‘Fide sed cui vide’ – Gerbier’s guide to Rome

View from a Vatican window

Every tourist needs a guidebook, and in October 2017, I took a couple of recent ones with me to Rome – as well as a comfortable pair of walking shoes – to help me explore the city. I also took a much older guide to the delights of Classical and Baroque Rome: Gerbier’s Subsidium Peregrinantibus. And though I was only there for a few days – certainly not long enough to see all the sights recommended by the Author, it was interesting to discover how many of the objects and places he admired were still much as he left them in 1621, and to find that Gerbier’s book has relevance for the 21st century tourist.

Subsidium Peregrinantibus, or An Assistance to a Traveller …. Is described on the title page as Written to a Princely Traveller for a Vade Mecum, and was the last book to appear under Gerbier’s authorship, in 1665. There is a degree of mystery around the book’s publication: as well as bearing a date that may be up to two years after Gerbier’s death, (-an issue to be considered in a future post-) it was printed in Oxford, and bears the name of Robert Gascoigne as its publisher or bookseller. This seems to be the only publication for which Gascoigne was responsible, and apart from a reference to a Robert Gascoigne of north-east Oxford ward paying Hearth Tax in 1665, he seems to have left no other traces. The decision to produce the book in Oxford is less surprising in view of the date: the major outbreak of Plague in that year in London resulted in the Court moving out to Oxford for several months, and whoever was responsible for getting the Subsidium into print probably made the journey for the same reason.

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The Author aims the book directly at a specific market: the young men leaving England in the years following the Restoration to undertake a – hopefully educational – Grand Tour among the main cities and sights of Europe. It is dedicated to the Duke of Monmouth, Charles II’s eldest – though illegitimate – son, who turned 16 in 1665, and might have been expected to take a European gap year. In fact, that year saw him taking part in the Anglo-Dutch conflict, serving under the Duke of York. And although we do not know how many years before this Gerbier wrote his Vade Mecum, the dedication must have been composed after 28th March 1663, when Monmouth was admitted to the Order of the Garter. (He had been created Duke of Monmouth and Earl of Doncaster on 14th February.) No mention is made of the additional, Scottish titles bestowed on him immediately after his marriage on 29th April that year, and it is quite possible that a Grand Tour was a possibility for him at that time. Gerbier notes in his dedication that he knows “only by heard-say of your intent to travel”. He also hedges his bets in the book’s general dedication, by suggesting that it will also provide useful information “to those that will not or cannot Travell.”Gerbier’s guidebook is a substantial work, and of its 120 pages, only four or five comprise the guide for visitors to Rome. The rest cover a wide range of topics and certainly deserve analysis: other than mining the book for information on the art works Gerbier brought back to England for Buckingham’s collection, few readers have taken much interest in it. But Gerbier was trying to do more than offer the Princely Traveller a guide to Europe’s tourist hot-spots. His purpose was to equip a young courtier with the knowledge he required to make a favourable impression on his foreign counterparts – and indeed to survive among, and communicate with people whose languages and customs might be quite unlike his own. Beginning with information on religion and moral conduct, he discusses the manners and customs of those the inexperienced Traveller will encounter in France, Germany, Spain, Italy and the Low Countries. Drawing on all his experience as a diplomat and Master of Ceremonies, as well as decades of travel in Europe and beyond, Gerbier is aware of the risks of giving offence among people of different religious belief, and knows how easily a breach of protocol can undo a man in a foreign Court. He suggests a prudent route around Europe, and provides information on heraldry, fortifications and military strategy, as well as a comprehensive survey of the many European Orders of Knighthood. He then devotes a section of the work to “the Germans their love to all Arts and Sciences”, and follows this with a guide to the complex courtesies to be observed when travelling among different nations.

An important stage of the Princely Traveller’s journey will of course lead him through Italy. Gerbier escorts our young nobleman via Turin, to Rome, Venice and Naples. Then it is on to Spain, with some advice on Spanish ceremonial, of which Gerbier of course had a good deal of experience. In each centre, he recommends the most significant sights, both ancient and modern, and is clearly trying to make available to the reader all the knowledge he requires to feel comfortable moving through Courts and cities that were new to him. He also wants to ensure that nothing of importance is missed, on what is likely to be a once in a lifetime trip.

As an example of the detailed advice Gerbier provides for his tourist, I am focusing here on pp.94-99 of the book, in which he offers a guide to the Sights of Rome. He is obviously looking back to his own visit to the city in 1621, during his journey through Italy, buying pictures for Buckingham. Having undertaken to decorate his Master’s houses in a suitably magnificent style, Gerbier had been despatched to Rome, Venice and Bologna in search of works of art to adorn the walls of the Marquis’s London homes. The paintings he brought back have been documented by historians studying Buckingham as a collector, and Gerbier as an agent and taste-former. (A short bibliography is given below.) Yet less attention seems to have been paid to Gerbier’s guide to the sights of the city, of which he writes with such explicit enthusiasm. The Subsidium leaves the reader with the impression that for Gerbier the trip was only partially about the purchase of art for Buckingham: his own sense of excitement at seeing the wonders of Rome is obvious, and much of his stay was clearly devoted to absorbing the art, architecture and history of the city. It all made a profound aesthetic impression on him. As traveller and artist, Gerbier knew how to make the most of what he saw, and he must have made detailed notes and drawings of many of the buildings, statues and pictures that he saw. We know he had a sketchbook with him, and later impressed his friends with his drawing of the Farnese Hercules, (the statue now in Naples) as well as his copies of Raphael’s Banquet of the Gods, on the ceiling of the Loggia at the Villa Farnesina. (The building he knew as the Palazzo Chigi.)

We do not know exactly how long he spent in Rome, before moving on to Venice in search of works by Titian and his contemporaries. My own visit to Rome lasted a mere five days, in which time I suspect I saw all that could be seen in that time. When one considers Gerbier’s list of ‘must-see’ places, it is difficult to imagine he could have seem them all in less than about three weeks. And of course some of that time was spent negotiating the purchase of pictures, and arranging for their transportation to Turin, where he could collect them on the return journey – as well as the hours he spent drawing. He mentions visiting the houses of noblemen and cardinals, but gives no clues as to how he gained access to them. In some cases it was probably easy enough to view the public rooms and gardens of the great palazzi and villas, and he very possibly made friends with – or had a letter of introduction to – an artist or merchant who could provide access. Yet as a Protestant, he was conscious of the possible dangers of being conspicuous in Catholic Rome, and one suspects he kept a relatively low profile. Gerbier firmly advises the visitor to the city: “Fide sed cui vide”, or trust only what you see. (Or perhaps to trust the Romans no further than you can see them!) He suggests the tourist should aim to be “Amicus unius, inimicus nullius”: a friend to one(self) and an enemy to no one. With the possibility of arousing interest from the Roman Inquisition, it seemed safer to keep one’s counsel and avoid making enemies.

It is difficult to say how far Gerbier’s frequent Latin quotations reflect a formal study of classical authors, and how far they derive from contemporary emblem books or collected extracts. He had chosen a frontispiece for the Eer Ende Claght-dicht from an emblem book by Franciscus Junius, and in the case of the Subsidium it is likely that he knew Gabriel Rollenhagen’s Nucleus Emblematum of 1611, with illustrations – including one of “Fide sed cui vide” – by Crispijn van de Passe. (He apparently knew the engraver’s family, and may have had a professional link with them in London.) Gerbier’s source for “Amicus unius, inimicus nullius” is less obvious. It occurs in Richard Mynshall’s Lute Book (early 17th century), but a more likely origin may be Thomas North’s 1619 translation of Antonio de Guevara’s Architorologion, or The Dial of Princes, in the Prologue of which North quotes Pliny’s account of Cato wearing a ring with this inscription, “Be friend to one, and enemy to none.” (The book is a treatise on kingship, incorporating Guevara’s translations of Marcus Aurelius.) In his dedication of the Subsidium to young Monmouth, Gerbier refers to Charles II as the “Grand Soveraign Sun-Dyall of these three Nations”, suggesting a familiarity with the sundial image as a metaphor for the wise ruler.

In comparison with some of his earlier, more spacious prose, Gerbier’s account of the sights of Rome has a slightly rushed air – at times it seems little more than a list of things to see, and places to go. And although he begins with a few locations in the same part of central Rome – Castell Sant’Angelo; the Vatican; St Peter’s – he would soon have the average, map-wielding tourist dashing across the city and back again. In practice no one is going to view everything in the order in which he refers to it, but he attempts to impose order on the itinerary by dividing the tourist sights into two groups:

  1. Pictures, statues and buildings, ancient and modern.
  2. The “Prime Churches” of Rome.

How did he discover all that he saw? He may have taken a list of things to see, collected from books, or from friends who had already been there. One thinks of Rubens of course, and also of Inigo Jones, and men from the network of artists, courtiers and diplomats in London and the Low Countries, with whom Gerbier was by now forming connections through his work for Buckingham. In Venice, he would have that amiable aesthete Henry Wotton to introduce him to artists and collectors, and to point him in the direction of works by Titian and Tintoretto. There too, he could call on Daniel Nijs for funds to meet the cost of the art he bought for Buckingham. In Rome he was able to present a letter of exchange to make the payment of £74, (due by October 8th,) to cover the purchase of Guido Reni’s Four Seasons, (now in the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna) and a Bolognese lute. So the infrastructure was already in place, and Gerbier’s careful accounts show that both the pictures, and their transportation back to England, were well organized. Whoever assisted in his Roman search for works suitable for Buckingham’s collection, Gerbier clearly managed to find his way around the city, and presumably sought out some of the painters working there, as well as pictures by an earlier generation of artists.

Gerbier’s “Reckening what the Pictures of Milord Admiral doe cost” (Tanner Ms 73, ff122-3) indicates that in Rome he bought not just the ‘great peece’ by Reni (‘Guido Boulonese’) for £70, but also two canvases by Manfredi, a ‘David’ and a picture described as ‘of the dachter that norisches heur fader’ – presumably depicting the story of Lot and his daughter. Each cost him £26.10s. (In the early years of his employment, Gerbier tended to write to Buckingham in French, and from the orthography of the Reckening one gets the impression that his command of written English was still somewhat limited.) These three pictures were still in the York House collection in 1635. Gerbier also commissioned a Florentine painter – whose name does not appear in the accounts – to produce 19-foot long copies of the Raphael frescoes he had admired at the Villa Farnesina. £42 was paid in anticipation of these pictures, but there seems to be no record of their arrival in England. Perhaps the anonymous painter let him down, or possibly the paintings went astray en route for England. What is interesting is what Gerbier did not buy: because of the much quoted letter to Buckingham in which he refers to the size of the collection, readers have often gained the impression that Gerbier focussed on quantity, rather than quality. But even at this relatively early point in his art-buying career, this is clearly not the case. Gerbier’s Italian shopping expedition shows him as a most discerning customer. He buys only a small number of pictures, but all of them – including of course Titian’s Ecce Homo, bought in Venice – are of excellent quality. And the total cost of the expedition, including packing, shipping and customs dues, was £651.10s – not a vast sum in comparison with later Court purchases, such as Charles I’s Mantua acquisitions. In fact, Gerbier seems to have bought carefully, and ensured that he got exceptional value for money, while the works he brought back to England are very much in line with his taste for the finest Italian Renaissance and Baroque pictures – a taste that he played a significant part in bringing to England. As an art-buyer, Gerbier must have viewed his mission as a serious test of his competence. The fact that Buckingham continued to employ him in this role, as well as entrusting him with diplomatic errands, implies that he met with approval on his return. Both professionally and from a personal viewpoint, Gerbier must have seen his trip as a real success. The pictures he brought home with him must have had a profound influence on the future Charles I, and the courtiers who saw them at York House. Gerbier helped to create a demand for the grand, Italianate pictures that would dominate English collecting – a taste that would eventually bring Rubens, van Dyck and Gentileschi to England.

Given enough time, it is not difficult for the present day visitor to Rome to follow – more or less – in Gerbier’s footsteps, although some of the works that excited him are no longer where he saw them. Raphael’s altarpiece for S.Pietro Montorio is now in the Vatican Museums; the Farnese Hercules is in Naples, and the statue known as the Gladiator can be seen in the Louvre. Buildings have changed hands – and names – since Gerbier’s visit: the home of Cardinal Aldobrandini is now the Palazzo Chigi, while the house that Gerbier knew as the Palazzo Chigi is now the Villa Farnesina. And of course the Palazzo Farnese is now the French Embassy. There are also potential problems identifying some of the painters whose work he admired: Pomarancio is a name used by three artists, and works by two of them are included in Gerbier’s list. ‘Grosepi’, ‘Josepin’ and ‘Giosepino’ are all used to refer to the Cavaliere d’Arpino – a confusion that perhaps stems from re-reading notes made decades before the guide book was written. The puzzling ‘Toure of Dioclesian’ may just be a misread reference to the Terme, or Baths, of Diocletian.

Some monuments have been moved since 1621, but the classical buildings and churches of Rome are of course mostly where Gerbier left them. Only one of the ‘Prime Churches’ on his list has been demolished, and many of the frescoes and altarpieces are still in situ. Perhaps the most surprising thing when one compares Gerbier’s guide book with a modern one is the number of art works that he fails to mention, particularly in churches which still contain paintings he could have seen there, by artists he admired. Obviously there are several possible reasons for this: perhaps his memories had faded by the 1660s, or he had not had time to note them all down in his table-leaf book while he was there. But perhaps the most likely reason is simply the need to limit the number of ‘sights’ to what appeared the most significant: like the present-day tourist, the Princely Traveller would probably be neither able nor willing to take in everything! Gerbier had to edit his list for the benefit of readers, whether or not they set foot in the Eternal City.

A few relevant sources:


Gerbier,B: Subsidium Peregrinantibus. Robert Gascoigne Bookseller. Oxford 1665.  Subsidium Peregrinantibus is also transcribed in EEBO Text Creation Partnership:

MS Tanner 73, ff122-3. (Bodleian Library.)

Secondary sources:

Betcherman,L-R: Balthazar Gerbier in 17th Century Italy. History Today. Vol 11. Issue 5. 1961.

Davies, R: An Inventory of the Duke of Buckingham’s Pictures etc. at York House in 1635. Burlington Magazine. Vol X. 1907. P 376.

Philip,IG: Balthazar Gerbier and the Duke of Buckingham’s Pictures. Burlington Magazine vol 99. No.650. May 1957.

Some of the Sights of Rome referred to by Gerbier.

I took all these photos in Rome, October 2017. Click/hover on an image to see the captions.

Gerbier’s references to the Garden of pleasure of the Cardinal Borgesi, and to his great number of Statues and pictures suggest that while in Rome he saw the collection of Cardinal Scipione Borghese, nephew to Pope Paul V. His visit in 1621 was too soon to see the wonderful works that the Cardinal commissioned from Bernini, but his collection already included several Caravaggios, a large number of works by the Cavaliere d’Arpino, and his pupils, as well as pictures by artists such as Raphael and Rubens. Here are a few examples:

Although it dates from a few years after Gerbier’s visit, this painting by Johann Wilhelm Bauer shows the Villa Borghese as it then was.


Table of Gerbier’s Recommended Sights of Rome:



Objects Seen by Gerbier.


1 Castel St Angelo Pictures by Perin del Vago Perin(o) del Vaga 1501-47.
2 Piramid (of Caius Cestius) Gerbier incorrectly states it is near St Peter’s.
3 St. Peter’s Basilica Pictures by Baglioni, Pomarancio, Passignani, Del Castello.

Michelangelo’ s Pietà

Easel pictures, since removed. Pomarancio is likely to be Cristoforo Roncalli. 1552/3-1626.

Statue in situ, in the Basilica.

4 Sistine Chapel Michelangelo’s Day of Judgement.
5 The altar and sepulchre of St. Cecilia. (S. Cecilia in Trastavere.) Gerbier incorrectly associates this with St. Peter’s.
6 The Pope’s Chambers. Pictures by Raphael. (The Stanze.di Rafaello.) Now part of the Vatican Museums
7 The Bel Vidor. (The Belvedere.) The Laocoön; Apollo; Cleopatra; Antinous; the Torso. The Vatican’s collection of classical statuary. (Cortile delle statue.)
8 Exit by the Porta Santo Spirito
9 S. Pietro Montorio Altarpiece by Raphael; pictures by Fra Sebastiano1 , Vasari, Michelangelo 1 Sebastiano del Piombo.
10 The Capitoline Hill Statue of Marcus Aurelius on Horseback.
11 The Capitoline Palace. (Capitoline Museum.) Battle fresco by Josepin Battle between the Horatii and Curiatii, painted by Giuseppe Cesare. (Cavaliere d’Arpino)c. 1612
12 (Piazza di)Monte Cavallo Large horse statues
13 Porta Pia Gate in the Aurelian Wall. Designed by Michelangelo
14 The Toure of Dioclesian   An error for the Terme or baths of Diocletian?
15 The vineyard of Cardinal del Monte And his statues, pictures and limnings. The Cardinal’s house was near Porta Pinciana. Miniatures by Giulio Clovio Croata. (1498-1578)
16 The Colosseum
17 The Arch of Constantine
18 The Teatro di Marcello
19 The Palazzo Farnese Statues : Hercules; the Gladiator etc. Grisaille fresco by Annibale Carracci. Gerbier drew the Farnese Hercules. Now the French Embassy. Gerbier also refers to a book illuminated by Giulio Clovio – presumably the Farnese ‘Hours’.
20 Piazza Colonna Column of Anthonio Pio An error for the column of Marcus Aurelius.
21 The palace called Pietro Colomne of Trajan Gerbier seems confused about the location of Trajan’s column, which is in the Forum. Perhaps he is also thinking of the obelisk in St Peter’s Square?
22 The Pantheon Pantheca of Marc Agrippa
23 Piazza Navona  
24 S. Maria sopra Minerva Michelangelo’s Statue of Christ
25 Piazza Fiammetta a palace with rare pictures of Polydor Probably a façade decorated by Polidoro da Caravaggio
26 Palace of Cardinal Borghese. (The Palazzo Borghese, called ‘Il Cembalo’.) Statues, paintings and Drawings The collection is now in the Galleria Borghese.
27 Cardinal Oldebrandini Statues and pictures Cardinal Aldobrandini lived in what is now the Palazzo Chigi, in Piazza Colonna
28 Palace of Guisi. (Chigi) Pictures by Raphael Gerbier means the ‘Banquet of the Gods’, in what is now the Villa Farnesina, originally built for the Chigi family. (Not the Palazzo Chigi.) Gerbier’s ‘crayon’ versions of these frescoes famously impressed Norgate.
29 Monte Giordano. The Ursins Works by Bronzino et al. Houses of various branches of the Orsini family
30 Cardinal Crescentio.

(Cardinal Pier Paolo Crescenzi.)

Works by Holbein and Michelangelo The Palazzo Crescenzi. Near the Pantheon.
31 Garden of Pleasure of the Cardinal Borghese Rare antick statues and many rare pictures The park and Galleria Borghese

Gerbier’s ‘Prime Churches’.



Works Seen by Gerbier


A Scala (Santa) A very rare picture of Gerardo I have been unable to identify this artist
B La Consolation (Santa Maria della Consolazione) Works by Pomarancio2, Durante (Alberti), del Borgio, Tadeo Zuccari 2 Niccolò Circignani.
C St Laurenzo in Domo (S. Lorenzo in Damaso?) St. Laurence by Federico Zuccaro, Grosepi . Grosepi’ is presumably the Cavaliere d’Arpino.
D St. Silvester on Monte Cavalo. (S. Silvestro in Quirinale) Palma. Palma Vecchio?
E La Madonna del Populo. (S. Maria del Popolo) 2 pictures by Caravaggio. (Conversion of St. Paul. Crucifixion of St. Peter.) Annibale Carracci (Assumption of the Virgin.)Sebastiano del Piombo (Altarpiece.) All the works Gerbier saw are still in situ.
F La Trinita di monti. (Santissima Trinità dei Monti.) Works by Daniele de Volterra, Taddeo Zuccari, Perino del Vaga. Works still in situ.
G Chesa Nova. (Chiesa Nuova. S. Maria in Valicella.) Works by Beressi, Giosepino, Scipion Gaetano, Michelangelo, Frederigo, Raphael da Reggio. Beressi = Federico Barocci?(Painted the altarpiece.) Giosepino = Cavaliere d’Arpino. Scipion Gaetano = Scipione Pulzone, (Il Gaetano). Michelangelo = Caravaggio, whose altarpiece was later removed.
H St Gregorio martyro di Sancti. (S. Gregorio Magno al Celio.) Works by Guido Reni.
I St Giovane di fiorentino. (S. Giovanni dei Fiorentini.) Works by Passignani. 1599 ‘San Vincenzo Ferrari’ Domenico Cresti , alias Il Passignano.
J The Roman Colledge. (The old Gregorian University, Piazza del Collegio Romano.) Works by Federico Zuccari. The ‘Annunciation with Six Prophets’, now lost.
K The Church called de Lanema. (S. Maria dell’Anima.) Julio (Giulio) Romano, (The Holy Family and donors.) Carlo Venetian. Carlo Venetian = Carlo Saraceni? (Two pictures in the church.)
L The Church la Place. (S Maria della Pace.) Sybills by Raphael, Annunciation by Baldesar di Siena. Works by Marcelo, Giosepino, Mutiano, Albano, and a ceiling by Fra brastiano. Raphael’s frescoes: Sybils receiving angelic instruction.

Baldesar = Baldessare Perruzzi of Siena.

Marcelo= Marcello Venusti.

Mutiano=Girolamo Muziano

Giosepino – see above.

Albano = Francesco Albani.

Fra brastiano = Sebastiano del Piombo.

M Sancta Elisabetha. Work by Guido. Presumably Guido Reni. This church may be Sant’ Elisabetta dei Fornari, rebuilt in 1645, and since demolished.
N St Augustin. (Basilica of Sant’Agostino.) Caravaggio: a Virgin Mary with two pilgrims. (Madonna di Loreto.)

Raphael: St. Augustin. (The Prophet Isaiah.)

The church also contains works by Guercino, Sansovino et al.

A Map Showing Gerbier’s Sights and ‘Prime Churches’.

Click on the box to the left of the words ‘Gerbier’s Rome’ to bring up the lists of  locations. Click on the ‘frame’ symbol on the right to open the map in a new tab.