This page was created by Adiv Srinitesh Sivakumar.  The last update was by Zoe Langer.

The Digital Piranesi

View of the Temple of Antoninus and Faustina in the Roman Forum

         The composition of this view of Temple of Antoninus and Faustina bears a strong resemblance to that of Piranesi’s mentor, Giuseppe Vasi (seen below). Both employ the theatrical scena per angolo perspective in which the pronaos [the colonnaded portico] of the Temple is seen from the right (Pinto, 106). This perspective renders the human figures in the foreground diminutive in comparison to the Temple's massive corinthian columns. However, Piranesi diminishes and even cuts off the contemporary buildings featured in Vasi's image, enhancing the scale of the pronaos such that is seems larger than life. In contrast to Piranesi whose focus is the ancient monument, Vasi seems to be more concerned with situating the ruins in the context of their contemporary environment (Wilton-Ely, 26-7). In Vasi's engraving, the cows, abandoned wheels and pieces of wood, trees and bushes, and the figures entering and exiting the modern buildings on the left provide the atmosphere of a typical day in eighteenth-century Rome. In addition, three modern churches are represented in the key and in the image.
           By contrast, Piranesi provides only one annotation identifying the church of San Lorenzo in Miranda in order to distinguish between the modern Christian building and the ancient pronaos of the Temple incorporated into its 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. The distinction between temple and church, pagan and christian, and ancient and modern, is 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 is stripped of its ornament divulging the structure underneath, so too does Piranesi expose the foundations of the wall and the ornamental frieze through perspective. Useful here is Barbara Maria Stafford's comparison between Piranesi's pictorial vocabulary and methods to those used in anatomy books (Stafford, 64-6). Whether it be the hidden layers of the human body or the architectural bones of a building, the detailed and annotated engravings of both archeology and anatomy sought to make visible that which was invisible. Piranesi's exposure of the 'veins' and 'muscles' of the columns and lateral wall not only reveals chronological divisions, but also allows Piranesi and his viewers to reconstruct how the temple might have looked and been built, to imaginatively see 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 at one point the Temple was buttressed by a roof. Piranesi hypothesizes that this roof was not ancient but built sometime in the medieval period, what 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 is even more apparent when compared with the polished, bright, and rectilinear lines of the church facade and modern houses on the right. 
          Piranesi often uses different hatching techniques to emphasize the magnificence of Roman architecture particularly as compared to later architectural styles. Similar to his depiction of the Temple of Jupiter Tonans (seen here), Piranesi renders modern buildings in shallow relief so that the brilliance of ancient ornamentation and engineering shine through the rough, dense, almost sculptural lines Piranesi incises into the metal plate.  The exposed wall was of deep interest to Piranesi, and is in fact the primary subject of his small view of the Temple in the Antichità Romane (seen here). Whereas Piranesi's contemporaries all but ignored the wall, choosing to depict the more visually captivating pronoas or frieze, evidence of the true brilliance of Roman engineering to Piranesi, lay in the Temple's simple and unadorned blocks. 

To see this image in Vedute di Roma, vol 17 of Piranesi's Opere, click here.


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