This page was created by Alexis Kratzer.  The last update was by Harith Kumte.

The Digital Piranesi

View of the Facade of the Basilica Santa Croce in Gerusalemme

The painterly effects of the tempestuous sky draw viewers into the baroque drama of this view of the papal basilica of Santa Croce in Gerusalemme. Alternating between soft and deeply carved incisions, Piranesi’s etching technique enhances the theatrical play of light and shadow that grazes the curved and ornate façade of the church. In keeping with the late baroque style, or “barocchetto,” of the early eighteenth century, he displays the central façade with its most recent, and drastic, additions to accommodate the elliptical vestibule of the interior, and the serpentine poses of the statues on the balustrade complement the undulating façade. In the first detail below, the delicate and “spidery” lines look as though they have been freely sketched onto the plate (Wendort 168). 
The wide gestures and sketchy lines of the statues mirror those in the human figures in the foreground, who, at times, even disappear into the background itself (as seen in detail 2). Similarly, the ruins of what Piranesi calls the “Temple of the Speranza Vecchia” both fade into and are highlighted by the white cloud on the left. By contrast, as seen in detail 3 above, the modern entrance to the “Monastery of the Cistercian Monks” (annotation 1), is delineated with rigid vertical lines. 

Clear juxtapositions of light and shadow, curved and rectilinear lines, as well as rough and polished surfaces, call attention to the multiple periods of architecture that characterize the space. Yet the figures most emphatically point to the ancient ruins on opposite sides of the composition. Piranesi also highlights these older structures visually, through the brightest and darkest hues, and verbally, by labeling and describing them in the key below. The wall on the right side is almost completely obscured in shadow, yet in its monstrous girth it takes on an almost grotesque presence. Though crumbling and overgrown, its body in pieces of marble splayed at the border of the plate, the wall is actually of great significance to Piranesi, particularly in his archaeological works: it contains the remains of the ancient Castrense Amphitheater that were incorporated into the Aurelian walls, ruins that are remarkably still visible to this day. (ZL)

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

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