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

The Digital Piranesi

View of the Dining Room of Nero's Golden House (2 of 2)

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

      The Veduta degli avanzi del Tablino della Casa Aurea di Nerone is merely one print among many in the Views of Rome series that reveals Piranesi's unique combination of different genres: the veduta, architectural plan, and archeological print. This reinterpretation of a painting by the Venetian Giovanni Antonio Canaletto, Basilica di Massenzio, Santa Francesca Romana e il Colosseo (1753-4) highlights the role of etching in Piranesi's distinct approach and his experimentation with the veduta genre.  Engaging in a productive artistic dialogue with Canaletto and Bellotto, the most famous vedutisti of the time, Piranesi created his own "independent statement" by using the medium of etching to revolutionize the genre of the vedute in style, composition, light, and tone (Nevola, 64) in ways that, in this image, exaggerate the scale of the arches and emphasize their monumentality.

At first glance the most striking change is to the composition. Piranesi completely cuts off the right side of Canaletto’s image; even the ancient monuments seem insignificant beside the gargantuan barrel-vaulted arches that dominate the composition. In fact, the Colosseum is barely visible on the right, possibly only visible for the label "C." Piranesi borrows Canaletto's angled perspective but increases the drama ten-fold through "steep perspectival torsion" (Nevola, 65). Illuminated by the monochromatic tones and harsh lines of the etching technique, the diagonals created by the contrast between shadow and light underneath the arches heighten this theatrical effect. Piranesi also significantly lowers the vanishing point so that viewers are positioned to look up into the massive vault. In the Canaletto, people in the foreground do not directly engage with the monument - they are observers, measuring or making notes from a distance, as if to call attention to the viewer's role as an observer of art. Piranesi dissolves any such barrier, bringing viewers directly under the overpowering and dark shadow of the robust arches. Just as figures in Piranesi's etching that walk through and around the arches, viewers of the engraving are wholly consumed by the monument. 
      As the title suggests, Piranesi argued that this structure was not the Temple of Peace, as was thought at the time, but rather the Domus Aurea of Nero (the building has now been attributed to the Basilica of Maxentius). The caption on the lower right, in addition to Piranesi's exposure of the layers of different architectural interventions in the structure, give the veduta a more archeological thrust and support his dating and attribution of the monument. His text, both in the key and in the image, document the archeological features of the monument (expanding upon the annotations in his other two prints of the subject, seen here and here). Piranesi's precise etching technique illuminates the structure’s history and details, including coffers, bricks, walls, and architectural supports. While his intense focus on the monument expresses the sublimity of ancient architecture, the close-up of the first arch is largely documentary in nature. 

      Rough hatching interrupts the pristine layers of brick in the central arch, thereby exposing the underlying structure of both the arch and wall, labeled A and B. Subtle distinctions in the layering of the brick, brought out by the slender burst of light in the foreground, make a visual argument that the lower walls of the structure were built in an earlier period of the Roman Republic, as explained in the annotation: "the Wall from A.B. was built before the extant structure." In the act of translating Canaletto's painting onto paper—the medium of architectural history and archeology—Piranesi uses etching as a way to push the limits of the veduta and to surpass his contemporaries.


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