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

The Digital Piranesi

View of the Tomb of Caius Cestius

The sequence of vedute in this volume here approaches, moving geographically, the boundary of the ancient city, and this image introduces, moving thematically, a group of six devoted to tombs. 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 this volume and the third volume of the Antichità Romane) and many architectural studies (including a bird’s eye view and a cut-away view in the Antichità Romane), the pyramid of Caius Cestius held an “obsessive attraction” for Piranesi (Wilton-Ely 1978, 33). This attraction largely derived from his insistence that Roman aesthetics borrowed from Etruscan and Egyptian sources more than Greek.

In this first of Piranesi’s large views devoted to the monument, the pyramid appears 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 numbered key (2). Trees to the left and right emphasize the pyramid’s natural setting and bring out the delicate foliage that fringes its surface. Surrounded by diminished human figures that are engaged in speaking, gesturing, and, in one case, apparent contemplation with downcast eyes, the pyramid both dwarfed by the height of the image and enlarged by the human figures that surround it. The monument’s inscriptions, which appear sketchy and incomplete, refer to restorations by Pope Alexander VII during which the two columns, noted in Piranesi’s key to the following image, were discovered and placed in their original locations. Bisected by a horizon line that delineates ground level and the present moment, the pyramid testifies, in its position along the rising ground, to Piranesi’s pursuit of the buried past. (JB)

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

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