His manipulation of perspective, angled toward the right and from below, draws the eye to the medieval reconstruction of the bridge in the left foreground. However, this focus on the medieval part of bridge underlines its inferior construction and design. The crisp and rectilinear lines of the travertine blocks and semicircular arches convey the order and regularity of ancient Roman design. Etched in perfect recession and linear perspective, the diagonal highlights below the three Roman arches are a notable contrast to the amorphous and broken light that reflects the dilapidated and disordered heap of bricks that make up the medieval reconstruction. The placement of the triangular arch over the rounded arch in the reconstruction shows a disregard for stylistic unity. Though built a millennium earlier, the ancient travertine blocks outlast the diminutive and haphazard bricks, now crumbling and overgrown, of their medieval counterpart. According to one-point perspective, the medieval part of the bridge should appear larger than the structures in the background. Yet, the dimensions of the towering ancient tomb of the Plautius family in the background (A) are equal in size, making the medieval part of the bridge appear slight and flimsy. Solid and rectangular regimented blocks of marble on the tomb underscore the medieval portion’s decay.
Enhancing this general effect of disorder is the nautical scene in the foreground. The chaotic gestures of the figures point in different directions, disorienting and distracting viewers from the main subject of the print. One figure even stands on the banderole that contains the image’s caption, his foot subtly permeating its fictive space. Perhaps this figure serves as a bridge himself between, on one hand, the ancient and medieval worlds that are embodied and juxtaposed in the bridge and, on the other, the past and contemporary world of artist and viewer. (ZL)
To see this image in the Vedute di Roma, volume 17 of Piranesi’s Opere, click here.