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

The Digital Piranesi

View of the Piazza della Rotonda [the Pantheon]

Any view of a Roman piazza entails an attempt to bring order to chaos. Through emphasis and distortion, this image structures the Piazza della Rotonda in terms of urban space, verbal information, and artistic attribution. The “Rotonda” of the title and this veduta’s ostensible focal point is the Pantheon itself. The ancient temple is cast to right of the image, the bulk of which is devoted instead to the crowds that populate the piazza and the market stalls in the foreground; it appears, John Wilton-Ely notes, as a background feature to an energetic panorama of Roman street life” (1988, 39). In the sequence of Didot’s edition of the Opere, this image is grouped with other piazzas in the first volume of the Vedute di Roma rather than the series of studies devoted to the Pantheon in the second: its interior is here, here, and here; its exterior here. In the sequence of Piranesi’s own production, this is one of his earlier views, which tend to present their subjects from a distance and include details of eighteenth-century street life. This view imposes legibility on the bustling scene through his selective annotations, and it reshapes the Pantheon’s exterior in a curious distortion.

It is not possible to see the extent of the Pantheon’s rear that is visible in this view from its vantage point. This distortion could be seen to betray Piranesi’s interests—on fuller display in this veduta from the Campus Martius volume. It also, according to Manfredo Tafuri, conveys “a truth ‘beyond the real,’” an irreconcilable tension between antiquity and modernity in which the so-called “‘impure’ Roman forms are such because they are compromised by the dimension of the lived-time of space” and “compromised … by the quotidian” (42-3). Additionally, the height of the obelisk is exaggerated, effectively minimizing the Pantheon, which is itself aggrandized in Piranesi’s other etchings (Pinto 2012, 102-3). A point of emphasis in the image above is attribution: the first annotation names “Marco Agrippa” as the creator of the Pantheon, and the second identifies Filippo Barigioni (1690–1753) as the architect of the piazza’s fountain. In the expanse of the space depicted, though, and in the resulting proportions of the image, it is the fish market, the “pescaria” named in the third annotation, that looms large in the deep shadows of the foreground. Through his visual composition and his combination of word and image, Piranesi makes this image very much his own. It combines market-stalls, pedestrians, and carriages as well as consumption, walking, and transportation. Piranesi renders the piazza as a space of activity and mixture whose chaotic juxtapositions are to some extent structured by the information offered in the numbered captions. The legible version of Rome that Piranesi offers, in this veduta and in general, resonates with Michel de Certeau’s analysis of urban life. He identifies the pervasive desire that renders the city as a legible text, that “makes the complexity of the city readable, and immobilizes its opaque mobility in a transparent text” (92). Piranesi shows us this image is his own in two ways: it aligns with the desire Certeau describes, by rendering urban activity as legible information, and it suggests that distortions, such as the expansion of the Pantheon’s rotunda, are a potential consequence of both antiquity as it persists in contemporary life and the city as it is made legible in word and image. (JB)

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

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