Piranesi considered this multi-arched bridge a striking example of ancient Roman engineering. The Ponte Lugano, or Lucano Bridge, served as a main thoroughfare from Tivoli to Rome on the Via Tiburtina from when it was first built in the early republic (c. 1st centuy BCE) well into the twentieth century. However, the bridge did not remain entirely intact. The sharp diagonal created by the high contrast between shadow and light in the middle of the composition symbolizes the temporal rupture between the ancient bridge on the right and its later additions on the left. Piranesi notes in the key that the bridge was in fact rebuilt in the medieval period: “View of the Lucano Bridge on the Anio on the Via Tiburtina reconstructed in the dark ages [bassi tempi].” Perspective, lighting and texture effects, and compositional layout further reveal the various stages of the bridge's history. These stylistic elements also express Piranesi's disparaging assessment of medieval architecture. Piranesi's 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 actually serves to underline its inferiority in 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 solidity and durability of the travertine blocks outlast their medieval counterpart with its diminutive and haphazard bricks that are now crumbling and overgrown with vegetation. According to one-point perspective, the medieval part of the bridge should appear larger than the structures in the background, being closer to the viewer. Yet, the dimensions of the towering ancient tomb of the Plautius family in the background (labeled “A” in the image in key) are equal in size and make the medieval part of the bridge appear slight and flimsy. Solid and rectangular regimented blocks of marble on the tomb underscore the shabby look of the medieval portion of the bridge. 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 containing the title and key of the image. His foot subtly permeates the fictive space of the caption. Perhaps this figure serves as a figurative 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 the contemporary world of artist and viewer. (ZL)
To see this image in Vedute di Roma, vol 17 of Piranesi’s Opere, click here.