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Evidence of cipollino is present in all the most important cities of the Empire, particularly, but not exclusively in the areas near the coast, but it is concentrated in Rome. Ward Perkins says that ‘there was a core of truth in Augustus’ famous boast that he found Rome a city of brick and left it city of marble’. Faustino Corsi counted 511 examples amongst the ancient monuments and churches, still visible when he was writing the third edition of his treatise. 15 Italy was the first part of the empire to be colonised, and Rome the first of the Italian colonies, so it seems appropriate to start with that city and the description of the cipollino which is to be found there. The references which had been collected over the years pointed to a widely scattered and varied use, and reuse, of the pieces of cipollino which had been imported during the life time of the empire and to others imported later, mostly in the Byzantine period. Reuse was probably the most common in Byzantine times since no major transport was needed.


The Roman Forum
From the village of huts on the Palatine, whose remains on the edge of the Forum are the earliest traces of what was to become the city of Rome, there grew up the centre of the city, the Forum of Rome. By the 6th century BC the city was encircled by walls and protected by a fortified strong point on the Capitoline, it had a landing stage on the Tiber and contained a growing commercial and political centre. The city continued to grow and expand with the extension to other areas and the building of the Colosseum and the Pantheon. But the Roman Forum was the commercial, religious, political and legal centre of the city and remained a sacred and monumental area throughout antiquity.

The search for the remains of cipollino marble started at the heart of the Roman city, the Roman Forum. It was disappointing at first to find how little remained. Compared with for example Roman cities such as Leptis Magna, Sabratha or Ephesus, there are not many large or even partially complete columns. But Roman Rome has been sacked by barbarians, robbed by eminent historical personalities, disturbed by ambitious modern leaders, built on for over 2000 years, and is the centre of a bustling, thriving modern city. It is not therefore surprising that there is not more of the original city left. What, for instance is left standing of Roman London in the area between Ludgate Hill and St Paul’s which once housed the Forum? In fact a closer search, including the churches and museums, as well as the other Roman sites, produced much of interest.

In the Roman Forum itself and the surrounding area the first and most rewarding find, just to the left of the entrance, is the Temple of Faustina and Antoninus Pius, built by him in memory of his wife Faustina, who died in 141 AD, and subsequently dedicated by the Senate to the emperor himself. Ward Perkins describes it, ‘with its walls of squared tufa, once marble faced, its entablature of Proconnesian marble, its columns of green Carystian marble, it is a typical building of its day’.16 It now houses the church of San Lorenzo in Miranda, and retains the ten large columns of clearly recognisable cipollino, six on the front and four on the sides. ‘The columns are unfluted monoliths of cipollino (white and green marble from Euboea) and form one of the earliest surviving examples of the characteristically Roman type.’17 Like most of the sites on the Forum, it is impossible to get close to the columns but their estimated size is between 11 and 12 metres (Lazzarini gives 11.8 m. high, i.e. forty (Roman) footers) and 1.48 m. /5 Rf in diameter. They have concave scotia and Corinthian capitals, are much restored and put together with cement in many places but still a fine sight in the bright Roman sunshine (Plates 2.1A & 2.1B).
The Basilica Emilia is described as having been a ‘comfortable and sheltered place where, in the winter and also in case of bad weather in summer, it would be possible to carry out at least some of the functions that normally took place in the open, especially those connected with the administration of justice and business in general.’18 It was built in 179 BC by the Censors Marcus Aemilius Lepidus and Marcus Fulvius Nobilior but was later modified in the time of Augustus and Tiberius and consisted of two rows of porticos, one above the other, with 16 arches with columns and further aisles with columns inside. During the time of Augustus it was given a marble floor. The basilica was destroyed by fire in 410 AD during the sacking of the city by the Visigoths. There is little left of its former magnificence now and as it was not possible to enter it was difficult to see which of the broken fragments are cipollino. Some certainly are (
Plate 2.2). There is a group of broken fragments of cipollino in one corner of the Basilica, facing south east. One small piece of a column is approximately 1.5 m /5 Rf long and .30m /1 Rf in diameter and is next to the Colonne Onorarie. In the same area there is another large broken fragment estimated at 3m. /10 Rf long and .75m /2.5 Rf in diameter. There are possibly some other pieces but they are too discoloured to identify. There is also one larger broken fragment lying amongst the pile at 2-3 m. /7.5-10 Rf long and .60 m. /2 Rf diameter. There is another broken fragment of column standing near the Curia end of the basilica, estimated at 4 m. /13.5 Rf high and .60 m. /2 Rf in diameter (Plate 2.3).

Portico degli dei Consenti or Porticus Deorum Consentium

(Portico of the Consenting Gods)

The Portico lies inside the Roman Forum, behind the Temple of Saturn and was built by Domitian, (81-96 AD). It is reported to have housed gilt bronze statues of the twelve Olympian gods grouped in pairs according to classical tradition. The six columns across the front of the portico are said to be cipollino and certainly looked like it from a distance. However, when seen close up they are fluted, unusual for cipollino as it obviously spoils the natural pattern of the marble, which also has a tendency to crack when sculpted. Their estimated height is 6-7 m. /20-23 Rf with .60m. /2 Rf diameter not including bases and Corinthian capitals. All six are held together with metal bands (Plates 2.4 A & 2.4B). M. E. Blake firmly states, of the Porticus Deorum Consentium, that ‘A porticus of cipollino columns with Corinthian capitals stood in front of these rooms (the chambers behind the portico). Fragments of columns found in the excavations of 18 32-55 were pieced together for the restoration of 1858’.19 We found no cipollino in the Temple of Concordia Augusta near the Arch of Septimus Severus or in the Curia, but again Blake says that ‘cipollino appeared in the wall lining of the Basilica Aemilia, and it supplied the socle for the interior of the Temple of Concord’.20 It should be noted that Blake’s writing is based on the findings of Dr Esther Borse van Deman whose researches mostly took place before 1942, although Blake says that she personally visited the majority of the sites herself.

The Imperial Forums
The group of monuments known as the Imperial Fora came into being as a result of the need for more space than was available in the old political and administrative centre. Caesar was the first to consider enlarging the square of the Roman forum by building a new forum immediately adjacent and at the foot of the Capitol. Caesar’s Forum was completely closed to visitors. Peering though the fences there was nothing that might have been cipollino marble. Nor indeed were there any references to cipollino there. Caesar’s adopted son, Augustus, some fifty years later built another Forum between the Forum of Caesar and the Quirinal.

The Forum of Augustus
The Forum of Augustus was disappointing. Having approached initially from the wrong end there ensued an interesting tour of the small, steep back streets between the via Cavour and via Alessandrina. But there was no evidence of cipollino, in spite of Lazzarini’s reference to ‘the massive arrivals of the Augustan era’. Searching was not easy as there was no way of entering the Forum and we could only look down on it from the high walls along the via Cavour. There is one possible fragment of broken cipollino column. The centrepiece of the Forum, the Temple of Mars Ultor, according to a Rome purchased guide book, was constructed of white Carrara marble, and certainly the remains of the columns we saw looked very white. The temple was built by Augustus to celebrate his victory over Brutus and Cassius, the murderers of Caesar, at the battle of Philippi (42 BC). Both Blake and Guiseppe Lugli speak of cipollino in the Forum of Augustus. Lugli says that of the Avlo del Colosso, ‘The recesses of the lower floor of the hemicycle were interposed with columns and half columns of cipollino and two recesses were separated from the rest of the Forum by a line of columns also of cipollino, 9 m. /30.4 Rf high.’21 Blake says ‘Throughout the long period of exploitation cipollino was used extensively for columns. The columns and pilasters of the apses of the Forum of Augustus afford an early example.’22 However, from as near as one could get there was no conclusive evidence of cipollino.

The Forum of Trajan

The Forum of Trajan was however much more rewarding. Trajan, (AD 98-117) Spanish born, and a ‘new man’, was an admirable Emperor. ‘He confirmed the privileges of the Senate, reduced the power of the praetorians, extended social benefits and built the most beautiful of the roman fora, with the 100 foot column celebrating his victories over the Dacians at its centre. He died on the way to Rome in AD 117. Trajan’s efficacy as an administrator is illustrated by correspondence with the Younger Pliny, governor of Bythnia about AD 110’.23 It was not possible to enter the forum as works were in progress but it can be seen looking down from the side of the Via dei Fiore Imperiale and from the bridge spanning the Forum where one can look down on the sunken area. At one end it is dominated by the 40 m. high Trajan’s column, on the site of the Quirinale excavated to make room for it. It is carved with scenes from the Romans preparing for war with, and driving out the Dacians from their homeland (later Romania) and topped by a statue of St Peter, placed there by Pope Sixtus V in the late sixteenth century. The Rough Guide to Rome describes the forum as one of the major victims of Mussolini’s plan for the area (it was he who decided to drive the Via dei Fiore Imperiale through this area), formerly ‘a complex of basilicas, monuments, apartments and shops that was in its day the most sumptuous of the Imperial Fora, built at what was probably the pinnacle of Roman power and prestige, after Trajan returned from conquering Dacia in 112 AD’24. There are 19 granite columns standing in the area next to Trajan’s column, forming part presumably of the Basilica Ulpia, and there are a possible three cipollino columns, backing on to the area of the Trajan markets, a tiered ancient Roman shopping centre currently under restoration. The columns themselves, without base or Corinthian capital are estimated at 6-7 m. /20-23 Rf high with a diameter of .50 to .60 m. /2 Rf (Plate 2.5). 


Besides the standing columns there are many fragments of broken columns lying in the area, some of which are definitely cipollino. One piece has an estimated length of .75 m. /2.5 Rf and a diameter of .30 to .35 m. /1 Rf; the second a length of .75 m. /2.5 Rf and diameter of .70 m. /2.36 Rf; and the third a length of 1.25 m. /4 Rf and diameter of .30 m. /1 Rf) The other fragments are even smaller (Plates 2.6, 2.7A & 2.7B). There is also a piece of paving.

Two large cipollino columns are lying in the central area. There are no other upright columns. Column one has an estimated length of 2 m. /6.6 Rf and diameter of .60 m. / 2 Rf; column two a length of 2.5 m. /6.75 Rf and diameter of .60 m. /2 Rf. A third piece of similar size is too discoloured to claim as cipollino.

The Palatine Hill

Access to the Palatine Hill is through the Roman Forum and up through staircases and paths on many levels to finally reach the top. This was where many of the emperors were to make their homes after Augustus went to live there in 44 BC. In the bright sunshine, even of early Roman spring, it was easy to see the attraction of living on the Palatine Hill, away from the heat of the city, surrounded by cool breezes and fresh greenery. The Casa de Livia (the House of Livia) which is in the same area as the House of Augustus and where there is said to be cipollino, was firmly chiusa per restauro (closed for restoration). The way was also blocked to the baths of Severus, another location referred to for cipollino, and there was not time to return later by another route. Our search brought only one piece of cipollino paving near the Casa de Livia (Plate 2.8).

The Museums, Rome
Walking north from the Piazza Venezia, the first building on the left of Via del Corso, is the Palazzo Doria Pamphilj. In Roman times it was a store house but now after years of reconstruction and remodelling it is among the city’s finest Rococo palaces. There is also a gallery with one of Rome’s best collections of late renaissance art collected by the illustrious Pamphilj family, who still live in part of the building. In the doorway at the entrance to the palazzo there is one cipollino column in good condition with a Corinthian capital, concave scotia and square base underneath. It measures an estimated 3.75 m. /12.6 Rf high without the capital or base and has a diameter of .45 m. /1.5 Rf. The second column on the opposite side of the doorway is too discoloured to distinguish any markings but is said to be cipollino also (Plate 2.22). Inside the gallery there are, presumably reused, pieces of cipollino on the floors and around the sides of the walls, particularly noticeable in the room with the baroque ceiling where the portrait of the Pope Pamphilij, painted by Velazquez, is displayed.

The Vatican Museum
In the week before Easter St Peter’s and the Vatican were crowded with tourists from all over the world. Although there are reputed to be eight cipollino columns in the Basilica of St Peter the queue to approach it was so long it was decided time would be better given to the Vatican Museum and the Sistine chapel.

The only reference to cipollino was for an acefala in the Museum of the Vatican, which was not found. There is a considerable amount of cipollino, probably of Byzantine origin or reused Roman and taken from its original situation. Apart from the two columns found in the entrance to the Pinacoteca (picture Gallery) the pieces are smaller than those to be found in the Fora, in Tivoli or in Ostia Antica and it does not appear to be marble that has ever been exposed to the elements and is usually highly polished. The two in the entrance to the Pinacoteca are estimated at 5 m. /high 16.9 Rf and with a diameter of .30 m. /1 Rf. The rest of the columns are much smaller in height and might well have been cut from larger pieces as they are used mostly for supports for various forms of sculpture. There are 2 triangular pieces of cipollino in one of the rooms of sculpture leading to the Sistine Chapel (a good hour’s walk with the number of visitors present) one a plinth for exhibit number 2408. Next to it is a column forming the base for vase 24, with a height of .90 m. /3Rf and diameter of .30 m. /1 Rf. It has a concave scotia and 2 square plinths beneath, neither cipollino. The column opposite is the same size and also supports a vase (Plate 2.23). In the same room is a cipollino column supporting a male sculpture without head or arms, 1 m. /3 Rf high and the diameter at the bottom .25-.30 m. /1 Rf. It has a white concave scotia and a square plinth below (Plate 2.24). Another slightly smaller support for vase No 56 is 1 m. /3Rf high and .20 m /.67 Rf in diameter at the bottom. In the Tapestry Room behind the purple column, next to the tapestry of Supper at Emmaus, in the Life of Christ series, there are two panels of cipollino, 3.5 m. /11.8 Rf high and .35 m. /1 Rf wide (Plate 2.25).

In the first room after leaving the Sistine Chapel there is a corner seat of cipollino measuring .71 m across the wall, .26 m across the window (Plate 2.26). In a further room is a round table made of fragments of marble containing five or six pieces of cipollino, The table is inscribed ‘Framenti de Marmi dell’Antica Basilica d’Ippona mandati in dono dal Vescoso di Algeri all Santi di Nostro Signore Gregorio XVII P. M. L’anno MDCCC XLIII’. It has a diameter of 1 m. (Plate 2.27). There are four more, bigger tables, one with birds which has 1 piece of cipollino and a diameter of 1.1 4 m.
At the exit from the museum there is the remarkable spiral staircase in the form of the double helix, the walls lined with a green patterned, probably non-marble, possibly scagliola, the fake green marble (
Plate 2.28A) . However the walls of the final exit might well be cipollino (Plate 2.28B).

The Capitoline Museum, Rome
The Capitoline Museums house some of the city’s most important sculpture, including the equestrian statue of Marcus Aurelius, which for many years had stood outside the Church of San Giovanni in Laterano. It is to be found off the Piazza del Campidoglio (with its magnificent Michaelangelo design) and has been impressively restored in the last few years. 
Again there is cipollino from the Byzantine period or reused from the Roman period. In the Sala delle Oche (Hall of the Geese), standing in front of a deep red wall is one complete well preserved column with a height of 3 m. /10 Rf and diameter of .30 m. /1 Rf, with collar and separate base of white marble (Plate 2.29). In the Sala delle Aquile (Hall of the Eagles) there are two cipollino columns which form bases for the eagles which give the room its name. They have a height of 3 m. /10 Rf and diameter of .30 - .33m. /1 Rf (Plate 2.30).

The Churches, Rome
As the power of the Roman Empire gradually declined and eventually the city was sacked by the Visigoths in the 5th Century AD many of the finest parts of the architectural buildings were either destroyed, buried or removed from the centre of the Roman city. Much of the marble was lost or taken from the Fora and used in other buildings, notably in the medieval churches which were being built under the auspices of the popes who took over power. Of the many churches in Rome listed as having columns of cipollino it was possible to visit six or seven.

Santa Maria Maggiore
Santa Maria Maggiore, despite its eighteenth century exterior, is one of the city’s five great basilicas and has one of Rome’s best preserved Byzantine interiors. The present building dates from about 420 AD and was completed under the reign of Pope Sixtus III. The church was full of tourist groups and access to some areas was not very easy. Corsi mentions two columns but it was not possible to identity them. In the first chapel on the right, the Basilica Papale, there are two columns, of a very dark green marble, approximately 7 m. high and .50 m. in diameter; at the second and third altars on the right there are steps of a wavy green marble; and there are also other steps and floor slabs but none identifiable as cipollino. The fourth and fifth columns in the nave with a height of 7-8 m. /27 Rf and diameter of .70 m. /2.4 Rf could possibly be cipollino.

San Giovanni in Laterano
The basilica of San Giovanni in Laterano is officially Rome’s cathedral and the seat of the pope as bishop of Rome, and for many centuries was the main papal residence. At the end of the fourteenth century the pope moved to the Vatican. The earliest church dates from the fourth century and was established by Constantine. Many of its treasures were taken from ancient Roman sites. Corsi lists five cipollino columns in the cloisters which it was not possible to visit. There is a rectangular pavement of cipollino near the bookshop (1.5 m x 5.25 m.) (Plate 2.31).

San Clemente
The 12th century basilica of San Clemente, also on the Via di San Giovanni, is approached by a courtyard with 15 columns, one of which, the first on the right, is cipollino (height 4.2 m. /14 Rf and diameter .50 m. /1.68 Rf) (Plate 2.32). Inside the first two Ionic columns on the right hand side are also cipollino. They have an estimated height of 6 m. /20.2 Rf and diameter of .62 m. /2 Rf. Photography was not allowed inside the church. It is possible that some of the panels in the nave are also cipollino.

San Nicola in Carcere
Situated on the right hand side of the Via Del Teatro de Marcello, going down towards the River Tiber is the basilica of San Nicola in Carcere, which is built on the site of three Roman temples and whose nave contains a collection of ancient columns, both Ionic and Corinthian, six of which are said to be cipollino. Three (possibly four) are on the left hand side of the nave, all with Corinthian capitals and collars (Plate 2.33). There is also another cipollino column on the right hand side of the nave, third from the altar, and a possible fluted column, first on the right after the entrance (Plates 2.34, 2.35A & 2.35B). They are an estimated 4 m. in height /13.5 Rf and .50 m. /1.6 Rf in diameter. They have concave scotia of .20 m. deep and square plinths of .09 m. deep. There is also a circular paving slab of cipollino just on the left after the doorway with a diameter of .83 m. and a second one of the same size.

San Pietro in Carcere
Just off the Via dei Fiore Imperiale, behind the Forum of Caesar, near the Capitoline Museum, following the narrow Via Monte Tarpeio, there are steps down to the little church of San Pietro in Carcere. In the ancient Mammertime prison below the small church many enemies of the Roman state, including St Peter and St Paul, were incarcerated. There are pieces of cipollino surrounding the main altar (Plate 2.36).
Opposite the church of San Pietro is the church of
San Luca e Martina which is said to contain cipollino but in spite of two or three attempts it was not possible to gain access. It was also not possible to gain access to the church of San Martino ai Monti, on Via Giovanni Lanza, which is said by Corsi to have two columns of cipollino.

San Luigi dei Francesi
Near the northern end of the Piazza Navone, on the Via della Scrofa, is the 17th C French national church of San Luigi dei Francesi, mostly known for its Caravaggio paintings. It contains a wide selection of marble, either reused or used in much later than Roman times. Amongst this eclectic mix of marble are some pieces of cipollino used as bases for the support of columns made of other marble. These are to be found supporting the third or fourth arches on the right side of the nave, are intricately carved and measure approximately 1.36 m. (on the main side of the support. There are also supporting blocks for 2-3 arches on the left hand side of the nave (Plate 2.37).

15 Corsi F., Della Pietri Antiche, Roma, 1825, cited in Lazzarini, 2007, p. 186.

16 Ward Perkins, J.B., Roman Imperial Architecture, Penguin Books Harmondsworth, England, Chapter 5, p. 125.
17 Robertson, D.S., Greek and Roman Architecture, Cambridge University Press, 1974, p.217
18Staccioli, R.A., Rome Past and Present,Vision, Roma, p.32.

19 Blake, M.E., Ancient Roman Construction in Italy from Tiberius through the Flavians, Carnegie Institution Publication 616, Washinton DC, 1959, p.100.
20 Blake, M.E., Ancient Roman Construction in Italy from the Prehistoric Period to Augustus, Carnegie Institution Washington Publications, Washington Publication 570, 1947.

21 Lugli,Giuseppe, Itinerario di Roma Antica, Periodici Scientifici, Milano, 1970, p.342.
22 Blake, From the Prehistoric Period to Augustus, p.58
23 Hadas Moses, A History of Rome, G. Bell & Sons, London, 1958, p.101.
24 Dunford, M., Rough Guide to Rome, New York, London, 2007 p.92.

Plate 2.1 A.jpg

Maps and Plates

Plate 2.1A Ten large cipollino columns at the Temple of Faustina and Antoninus Pius, Rome

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Plate 2.1B Ten large cipollino columns at the Temple of Faustina and Antoninus Pius, Rome

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Plate 2.2 Broken fragments of cipollino, Basilica Emilia, Roman Forum

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Plate 2.3 Broken fragments of cipollino, Basilica Emilia, Roman Forum

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Plates 2.4A Six (supposedly) cipollino columns, Portico of the Consenting Gods, Roman Forum

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Plates 2.4B Six (supposedly) cipollino columns, Portico of the Consenting Gods, Roman Forum

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Plate 2.5 Three possible cipollino columns, Forum of Trajan, Rome

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Plate 2.6 Broken fragments of cipollino, Forum of Trajan, Rome

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Plate 2.7A Broken fragments of cipollino, Forum of Trajan, Rome

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Plate 2.7B Broken fragments of cipollino, Forum of Trajan, Rome

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Plate 2.8 Piece of cipollino paving near the House of Livia, the Palatine Hill, Rome

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Plate 2.22 A cipollino column outside the entrance to the Palazzo Doria Pamphilj, Rome

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Plate 2.25 Two cipollino panels, the Tapestry Room, next to the tapestry of Supper at Emmaus, Vatican Museum Rome

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Plate 2.26 A corner seat of cipollino, the Vatican Museum, Rome

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Plate 2.27 A round table containing 5-6 pieces of cipollino, the Vatican Museum, Rome

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Plate 2.28A Walls of staircase to exit (probably fake cipollino), the Vatican Museum, Rome

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Plate 2.28B Walls of final exit (probably cipollino), the Vatican Museum, Rome

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Plate 2.29 One complete cipollino column, Sala delle Oche, (Hall of the Geese) the Capitoline Museum, Rome

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Plate 2.30 One of two cipollino columns, base for the eagles, Sala delle Aquile, (Hall of the Eagles), the Capitoline Museum, Rome

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Plate 2.31 Rectangular pavement of cipollino, the Church of San Giovanni in Laterano, Rome

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Plate 2.32 One cipollino column first on right in the courtyard, the Church of San Clemente, Rome

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Plate 2.33 Three cipollino columns on the left hand side of the nave, the church of San Nicola in Carcere, Rome


Plate 2.34 A cipollino column on the right hand side of the nave, third from the altar, the church of San Nicola in Carcere, Rome

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Plate 2.35A A possible fluted cipollino column first on the right after the entrance, the church of San Nicola in Carcere, Rome

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Plate 2.35B A detail of a cipollino column, the church of San Nicola in Carcere, Rome

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Plate 2.36 Panels of cipollino surrounding the main altar, the church of San Pietro in Carcere, Rome

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Plate 2.37 A cipollino marble base supporting arches and columns of other marble, on the right hand side of the nave, Church of San Luigi dei Francesi, Rome

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Plate 2.23 A cipollino column supporting vase 24, Vatican Museum, Rome

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Plate 2.24 Cipollino column supporting a male sculpture without head or arms, the Vatican museum, Rome

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