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

The Digital Piranesi

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

In this view of Santa Costanza, archaeology forges connections across Piranesi’s works. He depicted every detail of the church’s interior in architectural plans, cross-sections, close-ups, measurements, and imaginative reconstructions that appear in 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. 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.

Piranesi further explores these details in five etchings in the second volume of the Antichità Romane. In this plan view of the mausoleum, he further distinguishes between the extant remains, rendered in darker ink, and his planimetric reconstruction of the entire complex, which appears in lighter ink. The crack in the fictive marble slab separates ancient from modern, and “archaeological fact from imaginative fiction.” These visual strategies 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 the sixth annotation 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, he contends in this imaginative close-up from the Antichità Romane, arranged in a according to “una bizzarra invenzione,” having been composed piecemeal from various buildings, materials, and time periods (see ). Piranesi makes space in this rather traditional veduta for some of the fine detail and speculative theory given wider scope in his Antichità Romane. (ZL)

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

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