The manuscript of Fr. Martin7, preserved in the archive of San Luigi dei Francesi, which contains many historical information and a general description of the Trinità dei Monti at the end of the 18th century is not fruitful as it is rather vague on the subject.
Recent studies, despite having the merit of a more serious consideration of the cultural climate in which the paintings were produced, often lack a clear and precise reference to the authors’ texts where it would seem most necessary. In these works, for example, the certain dating of Niceron’s work (evidently San Giovanni) is still nebulous, suggested through deductions that denote the poor analysis of the original texts. The most updated and noteworthy articles on the Maignan-Niceron relationship and in general on anamorphic perspectives are those by Dubourg Glatigny-Romano8, Julien9, Bessot10, to which reference should also be made to the general bibliography on the subject11.
Starting from these studies, let’s try to clarify and insert the new and fundamental elements that have emerged in recent research.
The anamorphosis of San Giovanni in Pathmos is the work of Jean Francois Niceron, completed in a period between the middle of 1639 and the early months of 1640.
To affirm this it is necessary to analyze the texts he himself published and those that came out posthumously, relating them to the acquired data of his stay in Rome for a short time, “dix mois” says Bonnard, in which he probably taught mathematics and perspective. Ten months that reading the chapter acts12 refer for accuracy to the period May 25, 1639 (Niceron declared local) – March 16, 1640 (Niceron left for France) 13.
The famous La perspective curieuse of 163814 was released in the first living edition by the author; it does not mention the anamorphosis of St. John or his stay in Rome. It is a rather theoretical book with generic examples. Further editions will only come out posthumously (165215 and 1663); these are publications certainly expanded by Fr. Mersenne (and later from Roberval), a great esteemer, friend and probably teacher of Niceron, who adds the sections that the student had not been able to curate and a series of concrete examples. These examples, however, are not a mere clarification decided by the curator, they are instead taken from the much more important work that Niceron was waiting for when he died: the Thaumaturgus opticus16, a treatise in Latin of which the young and brilliant minimum had composed only the first part and which was given to the press at the point of death. The section concluded in 1646 retraced the themes of the first two books of the first edition of The Perspective, expanding them, deepening them and giving a large number of concrete examples, all those made after 1638; it was therefore not the simple “non-faithful” translation of the French text, as is often believed, but a real rewriting and an extension. The Elogium autoris placed immediately after the title page, written posthumously probably by Fr Marin Marsenne, it is absolutely clear: Interim autem edito libro, ut erat ingenuus & liberalis, suum & artis secretum gentilibus evulgavit (scripsit enim Gallice) quod ut commune postmodum faceret omnibus gentibus, reperitis ab alto eiusdem scientiaeincipis, deductisque certain & perpetua methodo conclusionibus , not de gallicum tantum latinum, se de vetere novum opus cudit.
This is why the 1652 edition of La perspective curieuse gives the anamorphoses of Rome and Paris as already made (“comme i’ay fait à nostra Convent de la Trinité du Mont à Rome, & a celuy de Paris” 17 , synthesis of the Latin text of 1646 tum Romae in our Sanctissimae Trinitatis Pinciano Conventu, tum Lutaetiae in hoc ad Hippodromum Regium coenobio, ubi videre licet institutas a nobis in longissimo ambulachri pariete eiusmodi proiectiones multivariate quarum idem est subiectum, sed figuree habitum dispositioe dissimilis;) 18.