This page was created by Diem Dao.  The last update was by Jeanne Britton.

The Digital Piranesi

View of the Tomb of Caius Cestius

One of only two surviving pyramids in Rome, the Pyramid of Caius Cestius—here called the Sepulchre of Cajo Cestio—was built c. 18-12 BCE for Gaius Cestius Epulo. The subject of three views (in the Vedute di Roma and the third volume of the Antichità Romane) and many architectural studies (including a bird’s eye view and a cut-away view in Antichità Romane), the pyramid of Caius Cestius held an “obsessive attraction” for Piranesi (Wilton-Ely 1988, 33). This attraction largely derived from his insistence that Roman aesthetics borrowed from Etruscan and Egyptian sources more than Greek. The pyramid appears in this veduta as one element among many. The ground, built up over centuries, ascends from the base of the pyramid to the Wall of Rome that Piranesi notes in the key. Trees to the left and right emphasize the pyramid’s natural setting. This is the first of Piranesi’s large views devoted to this monument, completed in 1755, and it forms a notable contrast with the second, completed in the following year. This title emphasizes the monument’s function as a tomb rather than its shape. Surrounded by diminished human figures that are engaged in speaking, gesturing, and, in one case, apparent contemplation with downcast eyes, the pyramid is spotted with delicate foliage in this rendering. Dwarfed by the height of the image, the pyramid—which is in fact rather small—appears enlarged by the human figures that surround it. The monument’s inscriptions are sketchy and incomplete. The upper inscription, which appears on both the pyramid’s east and west sides, reads “C CESTIUS L F POB EPULO PR TR PL VII VIR EPULONUM.” The lower inscription, only on the east side, is legible on the left but does not include the date, on the right: “INSTAVRATVM AN DOMINI MD CLXIII.” During these restorations by Pope Alexander VII, the two columns, noted in Piranesi’s key to the following image, were discovered and placed in their original locations. What this image might lack in the historical details of archaeological reconstruction the following image makes up for in its detailed key, which is placed inside its visual frame. (JB)

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

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