The Digital Piranesi
This page was created by Adiv Srinitesh Sivakumar. The last update was by Jeanne Britton.
View of the Temple of Antoninus and Faustina in the Roman Forum
By contrast, Piranesi’s one annotation identifies the church of San Lorenzo in Miranda in order to distinguish between the modern Christian building and the ancient pronaos incorporated into the temple’s design. The large cross illuminated by the white of the billowing clouds behind it additionally calls attention to the Christianization of ancient buildings, a practice Piranesi also highlights in his views of the Colosseum and Pantheon. Distinctions between temple and church, pagan and Christian, and ancient and modern are further underlined by the architectural palimpsest on the right side of the pronaos that Piranesi reveals through rotating, elongating, and lowering the viewpoint of Vasi’s composition. Just as the wall, stripped of its ornaments, divulges the structure underneath, so too does Piranesi’s perspective expose the foundations of the wall and the ornamental frieze.
Such exposure suggests Barbara Maria Stafford’s comparison between Piranesi’s pictorial methods and those of anatomical illustration (Stafford 1991, 64-6). Whether it be the hidden layers of the human body or the architectural bones of a building, detailed and annotated engravings, archeological or anatomical, sought to make the invisible visible. Piranesi’s exposure of the ‘veins’ and ‘muscles’ of the columns and lateral wall here not only reveals chronological divisions but also allows him and his viewers to imagine that which no longer exists. Rendered in jet black ink, the jagged lines etched into the Corinthian columns, almost like gashes or open wounds, show signs that the temple was once buttressed by a roof. Piranesi hypothesizes that this roof was built sometime in the medieval period, which he calls the “tempi bassi” or “low times.” Similarly, the black holes and dark lines in the wall on the right, like blood vessels or veins, show where the marble would have been placed to decorate the exterior of the temple. The pockmarked, heavily shadowed, and deteriorated large blocks of the ancient wall are even more apparent when compared with the polished, bright, and rectilinear lines of the church façade and modern houses on the right.
Piranesi often uses different hatching techniques to emphasize the magnificence of ancient Roman architecture. As in his depiction of the Temple of Jupiter Tonans, he here renders modern buildings in shallow relief so that the brilliance of ancient ornamentation and engineering shine through the rough, dense, almost sculptural lines he incises into the metal plate. The exposed wall, of deep interest to Piranesi, is the primary subject of his small view of the temple in the Antichità Romane. Whereas his contemporaries all but ignored the wall, choosing to depict the more visually captivating pronaos or frieze, he found evidence of the true brilliance of Roman engineering in the temple’s simple, unadorned blocks. (ZL)
To see this image in the Vedute di Roma, volume 17 of Piranesi’s Opere, click here.