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

The Digital Piranesi

Two churches near the Column of Trajan

Although the title suggests that this view is of “Two Churches,” Piranesi’s use of perspective foregrounds one and pushes the other to the background. The 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 are reflected in 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 and provides the setting of the main action of the print. Indeed, a peculiar feature of this view is the figure that rests his basket of wares on the caption. The shadow his fruit basket casts onto the caption deliberately ruptures the space between the world of the print and that of its viewers. Piranesi often employs this device to underline a specific theme or argument, as in views of Santa Maria degli Angeli and the Pyramid of Caius Cestius. In this case, the figure of the fruit seller confronts viewers with the “contradictory character of the piazza’s imposed boundaries” and particularly the spaces of the city that belonged to local communities but became increasingly open to tourists (San Juan 159).

Additionally, 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; 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, showing a sanitized and pared down version of the piazza where streets are clean and orderly and groups of tourists move freely through the square. By contrast, Piranesi shows “the diverse, unpredictable, and ephemeral noises of the street” that is 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 adjacent ramshackle modern houses. 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 relates more to the genre scenes of Pietro Longhi than the illustrated guidebooks or the views of his contemporaries. The focus on daily life in this view disrupts tourists’ expectations about what they might encounter in a Roman piazza and, perhaps, invites reflection on local living conditions and the impact of tourism on the urban fabric of the city. (ZL)

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

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