Robert Macpherson, Muro Torto, Rom, 1871 or earlier

Robert Macpherson, British, 1811–1872: Muro Torto, Rome, 1871 or earlier. Albumen print, 23.3 x 47.5 cm. Museum purchase, David H. McAlpin, Class of 1920, Fund (x1975-100)

The muro torto is a section of Rome’s Aurelian wall, “twisted” (torto) since ancient times by supporting the weight of the Pincian hill. Artists usually depicted it from one side in order to emphasize its alarming tilt over the road below. Macpherson, a specialist in large-format views of Rome, instead positioned himself across the road at a time of day when the shaded muro torto was offset by sunlight striking the adjacent section of wall.


From Macpherson’s chosen angle, his camera’s view is centered on a chalk drawing on the wall. The sketch, in turn, depicts a gate that stands just within view on the camera’s left. The gate, constructed in 1790, had given entry to the Borghese Gardens until it was chained shut in 1829. The chalk graffito was most likely drawn by an engineer planning to disassemble and move the gate’s eagle-crowned towers to another part of the gardens—a task debated from the 1830s onward, but not executed until the 1930s, under Mussolini.

The Life of Buildings

Paper Buildings

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