The previous views of the Baths of Diocletian and the church of Santa Maria degli Angeli visualize the modern additions to and surroundings of the Baths of Diocletian. Here, however, the rededication of the ancient building for use as a church has been completely elided. Modern housing built up around the baths that is described in the first view instead barely appears in the background of this image due to its portrayal in soft and shallow lines. Rather, the crumbling overgrown walls are rendered with bright highlights and forceful shadow to reveal the architectural structure underneath. Towering curved walls are punctuated by round arches, large niches, and windows with broken pediments and volutes. These remnants indicate that the baths were richly decorated with statues, friezes, and other forms of ornamentation. The oblique perspective from the left emphasizes the structure’s robust quality and makes the multi-storied complex appear never-ending. Sparsely populated streets, wild and skeletal trees, and hollowed-out crevices reflect the ancient building’s abandoned state. Streaked, dark clouds in the upper right corner of the composition give a slightly ominous tone to the scene.
Except the title, which specifies that what we see are the “avanzi superiori” of the baths, Piranesi provides no contextual or historical information in the illusionistic caption, against which a monk reclines to read. Without supplemental text to read, viewers of this image are directed towards a sense of the sublime. Indeed, cloaked tourists and shadowy figures in prayer, perhaps the Carthusian monks that occupied the modern church, stroll along the walls of the former baths. They seem to encounter the ruins in isolation or thoughtful reflection, perhaps in a similar way to eighteenth-century visitors to this more abandoned part of the thermal complex. (ZL)
To see this image in the Vedute di Roma, volume 17 of Piranesi’s Opere, click here.