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

The Digital Piranesi

View of the Fountainhead of the Acqua Giulia

The caption of this antiquarian image of the ruins of the Fountainhead of the Acqua Julia offers a brief historical description of hydraulic architecture and the reuse of ancient artifacts. This fountainhead was the subject of a short volume, printed in 1761, whose alternative views, cross-sections, plans, and studies of ornamental details, often piled together in the same image, betray Piranesi’s shift to more technical, archaeological images later in his career. In this earlier view of 1753, the first annotation points to two locations where what were during the eighteenth century considered to be the two trophy statues of Augustus were displayed in antiquity. Now thought to have been made for Domitian or Trajan, these sculptures were removed from their positions here in 1590 and, as the caption indicates, moved to adorn the Campidoglio. In contrast to the angle of this image, the frontal view of the fountainhead below by Etienne Dupérac (1520-1607) shows the trophies in their ancient locations in the symmetrical ruined niches.
Indicated verbally in this image, the absent trophies appear in their new locations Piranesi’s view of the piazza of the Campidoglio, and they are the subject of ten plates on the Trophy of Augustus (1753) and a small image in his volume on the Fountainhead.

Piranesi’s careful attention to sculptural relief of the trophies in those works is here occupied with the foliage growing on the monument and the play of sunlight and dark shadow in the recesses formed by deep gashes in its ancient walls. The ruined fountainhead is also the likely subject of attention for two tourists conversing near the center of the foreground and a seated man to their right, who seems to gaze at one of the ruined niches. In the foreground, well-lit laundry is tended by two women whose baskets are parallel with the heavily-shaded, overgrown architectural fragments on the right. Susan Stewart points to this image, and these women, as evidence of Piranesi’s commitment to depicting ruins realistically (175). Piranesi’s realistic depiction also involves choices of composition that contrast with his views of modern fountainheads. This volume of the Vedute di Roma contains views of three sculptural fountainheads—
the Trevi, Acqua Felice, and Acqua Paola—which visually demonstrate authority of the Catholic church in urban design and city life. In many of these images, the top margin is punctured or surpassed by the top of the fountainhead, as if to visualize the broad expanse of papal authority. Here, the ruined walls dominate the image but remain well within its margins. The perspective’s oblique angle and worm’s eye view on the structure itself foreground contemporary activity while emphasizing, even more than Dupérac’s frontal view above, the remaining magnificence of the ancient fountainhead. (JB)


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

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