Turning the page from the previous image—an elevated, expansive view of Trajan’s baths—to this more restricted view on one central ruin and smaller remains, beholders have their gaze reoriented within the same site. That gaze is first directed upwards, following the height of the central ruin, but then, following the captions, guided down beneath ground level. The caption indicates the first floor of the structure, now below ground level, and the remains of the theater that are also identified in the previous etching. The title of this image emphasizes absence: rather than the previous image’s “View of the Baths of Titus [Trajan],” this is a “View of the Remains of the Buildings on the Second Floor” of the baths, an indication of what is lost as much as what is visible. The first floor, now underground and located in a depression on the right side of the image, can only be observed with the aid of a caption. 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 a notable number of 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 of 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. Writing of the “Altra Veduta del Tempio della Sibilla” in terms that are also instructive here, Susan Stewart observes that “Our view thus is a slightly swooping sotto in sù—moving down and up, we must mine our perspective” (180). 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.