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

The Digital Piranesi

View of the Customs House in the Piazza di Pietra

In this view Piranesi recounts the storied history of eleven ancient columns whose full integration into a modern building, the customs office, or “dogana,” presents an interesting case of architectural reuse and preservation.  Piranesi shows other instances of ancient ruins being adapted for contemporary use, such as his view of the Temple of Antoninus and Faustina, but none have the complete hybrid character of this unique structure. His title and annotations focus on the modern use and restoration of what Piranesi believed to be the columns of the Temple of Antoninus Pius. The main floor served as the customs office and the upper floors, the fourth annotation tells us, as  “abitazione moderna.” Details of the windows show their sills decorated with potted plants or used as a space for hanging laundry. Between the ancient columns, temporary shops cater to tourists, who patiently wait for their carriages to be assessed by the customs officers. Other details are also pointed out in the annotations. The office oversaw duties on goods acquired and transported by land, perhaps those purchased on the Via del Corso (7), Rome’s premier shopping street. Piranesi reminds tourists of the dire consequences of unpaid duties with a line of soldiers standing in front of an intimidating wooden and steel gate (6). In addition to this vivid account of the modern use of the ancient temple, Piranesi’s annotations outline the monument’s architectural history. He first notes that the columns originally formed part of the Temple of Antoninus Pius built by Marcus Aurelius in his forum. Piranesi further notes in the second and third annotations that the ancient architrave had been “ristorato,”retaining its original form, but that the cornice has been completely “rifatto,” making it modern. In contrast to the shallow rectilinear lines of the houses and cornice, the ancient columns, capitals, and architrave are rendered with jagged and dark lines.

The distinction Piranesi makes between “restoration” and “remaking” is especially enlightening in terms of his own artistic practice of restoring antiquities both in print and in his museum. While in the Vedute di Roma ancient and modern are fused architecturally, this view of the same ruins from his Campus Martius volume demonstrates Piranesi’s approach to restoration on paper by visually excavating, and verbally noting, the ancient ruins from their successive additions: the eleven Corinthian columns (1) and barrel-vaulted room with a coffered roof (2). Piranesi depicts a past that is no longer visible. Together, the two views, one of the past and one of the present, restore the lost history of the temple. (ZL)

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

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