Piranesi’s annotations follow the priorities of the image: the first, which appears twice, indicates the wall and stairs, erected under Sixtus V; the second points to Chiesa del nome di Maria (the Church of the Most Holy Name of Mary), completed just seven years before this print in 1751, and the mostly obscured Palazzo Bonelli (today Palazzo Valentini). Amplifying the attention devoted to the visual detail and immediate setting of the column, Piranesi places a number of tourists around its base. In many of Piranesi’s views of ancient ruins, the foreground is covered with architectural rubble that effectively limits a viewer’s entry into the central image, and people engage in conversation, commerce, and repose but usually seem inattentive to the monuments around them. Well-dressed tourists, though, occasionally betray enraptured engagement through their posture and stance. In another engraving, one viewer examines the Temple of Antoninus and Faustina through a telescope. Here, while one tourist enjoys the panoramic view from the top of the column, a more vividly defined gentleman stands on the stairs and, with his head back and his arms up, suggests a relationship of spectatorship and awe between modern man and ancient architecture. His posture invites viewers to cross the foreground’s boundary of architectural rubble and share this awe. Constructed to commemorate Rome’s overpowering of ancient people from the North, Trajan’s Column is here presented as a monument that itself overpowers tourists from Northern Europe with its sublime antiquity and lasting magnificence. (JB)
To see this image in the Vedute di Roma, volume 16 of Piranesi’s Opere, click here.