This tomb was nicknamed “La Conocchia,” or spindle, due to its unique and elongated form. The exposed and crumbling brick that forms the top of the tomb indicates that the tomb, if not for its current state of ruin, would far exceed the borders of the plate. Architectural details such as the arched windows, triangular pediments, robust base, vast columns, and unique geometrical design reveal the tomb’s former magnificence. At the same time, Piranesi emphasizes deterioration through the wild vegetation that bursts through the cracks of the walls, the hollowed-out base, and the wayward travelers that seem to completely disregard the ancient monument before them. It is in fact the elision of so many details that makes it almost impossible to identify the tomb, despite its distinctive shape and location on the Appian Way, where many of the most important surviving tombs were built. Piranesi notes that “It is not known to which Family this tomb might have belonged; due to the fact that its ancient inscription has been removed.” This absence signals the importance of inscriptions not only in terms of attribution but also for the ways they “inscribed legibility” on the past (Wendort 162). Indeed, Piranesi devoted an entire volume to inscriptions, the Lapides Capitolini. In this volume, as well as others, he transcribes the original text, in addition to correcting or completing the inscriptions where they have been obscured or destroyed. The material presence of Piranesi’s engraved inscription of the title calls further attention to its absence on the monument. Visually, though, Piranesi renders the tomb legible, by casting a light on its remaining architecturally magnificent features. (ZL)
To see this image in the Vedute di Roma, volume 17 of Piranesi’s Opere, click here.