This page was created by Alexis Kratzer.  The last update was by Zoe Langer.

The Digital Piranesi

Two churches near the Column of Trajan

The title suggests that the view seen above is of “Two Churches.” In fact, Piranesi’s use of perspective foregrounds the church of Santa Maria di Loreto, making it appear closer to the viewer. Whereas, Piranesi pushes the eighteenth-century church of the Santissimo Nome del Maria and ancient Column of Trajan to the background. Santa Maria di Loreto was commissioned by the guild of bakers during the sixteenth century and designed by Renaissance architects Antonio da Sangallo and Giacomo del Duca. Perhaps the church’s humble origins reflect the prominence of the bustling market of bakers, butchers, and fruit sellers in the foreground. On the left we see a vivacious negotiation over the quality and price of cured meats. In the center of the image, horses carry sacks of produce toward the marketplace. These hurried, wildly gesticulating merchants surround the central banderole, which displays the title and numbered key. The banderole is also where the main action of the print unfolds. Indeed, a peculiar feature of this view is the figure that rests his basket of wares on the caption. The way his fruit basket casts a shadow onto the caption deliberately ruptures the space between the world of the print and that of viewers. Piranesi often employs this device to underline a specific theme or argument (see, for example, the views of Baths of Diocletian and the Pyramid of Caius Cestius). In this case, the figure of the fruit seller perhaps confronts viewers with the “contradictory character of the piazza’s imposed boundaries,” and particularly the spaces of the city that belonged to local communities that became increasingly ‘open’ to tourists (San Juan, 159).

The trompe-l’oeil effect of the merchant’s basket simultaneously invites and excludes viewers from the piazza. Here, the square, church, and market, belong to the local community of guilds and merchants. In other words, this is the space of the people that work and live in the neighborhood. Indeed, the single ornate carriage in the center looks out of place. Well-to-do tourists in their waistcoats and tricorn hats are strikingly absent, especially when compared to Giuseppe Vasi’s view of the same street.  

Vasi draws upon the genre of the early modern guidebook of Rome, in which the “city is defined in terms of orderly itineraries, clear boundaries, and physical traversability” where “unobstructed urban movement is taken to be the measure of modernity, but only for pilgrims, tourists, or the fashionable carriage of the upper ranks” (San Juan, 4, 9). Vasi’s print shows a sanitized and pared down version of the piazza. The streets are clean and orderly, and the groups of tourists move freely and neatly through the square. By contrast, Piranesi shows “the diverse, unpredictable, and ephemeral noises of the street,” not yet overrun with tourists (San Juan, 4). Piranesi makes a clear visual distinction between the gleaming and pristine architecture of the two churches and the ramshackle, dilapidated, accretion of modern houses adjacent to them. On the right a wooden shack is held up by fragments and sheets of tarp, attached to a building of exposed crumbling stone and haphazardly placed windows. At the same time, there are hints of the impact of the emerging tourist market on the space. On the left an antiquities shop displays a rather large urn for sale and the street Piranesi identifies in annotation “4” was a principal tourist route from the Column of Trajan to the Quirinal. Yet even this street seems far off in the distance, and, in contrast to Vasi, is not yet populated by carriages. Piranesi’s emphasis on the street life of Rome seems to relate more to the genre scenes of Pietro Longhi than the illustrated guidebooks or the views of his contemporaries. Perhaps the focus on the butchers, bakers, merchants, and monks in this view, disrupt the expectations of tourists about what they might encounter in a Roman piazza, and perhaps in doing so, invite reflection on local living conditions and the impact of tourism on the urban fabric of the city. (ZL)

To see this image in Vedute di Roma, vol 16 of Piranesi's Opere, click here.
Page 190

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