The Digital Piranesi
This page was created by Alexis Kratzer. The last update was by Jeanne Britton.
View of the Piazza di Monte Cavallo (1 of 2)
Despite the numerous descriptive details in the text, the ancient statues in the center of the square are the visual focus of the image and the source of its title. The third annotation tells us that the sculpture depicts Alexander the Great taming his famous horse, Bucephalus; it is from this sculpture that the piazza was often called the “Monte Cavallo,” or “Mountain of the Horses.” Piranesi’s title, “Veduta della Piazza del Monte Cavallo,” as opposed to the more conventional title, “Palazzo Pontificio,” emphasizes ancient monuments over modern architecture. In Piranesi’s veduta the papal apartments are merely a backdrop, diminutive compared to the colossal dimensions of Alexander and his horse. Indeed, a pile of ancient fragments appears directly above the title, as if to signal the visual and sculptural significance of antiquity. The inscription on the two bases of the sculptures, as well as Piranesi’s annotation, indicate that they were carved by the famous ancient Greek artists Praxiteles and Phidias, the chief artist to Perikles and principal designer of the Parthenon. Adding to the sculptural splendor of the scene are the only rays of sun in the Vedute di Roma, which form a halo around the sculptures and highlight the way the two ancient sculptors adeptly carved the glistening subtleties of their musculature. The sharp receding lines of the papal palaces frame the view but also guide beholders toward the statues. Through the combination of word and image, Piranesi demonstrates the visual and historical impact of both ancient and modern architecture on the Quirinal hill. In the following view of the piazza, produced later in Piranesi’s career, he shows the expansion of the papal palaces and development of the square in its larger urban context. (ZL)
To see this image in the Vedute di Roma, volume 16 of Piranesi’s Opere, click here.