolo,49provides a rare image ofthe laundry fountainin the foreground. The frescoshowssome of the physical contextofthe laundrybasin, setatthe edge ofthePiazzadel Popolo with

a smalleranimal trough, and the ornamentalfountain designedby Giacomodella Porta nearby. The run-offwaterfromthe della Porta fountain supplied both the animal trough and the laundry fountain.

People,animals, andcartsareshown crossing this busypiazza.Although Nebbia also indicatesthatthe area immediately to the southof the

fountainwasusedfor laying outclothesto dry, thisseems unlikely since

a 1551 cityplanby LeonardoBufalini already showsthearea as some-

whatbuilt up. The siteforthis publiclaundry inthePiazzadel Popolo wasnot only physically differentfromtheearlierone in theVelabrobutalsodifferent in termsof the social dynamics of the people who used it. Although

professionallaundresses,perhapsex-prostitutes,may have usedthisfa- cility, theabsenceofa ghetto of prostitutes in theimmediate neighbor-

hood probablydiscouraged "insolent youths" and thelikefrom taunting thewomenand girls whoworkedthere. Although thefountainwasclose to a majorcitygate, the Portadel Popolo, therewas nonethelessan opportunity forwomentocreatea publicspace forthemselvesunderthe

watchful eyes of grandmothers andother neighbors.50 Littlelewdbehav-

iorfromoutsiderswouldhave been toleratedand womenweresafeto

placed withinthe

was donated by the Commune itself, ratherthan the

Laundry inLate Cinquecento Rome 47

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FIGURE 7 Detailof plan ofRome by Giovanni

Maggi, 1625.From Maggi,Iconografia della cittàdiRoma (Rome,1625). The laundry of

thePiazzadel Popolo is seenat bottom

center.Photo: Library of Congress.

seenat b o t t o m center.Photo: Library of Congress. s o c i a

socialize,essentially in a communal living roomwatchedover byneigh'

bors, as theyperformed domesticchores.The Nebbiafresco clearly shows

a child playing witha dog whilethewomenwork:such Staffage would haveunderlinedone ofthesocialbenefitsof papal andcivic building to theRoman poor.

The third laundrycomplex, theLavatoio Felice, was sponsoredby andnamedfor Pope SixtusV in 1588.Located atop the Quirinalhill, far away fromtheabitatoand in a relatively uninhabited part of Rome, it

used water providedby

Hulking remainsof the Baths of Diocletian,recently remodeled by Michelangelo into the Church of Santa Maria degli Angeli, stood nearby. There were otherchurchesas well as convents,villas, and gardens in the vicinity, but only a fewsmallhousesand notmuchofa neighborhood(Fig.8).51 In 1590Domenico Fontana,52 thearchitectfor

the renovated aqueduct, the Acqua Felice.

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Laundry inLate Cinquecento Rome 49

Laundry inLate Cinquecento Rome 49 theFelice l a u n d r y , characterizedthe f

theFelice laundry, characterizedthe facility as an enclosure290 palmi long53 and 251 palmiwide, withtwo long narrowbasinsand a covered areafor drying clotheswhenitrained.An inscription overthe doorway statedthatSixtusbuiltthe facility fortheuse of poor women.54 The Acqua FeliceandtheFelice laundry shouldbe understoodas an integralpart ofSixtus's program toachievewhat Ludwig vonPastorcalls "theestablishmentofmoral discipline in theEternal City."55 A major focusof the Counter-Reformation agenda carriedout during Sixtus's

pontificate, this program was reflected physicallythrough the pope's manybuildingprojects and their placement and symbolicallythrough theirattributes.Sixtusrelocated Egyptianobelisks,placing theminfront of pilgrimage churches.He removed pagan statuesfromthecolumnsof MarcusAureliusand Trajan and crownedeach withan apostlefigure. Although PiusV hadrestoredthe Acqua Vergine in orderto bring fresh waterto the CampoMarzio, thatareawasstillrifewithdisease.Sixtus was moresuccessful.He brought the Acqua Felice to the top of the


Detail of plan ofRome byMaggi, 1625.

From Maggi, Iconografia della cittàdi Roma.

The LavatoioFeliceis shown directly

above the"A" in "Acqua Felice."Photo:

Library of Congress.

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Quirinal hillanddecorateditwiththemonumentalFontanadi Mose in theformofa triumphalarch, and thus symbolically asserteddominion overthe pestilentialCampo Marzio.HereMosesisseen striking the rock,

symbolicallybringinglife-giving waterto Rome just as he brought it to theSinai desert.

The Felice aqueduct,fountain, and laundry were part of a papal urban developmentscheme,proposed and partiallyimplemented inorder to facilitate pilgrimage travel throughout the city.They werealso in-

tendedto help create and support a workingneighborhood in the Quirinal area.56Sixtusconsideredthe laundry so important thathe had

a frescoed image ofitincludedin a mural cycle thathe commissionedin 1588forhisCasinoFeliceintheVilla Montalto, located just tothesouth

ofSantaMaria degliAngeli(Fig.9). These frescoes,completed in 1589, depictedmany ofhis major urban projects,including theobelisksofSan Pietroand ofSanta Maria Maggiore and therestorationoftheColumn ofMarcusAurelius.Latintext accompanying theNebbia frescostates

that"Sixtus brought the propitious watersto the place wherethe poor womanwashed dirtylaundry."57 The facility was supervisedby the neighboring Cisterciannunsat Santa Susanna, underthe patronage of Camilla Peretti, a pious widowand thesisterofSixtusV. Serviceswere held at Santa Susanna specifically forthewomenwho usedthislaun- dry.58 In the Nebbia frescotwonuns appear to be escorting a noble- womanandnoblemanon a tourofthe facility, while twenty-one women (apparently unhindered by children underfoot) washclothesandwaitfor

their laundry to dry. The siting of this facilityposesproblems. It madesenseas to the availability ofwaterand increasedhealthfulness.Whomwasitmeantto serve?Fontana tells us that it was designed to accommodatethree hundred women,59 butwhowere they andwheredid they live? Certainly they didnotlive nearby, forthe laundry waslocatedin the disabitato, or uninhabitedareaofthe city. The inscription overthe doorway didnot referto laundressesbutto "poor women" probably notdissimilarto the "poor women"forwhom the laundry at the Piazza del Popolo was donated by theCommune.Neitherdid Fontanareferto thewomenas convenite, thetermforformer prostitutes, so itis unlikely that they lived at one ofthe nearby convents.Was it assumedthatwomenwouldbe

willing to carry their heavylaundryup anddownthe Quirinalhill, which was nearlyforty meters higher thanandmorethana kilometer away from theFontanadi Trevi, wherethereseemsto have been a laundrybasin, perhaps since 1563? Although Fontanamade no specific mentionof laundressesin 1590,perhaps thesituationhad changed, becausein 1603 he referredto thewomenwhousedthe chapel at thechurchofSanta

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Susannaas lavandaie, or professional laundresses.If thiswas the case, then dirtylaundrymight have been collected bywagons fromvarious clients, deliveredto the laundry, and thenreturnedclean.The women themselves might havewalkedto workfromwherever they livedin the


Several questionsemerge aboutthe physicalconfiguration of this laundryfacility. Fontanadescribeditas a kindofsafehaven.He referred

to itas a serraglio, orenclosed courtyard overseen by a porter, who kept

thewomensecurefrom "every sortof danger

when they wereinsidetheshut gate."60 The shut gatesuggestssomething similarto a nunnery, ratherthana publicfacility. It is unclearwhether thisclose protection,accompaniedby thesurveillanceoftheCistercian nuns, oneofthemostcloisteredoffemale orders,61 was simply to protect

virtuouswomen (elevatedhighatop the Quirinal hilllikethe nuns) or to provide a safehavenforformer prostitutesworking as laundresses.62

Suchan opportunityliterally towash away one'ssins through thehonest

and any sortof person

through thehonest and a n y sortof p e r s o n Laundry inLate Cinquecento

Laundry inLate Cinquecento Rome 51


Cesare Nebbia, Lavatoio Felice,fresco, 1589.From Ludwig von Pastor, SistoV: II creatoredellanuovaRoma (Rome,1922). Photo:Istituto Massimo, Rome.

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laborof washing clothes may have appealed to Sixtus, knownforhis reforming zeal.The waterflowedfromcentral jets fashionedintosmall

mountaintriadsthatrecallhis family(Montalto)arms, which symboli- callysuggests thatthe salvationof the women,perhaps former prosti- tutes, flowed directly fromthe pope himself63This is reinforced by the

depiction ofMoses striking therockas a préfiguration ofsalvation-

It may haveseemed prudent to segregate such women,perceived as availableor vulnerable, as a way to protect menwho might be easily seduced by theirownweaknatures.In 1581 Gregory Martinwrotethat prostitutes were segregated in themostvileareasofthe City"thereby to restrayne menthatestemeoftheirhonorand honesty to abstayne from suchhauntes."64Such a rationale might have influencedthe siting of laundry facilitiesas well The Felice laundrymay have continuedto operate at leastuntil1625.The gate and wallofthe serraglioappear on the Maggiplan ofthat year,just to the southofthe Moses Fountain, although the basinsare not visiblein the bird's-eye view. Johannes Orbaan indicatesthat it was finally decommissionedwhen the nuns foundthevoicesofthewomen using the laundry to be unbearable, but he failsto give thedateforthedocumentthathe cites.65

Illegal WaterUse

"Official" laundry sitessuchas thethreenewonesestablishedinthe latersixteenth century, in additionto the oldersitesat the Marrana Brookand possibly at theFontanadi Trevi, couldnot begin to satisfy demandin cinquecento Rome.66Women continuedto use the Tiber River, and as a resultof the increasedwater supply and fountainsserved by the new aqueducts, womendevised strategies to appropriate morewaterfor laundry uses. One tacticwas to excavate unofficialsitesunderthe archesof the Acqua Vergine betweenthe Fontanadi Treviand the slope ofthePincian hill, wherethe aqueduct emerged above ground.67 These illegal laundries siphoned offenormous

quantities of water, thus posing threatsto the overall publicsupplyby seriouslyimpairing waterflowto public fountainsand to legal,private consumers.The fountainslocatedfarthestfromthe aqueduct sufferedthe

most hardship.68 A 1608 edict, issued by theCamera Apostolica,strictly forbade tappingAcqua Vergine watersforuse in "basementlaundries" hiddenincellarsandother"subterranean places." Thosewhodidsowere subject toa fivehundredscudi fine, terminationofall water services, and other punishments at thediscretionofthearbitrator.69The sizeofthe fine, fivetimesthatfor illegal nudemale swimmers, indicatestheseri- ousnessofthethreatto the public water supply.


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W o m e n a l s o washedclothesin the new ornamentaland p u

Women also washedclothesin the new ornamentaland public drinkingfountains, such as the Fontanadella Piazza Colonna (1576- 1577) suppliedby the Acqua Vergine, and the Fontanadella Piazza Aracoeli (1591) suppliedby the Acqua Felice, as wellasnumerousothers

thatwere appe<