The title of this view, “Rovine delle Terme Antoniniane,” uses an alternative name for the thermal complex known as the Baths of Caracalla. (Caracalla was the nickname of the emperor Marcus Aurelius Severus Antoninus, and the baths were officially known as the Thermae Antoninianae.) Built between 211 and 216 AD, these baths have been very well preserved. Compared to the preceding view of the Theater of Marcellus, which depicts its subject embedded in vibrant urban life, this view appears to be of an abandoned town with decaying structures in a desolate landscape, like those in Piranesi’s Scenographia of the Campus Martius, in which only existing monuments appear. By separating the foreground from the middle ground and positioning the baths at a remove, Piranesi creates a sense of dynamism and distance (Verschaffel 126). While, as Jonathan Scott noted, the immensity of this structure requires the aerial perspective this view adopts (332), the thermal complex seems to summon verbal description more urgently than visual depiction.
The title, in fact, is one of only a few in the Vedute di Roma that do not include the customary term veduta but instead title their subject “rovine.” The extensive key specifies numerous ruined structures (including the esedra, theater, and library). It also identifies what Piranesi calls the “cella soleare,” a room about which little is known (DeLaine), and windows there, some of which Piranesi reports were recently discovered. If, as Sabrina Ferri has observed, ruins are “a deictic presence, continuously alluding to what is not there—to what is hidden, forgotten and lost” (98), then Piranesi’s supplemental text in this image attempts to make up for that absence, particularly in its reference to recent archaeological discoveries. It is not clear whether Piranesi refers to a specific excavation, as there were no systematic excavations of the Baths of Caracalla in the seventeenth or eighteenth century. Additionally, his awkward syntax (“finestre perpendicolari, alcune delle quali erano scoperte cinque anni sono”) is less precise than his dating would suggest. Stepping back from the obscurity of these descriptive details—rooms in the bath about which little is certain even today, an untraced archaeological discovery—offers visual clarity. Recognizable structures appear in the distance, including S. Stefano Rotondo, whose interior is the subject of this small veduta from the Antichità Romane. The following image takes as its subject the same features identified by “B” in the center of the ruined thermal structure. (JB)
To see this image in the Vedute di Roma, volume 17 of Piranesi’s Opere, click here.