Palazzo Stopani, now known as Palazzo Vidoni-Caffarelli, exemplifies early modern architecture in Rome. Piranesi tells us in fact this building was designed by the famous Renaissance artist Raphael. Typical elements include the rusticated ground floor, large rectangular pedimented windows, three distinct levels delineated by different orders of columns and pilasters, and cornice. The ashlar masonry in the upper floors creates an increasingly polished and elegant aesthetic as the eye moves up the façade. The piano nobile is punctuated by bays of pedimented windows alternating in Tuscan columns that divide the façade in equal proportions. The upper floors in particular seek to mask the lack of uniformity in the ground floor, which contains two types of rustication upon close examination. Piranesi articulates these subtle differences to reveal the composite nature of modern palaces, which were often made up of different buildings, consolidated and built up over time. Rather than draw attention to this fact, Piranesi’s contemporaries emphasize an ideal aesthetic which recreates the original design of the Palazzo.
Piranesi instead reveals the disordered pastiche of the modern built environment, the adaptation of older structures for contemporary usage – shops, residences, alleyways, and roads – where the heart of city life becomes visible. Despite the fact that the Palazzo dominates the composition, the street is what captures the eye, for the Palazzo’s staid regularity seems flat compared to the dynamism, variety, and relative chaos that unfolds in the foreground. The lack of information in the key reinforces this fact. Indeed, the building is notable only because it was designed by Raphael. The more famous building is actually hidden in the background, the Chiesa del Gesù. Giuseppe Vasi, in his Prospetto di Roma, dedicates three pages to describing this Jesuit church, whereas the Palazzo receives only a line that briefly mentions Raphael’s role as architect (Prospetto di Roma, v5, f.196). Both Vasi and Piranesi allude to the significance of the church as point of interest along the tourist itinerary heading toward the Campidoglio. While Raphael’s name would have made this particular engraving appealing to grand tourists, the steep diagonal of the street encourages movement through the city toward other significant sites, which Piranesi conveniently and strategically depicts in the following views. (ZL)
To see this image in Vedute di Roma, vol 16 of Piranesi's Opere, click here.