As indicated in the image caption, the so-called Temple of the Coughs is situated along the ancient Via Tiburtina about a mile from Tivoli. Situated, within the Vedute di Roma, between views of other monuments outside of Rome and the views of Tivoli that follow, this and the following view seem to be sequenced as part of a tour from the eternal city to its environs. Mario Bevilacqua has pointed out that although Piranesi likely intended the Vedute di Roma to be a series, planning a title plate for the first and second volume from the outset, the precise trajectory of the entire series is unclear (2006, 55). Even so, between the preceding Tomb of the Plautii and the following Villa of the Maecenas, this view lies along an eastern route that proceeds out of Rome. This structure’s odd name derives from a medieval hypothesis that the ancient temple was dedicated to a personification of the cough so as to prevent the spread of disease from the Tiburtine population, but its original function remains unknown. Surrounding this overgrown and, as the following image tells us, modified building are some of the most expressive, and most sinister, of Piranesi’s human figures: the seated figure to the left of the caption has blackened gouges for worried eyes and a gaping mouth (detail 1), leaning against the thatched wall to the right, a broad-shouldered man stoops as if inspecting something hidden in his hands (detail 2), and a woman with a staff and a darkened brow seems to scold a younger man above the caption (detail 3).
Over time, Piranesi’s human figures increasingly resemble “tubercular wrecks” with “an air of hectic destitution” (Mayor 16). Even so, the expressive faces of these destitute wrecks are uncommon, and for them to appear together with a mysterious structure hints, perhaps, at a frustration with the superstitious origins of its name and the persistent uncertainty about its function. The so-called “Temple of the Coughs” retains a name based on legend rather than evidence, resisting the classification efforts of Enlightenment-era archaeology. (JB)
To see this image in the Vedute di Roma, volume 17 of Piranesi’s Opere, click here.