This page was created by Erin Jones.  The last update was by Jeanne Britton.

The Digital Piranesi

View of the octagonal Temple of Minerva Medica

Now considered a nymphaeum rather than a temple, this fourth-century concrete structure boasts a dome of architectural ingenuity similar to that of the Pantheon. The Opere’s sequence itself invites this comparison, as this view falls after two views of the Pantheon’s well-preserved interior (the first by Giovanni, the second by Francesco). But an earlier view from Antichità Romane (1756) of the same structure also calls attention to different points of emphasis across Giovanni’sworks.

Although they are from the same vantage point, the earlier view, included in a more antiquarian publication, displays very little of the exposed interior, and the etched lines are geometric, rectilinear, and rather slight. In the later, larger view, ostensibly aimed at a tourist market, the depth and movement of Piranesi’s dramatic shading blur the boundaries between built and natural, between inanimate and living, as if to suggest the notion of living stone
. Both images include annotations, each indicating later additions adjacent to the temple, but their appearance and content differ: in this image, smaller and repeated letters indicate more specific information about building materials and decorative mosaics, now lost, including marble and stucco. Captions in Piranesi’s views bring a new didactic element to the genre of the veduta and lend this series an important status in the history of the graphical display of information (Nevola 2009, 139). In both views, staffage figures give a sense of the temple’s size, but in the later view, the distinction between tourists and Romans suggests something absent from the earlier view.

The tourists, in their tricorns and breeches, appear unconcerned with the temple while they stand and converse; Romans lean against the key, exit the temple’s later addition, and sit on the ground within the temple. Piranesi seems to convey native Romans’ immediate, physical interaction with its ancient monuments while the foreign visitors engage socially and verbally, perhaps discussing the remnants of antiquity without, in this image, actually looking at them: one glances away from the structure, almost at the viewer, and the other looks down as he seems to tip his hat. This key’s additional details about building material, signaled by repeated if indistinct letters in the image, offer to those who are willing to look closely a level of material familiarity with what is available to neither native nor tourist—the lost details of the past, conveyed verbally at a distance. (JB) 

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

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