"Stendhal is said to have treated the Pantheon as a kind of aesthetic litmus test, judging its visitors by their level of ravishment when exposed to its radiance and scale. One wonders what kind of euphoria Stendhal would expect from someone fortunate enough to climb the outside of the Pantheon’s dome and gaze through the roof’s circular opening. As improbable as it may seem, such expeditions were once quite common. A nineteenth-century Baedeker’s guidebook, after recommending a visit by moonlight, nonchalantly advises that “for the ascent of the dome a special permesso must be obtained.” In an engraving by Piranesi—one that reveals the building in a beleaguered state, freckled with tufts of vegetative growth and flanked by scabrous columns missing large chunks of marble—you can make out tiny figures clambering across the roof. There’s a trio resting at a mid-way spot, and at least one scarf-fluttering speck stands against a grey-scale sky like some ant-sized Byronic hero." Matt Donovan, author of A Cloud of Unusual Size and Shape via New York Review of Books. Read more.
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