This page was created by Diem Dao.  The last update was by Zoe Langer.

The Digital Piranesi

Interior view of Santa Maria degli Angeli

Like the weary traveler who rests on the caption in the foreground, viewers of this image pause to observe the vast interior of Santa Maria Angeli. The traveler seen in the closeup below is a kind of intermediary between the exterior shown in the previous view and the interior view seen here.
He signals the way the sequence and perspective of the Vedute di Roma provided 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 hard 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 monks, dogs, tourists, noble ladies, beggars, and another 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.

These “modern embellishments,” as Piranesi tells us in the caption, were “made to equal the ancient building as much as possible.” In fact, without careful study it is difficult to distinguish between ancient and modern in this image. Typically, Piranesi takes great pains to annotate and visually differentiate ancient ruins from later historical interventions. In this sense, Piranesi’s statement in the caption reveals his attitude toward restoration. Piranesi was well known as a restorer of antiquities and often sold pieces from his personal museum. In terms of ornament, he tended to have a more expansive view toward restoration than his contemporaries. Certainly, he was more open to making modern additions, so long as they were in keeping with the original design, but they could also be seen as an improvement on the original. Here, though, his approach to the restoration of architecture seems to be more restrained, with his emphasis on the integration between ancient and modern, through the verb “eguagliata” or “made equal.” (ZL)

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

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