This page was created by Alexis Kratzer.  The last update was by Jeanne Britton.

The Digital Piranesi

View of Santa Maria Maggiore

Along with views of the Roman Forum, Vatican, Pantheon, Piazza Navona, and Pyramid of Cestius, this first of three views of Santa Maria Maggiore formed part of the earliest group of prints in the Vedute di Roma, produced in the 1740s. Without a steady income or secured patronage, Piranesi sought to publish and sell the most popular views to tourists in order to quickly establish himself on the print market. Santa Maria Maggiore was a key site on the pilgrimage route as one of the four papal basilicas and one of the “seven churches of Rome” in addition to being famous for its ancient mosaics. In these early years he faced fierce competition from more established vedutisti, including his mentor Giuseppe Vasi, who had already made several successful views of this basilica. Indeed, comparing his exterior view to Piranesi’s shows their many similarities: the oblique perspective which emphasizes the Column of Peace on the right as well as the newly designed central façade (1743) by architect Ferdinando Fuga (1699-1782).  
Similar to the popular small pocket guidebooks, these prints included the latest information about the architecture of the city and the artists that shaped its landscape and representation. Serving as the papal architect for two popes, Fuga played a significant role in new style of Roman architecture during the eighteenth century, and Vasi and Piranesi’s inclusion of his name in their prints signals his prominence in contemporary Rome. The perspective in Piranesi’s view is slightly more skewed, and the higher contrast of light and shadow emphasizes Fuga’s façade. The lateral façades recede along with the domes and campanile, which are rendered with softer lines. Fuga is also named in Piranesi’s view of the Palazzo della Consulta, for which he was the architect, and is one of the few architects Piranesi mentions by name among such renowned artists as Michelangelo, Alessandro Galilei, and Bernini.

Similarities between the views by Piranesi and Vasi as well as painters such as Giovanni Paolo Pannini (1691-1765), whose view of the Basilica adopts the same perspective as Piranesi’s, demonstrate the culture of exchange, collaboration, and copying among these artists across media and genres (Nevola 64; Bevilacqua 2006, 44, 52-6).  Moreover, prints by Laura Piranesi and Jean Barbault were produced around the same time and share similar compositional and stylistic elements with these views. Piranesi even copied himself, riding on the success of his collaboration with cartographer Giambattista Nolli, for whose well-known map of Rome (below) Piranesi provided the views in the lower border.
In the bottom right corner, there is a seemingly identical view of Santa Maria Maggiore that is in fact a fictitious space. Walking into the piazza, observers would see the column and fountain from behind. In the smaller version of Nolli’s map, the fountain and column have been flipped around to the front in order to showcase the basilica’s architectural features. Furthermore, Piranesi places famous buildings from across the city together, compressed into one visually coherent yet imaginary space in order to highlight the most magnificent examples of modern Roman architecture.  That focus also shapes the two following views of the interior and rear facade of Santa Maria Maggiore shed further light on Piranesi’s printing strategies. (ZL)

To see this image in the Vedute di Roma, volume 16 of Piranesi’s Opere, click here.

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