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

The Digital Piranesi

View of the Piazza d’Oro in Hadrian’s Villa

The title of this view of ruins specifies their original and contemporary name—the Piazza of Hadrian’s Villa, now called the Golden Court (Piazza d’oro)—a site, like Tivoli in general, associated with luxury. This print invites and repels viewers with, on one hand, a sharp diagonal line that draws a viewer’s eyes towards the horizon and, on the other, a foreshortened middle ground that thwarts imaginative entry into the image. It is structured by two diagonal lines. The most prominent is the interrupted line of the three ruined buildings, moving from the upper left to the far right. The second is formed by three human figures, staggered from the caption in the foreground to the dark interior in the background. Each gestures to the left, towards the ruins. The human beings depicted in this single view perform different actions and produce varied, opposing effects. In the foreground, two men gesture, one pointing to the structure with both arms, his palms facing upwards, while the other leans down and points to, and indeed into, the image’s caption. A second man along the diagonal of human figures also points at a section of the ruined palace while leaning against a lump of stone. The diagonal ends in the third mass, where a white, ghostly figure barely emerges from the shadow of a partial interior. He, too, gestures to the left of the image.
If the diagonal of the structures draws the viewer’s eye towards the horizon, the second diagonal of the human beings, especially at its origin in the foreground, restricts a viewer’s imaginative entry into the image.
The three individual gestures, all pointing in the same direction, nevertheless lead a viewer’s eye towards the ruins. The structure’s modern name, as specified in the engraving’s title, marks a linguistic gap that adds to the sense of historical distance and physical decay. Perhaps this image’s conflicting visual guides—the diagonal lines, the gesturing figures—point towards the inaccessibility of the luxury and glory associated with ruins that, even though they can be observed and documented, remain out of contemporary reach. (JB)

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

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