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 agonized or angry figures are uncommon in his cast of downtrodden characters, 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.