The central ruin is likely an exedra—a semi-circular room within a thermal complex, topped with a dome, that served as a gathering place. As in the previous image, the site continues to be a social space, with numerous pairs of human figures scattered among ruins. Overall, the image creates a vertiginous effect between the height of the exedra, the depths of the now buried first floor, and the barrier of the architectural rubble in the foreground. Here, the rubble that lies in piles throughout the Vedute di Roma includes not only the familiar column fragments but also pottery—a vase, an urn—that conjures the daily life once experienced in these ancient baths and the archaeological excavations conducted during the eighteenth century. The barrier that these remnants create between the viewer and the ruin recedes when the rubble gives way just to the left of the central ruin. The image’s three compositional grounds (foreground, middle ground, background) add to its focus on the literal ground and, importantly, what it conceals. Viewers are led up and down, propelled forward, but stymied at ground level in the foreground. Experiencing Piranesi’s views of this structure sequentially, viewers can access the synthesis of disjointed fragments that was the aim and achievement of his beckoning to the unseen in images compiled in the series of the Vedute di Roma (Stafford 1991, 69-70). Here, visual perspective layers upon historical progression, as the composition of foreground and middle ground works in tandem with the archaeological remains that now lie above and below ground. (JB)
To see this image in the Vedute di Roma, volume 17 of Piranesi’s Opere, click here.