This view is framed by interior walls which, on the right, are darkened by repetitive, cellular shapes and, on the left, from which vines emerge in vivid chiaroscuro. Piranesi seems to evoke here, as he does elsewhere, the medieval and Renaissance notion of living stone. The human life within this frame of seemingly animate walls, though, might offer a more contemporary notion of social critique. According to the title of this view, “Altra veduta interna della Villa di Mecenate in Tivoli,” the sequence in this edition of the Opere is likely disordered, since the following view, simply a “Veduta interna” of the same site, should presumably precede this “other” view. These designations have particular if underappreciated significance, as Jeanne Zarucchi has shown, in the tendency of views named “altra veduta” to emphasize “decay and corruption,” “poverty and pathos,” and “darker vision of the life that goes on amid the crumbling ruins.” The key’s demarcation of “taverne publiche” is perhaps a social critique of Rome’s fallen state, an indication not only of the structure’s historical function but also the habits of eighteenth-century grand tourists (368).
Between this and the following view, though, there is no clear opposition in theme or composition. Instead, taken together, their successive arches and striking evocations of enclosure are a notable contrast from the preceding outdoor view of the villa. As a group, Piranesi’s views of Tivoli, John Pinto and William MacDonald have noted, “alternate between vast vistas ... with the harsh diagonal line of a strict use of one-point perspective” and internal views, with “successive archways and alternating light and shadow” (258). Cutting across the enclosure established by the framing walls and arches in this view is the shaft of sunlight that seems to stun the man who stands just to the left of the center of the image, a possible stand-in for the antiquarians surprised by what was being uncovered at this site. (JB)
To see this image in the Vedute di Roma, volume 17 of Piranesi’s Opere, click here.