This page was created by Diem Dao.  The last update was by Jeanne Britton.

The Digital Piranesi

Cross-Section of the interior of the Basilica San Paolo fuori le Mura

This etching bears a unique title: rather than a “Veduta,” it is a “Spaccato” or Cross-section. Spaccato is a technical term Piranesi employs frequently in the Antichità Romane and his other archeological and architectural publications. It indicates a particular type of perspectival projection that is often planar and abstract in style, rendered to scale, and replete with measurements, annotations, and objective details in the key, as in the image below. 
Similar to the image above, which shows the cross-section of an ancient tomb, the upper left corner features a “unique device of an architectural section through the nave wall” (Wilton-Ely 1978, 31), which reveals the precise structural and spatial dimensions of the aisles. Also similar is the way that Piranesi uses different types of etching lines to indicate the texture of the wood, marble, stone, and brick. Through the use of sparsely punctuated lines, the upper level of the aisle wall appears as though it has been carefully sliced in half (see below). This visual emphasis reinforces the highly technical language in the text about the distribution of weight to sustain the massive interior composed of five naves and no less than eighty marble columns. Furthermore, the interior is rendered to scale in precise mathematical perspective (Wilton-Ely 1978, 29-31). While scale and perspective are often exaggerated in the Vedute di Roma, here, as in the Antichità Romane, accuracy, attention to scale, and textual details are prioritized. Indeed, Piranesi includes a lengthy excursus on the history of the church, as well as the methods and materials used in its construction: for example, the various colors of Greek marble and the reuse of marble fragments in the church floor. While this image shares many features with the genre of the archeological print, the variety of figures in the foreground, playful effects of light and shadow, and visual detail also show the vibrance of eighteenth-century life and tourism that are characteristic of the Vedute di Roma. (ZL)

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

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