This page was created by Erin Jones.  The last update was by Harith Kumte.

The Digital Piranesi

View of the Palazzo di Montecitorio

Piranesi’s views of modern Rome—its Renaissance palaces and urban vistas—show a skillful mastery of etching technique and a broad spectrum of urban activity. Occasionally, they also betray his stronger interest in the ancient city. This view is one of Piranesi’s modern urban vistas that draws viewers’ eyes along a highly detailed, sharp diagonal into an indistinct distance with its one-point perspective and its annotations. The subject of this view, the Gran Curia Innocenziana, is today the seat of the lower house of Italy’s parliament. Visually, this etching lacks the dramatic chiaroscuro that is characteristic of Piranesi’s views of ruins. A foreground thick with people, carriages, and heavy inking delimits the depicted space. The middle ground is rather light and uniform in its shading, and, at the center of the image, the bright façade faces the equally bright background of the column pedestal on the far right. Copious annotations mark specific chambers behind windows from which human figures observe the outdoor scene. Annotations 10 and 12 point to the distance, indicating the Column of Marcus Aurelius and the Palazzo Spada. This image’s full title, which is also the first of its many annotations, indicates that its subject was built on the ruins of the Amphitheater of Statilius Taurus, the first amphitheater intended to be permanent in Rome. Piranesi’s other works supplement these annotations with reconstructions and alternate views of the ancient remains that lie buried beneath and wedged between the eighteenth century’s modern buildings. In his Campus Martius volume, he depicts the Anfiteatro di Statilio Tauro as an intact structure.
The pedestal facing the Gran Curia was that of the Column of Antoninus Pius (now recognized as lost). In his Trofeo o sia Magnifica Colonna (c. 1774), Piranesi shows this column as it was erected, imagines its position on the ground, and offers a contemporary view of its base alone. This final image, titled “Veduta del Piedestallo dell’Apoteosi di Antonino Pio, e di Faustina sua moglie nella Piazza di Monte Citorio,” gives an alternate view of the piazza shown above. But in this later view, antiquity takes center stage, and heavy shading emphasizes the gravity and magnificence of the pedestal. In the view above, antiquity is a marginal, indistinct presence, positioned almost in confrontation with the modern structure and its institutional power. In a similar but more jarring composition, the following view of another Renaissance palace emphasizes this juxtaposition with the broken obelisk and column fragments that appear in its densely populated and deeply etched foreground. (JB)

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

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