Throughout the image, he signals the way that a sequential experience of the Vedute di Roma provides a visual tour of the city. Indeed, grand tourists can be seen pointing, discussing, and gesturing throughout the image; for example, one tourist marvels at the large ribbed vaults, octagonal coffers, geometrical design of the floor, Corinthian columns, and ornate architectural details. It is difficult not to lose oneself in the image’s infinitesimal details and seemingly never-ending archways or to be drawn into the drama playing out among the church’s many visitors (as seen in the gallery below).
This varied cast of characters includes dogs, monks, tourists, noble ladies, beggars, and a mysterious figure who sits on the right side of the caption, apparently heating his feet on a profusely smoking pot. Both architectural and figural details emphasize the dizzying and all-encompassing quality of ornament.
The structure, “nuovamente abbellita,” as Piranesi tells us in the caption, was “eguagliata quanto si è potuto all’antica fabbrica.” In fact, without careful study, it is difficult to distinguish between ancient and modern in this image. Typically, Piranesi takes great pains to differentiate ancient ruins from later historical interventions through etching details and textual annotations. In this sense, Piranesi’s statement in the caption reveals his approach to restoration in his own inventive restorations of antiquities, which he often sold from his personal museum. Here, though, his approach to the restoration of architecture seems to be more restrained, from his emphasis, with the term “eguagliata,” on the integration between ancient and modern. Marveling at the ornamental detail of this interior, viewers of this image are not likely to disentangle its ancient and modern elements. (ZL)
To see this image in the Vedute di Roma, volume 17 of Piranesi’s Opere, click here.