This internal view of the Colosseum is in many ways at odds with the two external views of the amphitheater that precede it in the Didot edition of the Vedute di Roma. Here, the regularity of the unbroken exterior wall’s curving line is interrupted at almost the exact center of the image with an irregular block of stone, and the larger, more overgrown mass to the right similarly contrasts with the regularity of the small successive archways in the far right of the image. These examples of geometric order or architectural regularity echo the preceding external views of the Colosseum, which emphasize order and regularity through perspectival illusions. It is as if, by entering the structure in this image, viewers witness not only the “savage decay” that John Wilton-Ely observes here (1978, 44) but also the living forces that civilization struggles to control and contain. The abundant vegetation atop these mounds and the animals wandering through archways also contrast, of course, with the violent deaths that took place in this spot. Pairing this view with the exterior, elevated view of the Colosseum, Rebecca Zorach has noted that Piranesi offers “two approaches to a great ruin of antiquity—one insisting on order, the other underlining the uneven, broken, even horrifying, yet strangely generative grotesque” (119).
This alteration from an ordered view with copious annotation, often of the entirety or exterior of a monument, to an interior that emphasizes irregularity and lacks annotation, constitutes a pattern that appears in other groupings in the Didot edition. This sequencing suggests that between these views of, on one hand, the Colosseum’s imposing façade and structured social layers and, on the other, the hulking masses in its interior, we move from legible order to illegible decay. While the detailed annotations in the exterior view emphasize the parallel between architectural and social order, this image of the interior includes a title, but no annotations, in an illusionistic stone slab that is very much a part of the scene. A human figure, likely a grand tourist, appears to lean against it while speaking to another man, possibly a Roman. This visual suggestion of communication, as opposed to the verbal communication of the annotations in the exterior views, resonates with the internal view in this image, which silently displays unrestrained vegetal growth and illegible, ragged, ruined physical material. (JB)
To see this image in the Vedute di Roma, volume 17 of Piranesi’s Opere, click here.