This page was created by Erin Jones.  The last update was by Zoe Langer.

The Digital Piranesi

View of the Palazzo Odescalchi

This image is the final of seven engravings of urban palaces that are grouped together in this volume of the Views of Rome. In their composition, each of these images follows the model of the veduta [view] in which the diagonal lines and layered spatial arrangements of Baroque stage design’s scena per angolo [lit. “scenes by corner”] recede towards one vanishing point (Campbell, 563?). Each of these images also includes informative annotations, many of which, positioned at the vanishing point, lead a viewer’s eyes towards a specified distant spot. While this composition pulls a viewer’s eyes along the diagonal formed by the recently extended façade of the Odescalchi Palace, Piranesi’s annotations point to the ground and the sky in order to identify the piazza and numerous nearby structures. The palace’s six coats of arms interrupt both the pilasters that, contrary to custom, reach across the façade’s two levels and the strict linear design that extends toward the vanishing point. Their curved, irregular lines find a visual echo in the heavily-shaded burdens of indistinct organic matter that horses or mules transport away from the viewer in the foreground. In this image’s caption, Piranesi does not indicate the architects responsible for the palace’s recent expansion, Nicola Salvi (1697-1751) and Luigi Vanvitelli (1700-1773), whom he elsewhere names as “due chiarissimi Architetti dell’età nostra” [two illustrious architects of our time]” (Columbia University Library exhibition, p. 116, 118). It is worth noting that he acknowledges the work of Salvi in the captions of both his early and later etching of the Trevi Fountain (and, for that matter, the work of Rafael d’Urbino in the caption to Palazzo Stopani). In considering this unsurprising lack of attribution, it is worth noting that Vanvitelli, one of the most successful architects in Rome, repeatedly referred to Piranesi as “mad.” In one case, he simply called him “perfettissimo matto in tutto” [perfectly mad in everything] (cited in de Leeuw, 259). In a letter to his brother, he also wrote about Piranesi’s proposal to design a new papal altar in San Giovanni in Laterano: “if they were to get Piranesi to carry out some building, one could see what would come out of a madman’s head, without any sound basis” (cited in Sorensen, 172). Piranesi’s somewhat dutiful engravings of Rome’s sumptuous palaces betray none of his so-called madness, even if this image might indirectly suggest, through a lack of attribution, the personal conflicts that featured in much of his professional life. (JB)  

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


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