The Digital Piranesi
This page was created by Erin Jones. The last update was by Jeanne Britton.
Piranesi’s preparatory drawing above demonstrates that the tree and heavily wooded hunting grounds were the anchoring elements of the etching’s composition. As a framing device, these overgrown, massive trees create an ominous tone and encourage a viewer’s intimate yet somewhat uneasy encounter with the landscape. The close-ups below of the tree on the right reveal the force with which Piranesi put burin to copperplate and, in the incredible thickness of the lines, the painterly quality of his etching technique.
As Piranesi furiously etches into metal, so does the jagged tree powerfully cut across the grounds. Here, Wilton-Ely notes, the “placid walks and terraces of the Baroque formal garden at Villa Pamphili are transformed by Piranesi into an image of potency … a network of turbulent shadows and menacing foliage.” This type of image is almost “inconceivable,” especially when compared to Piranesi’s contemporaries, such as this small veduta by Giuseppe Vasi (Wilton-Ely 1978, 43).
Heightening Piranesi’s more gothic vision of the landscape is a hunter hiding in the brush and aiming his gun toward his prey in the small wood below. As in his view of the Villa Albani, Piranesi makes the ground staff visible in a way that his contemporaries do not. The rifleman additionally alludes to the fact that a large part of the gardens served as a private hunting reserve for the Pamphili family and exclusive guests. The print emphasizes this sense of exclusion, as it offers privileged visual access to the grounds through bird’s eye perspective. The printed view, as a souvenir and relatively inexpensive object, additionally allowed tourists access to a space they could only dream of visiting in person. In fact, Villa Pamphili was not as open to the public as other contemporary villas, such as the Villa d’Este. While the boundaries between public and private are difficult to discern in Piranesi’s etching, its annotations signal the imposing presence of neighboring villas, such as the Villa Corsini (1, 2) and Villa Ferroni (3), and thus remind viewers of the historic concentration of wealth and power in this area reserved for the nobility and the Roman elite. (ZL)
To see this image in the Vedute di Roma, volume 16 of Piranesi’s Opere, click here.