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

The Digital Piranesi

Ruins of One of the Soldiers’ Barracks in Hadrian’s Villa

Piranesi presents what he calls soldier’s barracks at Hadrian’s Villa (which archaeologists now designate the Central Service Building) in two-point perspective. The “rovine” or “ruins” of the title of this image, one of the few to lack the term veduta, suggest, in this light, that what we see is reality rather than representation. Alternating light and shadow fall through the successive archways that recede towards one vanishing point, and cross-hatching lends vivid texture to the large wall that slopes towards the other, which lies well beyond the image’s frame. Human figures lean on column fragments or stones, spread their angular arms in expressive gestures, and one rides a horse away from the viewer. Most remarkably, one leans just slightly beyond the image frame, breaking the boundary between representation and reality.

Piranesi frequently includes
trompe-l’œil effects, but the Vedute di Roma are somewhat more restrained than his other works in this regard. The specific illusion of the broken image frame, though, occurs only ten times in the total 137 views included in the Vedute di Roma. There is only one other human figure who transgresses—just barely—the boundary between image and margin in the series. Breaking the visual frame of an image playfully hints that the flat two dimensions of visual art might morph into the three dimensions of real life. This image’s leisurely street musician calls attention to the deceptive nature of visual representation, and the perspectival arrangement of this view, with two implied vanishing points, is shattered by his casually reclining right arm. This musician’s seemingly oblivious disruption of the conventions of representational art conveys confidence in the engraver’s power to make three dimensions emerge out of paper’s two-dimensional surface. (JB)

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

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