This page was created by Alexis Kratzer.  The last update was by Zoe Langer.

The Digital Piranesi

Interior view of Santa Costanza, built by Constantine the Great, erroneously called the Temple of Bacchus

This view of Santa Costanza illustrates the way that Piranesi linked his works across volumes through archaeology. He depicted every detail of the church’s interior in architectural plans, cross-sections, close-ups, measurements, and imaginative reconstructions across several volumes. Here, in the Vedute di Roma, Piranesi takes a wide panoramic view in order to highlight the main architectural features of the interior: its distinct circular form, columns and Corinthian capitals, elaborate mosaics, windows, niches, ornate candelabra, and the tomb of Costanza, the daughter of Constantine, for whom the mausoleum is named. Piranesi further explores these details in five etchings in the second volume of the Antichità Romane. From the outset Piranesi takes issue with other scholars who, according to the title of this image, have “erroneously” attributed the building as the Temple of Bacchus. The round form, typical of Roman tombs, combined with the prominent urn at the center, labeled “6” in the key, leads Piranesi to conclude that this structure was part of a larger mausoleum complex. Remnants of the original structure are identified in the annotations as “ancient” in order to distinguish from the “modern” additions, which are pushed to the background through perspective.

In this plan view of the mausoleum from the Antichità Romane, Piranesi further distinguishes between the extant remains, rendered in darker ink, from his planimetric reconstruction of the entire complex in lighter ink. The crack in the fictive marble slab separates ancient from modern, and “archaeological fact from imaginative fiction,” visual strategies which highlight his “dual role as antiquary and designer” (Pinto 2012, 141-2).

We can also see the antiquarian Piranesi in the precise measurements of Costanza’s sarcophagus listed in annotation 6 in the view of the interior. He notes that the funerary urn was made of porphyry and constructed, remarkably, from only one piece of stone, declaring that it was “singolare per la sua maravigliosa grandezza, e per il marmo durissimo.” Piranesi’s more archaeological approach to the subject of this veduta can also be seen in the details of the columns, which are, according to Piranesi, arranged in a “bizarre” manner, having been composed piecemeal from various buildings, materials, and time periods (see this imaginative close-up from the Antichità Romane). These subtle discrepancies prompt beholders to look and read closely, to discover Piranesi’s painstaking documentation of the monument’s dating, construction methods and materials, measurements, and decoration, by moving from one view through multiple pages of his entire published works. (ZL)

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

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