This internal view of the Colosseum is in many ways at odds with the preceeding external views of the amphitheater. 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 suggest the external views of the Colosseum [View of the Colosseum (1, 2)]. It is as if, by entering the structure, viewers witness not only the “savage decay” that John Wilton-Ely observes here (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). While the detailed annotations in the exterior view emphasize the parallel between architectural and social order, this image of the Colosseum’s 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 depiction of communication, as opposed to the verbal communication in the annotations to the exterior views, resonates with the internal view in this image, which silently displays without verbally describing unrestrained vegetal growth and ragged, ruined physical material. (JB)
To see this image in the Vedute di Roma, volume 17 of Piranesi’s Opere, click here.