In addition to the complete works of Giovanni Piranesi, the Opere includes stand-alone publications and individual images, such as this one, by Francesco Piranesi, Giovanni’s son. Art historians have traditionally viewed Francesco’s works as inferior to his father’s in their composition and execution, and there is ample justification for this assessment. This view in particular has drawn little attention and does not appear in studies of the Vedute di Roma. Wilton-Ely’s brief reference to this image and Francesco’s view of the interior of the Pantheon appears in a narrative of Francesco’s involvement in and supplements to the production and publication of his father’s works (1988, 119). Nevertheless, careful attention to this view is worthwhile, if only for its distinctions from the style and content of Giovanni’s views. Perhaps the most salient stylistic difference in this view is the prominence of Francesco’s human figures. As opposed to the indistinct, gnarled, and often stooped human figures in Giovanni’s works, the men in the foreground of this view are clearly drawn, with discernable facial features, coat buttons, and boot buckles. Their conversation seems to take place in a pastoral setting, complete with remarkably distinct vegetation. Among Giovanni’s views of the Colosseum, his depiction of the ruined, overgrown interior has the most in common with this image by his son, which also positions a large, irregular, ruined mass teeming with vegetation in the foreground. By contrast, Giovanni’s other depictions of the Colosseum stress regularity and symmetry, with the amphitheater’s mid-point at the center of the page in each case. Francesco’s key, as well as the architectural fragments that surround it, is darkened by worn cross-hatching, a technique Giovanni tended to avoid precisely because it could cause pools of ink to appear in late pressings of plates that had been worn by heavy use. Taken together, this view’s large human figures and the content of the key’s single annotation emphasize the human experience of the Colosseum. The key, rather than pointing out the architectural features that Giovanni’s annotations to other views specify, indicates that this view was taken from the Colosseum’s third level: we learn about the position from which the Colosseum is seen, not the features that are seen. (JB)
To see this image in the Vedute di Roma, volume 17 of Piranesi’s Opere, click here.