This page was created by Alexis Kratzer.  The last update was by Jeanne Britton.

The Digital Piranesi

View of the Remains of the Praetorian Fort in Hadrian's Villa

This view depicts the remains of what is now called the East-West Terrace and the Ambulatory Wall at Hadrian’s Villa, which had been designated as the Stoa Poecile or Poikile. A space for social leisure, it is depicted as broad and vast in this image, which, almost twice as wide as it is high, differs substantially in proportion from Piranesi’s other large-scale views of Rome. Often, his vedute employ sharp diagonals that begin at the upper corners of a page and drop towards its center, but this image is exceptional for the length of the diagonal, which nearly extends to the vanishing point, disappearing in a row of modest dwellings (for guests or staff) with Monte Ripoli in the distance.

For Piranesi, this engraving is an uncommon combination of architectural and landscape views, which is possible in the rural setting of Hadrian’s Villa. Pinto and MacDonald note that this view’s emphasis on landscape is replaced by a focus, in the later views of Hadrian’s Villa, on “architectural containment and envelopment” (258). While the proportions of the image together with the extent of the diagonal invite viewers into an expansive outdoor space, the human figures, the caption, and the mounds of eroded architectural fragments along the heavily-shaded bottom edge of the image position a sizeable boundary between the viewer and the image’s central space. The angular, gesturing men around the bottom edge of this view are obstacles rather than invitations into the image; Piranesi’s human figures in general
thwart identification and seem to guard the spaces they inhabit, limiting rather than encouraging entry (Verschaffel 135). For other artists, human figures in landscape or architectural views tend to serve as surrogates for the viewer, offering a position of identification through which a viewer could behold an artwork’s subject. To imaginatively enter an image such as this one, according to Susan Stewart, viewers must forge an individual path and see from a subjective position (178). Both invited and repelled by the image’s complex composition, viewers must adopt an active role in order to make their own way into its scene. (JB)

To see this image in the Vedute di Roma, volume 17 of Piranesi’s Opere, click here

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