The Digital Piranesi
This page was created by Erin Jones. The last update was by Jeanne Britton.
Interior view of the Pronaos of the Pantheon
In these engravings Piranesi visually and mathematically corrected the measurements first introduced by Andrea Palladio (1508-1580) in the Quattro Libri dell’Architettura (1570), the authoritative source for the design of the Pantheon. French architectural theorist Antoine Desgodetz (1653-1728) was one of the first authors to challenge Palladio’s measurements in his treatise Les Édifices antiques de Rome dessinés et mesurés très exactement (1682). Like Desgodetz, Piranesi emphasizes first-hand observation and criticized other authors’ reliance on authoritative texts. Nevertheless, in order to “satisfy the scholars,” Piranesi provides extensive philological analysis of Pliny’s description of the Pantheon to date the temple in the index to the “Pianta di Roma” in his Antichità Romane. The wealth of visual evidence Piranesi provides in the above view, however, renders this comment slightly mocking in tone, suggesting that textual commentary must be joined with visual observation for an accurate study of ancient architecture.
The interior of the portico stages the distinction “between experiencing ancient architecture directly, through on-site examination, on the one hand, and studying it at several removes by means of measured drawings on the other” (Pinto 2012, 3). In this engraving, the Pantheon is a fount of inspiration and not just an architectural model, as it was in the measured drawings by Palladio, Leon Battista Alberti (1404-1472), Sebastiano Serlio (1475-c.1534), and others. Piranesi’s dramatic perspective, heightened by the use of scena per angolo and heavy shadow, along with the crumbling wall, pilasters, and faded ornamental details on the left, emphasize the emotional effect of encountering ruins in person; he even removes several columns to create the sense that the viewer is inside the structure (Van Eck 96). These details can invite reflection on the sublime or offer inspiration for new imaginative architectural forms, while they also relay more objective information such as dates of restoration, measurements, and literary citation.
Compared to Piranesi’s all-consuming and three-dimensional landscape, the images of the Pantheon’s portico by Palladio and Desgodetz above seem flat and inaccessible. In Piranesi’s image, viewers participate, almost corporeally, in the architect’s precise and on-site observations. Through the combination of the more direct experience of architecture in the veduta genre with the factual information he offers in the abundant textual annotations, Piranesi sought to convince audiences, by sensation and cognition, of his argument. In the following view, he takes viewers further into the interior of the Pantheon to expand upon his revisions of previous sources. (ZL)
To see this image in the Vedute di Roma, volume 17 of Piranesi’s Opere, click here.