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The Digital Piranesi

View of the Piazza di Monte Cavallo (2 of 2)

In this second view of the Quirinal Hill, Piranesi shifts the visual focus from the ancient equestrian statues emphasized in the previous view to the full expanse of the modern piazza through aerial perspective. This vantage point allows beholders to almost float above the square and peer into the surrounding streets and neighborhoods. Indeed, Piranesi indicates in the second annotation that the street on the right leads to the Porta Pia on the northeastern side of the city. In the close-ups below, Piranesi captures details of the street—the numerous carriages, fashionable tourists, and important buildings such as the residences of the papal court (labeled “5”). While the ancient equestrian statues are at the center of the image, the modern cityscape overwhelms the composition. As with many other views of modern buildings, Piranesi draws upon the genre of the guidebook, combining urban topography with architectural history. 
Piranesi showcases the complex of papal buildings which were expanded and redesigned under Pope Clement XII (born Lorenzo Corsini, 1652-1740). The Vatican no longer had the space to accommodate the increasingly bloated papal bureaucracy; access to the old, cramped papal apartments in the Vatican, particularly by carriage, was difficult. By the eighteenth century, the Vatican had become more of a museum, a testament to Renaissance art and architecture, rather than a proper residence for the Pope or a functioning seat of governance (Hyde Minor 2010, 155-70). A new architectural complex was needed. In addition to serving as the Pope’s residence, the Pontifical Palace and adjacent buildings effectively concentrated the bureaucratic and juridical branches of the papal government into one cohesive architectural statement. Their design and expansion declared the authority and organization of the modern papacy.

Piranesi labels and identifies each building in the key. The third annotation points to the Palazzo della Consulta, which housed the papal chancery, secular court, and military offices. These different functions are reflected in the architecture through Ferdinando Fuga’s design, which includes three distinct entrances. Piranesi distinguishes them visually by the prominent coat of arms atop the central entrance, elegant shallow stairs of each doorway, as well as the orderly line of military officers exiting off the lateral entrance on the right. The turreted tower of the Pontifical Palace and the soldier’s quarters and stables on the left, also designed by Fuga, further highlight the military defenses of the area. While the pope’s various palaces underwent many changes throughout the centuries, Piranesi highlights Fuga’s modern interventions and restorations. The ancient statues symbolically turn their backs to viewers toward the future of modern design. Through aerial perspective, the textual key, and visual references to modern architecture, Piranesi demonstrates the power of design in shaping institutions and the city. (ZL) 

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

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