This page was created by Diem Dao.  The last update was by Jeanne Britton.

The Digital Piranesi

View of the Arch of Constantine and the Colosseum

Despite its title, this view evokes Piranesi’s knowledge of stage design and makes the Colosseum resemble a theatrical backdrop to the drama of eighteenth-century street life. Human life is bustling, with groups of tourists inspecting architectural fragments, women accompanied by young children, and an ornate carriage navigating irregular terrain. Tourists and Romans engaged in conversation and observation, including a group of antiquarians in heated discussionatop the fragments in the foreground (Wilton-Ely 1988, 33), fill almost the same amount of visual space in this view as do its nominal subjects—the Arch of Constantine and the Colosseum. Whereas other views exaggerate the magnificence of ancient monuments by surrounding them with diminutive human figures, this view literally foregrounds people, as well as animals and plants. The key is not part of the image, and it gives no detail on either subject named in the title but instead stresses the context of these monuments (Wilton-Ely 1988, 44; Graves 291). This context includes natural elements (with trees and vegetation growing alongside and atop the architectural fragments in the foreground) and topographical features (with half of the keys indicating the Palatine and Esquiline hills). Within a vividly defined exterior, the Colosseum’s interior walls and arched passages appear as light suggestions that seem to fade into the cloudless sky rather than being firm and heavy in detail, which is instead prominent in the foreground. While another view of the Colosseum insists on the parallels between architectural and social orders and another offers an impossible angle of vision on the amphitheater, this image contextualizes ancient monuments within a natural, topographical, and human setting that competes for the beholder’s attention. (JB)

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

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