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

The Digital Piranesi

View of the Piazza di Spagna

Piranesi’s view of the Piazza di Spagna includes informative and directional annotations that orient us as viewers of his image, readers of his text, and walkers within the city. As the close-up from Piranesi’s “Pianta di Roma e del Campo Marzio” below illustrates, the piazza itself is an angular space, formed where two narrow triangles converge. Piranesi’s visual composition echoes this geometry, with the ascent of the steps positioned at an angle, the shadow that darkens half of the steps, and the Via del Babuino leading into the distance on the left. Piranesi’s annotations also move us in ways that parallel what John Pinto calls the “hotly contested” nature of this international space, bounded by the French-operated church and monastery and the Spanish Embassy (2000, 114).
Piranesi’s changing interests shape the subject and presentation of his views of Rome, as John Wilton-Ely has outlined: his first views, from the 1740s, emphasized major monuments and contemporary street life, and in the following decade, his captions became more detailed as his interests turned to archaeology and the inspirational potential of the ancient past (1988, 68). As one of his earlier views, this image of 1750 includes annotations that echo the implied movement of the image. The numerical key proceeds from Pietro and Gianlorenzo Bernini’s Barcaccia Fountain at the center of the image up the steps that, Piranesi specifies, lead up the Pincian Hill to the Trinità dei Monti, operated by the French Catholic order of Minims, which was founded by Saint Francis of Paola. The third caption then directs us down the Via Babuino, cast in deep recession, towards the faintly-etched, barely visible obelisk in the Piazza del Popolo. Another caption appears in nearly every view of Rome: “Presso l’autore a Strada Felice nel palazzo Tomati vicino alla Trinità de’monti.” Piranesi’s print shop (which was also his residence) was in the Palazzo Tomati, on Strada Felice (today called via Sistina), at number 41. In the close-up above, it would be midway between the Piazza della Trinità de’monti and the Piazza Barberini, on the upper left. Directing tourists to his print shop with this caption, and orienting them with his annotations, Piranesi offers a commercial walking guide to the readers of this image. (JB)

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

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