The Digital Piranesi
This page was created by Alexis Kratzer. The last update was by Zoe Langer.
View of the Piazza Navona above the ruins of the Circus of Domitian (1 of 2)
In contrast to many printed views of the time, which show a more sanitized and idealized version of the piazza, Piranesi makes the tension between order and disorder visible. The uninhibited circulation of people and goods in the piazza contrast with the neat and linear rows of noble palaces, which are identified in the numbered key below the image. The surrounding architecture not only frames the space, but also serves to clarify social hierarchies, in particular the imprint of the Pamphili family on the piazza. Piranesi labels their private residence, the Villa Pamphili (labeled “2”), in addition to the baroque church of Sant’Agnese (labeled “1”) and Bernini’s Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi (labeled “3”) commissioned by Pope Innocent X, also known as Giovanni Battista Pamphili. As beholders can see in Piranesi’s view, these buildings were strategically positioned at the center of the square. Pamphili’s election to the papacy in 1644 provided an opportunity to transform the “claims of a private noble family to those of the institution of the church, prompting aggressive efforts to inscribe the piazza with papal authority and define it as Rome’s center” (San Juan, 197). The other annotations further delimit the piazza’s boundaries, with San Giacomo degli Spagnoli on the left, the church for the Spanish community in Rome, and Fontana del Moro at the south end of the square (seen in the following view). These palaces, churches, and fountains compress the piazza’s vast dimensions into a coherent and enclosed space.
Yet, the variety of figures that occupy the piazza reminds us that this order is superficial. For example, at the outer edges of the square a slew of merchants display their wares on tables near an illuminated alleyway. Through swirling and undefined lines their merchandise spills over into the piazza, blurring the boundaries between private and public, as well as between the square and the rest of the city. It is difficult to distinguish the established or ‘registered’ merchants from the transient and unauthorized sellers, an aspect of public space that officials tried to regulate, but at which they often failed. It is notable that Piranesi seems to deliberately blur these lines, both here in and in the following view of the piazza. (ZL)
To see this image in the Vedute di Roma, volume 16 of Piranesi’s Opere, click here.