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

The Digital Piranesi

Meeting Hall in Hadrian’s Villa

Like most of the buildings at Hadrian’s Villa, this meeting hall in the baths seems to have been completely reclaimed by nature. This veduta forcefully demonstrates Piranesi’s perception of “ruins as engaged in an epic and unending battle with the forces of nature” (Pinto 2012, 117). Overgrown with foliage, densely textured walls seem to “pulse with movement” (Pinto and MacDonald 259) that suggests a fusion of biological life and inanimate stone. This interior space, which the caption explains connects to other rooms, is peopled by figures whose gestures seem to correspond to the physical movement that the room allows. The sense of enclosure created by Piranesi’s use of foreshortening is broken up by three glimpses of sky through delicate tendrils of draped vines. While the image presents an interior hallway, surrounded by smaller rooms, that now seems to be in the possession of nature, the caption identifies it as a piece of human property.

In Piranesi’s other views of Tivoli, captions offer historical information or evidence for archaeological conjecture, but this central room is noted for its current owner. In the 1720s, Conte Guiseppe Fede began buying parcels of land on the site of Hadrian’s Villa, which had by that time been divided between numerous landowners, and he oversaw excavations whose finds either became part of his own collection, begun by his father, or passed into other collections. Items discovered in his excavations feature in other works by Piranesi. He
depicts mosaic patterns found in the villa that, he says, can now be seen at Fede’s home; Francesco reproduces a statue that Fede excavated, which became part of the Vatican Museums. This image’s caption, by naming a figure in the early history of the antiquities market, is an apt footnote to the long history of nature’s dominance over architectural forms that the image suggests. (JB) 

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

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