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

The Digital Piranesi

View of the Palazzo Stopani, Architecture by Raphael of Urbino

Piranesi’s caption informs us that Palazzo Stopani (now Palazzo Vidoni-Caffarelli), an exemplary instance of early modern architecture, was designed by Raphael, but the details of his etching technique expose the dissonant elements characteristic of this composite style. 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 into equal proportions. The upper floors in particular seek to mask the lack of uniformity in the ground floor, which, upon close examination, can be seen to contain two types of rustication. Piranesi articulates these subtle differences to reveal the composite nature of modern palaces, which were often made up of different buildings that were consolidated and built up over time. By contrast, 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 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, according to Piranesi’s annotation, 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 (Vasi 1765, vol. 5, 196). Both Vasi and Piranesi allude to the significance of the church as a 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 appear in the following views. (ZL)

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


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