This page was created by Erin Jones.  The last update was by Jeanne Britton.

The Digital Piranesi

Perspective View of the Trevi Fountain

With this etching, produced more than twenty years after the previous view, Piranesi meets the challenge of representing Rome’s largest façade fountain, which is confined within one of the city’s smallest and most oddly-shaped squares, with an elevated perspective. The history of the fountain’s design and construction is a story of feuding power, and the result is itself “a spectacular advertising billboard for the performance of papal propaganda” (Krist 445). In depicting “perhaps the most overtly scenographic of all examples of Baroque city planning,” Piranesi revels in the theatricality of the fountain’s design (Pinto 1986, 166–67.) His etching technique delineates the juxtaposition and merging of the built and natural environment. Standing out from the palazzo’s façade, the bright white of the pilasters is echoed, with the addition of movement, in the water below. People in the foreground are shrouded in shadow, leaving focus on the life that the water brings from the countryside to the city. In other images, Piranesi devotes significant energy and detail, for an architectural illustrator, to the delineation of foliage; here, the sculptural foliage that creeps up the façade of the palazzo is rendered with similar attention. As much as he seems to delight in the drama of the fountain itself and the urban crowds that surround it, he also takes pains, here and elsewhere, to show what’s happening behind the scenes, in terms of the fountain’s contemporary design and its ancient engineering.

Twenty years after the first view, Piranesi exhibits a dedication to representing contemporary Rome accurately by updating the earlier view with new alterations to the fountain’s sculptural design (Scott 28). There is much that has changed, including a new Oceanus that now looks down and an inscription that shows the ancient name of the aqueduct. In the title, Piranesi first designates the fountain by this earlier name, Aqua Vergine, and then notes that it is now called “Trevi.” Perhaps the most notable difference in these two similar titles is the pride of place given to Nicola Salvi, the fountain’s primary designer until his death in 1751, nine years before the fountain was officially inaugurated. In now including Salvi’s name within the larger font of the title, as opposed to the smaller caption in the earlier view, Piranesi is neglecting to note the names of the many other contributors to the fountains design, both before and after Salvi’s death in 1751, including Pietro Bracci (1700-1773) and Filippo della Valle (1698-1768). Salvi was Piranesi’s friend, and they were both members of the Accademia degli Arcadi.

Elsewhere, Piranesi traces the path that brings the Trevi’s water into the city. The Trevi is not one of the monuments Piranesi depicted insistently, such as the Colosseum or the Pantheon, but its rendering on his Plan of Rome and the Campus Martius,” which introduces this volume, warrants attention. First, it is worth noting the twisted path of the ancient Acqua Vergine in his “Topographical Map of the Roman Aqueducts.” A segment of that path is also visible in the “Plan of Rome and the Campus Martius,” (below), which ends at number 295—keyed in the map’s index to a view of “The Initial Arches of the Acqua Vergine Aqueduct from the first volume of his 
Antichità Romane. The fountain itself is indicated as number 257 and represented by two semi-circles, its drama flattened by the cartographic perspective that instead exposes some of what takes place backstage. With what today seem to be divergent interests in architectural illustration, archaeology, and cartography, Piranesi produces a composite representation of the different types of power—artistic and civic, modern and ancient, human and hydraulic—that the fountain embodies. (JB)
To see this image in the Vedute di Roma, volume 16 of Piranesi’s Opere, click here.

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