The Digital Piranesi
This page was created by Adiv Srinitesh Sivakumar. The last update was by Zoe Langer.
View of the Arch of Septimius Severus
Individual figures seem to leap out from the friezes, enlivened by the contrast between light and shadow. Each coffer of the middle vault is painstakingly rendered and the subtle differences in the texture of the stones are revealed through a sculptural etching technique, in which the grooves are carved out of the copper plate to create high relief and darker tones (Scaloni 49-56). This technique reflects the way that inscriptions, consisting of metal letters in this case, were affixed to ancient Roman monuments, the remnants of which can still be seen in the partially effaced text in the topmost register of the triumphal arch (Hyde Minor 2015, 19-20). Piranesi discusses these methods as well as those used for the ornamental design of the arch in the first volume of the Antichità Romane. The heightened attention to the details of architectural decoration in this view supports Piranesi’s criticism of ornamental excess. The Arch of Septimius Severus is not only disproportionately rich with figures, animals, and hybrid motifs, but these also principally derive from what Piranesi considered an inferior Greek style of ornamentation. In this case, as Piranesi says, “Tutti questi ornamenti però non rendevano l'opera pregievole, mancandole la buona maniera dell'Architettura e della Scultura” (Index to the “Pianta di Roma,” Antichità Romane, vol. 1, no. 269). While the perspective, shading, and composition of this image augment the monumentality of the towering arch, its emphasis on ornament detracts, according to Piranesi’s statements elsewhere, from its grandeur. (ZL)
To see this image in the Vedute di Roma, volume 17 of Piranesi’s Opere, click here.